New Novel News


Copy of UntitledI woke up today to discover we had no water. I’ve already used up our loo flushes. If lockdown wasn’t enough.

How are you coping during this crazy time? Does it all feel like a bad dream to you too?  I’ve started wearing the same cardigan day in and day out (who will know?) I did fiddle about with some make up one day. One must have standards. We only went to Poundstretcher but all the same. I got quite excited when I saw there were no queues. Who’d have thought it? Overwhelming excitement at going to Poundstretcher and buying some bargain yarns to crochet with. I came home and planted some seeds into pots. I’m rubbish though and managed to use topsoil instead of compost. Andrew pointed this out. I wondered why it looked like mud when I’d watered them. Oh well …

I watched the briefing by Boris Johnson. He’s our Prime Minister, I think. I only doubt this because we hardly ever see him. I’m sure you would see the Prime Minister a lot more in this national crisis so perhaps he isn’t. Maybe that guy Hancock is. We see a lot of him. I don’t think I have ever looked at so many graphs in my life. Still, they make no sense. It must be me. The government surely must know what they’re doing. It’s good to know we can now exercise as much as we like. Even go to work if we can. If we can’t then we don’t have to, it seems. I dream of normality when I sleep.

I’ve cleaned out all the drawers and I’m up to date with the washing. We’ve painted the kitchen and mowed the lawn within an inch of its life. I’ve baked, knitted, crocheted, read, and written novels. I ignore the state of my hair when I look in the mirror. I rather like the grey mixed in with the blonde. I suppose I ought to do something.

The worst thing about lockdown is the amount of food I’m consuming. When they finally say we can all go back to normal I won’t be able to get through the door.

It will be nice to go to the supermarket without someone shouting ‘2 metres apart’ or have the loud tanoy instructing me to only buy what’s necessary.

Yesterday Andrew had to go into the office. I became quite anxious at the thought of him going out and mixing with people again.

It’s odd isn’t it, how we’ve managed to cope? I’m even sleeping better which has surprised me. I feel calmer too. All the social pressure has left me. I don’t have to worry about saying no to someone’s invitation because no one is inviting me. I hope they remember me when this is over.

I miss going out for dinner and to the cinema. What do you miss the most?

So, the good news. At least it is good news for me. I had got to the point when I thought a new novel would never be forthcoming. It’s here and will be released on June 1st and readers are already saying how much they have loved it. You can pre-order it here.


THE DAY HENRY DIEDCopy of Untitled (3)

‘Suppose you wake up one morning to find yourself dead. You can see yourself clearly in the mirror, and feel the same as you did the day before. But today is the day of your funeral. What do you do?

This was Henry’s dilemma. Henry decides he can’t possibly be dead, so he sets out to prove he is alive. Then, he discovers that Rita, a product demonstrator at the supermarket, can see him.

Even with the help of Rita, proving you’re not dead was harder than Henry imagined, but when Henry discovered that he was murdered, the question was why and by whom?’

Stay safe and enjoy the novel.

Much love until next time



The Oxfordshire mating call…

So I decide to go to Waitrose. This is never a good idea for many reasons. In fact I am beginning to wonder if I am actually safe to be let out alone. Oh, you think I joke. I kid you not.
On Friday I decided to go to Waitrose early. There were many good reasons for this, although as soon as this decision was made it caused problems. A heavy debate ensued about dinner. Usually I buy a Rotisserie chicken and we have this with some Moroccan couscous and then… Could you stop yawning please. I assure you this gets better. Where was I? Oh, yes and then we watch a DVD or maybe two. Friday night is the highlight of our week and I don’t need your pity. You can put that back in your pocket right now.
Now, here was the problem. If I go to Waitrose early they will not have a chicken cooked and ready for me to take home. A tricky problem is this. So, I need to check what else Lord Cook would like. We decide on a curry.
Why not just go later, I hear you ask? A reasonable question, if I do say so myself. I needed to be at the Doctor’s at 11.02. At least I thought it was 11.02 but we’ll come back to that later. Plus, to complicate matters even more, the appointment is not at my usual small village surgery but at the main one in a nearby town. I hope you’re keeping up with all this because it gets more complicated as time goes on. So, I decide to pop to Waitrose, that’s if you can pop to somewhere that is about six miles away and then on the way back I can do a short detour to the Doctors and then home.

‘That will give me the whole of the afternoon to write,’ I told his lordship.

Oh, famous last words or what?

So, off I pop. Trying to get to Witney from my village is a feat all of its own. The road leading to Witney is a driver’s nightmare. I have been done twice for speeding along there and I don’t speed. But the speed limit changes so often that I feel like I’m driving chitty chitty bang bang. So I potter along, accelerating from 30 miles an hour to 40 and then up to 50 miles an hour. The car behind me obviously doesn’t give a fig about speed limits and spends much of his time in the 30 miles per hour speed either flashing me (with his lights obviously. My luck never stretches to anything further than that) or hooting me while driving as close to my bumper as he possibly can. I’m under no illusions. This is intimidation, just in case you thought it was some kind of Oxfordshire mating call. We all relax when I am back in a 50 miles an hour zone. This doesn’t last long and I am back to 40 and quickly down to 30 and being flashed for all I’m worth. Finally, I reach Witney and the car park for Waitrose. Guess what? It is full. How can this be? I’m early for goodness sake. I drive round and round until my head is spinning. I finally spot a space and shoot into it only to discover it is only an hour stay. I do a quick calculation in my head and figure I can race around the store and be back within the hour.
Don’t you just hate supermarkets? Even worse, don’t you hate supermarkets on a weekday? I fight my way past the mums with their screaming children and hover for five minutes behind an elderly woman who is studying the teas and make my way to the chicken counter, where the assistant smiles at me and continues checking the temperature on the cooked birds with such concentration, you would think she was operating. I feel like telling her they look very dead to me and could she pop one in a bag. I attempt to speak but she holds a hand up to stop me and continues with her deep concentrated efforts with the thermometer. I’m getting close to telling her where to stick that thermometer and it isn’t in the chicken. I want to scream,
‘I’m on an hour here Lady. Can we move on with this?’
‘Can I help you,’ she says eventually.
Oh, how fab. She has finally seen the customer. I mean, there is enough of me, so she couldn’t really miss me.
I choose my chicken and hastily leave the meat counter. I fly along the aisles, throwing in everything I need and finally I am at the till. It has taken me forty minutes. A record and I almost feel like they should give me a medal at the till and not just a little green disc for the charity box. I saunter from the store and make my way to the car. It is then I realise I am still holding the green disk. Typical. I throw the carrier bags into the boot. Drop the disc into the trolley and pop the trolley back to the trolley park. I’m making good time. Then, I am in my car and making my way back home. Checking the time on the clock I wonder if I have enough time to take the shopping back before driving onto the Doctors.
I don’t know about your Doctors, but my surgery is ultra-organised. They even send you a text message with the time and date of your appointment. Not that it helps me, of course. I have a vague memory that the appointment is 11.02 but it could well be 11.22 for how good my memory is. I decide to be really organised and check my phone at the next lay by and therefore make an informed decision. After all I have one hot dead chicken in the boot, not to mention the Mini who is behind me. I swear if he drives any close he will be joining the chicken. I’m wondering if he would like to join us for the DVD later.
Finally, I see the lay by. I indicate, pull in and reach for my handbag to check my Blackberry. My stomach lurches when I see my bag is not on the passenger seat. Time stands still and my mind does one of the back track things that you see in the films. Everything runs before my eyes in slow motion and I see my handbag in the shopping trolley.
Oh God. I left it in the trolley and I left the trolley in the trolley park. I picture all the things that are in it. My glasses, Blackberry, purse, credit cards, money and groan inwardly. I check the clock. I have waited weeks for this appointment and it is almost 11. Oh, no, horror of horrors. I will have to tell Andrew. He is working from home today. I restart the car and zoom down the country lanes to our village. So much for keeping to the speed limit now. I skid to a halt outside our cottage, fly into the house, bound up the stairs and declare to a wide-eyed Andrew that I have left my bag in the trolley and the trolley in the trolley park.

You can almost understand Andrew being driven to things like this.
You can almost understand Andrew being driven to things like this.

Yes, you heard him. It is not the first time. I won’t repeat the other things he said. They went along the lines of how could I be so stupid and that there is something seriously wrong with me. I phone the store, my heart in my mouth. Please let them have it I plead. I was lucky enough the last time this happened. But just how many honest people are there out there? Well, most certainly two it seems. Someone handed it in. I yell up the stairs to Andrew that I am going to the doctors in the vain hope that my appointment was at 11.20 and not 11.02 and then back to Waitrose.
Off I go again at top speed. I assure you there was no driver up my backside on this journey. I swear I left a cloud of dust behind me so they wouldn’t be able to see my backside if they tried. Zoomed into the Doctor’s car park and raced in to discover my appointment was for 11.30. What a relief. The day has barely begun and I am exhausted. I could go back to bed.
You’ll be pleased to hear that my blood pressure reading was normal. My return to Waitrose was uneventful also. In fact I even got parked directly outside the store and everything was inside my handbag, not even a snotty tissue was missing. So, right there, right then, I decided all this scatty behaviour has got to stop. I’m pleased to tell you that so far so good. Mind you it has only been five days. Ask me after five weeks…

A builder, a builder, my kingdom for a builder

Now I’m not a difficult person. I don’t ask for very much. I don’t want diamonds or extravagant holidays. I try to see the positive in everything and have vision. However if anyone had told me what was in store for me at Marlborough Cottage after we purchased it I think I would have been a touch nervous. We moved in over ten years ago and we were very aware that the kitchen and downstairs bathroom would need to be replaced at some point and that the whole cottage needed renovating. At the time I had such vision and really imagined that three years on we would have a beautiful cottage but as usually happens life takes over. Money was not available and everything seemed to cost more than we could ever have imagined. After decorating the whole house we felt that other things could wait and we could live adequately in Marlborough cottage as it was. This was not always a happy state of affairs. Our first winter was like something out of the film ‘Ethan Frome’ and if you haven’t seen that film, then you really must.’My hands cold as ice’ (Mattie from ‘Ethan Frome’) In our bathroom my hands tits and bum ‘cold as ice’ I kid you not. I swear if you do not pee quickly it will turn to ice mid-stream. My shower gel has iced up in the can before now. I see you shaking your head. It is true. The only heating in the bathroom is a little fan thing on the wall and that has to go on at least forty minutes before a shower. After a few weeks I devise the perfect routine.  First put bath towel in tumble dryer for thirty minutes before shower and fan heater on about twenty minutes before shower and then quick dive into bathroom and under the hot water where skin tingles from going to one extreme to the other. Jump from shower, wrap hot towel around oneself and dive into warm living room. What a palaver. But we managed to survive. The other problem in the winter became the night time wee. The bedroom is also freezing and the only saving grace is the electric blanket which I assure you has stayed on number one all night this winter. Andrew and I must have more cuddles than any couple I know.

Our bedroom, quaint if not cold.
A horrified friend warned me this could be dangerous, not the cuddling, of course, but the blanket. Andrew is not that electrifying in bed, well he might be, but I wouldn’t tell you now, would I? There is a risk of electrocution she advised. I assured her the risk of frost bite was even higher. Having once braved the loo in the night and returning to bed like an ice cube I decided drastic action was needed. Let’s say I devised a little loo for us upstairs. I won’t go into more detail. Then, of course there is the kitchen. I don’t have a kitchen in the winter. I have just one big freezer. The olive oil in my cupboard is currently frozen as is the peanut butter and honey. Oh, it is not a joke. On Sunday I convinced Andrew to help me prepare dinner because more than fifteen minutes in the kitchen means you cannot chop carrots or onions, especially if they have been in the fridge. I got as far as the garlic and could no longer feel my fingers. We almost collided with each other in our rush to dive back into the warm living room. Oh, you are pitying me, I can feel it. The waves of pity are just penetrating through the virtual world of the internet.  But I get to be very close to my lovely hubby if nothing else. At least the cold is better than the rain which floods in under the back door. In the winter at least the bathroom is not plagued by wood lice. You see, one can always find the positive. In an attempt to keep warm I light lots of candles. Perhaps not the most sensible thing seeing as this house has a history of fires. It’s okay it is safe to read on but only just.  About 89 years ago poor Miss Marshall lit a candle in her bedroom, the same bedroom which is now ours. Our neighbour now 92 remembers it well.

‘Smoke was billowing from the window and we rushed to get in. The next thing I remember was Miss Marshalls charred body falling through the ceiling and landing on your living room floor.’

Now that does make you shiver? and I won’t lie and say we have not heard noises from upstairs because sometimes we have.

The lounge where Miss Marshall fell to her death
Another blog posting I think. Then, of course there is the odd case of the house deeds which were strangely lost in a fire at the solicitors. Our predecessor’s Molly and Clifford had two fires in the freezing lean to which I referred to earlier. Then there was the day that yours truly nearly went up in flames. Andrew was upstairs working. I had just showered and quickly grabbed my flowery flowing skirt that tied at the waist. It was a bit chilly so I decided to light some candles to warm the place up. I only meant to warm the place up, you understand, but someone else obviously had other intentions of warming me up. I had already lit those on the fireplace and was lighting the few I had put on the coffee table when I had a strange hot sensation in my leg. I ignored it, as you do. I then went to rub it only to find my skirt was on fire. Of course I can write calmly about this now. I frantically tried to untie the knot of the tie-up that held my skirt while repeatedly calling Andrew. God help me the damn thing was knotted. I began to frantically tug at it to get it over my hips, while the flames were licking further and further up my skirt.
‘Andrew,’ I screamed hysterically. No response. ‘Andrew, help me, please.’
No response. Oh my god I was going to burn alive like Miss Marshall. I ran dramatically towards the wall almost knocking myself out. Smoke was everywhere along with floating pieces of my skirt as Andrew opened the door at the bottom of the stairs. He did not rush, it seems, because he thought I had seen a spider or a dead mouse. I ask you! Trust me I do not scream hysterically when I see a mouse or even a spider. When I am burning to death I may have a tendency to scream hysterically, justified I think.
I swore never to have candles in the house again. But of course I lapsed. A few years went by and they were no more fire incidents so I put it down to bad luck. Then only a few months ago when Andrew was in Taiwan, Bendy and I were sitting cosily on the couch when there was a strange bang from upstairs. Bendy jumped onto the coffee table almost knocking over a vase of flowers. I jumped up to catch them, throwing the cushion I was using to lean my net book upon, straight onto the candles on the table.
Gently stroking Bendy I realised there was a burning smell. I looked behind me to see the cushion on fire. I quickly doused it with water and sighed when I saw the large hole. Was this Miss Marshall striking again? We never did find out what the bang was. But we are brave here and do not give in to ghosts and still light candles. Full blog posting on this here. Are you over your trembling, shall I continue. Okay, Onto less frightening house complications.

Last summer we replaced the front and back doors. Ten years on and we started thinking we really should do more. The past few years we got side tracked with family weddings, trips abroad, Andrew’s studies which seemed to go on forever but yay he finally graduated to Dr Cook in August

Andrew's graduation
and there was a sigh of relief all round. So, this year is the year of the builder or at least so we thought. We phoned the builder who had built a new home for our neighbours and he seemed very keen.

‘I’ll pop to see you,’ he said.

Three weeks later we phoned again to see if he was still interested.

‘Oh, yes, I’ll pop round on Friday.’

And he did and he advised us of an architect whom we contacted.

‘I’ll pop a quote in the post for you this week.’

A week later we went on holiday for two weeks. We returned, still no quote. We phoned, no answer, we left a message, no response. Perhaps he is sick or something, I said sympathetically. Oh, I am so innocent.

Andrew not so innocent phoned several other builders to get as many quotes as possible.  Meanwhile, we had the plans drawn up and applied for planning permission. Still no quote. Then the lovely Julian came. He was very impressive and spent a long time with us.

‘I’ll put a quote in the post. You should have it before Christmas.’

We got planning permission. Christmas came, Christmas went. We flew to Cambodia and flew home to NO QUOTES. I was in tears.

‘We will never get a builder.’

‘Things take time,’ Andrew advises ‘It may take a few weeks.’

A few weeks! I am beginning to think these builders work on years. Three months later we ask more builders for quotes, we ask our friends if they know builders. Andrew begins to talk of doing it himself.

‘I’ll take a week off work,’ he says with a grin.

Not funny!

Another builder visits. He doesn’t even ask to see where the extension will go but from the plans assures us it will not be a problem.

‘I’ll pop the quote in the post.’

Haven’t we heard that before?

Another visits and thinks we want an extension to cover the whole garden… We explain the plans and tell him we want a new kitchen/living area to go onto the existing lounge and a downstairs loo plus a bathroom upstairs and another small bedroom. He says he will have to ask his mates who couldn’t make it today. At the word mates, we look at each other suspiciously. He also happily advises us that if he can’t do it he knows someone who throws these things up really fast and cheap. Yes, right…

Three months on we get a quote from the first builder for 60,000 pounds, minus fittings and decorating. I pick Andrew up off the floor and ask can he take two weeks off work to do it himself. He scoffs. Then nice Julian’s quote pops through the door. Oh, at last. Except it isn’t a quote. It is Julian telling us he now can’t do it. Basically he has been offered bigger jobs. Charming.

We wait for ‘It’s not a problem’ builder quote.  Meanwhile another one visits and seems very unassuming.

‘I’ll get the quote to you in a week’ and HE DOES. Impressed we are.

Andrew looks into the price of scaffolding and I start to worry that he is serious about doing it himself. Oh, good lord.

The builder who got the quote back on time phones to say he would like to discuss it with us. He wants to come and see us again without us asking. Ooh, we get very excited. Meanwhile, another comes and Bendy runs and hides again. I begin to wonder how he will cope with all the work when it starts. Then on Wednesday the prompt builder arrives and guess what? Bendy is all over him, at one point putting his paw onto his knee so he is sure to see him and give him a stroke. It’s a sign. I tell Andrew this later and he just scoffs but he agrees this is the guy for us and his quote is reasonable. I can’t believe it. In just eighteen weeks he will start work with his team.

I so hope I can post good things…

A holiday in a Bangkok jail. Well, almost…

I should have known a trip to a place like Cambodia would not go without a hitch. After all I am Lynda Renham-Cook right? I expect you have been waiting for me to dish the dirt. Well, here it is.
The question is where do I start? Okay, let us start at the beginning. After all it is a very good place to start isn’t it? But which story first? The Construction work or negotiating the monks loo? Possibly the best one was when the boat we went in to visit the floating village started to sink.

Our sinking boat
Oh, I feel myself shudder at the memory. Or maybe the story of the German who insisted I download his document on my computer.
‘You vill download,’ he had snapped. Okay a slight exaggeration but when have I not exaggerated? Better still is the story of the two weddings we got involved in and how I ate A Cow’s stomach. But I am straying away from the beginning as usual in my excitement to share all.
I started the holiday with a massive headache, which I still have now actually. It came and went on and off for most of the holiday. So, if anyone knows a cure for these constant headaches, do let me know as my body is taking a hell of a battering from painkillers. Talking of which I went to Cambodia packed like someone who was delivering medical aid, except the medicines were all for me. Andrew took one look at the suitcase and sighed.
‘Did you forget I was coming too,’ he said caustically. Okay maybe not caustically. More with a sardonic smile I suppose. ‘You’re supposed to take a first aid kit, not a first aid suitcase.’
Honestly, such sarcasm from my husband when all I am doing is being cautious.
‘Well, we will need another suitcase anyway for the Christmas presents,’ I argued. He picks up my three toiletries bags and sighs. Yes, okay, so I took a lot of pills with me. But you can’t be too cautious in a place like Asia can you? The web page even advises us to take toilet roll as they apparently don’t use it out there. What they do use I dare not think about really.
‘My son still uses it I hope. As we are staying with him I imagine there will be some.’ Andrew argues.
I am about to tell him that maybe his son cannot purchase toilet paper and that who knows what new habits he has acquired now but I stay quiet and just insist we do not take any chances. So I pack every pill in sight. I’m not going to go down with a stomach upset, I say. Famous last words. So, finally we are ready for the off, with enough toilet roll to bring down the plane. Talking of planes, what fun we had at the airports. We arrive in Bangkok after flying for ten hours and go in search of our luggage. Of course, I presumed it would just go straight on to Cambodia with us but it seems BA did not arrange it that way. We discover to fetch our luggage means we have to check out of the airport even though we have a connecting flight. This takes forever and our eye is constantly on the clock. We go through three passport control ports and each ones takes almost thirty minutes. We get lost and I feel my head throb even more. I am bursting for the loo but we don’t have time to stop. It’s just that in Bangkok I think they have toilet roll. We finally trace our luggage, grab it and fly to the next security check. By now I am so fed up that when the alarms go off I am almost expecting it.
‘Open the bag please,’ demands the official.
I frantically try to remember what is in my hand luggage. Are there medications in there too? Oh my word, I won’t get thrown into Bangkok Hilton will I, for carrying Co-Codamol? I feel my heart thumping as I open the bag. What other pills did I pack? I find myself looking around for dogs. With shaking hands I open the bag and watch with a thudding heart as they open the small make up bag. Visions of shackles on my hands and legs float through my mind and I quickly try to remember my solicitor’s name and then realise I don’t have one. I feel faint and quickly close my eyes. I open them to see the man holding up my tube of Nivea cream. Oh, what a relief. He pops it into a bag and ticks me off. But thank God, I am not going to prison in Bangkok. I smile at Andrew and grab his hand so we can quickly escape. Ten minutes later we are heading past Duty free on our way to our connecting flight when Andrew asks.
‘Where is your hand luggage?’
What! Oh no!
‘I left it at the security desk,’ I squeal, already legging it back. I mean, honestly. Only I would do something so stupid. We heave a deep sigh of relief to find it is still there and Andrew gives me a ‘What is wrong with you,’ look. I just shrug.
Two hours later and we are on our flight to Siem Reap in Cambodia. On the plane I debate whether to eat the food I am given. I read that the water is poisonous and can kill you. As for the food, well let’s just say I was preparing myself to lose weight rather than risk the food. An overpowering thirst wins, however and the water goes down along with the ominous looking sandwiches, which I figure I may as well eat now seeing as I have drunk the deadly water, along with two painkillers. One hour later and we arrive. The hot air hits me instantly and my head throbs even more. I will be glad to climb into the taxi and drive to James apartment. He meets us and directs us to our transport. Good lord, what is this. He surely does not expect us to get into a small rickshaw thing with our luggage and everything? Yes he does, oh my goodness. We all climb into the Tuk Tuk and I try not to cry out as my foot gets cramp. We seem to fly along the main roads, the dust flying into my eyes. I am sure I whimper as the wind whips at my face making my head throb even more. Good god what am I doing in this God forsaken country?
‘Are you okay?’ asks Andrew adding before I can reply. ‘It’s great isn’t it?’
Oh yes, fab.
‘The Tuk tuk is the only way around,’ says James.
Is it? Oh dear. I would later come to love the Tuk Tuk and the Tuk Tuk drivers who waited outside the apartment. I would come to adore the food. In fact I would come to adore Cambodia so much that the wish to return becomes unbearable. But as usual, I digress. Twenty minutes later we arrive at James apartment and in the dark I cannot see the outside very well but the inside is lovely and guess what? he has toilet paper and an en suite bathroom too. We have an oversized bed, air conditioning and plenty of bottled water. Perfect, except we also have a construction site next door.
‘Oh, that won’t be a problem,’ I say.
Why are there a lot of famous words in this here post? Off to bed we go, exhausted and already feeling some jet lag. The next day is the beginning of our holiday and is Boxing Day. We will open our presents and then go into town later for a look around and to get some dinner. Of course, the construction work won’t be going on, not on Boxing Day so it should be peaceful. More famous last words. I soon learn there are no holidays in Cambodia, only work. I wake to banging and drilling. A holiday nightmare. I tell myself it can’t get any worse…

A not for the faint hearted. A fun, Round Robin Christmas message.

( We hasten to add that the following bears no resemblance to anyone we know either alive or dead. If you recognise them, let us know and we can do our best to avoid them…)

Dear Friend
Well, it’s a while since we sent out the familiar Christmas update. In fact, it has been a whole year hasn’t it? And what a year it has been! So much to share about the Cook household. First, little Johnny passed with honours his grades, 1,2,3,4,5 and 6 in trumpet.

Johnny and his trumpet... Bless.
We are so proud. And on top of that, for his school project Johnny chose to travel to Libya (all on his own!) to train as a freedom fighter and single-handedly captured Colonel Gadhafi’s chief bodyguard. We are so proud. He came home safely, albeit having lost an eye, but hey, it was for a good cause and he has another and we give thanks for that.

Mike has also had an excellent year, after gaining an A, B, a pass in P.E. he was offered a place at Oxford. We are very proud and he very much enjoys being part of the team at the Oxford High Street branch of McDonalds. Not that it’s been all work and no play, Mike spent a fascinating four weeks working holiday in Pakistan, where he formed a tight network of friends and has since shared his experiences in the training camp there. Now Mike is taking a night class in chemistry and has grown a beard that looks quite fetching. He has matured so much this year he is like a different person. He has become a lot less materialistic and for Christmas only requested a large rucksack which we were

Mike, cycling back to Pakistan with his new rucksack. So proud.
happy to purchase for him. At last he seems to have found his way in life and we give thanks for that.

Sharon has very much matured this year. You would never think she has just turned sixteen. Sharon made some wonderful socially challenging friends in Tottenham this summer and we were so proud when she appeared on the Ten o’clock news! Imagine our delight when she came home the next morning with a wide screen TV under her arm, and a wonderful new boyfriend called Clyde. Clyde is very responsible and at age 35 a little older than Sharon but we think he will be a responsible influence as he often helps the police with their enquires and all the police in the area know him. We are thrilled that Sharon has this year landed

Our Sharon, looking good.
on her feet, she is really blooming these days and in the past three months has gained quite a bit of weight and has finally recovered from her sickness bug.

In April we did manage a wonderful week in Japan. It was so exciting and exhilarating. We had no idea it was such a busy place and was an experience of a lifetime. We both came back with such an amazing sun-tan, which we still have now. And for that we give thanks.

The view from our hotel in Japan.

We are very excited as In October Lynda was approached via email by a wealthy Colonel in Africa. It transpires that she is to inherit a large sum of money from a recently deceased dictator. It seems that her past good works have paid off. We took out a loan to pay the expenses that they required and are now waiting for the funds to be transferred to Lynda’s bank account which should happen any day now. And we give thanks for this extraordinary good fortune that has come our way. We will be donating a large sum to charity of course.

Sadly Uncle Jack passed away this year after a bout of MRSA following his overnight hospital stay with a severe migraine (hangover). At age 46 he had had a good innings and we give thanks for that.

Our last picture of Uncle Jack. He will be sadly missed.

Mother is doing very well after her fifth amputation, second triple bypass, liver transplant and Botox surgery. She is looking forward to her skiing holiday in January.

Mum, having fun as usual.

Andrew was promoted this year to work under the COE following his PhD after HR (AKA the CTO) realised his potential. However in March he contracted ADD when a close friend was given an ASBO, and was AWOL for some weeks. His BP went sky-high and he lost his GSOH eating nothing but BLT sandwiches. After a lot of TLC from Lynda he was back at work ASAP.
We hope you have all had a year like ours and wish you a very merry Christmas and best wishes for 2012
Love Lynda and Andrew

Ooh, I think that is Miranda calling. Now where did I put the phone?

Okay I know I am scatty but even I am beginning to feel it is getting out of hand. After getting locked in the loo during my book signing I actually began to wonder about all this. I mean, seriously, who manages that? As much as I admire Miranda Hart, I really do not want to be a real life Miranda but I actually fear I am. Oh, that can’t be possible, you shout. Oh really. Let us take today for example.
Breakfast was fine, no real catastrophes there and even the journey to work was okay. Oh, yes, we writers actually go to work. One day I will be rich and famous enough to not have to but at the moment it is for the best as I am far too weary to fight off paparazzi and collect numerous awards. Dream on Lynda! So I drive to work without mishaps and even find a parking space in the health centre car park. I then climb out of the car and meet my colleague who arrives at the same time. It is here it all seems to go downhill. I feel sure, no absolutely certain in fact that something dropped from my lap and crashed to the ground. I gasp and stare in horror. Was it my glasses? Oh, god, no, it was my Blackberry. I look to my colleague, who looks perplexed. I explain something crashed to the ground. Of course, this is bearing in mind that nothing can be seen.
‘What was it?’ she asks.
Precisely. What was it? Now, tell me, how many people drop things and then do not actually know what they dropped?
‘I think it must have been my Blackberry, or perhaps my glasses.’ I say uncertainly to which she gives me one of those ‘You are nuts’ look.
We both look around us and under the car. It is as I stand up that I see my glasses are tucked into the top of my blouse. Ah, yes, of course I put them there for safety which means it was the Blackberry. Oh, wonderful. It has been bucketing down with rain and neither of us want to actually get down onto the floor and look under the car. My friend comes up with the ideal solution.
‘Reverse your car slowly and in a straight line and you shouldn’t go over it and I will shout when I see it.’
Oh no, this is the kind of thing I am not good at. I am the kind of person that will run over the Blackberry even if driving in a straight line. I can’t tell her that, so I do it. No Blackberry. If fact there is nothing under the car. My friend suggests checking my handbag and lo and behold there is my Blackberry. Red faces all around. Of course this isn’t the first time and what is worse I repeat these things often.
Once or twice having parked much too far from Marks and Spencer I have made the fantabulous decision of asking the assistant if I could collect by car and they make this exceptionally easy and foolproof. Even total idiots can’t possibly get this wrong. Lynda, of course, can. I dutifully take my little number with the velcro sticky back and make my way to the car. The pick up point is literally just around the corner. What does Lynda do? Yes, you’ve got it. She drives the whole ten miles home with the little number tab grasped tightly in her grubby little hands. Bear in mind, that the whole idea of collecting by car was to save her the time it takes to walk with the trolley to the car and back. I mean, come on…
This is the woman who buys earrings in Sainsbury’s and throws them into her carrier bag. Yes, I know, most people would place them carefully into their handbags. She then, empties the bags, missing the earrings and later uses the bag as a bin liner. Andrew often asks why earrings are in the bin. I have also been known to smother my hair in cream cleanser rather than mousse because the containers look similar. I manage to lock myself in loos. The most recent time being when I was literally in the middle of a book signing at Waterstones. The nice assistant took me upstairs, showed me the loo and then politely left me. The lock seemed a bit stiff but I didn’t want anyone barging in on me so I pushed the bolt across It took me close on five minutes to yank the bolt back. I broke two nails as well as breaking into a sweat. I must have looked quite flush when I returned downstairs. I can’t imagine what they thought I had been doing in their loo.
I have left my lap top adapters at people’s houses. A pair of very expensive trainers at a holiday home and didn’t realise until weeks later. I have left my handbag in a supermarket trolley and driven home and have been known to drag a howling cat into the house only to realise it wasn’t my cat! I have put vegetables in the steamer and then plugged in the electric kettle only to moan to Andrew when he returns home, that the steamer has broken. I have attempted to get into other people’s cars because they look like mine. I throw keys into my handbag, and by that I mean anyone’s keys.
I leave the house and lock the front door while leaving the back door wide open. I walk into the house and leave the keys in the door where they have been known to stay all night. I also have this terrible habit of throwing the house cordless phone into my handbag after using it and then taking it out with me. I seem to repeatedly shut the cat’s tail in a drawer or step on it. If he could talk I am sure Bendy would ask to be put up for adoption or seriously consider buying a gun…
Oh, had better go. I do believe that is Miranda Hart on the phone requesting to do a series on my life. Now where is the phone?

Magic measures and Tantric sex

It may have something to do with being excessively premenstrual and if you do not believe I can be excessively premenstrual then speak to my husband. This, providing he is still alive, of course, and I have not throttled him. Anyway, this may have something to do with why I am blogging about diets. Because, the absolute worst time to be on a diet is a few days before your period. I am at that point now and my desire for something sweet is so overwhelming that this morning I almost strangled the milkman when he said he did not have any orange juice on his cart. What once seemed a sweet caring smile on the face of Rosemary Conley, now rather resembles the devil incarnate. In fact if dear Rosemary should pop her head round my front door I am likely to punch her lights out.
I first started dieting in earnest about five years ago. I was then, and hold your breath, almost thirteen stone. I never saw myself as thirteen stone of course. I was one of those fat people with anorexia in reverse. I never saw myself as fat.

Me at just under thirteen stone

I progressed from Marks and Spencer to Evans in a flash and thought absolutely nothing of it. Evans have much nicer clothes, I remember telling myself. In much the same way I progressed from a size 16 to a size 24 and still thought nothing of it. I consumed a curry, a pot of ice cream two bags of toffee popcorn and chocolate on a Friday night without a seconds thought. God, I was happy in those days! I mean who wouldn’t be happy eating whatever they like. Don’t you just hate the likes of Elizabeth Hurley who claim they watch what they eat but basically eat what they like, without gaining weight as they have some kind of special metabolism? Doesn’t it just make you want to throw up into your ‘Primark’ handbag? Or those other celebs such as Gwyneth, who kick box, do aerobics and Pilates and of course we must not forget the tantric sex. Okay, maybe it isn’t Gwyneth, but hey let her sue me. After all a celeb is a celeb after all. Don’t they just make you want to have a ‘Hello’ magazine burning party? All those, ‘You can look like’’ articles. Yes, I am sure we could easily look like them. All we need is a personal trainer, our own personal make up assistant, at least a million in the bank, a housekeeper, a full time nanny, a cook and five holidays a year on Branson’s yacht. Indeed, I feel quite convinced that after two months of that, along with the tantric sex of course, we must not forget that. I am certain, totally convinced in fact that I would look and feel twenty years younger and would probably have to trade Andrew in for a younger model. As it is at the moment, I rely on Boots protect and perfect, for keeping me young and rather think a twenty year old stud may not give me the time of day. Such is the price of obscurity.
So, it was in sheer contentment that I moved into our lovely little village and our lovely little cottage five years ago only to be asked by three of the villagers.
‘When is the baby due?’
Mortified and embarrassed. In my case hugely mortified, I decided to diet. No, I lie. It was after a lovely elderly gentleman offered me a seat on the train. He must have been all of eighty and I must have looked all of eight months pregnant! My stepdaughter was marrying in Egypt so I chose that occasion to aim for a slimmer me. I chose weight watchers at home. In a year I lost three stone and became a size 14. Andrew was delighted and there lies my problem. In a word, Andrew, whose favourite quote is.
‘No one likes a fat person.’
You heard right. He doesn’t use the quote. ‘I love you just the way you are.’
Oh no! Those types of quotes are only heard in ‘Bridget Jones’ films and certainly not in real life, at least not real life in this house. Correct me if I am wrong. On second thoughts, don’t correct me. I really couldn’t face another divorce.
This time around I am only a few pounds overweight. Easier to shift I thought. How wrong could I be? It is sheer torture. I sent for Rosemary Conley at home. When my parcel arrived I became quite excited. I assure you those initial feelings have well and truly gone down the drain with the mincemeat’s excess fat. Her magic measure has been agitatedly thrown to the back of a drawer and her measuring cups are scowled upon every morning. The one thing that is still lovingly stroked is the pot of Rosemary Conley firming cream. The only thing I seem to have lost is my sense of humour and on occasions my temper. I managed to break one pair of weighing scales and spend endless hours staring at my naked body in the bathroom mirror trying to see where the weight has come off. My jaw hurts from chomping on raw carrot and I am beginning to crave more than a drop of honey in my yogurt to satisfy my sweet tooth. But I persevere. After several weeks of this I try on the pair of trousers that have been so resistant the past few months. I hold my breath and pull them on. I grasp the button hole and pull them across. Guess what? They still don’t blooming fit! How can this be? After weeks of starvation and glugging down litres of water, not to mention humongous amounts of peeing, how can no weight have been lost? Is this some kind of cruel joke? But hold on…
‘You’ve lost weight, I can see it,’ says Andrew.
Well, that is good enough for me.
Ooh, must run, I have ‘Hello’ on the phone. My secret, you ask. I don’t really have one. I don’t need to watch my weight. Why? Because Andrew does it for me.
Me today and loving it.

What is the hatter with me!!

Indeed what is the hatter with me? Of course, I realise we all say things back to front sometimes. I feel quite certain that I am not the only person who has run for a bus whilst wearing a boob tube only to come face to face, or in my case boob to face with the bus driver! I am certain that I am not the only woman to wander around searching for her glasses while having them on. Or am I? Is it a rarity to return your library books along with one of your own books? I know you will all tell me it is quite common. And just as I finally convinced myself that what happened to me last Friday was not in the least bit unusual, convincing myself, in fact, that it was all down to hormones. After all they have been leading me a merry dance hadn’t they? Then my lovely husband Andrew commented that he thought I was stark staring mad!
‘Mad, that’s what you are. Stark, staring, mad.’
OK, maybe he didn’t use those exact words but I knew what he meant. Of course, I headed straight for the fridge and felt better almost right away. Well, after consuming two toffee yogurts with some honey followed by a Marks and Spencer meringue and half a box of left-over chocolates. So, what happened last Friday? OK, seeing as you’re twisting my arm, I shall tell you. Now, where should I begin? It started off fine enough. I have had plenty of time at home to get most things done and have not felt in the least stressed. Heaven knows why I am saying all this. In my defense I should be thinking of some excuse at least.
Friday is a special day in the Cook household. All sorts of weird and wonderful things go on here. Don’t you just wish you were me? I pop to the supermarket to buy something special for dinner. It is the end of the week, after all. Then I drop into the local video hire shop and rent two DVDs for us to watch that evening. And of course, the Pièce de résistance, the special treat food. Chocolate biscuits, savoury crackers and wine. Oh, yes, we know how to live, do Andrew and I. This particular Friday I seemed to have more time than usual. I popped into the town library. I hadn’t been there for some time and was impressed at the improvements that had been made and browsed the DVDs on offer and then looked at the books. Finally I headed for the counter, except there wasn’t one. I mean, there used to be one but now there isn’t one any more. It had just gone. How can a library be a library if you can’t check your books out? Then, I spotted it. A self-service, checkout counter. Oh no! It isn’t that I hate using these things. I just hate using them for the first time, even more so today when I have a stack of books and not a clue how to now safely leave the library with them without setting off all kinds of alarms. Any thought I had of stealing them are quickly dismissed. Instead, I stand, trying to look incognito while studying the borrowers as they use the new-fangled dangled check out. I convince myself if an eighty year old can do it, so can I. Not so. After a considerable amount of embarrassed fumbling I get the eighty year old to assist me and vow never to return. Relieved to be out of there I head to the supermarket. At least I know how to check out my goods there. Everything goes very well and I take my purchases to the till, pay and leave. I quickly pack the bags into the car as I sense someone waiting for my space. I dutifully take my trolley back and drive home with the radio blaring. I have DVDs, a nice dinner, delicious treats and the sun is shining. Back home, Andrew helps me unpack the goods and I make some tea and begin preparing lunch.
‘Did you get my text?’ asks Andrew, innocently.
‘Oh, did you send me one?’ Asks me stupidly. Obviously he did, or he wouldn’t be asking me if I received it.
‘I’ll check my phone,’ I say confidently walking into the lounge to fetch my handbag which is NOT on the table. I lean lazily across the arm of the chair for it but it ISN’T there either.
‘Is my bag in the kitchen?’ I shout, unconcerned.
‘No,’ answers Andrew in a wary voice as he obviously awaits my explosion,
‘Stupid, I must have left it In the car,’ I say cheerfully, strolling outside.
It ISN’T there. Good heavens, it isn’t there! My hand bag has disappeared!
I rush inside.
‘Oh my god, I must have left my bag in the shopping trolley.’
Andrew stares at me.
‘But you brought the shopping home, how could you have left it in the trolley?’ he says accusingly and I immediately want the floor to open up and swallow me.
‘Well, I pack the shopping and leave the handbag in the trolley. So when I went to put the trolley back in the trolley park I must have left it in it.’
He looks at me stupidly.
‘But that is a crazy thing to do. Why would you do that?’
I grab the phone and beg him to look up the number on the internet.
He makes a huffing sound.
‘You’re mad you are.’ He states, walking upstairs to his computer. Meanwhile a nice man answers the phone at Sainsbury’s.
‘Oh, hello, I am so sorry. I think I must be losing the plot,’ I stammer, thinking if I sound helpless he will most certainly say.
‘Oh, that handbag, yes we have it.’
‘I think I left my handbag in a shopping trolley.’
He doesn’t laugh. Is that a good or bad sign?
‘What does it look like?’
Doesn’t he know what a shopping trolley looks like? There are enough of them. Oh, of course, he means the handbag.
My mind goes blank. Why can’t I remember what my handbag looks like? Why is it I can only think of the credit cards in there and my Blackberry and driving licence and oh god, a spare pair of knickers!
‘It’s black,’ I hear myself saying. Well, that narrows it down doesn’t it? NOT. He sighs,
‘Oh, oh,’ I say, suddenly remembering. ‘It has Harrods on it.’
Oh god, do I now sound snooty?
‘Ah, yes we have it.’
My heart leaps and my legs stop trembling.
‘You’ll need to bring some identification, obviously.’
Well, obviously!
‘A passport would be good.’
I hang up and fly upstairs to Andrew.
‘They have it. I have to go back. See you in twenty minutes.’
I dash to the car and drive off, music blaring, and thinking how honest people are. It is as I am very near that I realise that I had forgotten the passport. I curse and feel like crying. What is the hatter with me? I park the car and spot the letter I had received from the DVLA when receiving my tax disc. I grab it and march up to customer services and thrust it in the man’s face before he can speak.
‘I left my handbag in a trolley and inside is a matching card to this,’ I say holding up my arm and shoving my radio iodine tag in his face. He steps back horrified. At last, my radio iodine treatment comes into its own.
‘What’s that for?’ he squeals.
‘Oh. It’s nothing really. You are quite safe. I am just a little bit radioactive. Oh, yes that’s my bag.’ I say spotting it on the counter.
Thankfully he has forgotten about the passport ID and almost throws the bag at me. I rush outside checking it frantically and then let out a deep sigh. Everything is there. Nothing missing. If only the same could be said about my head.

“I’m entirely bonkers. But I’ll tell you a secret. All the best people are…”

White Christmas and missing cats

Every year I think how nice it would be to have a white Christmas. The thought of opening my eyes on Christmas day to heaps of crisp, fresh white snow has always seemed so romantic. Snow piled up outside the front door.
Of course, when having these dreamy, diamond glinted snow fantasies, boats and planes and trains and of course shovels, (to dig the car out, not for killing my husband) don’t quite enter into them. Come to that neither did City Link and my longed for parcel. I also never envisioned paying a cab driver £25 for the luxury of taking me to work because I was too afraid to attempt driving my car up the steep hill that gets me out of the village. But, at last here it is, my wonderful romantic white Christmas. So, how romantic has it been so far?
Saturday afternoon as the beautiful white stuff fell I looked longingly out of the window. Tomorrow, I will go for a walk and take photos. Speaking my thoughts aloud I turned with a glow on my face to see my husband dressed in his flying suit.
‘Good lord, you can’t fly in this.’ I said stupidly.
Immediately the romance of my lovely white Christmas was wiped out in a second by his next words.
‘I am taking my car down the hill today while it is not too cold. I should be able to get to work on Monday if I take it down there now.”
Work, hill, oh no. My stomach churned and the snow no longer seemed so pretty.
I watched him leave as though watching him for the last time as he heads off into the Antarctic.
‘Be careful and text me.’
I get the look. You know the type of look that says, ‘I am only going to the next village for goodness sake.’
I begin to think about work and then tell myself to enjoy the weekend. After all it will be gone by Monday. Yes, well as we can all see it has far from disappeared and any white Christmas I had hoped for now looks like a reality. What also looks like a reality is that I may not get to my in-laws for this wonderful white Christmas.
So, just what is the reality of a white Christmas with snow around the door and a nice roaring fire inside the house? The following are some of those wonderful things you can look forward to.
1) You cannot get a flight to anywhere as they cancel most flights and you spend the best part of Christmas in Heathrow’s departure lounge, just hoping to depart.
2) You cannot get a train for hours as they have cancelled most of them and you queue for almost eight hours in the vain hope of catching one to get you home.
3) If you live in a tiny village you cannot catch a bus because they have cancelled those too.
4) The roads are not gritted so you cannot get to work, or the Christmas party or even get your present in the secret Santa.
5) You may spend hours on the motorway getting to your loved one for Christmas.
6) You get trampled or beaten up in Sainsbury because everyone seems to think it is the start of a food shortage. Although I have to admit our house is starting to face such a very shortage.
7) If you are like me and have ordered your presents online and late at that, then you are unlikely to get them in time.
8) Your house is bare of Christmas cards because the post cannot be delivered.
9) You lose your cat in the snow, well ok, I have. All hopes on him coming back though. Periods of the day are spent calling him.
10) You cannot even get a taxi to work, well; ok I can’t, as nobody will attempt to drive up the hill into the village.
11) Worse of all, and seriously this is important stuff, my diet food is not being delivered. A white Christmas could result in me getting fat.

So, will I be wishing for a white Christmas next year? I think not. Lovely as it looks it is freezing. I have frozen bread and frozen cooking oil. I now found myself longingly remembering the one Christmas I spent in Sydney and how I complained of the heat when cooking a Christmas dinner.
So, here I am, with two extra heaters on and wearing enough layers that I resemble a Michelin tyre and treating the kitchen like a room possessed by a poltergeist. I fly in there, grab what I need and fly out. Icicles hang down above the kitchen window and back door like Christmas decorations and drip monotonously onto my head as I call the cat. I try to think of past summers but they seem like a distant dream. I imagine, one day, this will too. In the meantime, off to call the cat and make another hot cup of tea.

Fire in the hold

I woke up this morning with great plans. I was going to blog and then forgot what it was I was going to blog about. The post lady came and plonked a load of stuff outside. I shuffled out into the cold to collect them and discovered to my horror that I had a tax rebate. I had to check the name twice. I wandered in feeling a bit happier and then I saw the contract for my new job and realised I would be taking a bit of a drop in salary. I started to work out what I could stop spending money on and the outcome was books. I must have well over 300 here and the majority of them have not been read. The problem is I am addicted to Amazon. I just love ordering a new book and then opening the packet when it arrives and removing a nice new shiny book. I will stare at it on and off for a few days and finally find a good place for it on the bookshelf where it slowly gathers dust. I know, shameful. So, the library will be seeing more of me. Then it started to snow and I thought about hibernating and then the fishmonger came. You must be thinking what an exciting life I lead and I cannot disagree. By the time I had bought my fish and frozen it, the sun was shining. My cottage however is like one big freezer that even the bread is frozen. I turned on extra heating and was about to light some candles when a horrific memory returned. So here is the blog. I began thinking how cold we all are at the moment and memories of how it has become just a bit overheated here returned to me. When we first moved here I thought nothing of all the stories of fires that had happened in the cottage or were connected to it. I do not believe in ghosts but a friend has said she senses something here. The beginnings of our freaky fires started when we first looked at the cottage with a view to buying.
‘Of course these old cottages have a history,’ said the estate agent.
I did not listen too much and wandered around in my little dream world of life in the country. Later Andrew told me that the whole of the extension had almost been burnt down when the previous owner had left something on the cooker. I think I barely responded. We bought the cottage and then found there was a problem with the deeds. It seems they had got burnt in a fire at the solicitors. I still did not consider this too much of a coincidence. After all these things happen don’t they? I never for one minute considered my life was in danger by some unknown arsonist who cannot be seen. I hear you laugh. You will take it back. Finally with the deeds issue sorted, we moved in. Many of the neighbours popped in to say hello. One day Mr Bush came to welcome us. Being one of the oldest members of the village he was somewhat viewed in awe by the locals. I have never been sure why. He admired our interior decorations and had a cup of tea. Just before leaving he dropped his bombshell.
‘Of course you know Miss Marshall haunts the cottage?’ he said lightly.
Andrew hid a smile. My eyes widened.
‘Miss Marshall?’ I queried.
‘I was nine,’ he said his eyes looking into space and it seemed like he was travelling back in time.
‘I remember seeing smoke billowing out from the bedroom window, your bedroom window. I got my dad and we rushed back and broke the door down and as we did so her charred body fell through the ceiling and landed here.’ He pointed to the middle of my living room and I shuddered.
‘I would be careful with those candles,’ he warned. ‘It was them that got her you see.’
‘Candles,’ I echoed.
Andrew seemed disinterested.
‘Yes, they thought a candle she had by the bed must have caught her nightdress and up in smoke she went.’
After he had left I suggested to Andrew that maybe we should not use candles. After all, that was three fires we had heard of now, all connected to the cottage. He laughed and told me not to be fanciful, after all Miss Marshall had probably died in the year 1920 or even earlier. It was not like there had been hundreds of fires since. I reminded him of the two fires Molly had and the solicitors fire,
‘The cottage is still standing and Molly and Clifford were here for over 30 years,’ he assured me.
I decided to put the entire business out of my mind. A year later it all came flooding back. Andrew was upstairs working. I had just showered and quickly grabbed my flowery flowing skirt that tied at the waist and put it on. It was a bit chilly so I decided to light some candles to warm the place up. I only meant to warm the place up you understand but someone else obviously had other intentions of warming me up. I had already lit those on the fireplace and was lighting the few I had put on the coffee table when I had a strange hot sensation in my leg. I ignored it, as you do. I then went to rub it only to find my skirt was on fire. Of course I can write calmly about this now. I frantically tried to untie the knot of the tie-up that held my skirt while repeatedly calling Andrew. God help me the damn thing was knotted. I began to frantically tug at it to get it over my hips, while the flames were licking further and further up my skirt.
‘Andrew,’ I screamed hysterically. No response. ‘Andrew, help me, please.’
No response. Oh my god I was going to burn alive like Miss Marshall. I ran dramatically towards the wall almost knocking myself out. Smoke was everywhere along with floating pieces of my skirt as Andrew opened the door at the bottom of the stairs. He did not rush down it seems because he thought I had seen a spider or a dead mouse. I ask you! Trust me, I do not scream hysterically when I see a mouse or even a spider. When I am burning to death I may have a tendency to scream hysterically, justified I think.
I swore never to have candles in the house again. But of course I lapsed. A few years went by and they were no more fire incidents so I put it down to bad luck. Then only a few weeks ago when Andrew was in Taiwan, Bendy and I were sitting cosily on the couch when there was a strange bang from upstairs. Bendy jumped onto the coffee table almost knocking over a vase of flowers. I jumped up to catch them throwing the cushion I was using to lean my net book upon, straight onto the candles on the table.
Gently stroking Bendy I realised there was a burning smell. I looked behind me to see the cushion on fire. I quickly doused it with water and sighed when I saw the large hole. Was this Miss Marshall striking again? We never did find out what the bang was. But we are brave here and do not give in to ghosts and still light candles

The Amityville Horror

I have the greatest in-laws, but unfortunately the maddest too. Although some people may think they are the perfect in-laws for me. One weekend with them is truly like being with the Adams family so imagine what going on holiday with them would be like, but more of that another time.
Shelagh and Jim seem quite normal compared to their millionaire neighbours, one of whom is Cheryl Cole and I say this because I am sure Cheryl would be disappointed if she were not mentioned. Not that we have ever met her, of course, but you can just see the top of her house, which is almost the same thing really. When I first encountered Shelagh I had no idea what I was letting myself in for. Last weekend was typical of a so-called peaceful time with the in-laws. Firstly I should tell you that my mother in law has the most wonderful relationship with a phone that I could never seem to acquire. She gives it so much attention that two of them have gone ‘bang’ while the others have just got worn out. Worse of all, in the attempt not to miss a call she has this call-waiting contraption, which almost gives me a breakdown. Whenever I phone her, some woman tells me ‘The person you are calling knows you are waiting’ so, if she knows I am waiting why does she never answer me? After about a dozen times of trying and an hour later I give up and search for my Valium, at which time she usually phones back after dialling 1471. More frightening is that she always puts the phone onto loud-speaker and often I find I am chatting away about someone who is sitting in the armchair opposite her. Red faces all round. Because they live some distance away, whenever we visit we nearly always stay the night and this means a visit to the in-laws becomes an expedition. Andrew packs his pillow, I pack my net book, plug adapters, DVDs for Shelagh to watch, a book, bottles of drink, my own food (well, I am on a diet you see) my camera, well you never know, then there is underwear, tooth brushes, change of clothing. Then we load the car with the wood and rubbish that was taken from our old bathroom after it was recently renovated. We are thrilled to be taking this as they can put it into their boiler. I cannot go into the whole boiler thing, as it is way beyond my technical understanding. All I know is that you can throw anything into this thing and it burns and they get their hot water and heating from it. At least that was my understanding until this catastrophic weekend. By the time we have packed I am exhausted and we haven’t left yet. Finally we arrive and she greets us enthusiastically as does ‘Bud’, my father in law who is Canadian and it’s a long story and best not to go there really but hence the name Bud. This weekend was to prove no less crazy than previous weekends. We are in the en suite. Now, this makes perfect sense to me. But we could have been in the green room, which isn’t green at all, or the family room, which looks nothing like a family room. But the important thing is that we Cooks all know which room is which. Tomas the cat greets us and I lift him by the scruff of the neck and that is enough to make him my friend for the rest of the weekend and also means I spend the best part of the weekend scraping ginger hairs off my black top, black cardigan and black leggings. We have lunch and then I log onto my net book and find… no connection.
‘Bud, why is their no Internet connection?’ I shout above News 24.
‘Oh, not had that for about two weeks. Don’t know what has happened there.’
Great, a whole weekend without Internet connection it seems. I ask Andrew if he can have a look once he has finished throwing all our rubbish into the boiler. Meanwhile I show Shelagh the DVDs I have brought. She decides she wants to watch ‘A Mighty heart.’ Over lunch I make the big mistake of telling her I am going to Palestine next year with a solidarity organization. She seems unsure about it but I convince her it will be safe. I have forgotten we are going to watch ‘A mighty heart’ later, in which a journalist is beheaded in Karachi. However, I digress but fret not we shall return to the subject of my own beheading shortly. With no Internet connection I decide to take mother in law shopping while Andrew tries to fix it. Now, I have no problems going in a car with my mother in law if she is in the passenger seat. I once had the privilege of being her passenger and we spent much of that journey with me clutching the sides of my seat as she drove down a one-way street, almost reversed into pedestrians and mounted the kerb on several occasions while often driving on the wrong side of the road. Suffice to say I kindly offered to take to her to Tesco in my car. Not long ago she had a hip replacement, so we take her stick and off we go.
The shopping was uneventful and we pack our purchases in the boot and I climb into the car and wait for her. The car next to ours is a bit close but she squeezes in and then struggles to get the new hip leg in. Several minutes and a great deal of hassle she turns to me with half her leg in.
‘It’s stuck, I can’t get my foot in, maybe if you reversed a bit.’
‘With the door open?’ I say horror-struck.
A young boy in the car next to us is staring at us with deep curiosity. I reverse the car with mum in laws leg hanging out of it like a dragging appendage. It really looked like something out of a horror film. I move back until there is more space for her to manoeuvre. Now, I have other drivers hooting at us as we sit in the middle of the car park with the passenger door half-open and a leg hanging out. Shelagh struggles to pull her leg in while I am hysterical with laughter, which in turn has her laughing too. Finally her leg is in and I move off with the boy still staring at us curiously. We arrive home to still no Internet connection and so sit down to watch the film. It is freezing cold and I get another cardigan. As the film progresses I find myself getting hotter and hotter and notice that even Bud has removed his thick jumper, an almost unknown event. Shelagh gets very emotional at the end of the film and I agree it is very sad.
‘I don’t want you to go to Palestine and get beheaded and then it gets on the internet.’ she blurts out.
Oh God.
‘Oh, I wont, I will be very careful and anyway Andrew will get if off the Internet.’
What am I saying? My husband will get it off the Internet? Now my husband is super husband, able to remove things from the Internet. She seems comforted by this thought and goes to prepare dinner commenting on how hot it is now the heating has switched on.
We sit down to dinner and the wine flows and believe me it flows freely in my in-laws home, especially into my mother in laws glass. As we talk I become aware of strange banging noises. Firstly it seems to be in the lounge and then suddenly the whole house is banging and creaking. I sit quivering in my chair. I suddenly feel like I am in ‘The Amityville Horror.’
‘My god what is happening?’ I squeal.
The radiators are banging like mad.
‘Did you put wood in the boiler?’ asks Bud unperturbed.
Andrew goes to check the boiler and comes back red-faced and with singed eyebrows (ok slight exaggeration.)
‘It’s like a furnace, I had to leave the door open,’ he says.
By now the whole house is boiling hot. We run lots of hot water and turn the thermostat down but still the house creaks and bangs like it is angry with us. Tomas hides under the table. Hot and exhausted Shelagh and I decide to watch a lighthearted comedy until the noise dies down. Then, it is time for bed. We kiss goodnight and head to our room. We are just about to settle down when their phone rings… and rings… and rings.
We both get up to find out why they are not answering it. Shelagh is walking about with the phone in her hand.
‘Why don’t you answer it?’ I ask.
‘Oh, I am ringing the other phone. We can’t find it.’
I hand the other phone to her, which is ringing away in the kitchen.
‘I thought you said you didn’t have intercom on your phones’
‘No that’s right we don’t.’
I nod. Hey ho, off to bed then where the windows are wide open and I wonder what tomorrow holds in the Cook household.

My five days as a radioactive Leper (read if you dare)

I went to see my endocrine consultant in a confident mood. So confident in fact that I took my book to read in the waiting room. I knew we were having trouble getting my hyperactive thyroid under control and that radio iodine was something we were going to discuss, and that even the possibility of booking an appointment do the dirty deed was, I knew, on the cards. But, well, I don’t have to tell you about the NHS. I was confident because I was well aware the appointment would be months away. In fact, let us be honest, it was more likely to be years away. In fact, let’s be even more honest, the chances of my still being alive when they offer me the treatment is very unlikely. So, I wander in, even more confidently after having just been weighed and told I have lost a few more pounds while on my diet. I felt surprisingly good after that. Even if they do say it will be twenty years before we can destroy your thyroid Mrs Renham Cook, I don’t think I will mind too much. I had lost more weight and better still my blood pressure was lower. Do I care about a thyroid problem?
‘So, ve vink ve coming to the radioiodine treatment. For your better health, you understand me, this is your only chance. It be danger for you othervise.’ My German/Polish/Slovakian/ Eastern European,(well she isn’t English, that much I can tell you) consultant tells me. I nod, not fully understanding whether the treatment is not good for my health or not having it is not good for my health. She pushes a form towards me.
‘You fill zis in please,’ she is beginning to sound more like the Gestapo with each passing minute.
I fill in the form and feel my heart beat a little faster. My god, surely they are not going to do it now. I mean, I have come alone. Doesn’t someone need to accompany me home? Surely there is a waiting list a thousand miles long sitting around somewhere of which to the bottom of, I should surely go.
‘So, ve now get you to see Joan and book you in for next monday, zis is good.’
Next Monday! The next Monday of this month! The next Monday of this year! The next Monday of my life in fact.
‘But, I can’t possibly,’ I splutter, ‘We are short-staffed at work.’
She looks unperturbed.
‘Zees appointments very hard to get. verk vill understand.’
Oh, she has much to learn.
Oh, my god. I am sent back to the waiting room where I quake whilst waiting to see Joan, who is very nice and explains everything in full, albeit it very quickly.
‘You swallow a capsule and then you are radioactive. All the radio iodine will go to your thyroid to destroy it but there will elements lingering in the body which will come out in your urine and sweat. Do not sleep with your husband for 5 days, take 5 days off work and do not get closer than 1 metre to others. After the 5th day you can be a bit more relaxed but still avoid pregnant woman and babies. We will see you in a week.’
I leave in a state of shock. For the next seven days I spend my time googling Radio iodine treatment and discussing it with my husband. By the time I go the following week we feel we have the whole thing sussed. He will sleep in another room. I have separated our towels and what not. I buy a new toothbrush on the way and wonder how it will feel being apart from my husband at night, already we have arranged to sit on separate couches. I am very nervous when I arrive at the hospital and yet all I am going to do is swallow a pill. I mean, let’s face it I am the worst hypochondriac in the world, second to Woody Allen and popping pills is a way of life for me. Ok, I don’t spend my life popping radioactive ones admittedly. But, trust me, Ozzy Ozbourne has nothing on me. I am taken into a small room and everything is read out to me and I am asked to sign a form to say I understand that I must legally carry a yellow card around with me stating I am radioactive and also wear a yellow wrist bracelet should I have an accident. This means the paramedics will be aware. I get more nervous as she clips the bracelet on. I suddenly feel like an alien. Will the paramedics walk away from my dying body when they see the bracelet? Will the bracelet hinder the saving of my life? What am I letting myself in for?
‘Ok, you can take the capsule.’ annouces Joan.
I am led silently to a table where a large vial sits waiting for me.Suddenly I feel like I have stepped into the ‘Frankenstein’ novel. I am like someone being taken to their execution.
‘Only you can do it,’ she prods.
Oh, I see. Only I take responsibility for radio activating myself. I suddenly feel like I am in a sci-fi movie and expect lots of bubbly froth to accompany my capsule. I lift the vial from its container and everyone jumps back. I hesitate and then lift it to my lips and in one movement the capsule is sliding down my throat.
‘Ok,’ they say ushering me out and standing ten miles from me. ‘You are radioactive now.’
I walk out of the building expecting everyone to look differently at me. Surely it shows on my face that I am radioactive, or maybe something shines about my head, you know like a halo. Well, I imagine it does that all the time anyway, with all the good works I do, but listen, I don’t want to brag.
I wait to feel different. I climb into my car and wait. It doesn’t start itself, so I turn the key in the ignition and wait for an electric shock or something. It doesn’t happen. I drive home, checking myself every few minutes for new symptoms, nothing happens. Well, this is a piece of cake, I tell myself. Now, let this be a warning to you. Never tell yourself something is a piece of cake. The next five days are awful. I cannot make Bendy (our cat) understand that I do still love him but I just can’t have him near me. The more I try to avoid him, the more he pushes himself onto me. I spend my time going ‘Shoo shoo’ Till, in the end he shoos away to the neighbour’s house. Andrew sits on another couch and avoids touching me and I begin to feel like a leper. I still feel the same. Nothing remarkable happens in the house and I feel almost disappointed. I think I had expected all kinds of amazing things to take place during those five days. The only remarkable thing that takes place is the staggering amount of washing I do. I phone Andrew on the intercom to say goodnight and ‘I love you’. I am beginning to understand what it feels like to be in a long distance relationship.
Then the five days are up. I didn’t conjure up strange men from another planet. I got a few odd looks when people saw my wrist band. Andrew joked it was like a new baby’s wrist band and I was a born again nutcase. So, I got through it. I now had to wait for the next stage. Blood tests in a few weeks and the likelihood that I would become under active. What they didn’t tell me was that it would be a bad idea to get a cold. What do I do? Yes, catch a cold. Two weeks on and I feel like I am being strangled on a daily basis. I phone the hospital and they pass the buck to my doctor, he listens and passes the buck back to them. Meanwhile, I am in agony. Ok, hypochondriac agony which is probably fifty per cent less than it sounds. A piece of cake? I couldn’t eat one if I tried. It seems a cold inflames the glands more. I mean, it can only happen to me.
So, they tell me to take plenty of pain killers (yes permission at last to take drugs) drink plenty of fluids and wait. Back to google to check they have got it right this time.

The Pain

This article was featured in The Scavenger magazine.

Childless While the pain of involuntary childlessness is devastating for both women and men, childless people should be considered an integral part of society and not as outsiders or victims, writes Lynda Renham-Cook.

My name is Lynda Renham-Cook and I am a childless woman – not by choice (as opposed to ‘child-free’).

I have been childless for over 25 years and my chances of ever being a mother is now negligible. The deep void felt by a woman who wants a child but is unable to conceive is indescribable.

I know, because I have tried to express my pain to my second husband, who is a father and he cannot comprehend it and I can barely describe it.

However, I consider myself lucky. I have never lost a child, or given birth to a dead baby like one friend who delivered at nine months her dead child because the umbilical cord was tied around her baby’s neck.

I have never had to endure the ordeal of an early hysterectomy or feel the constant physical pain that follows operations that have been unsuccessful. My own infertility has the dreaded, awful title of ‘Unexplained Infertility.’

In broad terms, this means that Doctors cannot find a medical explanation for why a pregnancy doesn’t happen. Through the years my emotions have resembled a fairground attraction. They have roller coasted from sadness, bitterness, devastation, loneliness, to almost madness.

I have read about women who have stolen babies from other women and although I do not condone this I can understand it. Many women are brought up believing that getting married and having children is the greatest thing a woman can achieve.

Many are practically ostracised from their families when they cannot reproduce. They have failed as women. How do these women cope with the loss of their own family coupled with their inability to have children? I cannot begin to imagine.

I have struggled to highlight the plight of childless women. It is very difficult for a woman, without children, to integrate herself into what is very much a family orientated society.

For many years I hid the fact that I could not have children. I deluded myself that it was the fair thing to do for others and myself. It was not right to embarrass the rest of society, or for me to face the pitied looks from other women. I told everyone I met that I did not want children.

The most common questions asked when socialising are, ‘What do you do then Lynda?’ and ‘Do you have children?’

Childless people are seen as an embarrassment

I find this exceptionally personal but it seems an acceptable question when in mixed company. Consequently, for much of my life I felt an outsider in society and still do, albeit in a more comfortable way now, as I am more relaxed with my situation. I still am, however, an embarrassment that most mothers do not know how to deal with.

Every mother reading this will shake her head in denial and think how ridiculous. But, they do feel embarrassment when meeting a childless woman, rather like people do when faced with grief.

They do not know what to say and suddenly you are a woman they have nothing in common with. They cannot discuss their child’s feeding problems, or their teenagers annoying habits.

They are uncomfortable to discuss their offspring’s achievements with you because you cannot compete with stories of your own. So they find ways of making you feel less inadequate, even though, you may not, and may never have felt that way in the first place.

Their most helpful comments are the following:

“Well you haven’t missed anything.”

Oh really?

“If I had my time again I wouldn’t do it.”

Do they seriously expect me to believe that they would not give birth to little Jamie or adorable Sophie if they could go back in time? Why do I not believe them?

Then, there is the religious viewpoint:

“God works in mysterious ways.”

Is this some strange way of telling me that God felt I was not good enough to be a mother?

However, my favourite has to be:

“Why don’t you foster?”

Now, there’s a thought. How easy that must be. Do I want to look after a child only to give it up after a period of time? No, I don’t think so.

Finding support

Time passed and I finally overcame my feelings of shame and when asked if I have children, I simply reply: “No, I couldn’t have them.”

I ignore the stupid comments they may make in an attempt to make me feel less inadequate. I have found other projects to fill my life and although nothing can fill that void, I refuse to be a victim of my childlessness.

It occurred to me that I could not be alone. I never had an opportunity to share my feelings with anyone when I first learnt I was childless but now, thanks to the Internet all that has changed. I have discovered many women all over the world are suffering the same plight.

Two years ago I began a Facebook group ‘Childless Support’. At the beginning only a handful of women joined. Almost one year later we have 150 members and are still growing.

I also learnt how to get in touch with my own feelings by seeking out a good counsellor.

Our aim is to highlight the difficulties faced by childless women. It is important that we are an integral part of society and not seen to be outsiders or victims.

Childless men

More importantly it should never be forgotten that men are childless too and their pain is just as acute. I am thrilled we have males in our group who give us a whole new perspective on being childless.

Jerry, a childless man has wrestled with his emotions for many years. Here is his story:

Like Lynda, I too dread that question at dinner parties:

“Do you have children?”

“No!” Is what I want to scream, loudly, angrily and in pain.

In the past I used to just say no and attempt to change the subject. Now, I say, “It hasn’t worked for us.”

This provokes a variety of reactions, some very supportive, seeming to recognise the depth of my sadness and understanding it, while others, obviously embarrassed, begin to utter those platitudes, well-meant but ultimately quite insulting as Lynda has already mentioned.

I can’t speak for other childless men, however, I can tell you what it has been like for me.

Way back when I was 22 I was taking a group of people around a local nature reserve and I can remember vividly how excited the children were at everything I was showing them.

Their joy and happiness and their laughter had an amazing effect on me. That was the day I decided I wanted to be a father more than anything else in life.

When I met my partner it was so frustrating waiting for her to catch up with my desires and the frustration continued when things didn’t happen as expected.

Then came the exhaustive and intimate tests, until finally we were given the label of ‘unexplained infertility.’ It is a frustrating diagnosis. It gives you nothing definite to kick against, to force closure, or to stop all those ‘what if’ thoughts that flood into your mind.

After four cycles of IVF we achieved a pregnancy only to suffer a miscarriage, but our little one lives on in our hearts. Eventually my partner could take no more disappointments and my life became empty, my future bleak. Everything I’d dreamed about and lived for was gone.

It has taken a lot of strength to get myself together again, to enjoy life once more because for a while nothing lifted me. Life as a childless man when all you ever wanted to be was a father is incredibly tough. Until you are in that position you do not realise just how many references to children there are in everyday life.

Families are everywhere in the media. Family life, form the basis of so many films and plays. Television adverts are full of children. You hear a child in a play call ‘daddy daddy’ and you realise you are never going to hear those words addressed to you and it hurts. It hurts a lot.

Every day, every hour, society reminds you of what you will never experience.

Infertility I think affects men differently from women. Childless women get a degree of sympathy and recognition.

Whenever infertility is discussed in the media the pain endured by women is recognised while that endured by men is so often ignored.

Men often feel that they have to be strong to be supportive of their partner, so they hide their disappointment, pain and anguish. Others find the inability to control events overwhelming.

What lifted me out of the dark place I’d sunk into was talking. Talking to pretty much anyone who had anything constructive to say – counsellors, friends, strangers, and of course my partner.

A vital part of that talking has been on the internet. That wonderful piece of technology has allowed me to reach out to others in the same situation as me and that has been so important.

It can be too easy to feel so alone when you are faced with such major issues in your life, as many will testify, and being able to talk and chat, online helps so much.

I have struggled not to be bitter and feel blessed to have found a wonderful husband whose own children have been very accepting of me and given me the pleasures of grandparenting, something I thought I would never experience.

I am always happy when someone in our group tells us they are finally pregnant. Bitterness is the road to destruction and not one I want to travel.

How to respond to involuntarily childless people

If you meet a childless woman please do not presume it is by choice. Do not feel you need to say anything to make their situation better and please attempt not to show any embarrassment.

One of the nicest responses I ever had was from a man I met at a dinner party. I had previously found this particular person rather arrogant and was not looking forward to seeing him again. He and his wife arrived late, full of apologies. Their babysitter had let them down at the last-minute and then their eldest child would not settle with the new sitter.

“Who would have children?” he had said with a nonchalant air as he removed his jacket.

“I would,” I answered in a flash.

He acknowledged me without pity in his eyes and simply said,

“I’m sorry.”

It was enough. I didn’t feel inadequate. It was the right response.

Lynda Renham-Cook is associate editor of The Scavenger. A freelance writer, she learnt she could not have children three years after being married. She was then in her early 30s. After a long battle with infertility treatment she eventually resigned herself to never being a mother.

As time went on her loneliness increased and she sought to find a way to integrate herself into society. In an attempt to seek support she set up a group on the internet and discovered many women suffering in the same way. Her discovery has not only helped her understand the struggles other women have gone through but also gained her many new friends.

Any woman wishing to join Lynda’s group can contact her

Anyone for a Vindaloo?

How can I describe the delights of going out to dinner to all you lovely folk? I expect you do it quite a lot. Or maybe, you have that even greater pleasure of ordering take away pizza. Oh, what a gastronomic delight that must be. For me it is similar to telling a child they can now open their Christmas presents. I am overcome with excitement. This may have something to do with the fact that I seem to be permanently on a diet. That is not strictly true, I don’t seem to be permanently on a diet, I am permanently on a diet. The day Andrew could actually see I had a waistline, he decided it was there to stay and so was Diet Chef. So, you can imagine my controlled excitement when Andrew’s son, James, came to visit recently from Australia.
‘We must go for an Indian,’ were his first words. Ok, not his first words but you know what I mean. Later he mentioned we ought to go out and have a Chinese meal.
Oh, music to my ears. However, after Sunday’s debacle I doubt it will have such an appeal again. I really feel I am doing Michael Winner an injustice by writing about it myself. I really should let him have that honour as he does it so well for The Sunday Times.
I should tell you also, should you not know him, that my husband is a very decent chap. In fact my other name for him is Mr diplomacy. But, even I know, Mr diplomacy if only pushed a short way can become Mr firm in one move.
So, here we are, picture us if you can, entering the restaurant. There are six of us, Andrew and me, his eldest son and wife Anna and also his youngest son Tim and of course little baby Matthew. It is important to count numbers here as numbers become of paramount importance much later on. It is empty. We have chosen to have lunch and then wander around town later. We do a lot of that stuff that must drive waiters mad; you know the kind of thing.
‘Do you want to sit with him?’
‘No, let Anna go at the end, it is easier for her to get to the baby.’
‘Do you think this table is too near the door?’
‘Did anyone notice where the loos were?’
Then follows the ‘What does everyone want to drink?’
Finally, drinks ordered, baby settled and menus in front of us we begin the wonderful business of choosing our food. A whole discussion on whether we want Pappadam’s follows. James asks how many do we get per portion, and the waiter tells us nine. We all look a bit stunned. £1.95 per portion and we get nine. Well, this has to be right doesn’t it? Maths is my worst subject but even I know five into nine would give us 1.8 of a Pappadam and if it were 2 per person then we were being diddled out of a bit of Pappadam somewhere. Come on, you have to agree? Anyway, best to veer away from the Pappadam’s for the moment.
We begin to have an enjoyable time, as you do. I started taking loads of photos and we all discussed what we would eat. Having been to this restaurant previously, Andrew chose to have Goan curry and his youngest son, Tim, followed suit. The rest of us chose Chicken or Lamb. I am sure you are finding this as riveting as watching paint dry. Well, why are you still reading? You want to know what happens don’t you? We all chose starters too but I am sensing your yawns so I wont even go there, except to say they were very nice.
Then came our main meal. Oh, the pleasure of so much food. I truly feel I have been starving but my constant mantra of ‘Nothing tastes as good as being slim feels’ was not reaching its high tones on this day. Then, I saw Tim grimace and poke at his fish.
‘What’s wrong?’ I asked. Oh, if I could eat those words! Eat those words, god I am good, you must admit.
‘It’s raw and it’s not even hot.’
‘Send it back,’ advises Andrew and we all nod in agreement and my diplomatic husband calls over the waiter.
What follows is the truth so help me god.
Tim: This is not quite cooked; I wonder could you just cook it a bit more?
Waiter: That is how the Sea Bass is. It supposed to be like that.
Andrew then looks at his, which is the same but better cooked.
Tim: I had this before when we came here and it was different, this is like…raw and cold.
Anna: Can you just cook it some more please?
Waiter: I ask the chef.
We all stare at each other.
‘Why is he asking the chef?’ I ask. ‘We are the customer, we can have it char grilled if we want.”
Andrew starts to look cross.
‘This is the first time I have argued with a waiter about food in a restaurant.’
Waiter returns: That is how it cooked the chef can’t change it.
Tim: I just would like it cooked a little more.
Anna: Can you not just cook it a bit more?
I am wondering which word he does not understand. Cook, more, raw, or maybe he doesn’t understand any of them.
Tim continues to negotiate while Andrew silently gets up and makes his way to the kitchen.
This is not good. The waiter seemingly unaware that Andrew is heading towards the Chef continues to debate with my stepson. Andrew comes back and informs us that the Chef has said the fish is bad and Andrew again looks at his own fish, which was the same Sea Bass. Anna then says hers does not taste quite right but thinks it is okay. Mine is fine. Choices are provided and Tim decides on another fish dish. I feel the irritation as it whiffs across from my normally, very laid back husband.
‘I cannot believe we had to argue like that,’ he snaps, ‘If the fish was bad why did they dish it up in the first place?’
Tim has chosen a cod dish and we all breathe a sigh of relief. Meanwhile I offer him some of mine while it is being cooked. Finally his dish arrives and we all begin to laugh about it.
About forty-five minutes later and with no apology from the chef or the waiter, we decide to go somewhere else for ice cream and ask for the bill.
It is placed in front of Andrew and I feel him tense.
‘Oh, come on!’
‘What is it?’ asks James.
‘I’m not paying this, they have charged us almost £10 for the ‘Pappadam’s.’
I did warn you the Pappadam’s would rear their ugly head again didn’t I?
‘But we asked how many were given for one portion.’ argues James.
‘I didn’t really want any,’ says Tim.
‘I didn’t have much either, it was only because they were there,’ I chime in.
‘I didn’t really want any either,’ adds Anna
‘That isn’t the point, we didn’t order them, and so I am not paying for them.’
I am becoming so grateful the place is empty. He calls the waiter over queries the bill and is told that is what we ordered. Andrew disagrees and demands to see the menu.
After two seconds of studying it he states bluntly.
‘I am paying the bill but not for the ‘Pappadam’s, do you understand? We clearly queried the number for one portion and you said nine.’
The waiter starts to argue but Andrew interrupts him.
‘I am not paying for them, understand.’
He stands up and follows the waiter to the till. We all watch as the waiter begins to make a phone call.
Anna starts to buckle the baby into his buggy.
‘Ooh, I think I had better get chubbs buckled in quick,’ she says.
‘I want to know where he got nine from anyway,’ says James.
Andrew suddenly storms towards us.
‘Right, if the manager is not here in a few seconds we are leaving.’
Anna is frantically buckling in the baby now while trying to grab an after eight mint or two.
The few seconds pass and Andrew heads for the door followed by James. I know this is a tactic to get something done but Tim looks dumbstruck.
‘We can’t not pay.’ he says.
Anna finally has baby buckled in and I grab another after eight for her, after all she is breast-feeding and eating for two.
The manager arrives and I call Andrew to come back in. The following takes place.
Manager: Can you count one to nine?

Outside the restaurant

Andrew puts his hand up in irritation and heads for the door.
Manager: How many did you eat?
Andrew: It is irrelevant how many we ate. I did not order them. I will pay for one portion.
Manager: Can you count one to nine
Andrew: Fine, let’s go
We all walk to the door.
Manager: Ok, you not pay for them. Our mistake okay, I take them off.
Andrew: I will pay for one. Do you understand, I am not happy about any of this’
Manager: No you not pay for them.
Andrew: Whatever

We pay as everyone is looking on from outside. We leave and I grab another after eight for Anna.

Anyone for a Vindaloo?

Supporting Palestine

Why I support Palestine

On a cold, wet night, in February 1994 I entered the home of Rabbi Laurence. He was the first Rabbi I had encountered. My upbringing had been devoid of religion, unless you count the odd Sunday school visit, my small leather-bound bible and a few odd, colourful texts of Jesus that I had collected along the way.
My relationship with God came to an abrupt end at the age of thirteen when our local vicar had damned me to hell for not attending school. I had been suffering from school refusal, – a condition more understood now- and my parents had thought a visit to the local vicar might help, it didn’t. Now, almost twenty years later I was considering religion again, although this time I felt as though God had sent this to me. The man I was about to marry was Jewish. I had read a great deal about the Jewish faith and I felt it was calling to me. My father talked often of the grandmother he had never known and of whom he understood had been Jewish. My future husband had no interest in his faith at all. In fact he was disgustingly ignorant of his heritage. This did not deter me. I asked him about conversion and he admitted that this thought had entered his mind, as he knew his family were not happy about him being seen with a Shiksa (non- Jewish woman). A phrase I would later come to view as very derogatory to myself and all other non-Jewish women. That evening, however, I learnt it would not be that easy to convert. Non-Jews were not encouraged to embrace Judaism and if they did, they had to prove themselves worthy. So, began my introduction to regular Shabbat services, as well as High Holy Day services and festivals such as Pesach (Passover). I became very emotional about my conversion. My partner could not help me with my essays or my Hebrew studies and his family refused to assist. I attended every class and wrote twenty-six essays, learnt fluent Hebrew and later went on to teach Jewish studies and head a small private Jewish school. I married my then fiancée and made sure he followed all holiday and Shabbat practices. I became involved in Synagogue affairs and found myself on many committees. I went to Israel and spent a lot of time there. I viewed Israel as I might my own child, in that it could do no wrong. This was a small country, surrounded by aggressive Arabs who constantly threatened Israel’s very existence. These Arabs were no more than dirty interlopers. They had started wars, lost parts of their land and now wanted Israel to pay. Already, I had been brainwashed. The Jews had suffered the horrors of the Holocaust, how could anyone resent them having a small piece of land. When my husband and I accidentally found ourselves in an Arab quarter when leaving the wrong gate out of Jerusalem, I was terrified, such was my fear of these people at this time. As time went on, I spent more and more of my time defending Israel every time they were condemned. How could people criticise such a small defenceless country. Why were these Arabs complaining so much? There were other Arab countries where they could live. The Jews only had Israel. I am ashamed and shocked how naive I was.
Some years later I divorced my husband. I still continued to practice Judaism but in a smaller way. I still admired Israel and continued to defend it. I met the man who was to become my husband and soul mate. I accepted he was an atheist but was not prepared for his feelings regarding Israel. He would make it clear he did not agree with me but never pushed his opinions upon me. Then I learnt his daughter was to marry an Egyptian. I really felt odd about this and kept asking my husband how he thought her fiancée would feel about me being Jewish. I did not relish meeting him or having an Arab under my roof. However, he came with a friend and I learnt my husband had agreed they could stay the night with us. I had no idea what to expect. But certainly what I encountered was far from any expectations I may have had. They were courteous well-mannered, pleasant, intelligent and accepting of my beliefs. I went to bed that night realising I had never been as accepting of them. I Finally agreed to go to Cairo for their engagement party. My views on Israel and Arabs were dramatically altered during that visit. I met people who treated me with the highest respect while maintaining their deep passion regarding Israel and the social injustice delivered to their fellow countrymen there. I was astonished when a friend of the family offered to show me the oldest synagogue in Cairo. Before we left he gave me gifts for my family. I was deeply touched. I am still in contact with him and consider him a good friend. However, I still continued defending Israel no matter how inexcusable their behaviour. I would argue with people, even when I knew my argument was somewhat flawed. Again, we were invited to Cairo. This time I discussed politics with the friend I had made and also with my future stepson in law. I began to look at the news with a different perspective. For the first time in my life I read the history of the Israeli and Palestine conflict. I began to read any book I could lay my hands on about the plight of the Palestinian and I became ashamed. I was Ashamed of my ignorance and ashamed of my arrogance. I am now reading so many books on the Israeli/Palestinian situation. I can finally see that Israel’s occupation of the West bank and the Gaza strip is illegal and violates the fourth Geneva conventions. Worse of all, Israel’s human rights violations since 2000 have left more than four times more Palestinian civilians dead than the total number of Israeli’s killed by Palestinians. I could go on and on. But there are numerous books to read and you only need to Google to check the facts.
‘Witness in Palestine’ By Anna Baltzer is only one of many books detailing all the facts. Another wonderful read is ‘Letters from Palestine’ by Kenneth Ring, a wonderful man with a Jewish background and a big heart. I am blessed to know you Kenneth. I am blessed to know many Palestinians.
I do not forget those whose lives were lost in The Holocaust. Both are anathema to me. However, it is important to remember one does not cancel out the other. Israel often quotes the Holocaust. If anyone criticises them they are automatically accused by Israel of being a Holocaust denier. The Holocaust does not give the Israeli’s the right to break UN resolutions, which they do, in fact more than any country in the history of its organization. Something a country cannot be proud of doing surely.
Palestinians are not victims and would not wish to be viewed as such but they do need our support and help in highlighting what is clearly a social injustice. I hope I am now doing that.

Constructing a sentence

I am beginning to think that perhaps I do not articulate terribly well. In fact, it is even occurring to me, after yesterday, that maybe what I think are fully constructive sentences are not at all. I think I have perhaps lost the art of constructing a sentence, or at least one that makes sense to everyone else. Or, of course it could just be that everyone I am coming across are all the dumb people. Take yesterday for example. Now, where to start?
Well, if you recall, we had a wonderful holiday apart from the car and cat problems.
The car, it seems, is an ongoing problem. Now, I can deal with this. I am a mature woman. I understand cars have issues and need to be dealt with. I cannot however deal with a husband who seems to either be going deaf, or has selective hearing where I am concerned. I think it is the latter.
For the past three years he has had a mobile phone, whoops correction, a PDA which he uses to connect to his computer for his software work (straight over my head), which also doubles up as his mobile. Except the battery has been dying on a regular basis for the past six months. This has not been a serious issue as he emails me from work and I get that on my blackberry and email him back. But, god forbid, I may need to phone him and say,
‘Hey honey, could you stop off at the supermarket and get some toilet roll.’
Not that I would ever use those words, but you get my drift. Just a roll of toilet paper would kill his phone in an instant. So, I have coped with this problem without a complaint, apart from the odd,
‘Could you not get a new mobile darling, you know in case of emergency and all that?’
So, yesterday I went to the shops with the intention of being there for a short time and to maybe check out a cheap Nokia for him. I only needed a pair of shoes for a wedding on saturday after all.
I am not a lover of multi story parking and it took me all of twenty minutes to find a space. I ended up on the fourth floor and decided to take the lift down. First mistake.
I stepped in and was practically thrown to the floor by the onslaught of body odour and the leering eyes of what had to be a pervert. I attempted to retreat but the doors closed on me. I was somewhat relieved to see another woman with a child and proceeded to hold my breath. After just a few seconds the lift lurched and stopped.
we were all silent for a while. All trying to look calm and seeming not bothered in the least. Then the woman with the baby suddenly started banging all the buttons.
‘Oh my god, are we stuck. Do you have any water? Oh my god what do we do?’
Not panic maybe!
I handed her my half bottle of water which she snatched and quickly popped two pills which she washed down with my water. Now, my head was throbbing. I looked at the empty bottle and sighed. The smell was becoming intense now. I opened the little flap where the phone would be, there wasn’t one.
‘Oh my god, oh my god, my baby.’
I fought the impulse to slap her. Meanwhile the stinky man just stands there like a statue and now the baby picks up mum’s anxiety and screams for bloody England, while I try to remember what I needed so badly at the damn shops that would make this all worthwhile.
‘We could jump up and down,’ the smelly man suddenly suggests.
I try not to look unimpressed as I pull out my blackberry and get the phone number for marks and spencer which is on the ground floor. I have to shout above the baby’s screaming.
‘Could you get someone to fix the lift in the multi story car park please, we seem to be stuck and cannot get it to move.’ I mean, was that well constructed or what?
‘What car park would that be madam?’
Do what? There is only one in the whole town.
‘The one here, the one right outside your store.’
‘Can you hold on madam.’
Five minutes pass and then a woman comes on the phone.
By now my head is fit to burst,
‘What are they doing for god’s sake?’ yells mum.
‘I understand you are stuck in a lift, can you give us clear directions just where you are?’
oh please!
‘I am on the top floor of Bloomingdales of course. For goodness sake, we have a crying baby here. We are in the lift outside your store, right here in the town.’
‘There is no need to be rude madam we are trying to help you.’
I want to tell her I am about to pass out from an overdose of unsavoury body odour and could she have a medic waiting. Meanwhile, I try to ignore the fact that the man with us has his hand in an unsavoury place also.
I apologise and try to give clear concise instructions. She asks do I have enough battery to stay on the phone so they can get someone to sort out the problem. For Goodness sake!
‘Madam,can you confirm that you are in the lift that connects to the multi story car park?’
‘I already have.’
‘Well there is a lift in Debenhams, are you in that?’
‘I know where I bloody am. I am right outside your store on the 4th floor, which word do you not understand, store, floor, 4th?’
‘We are trying to help you madam.’
Why does it not feel like that?
Suddenly the think jerks and we are moving again. The doors suddenly open and I am out like a shot. Any plans of visiting Marks and Spencer are abandoned and I head to New look. I forget the phone, take the stairs back to my car and head home.
Thank god, time to relax. Never, ever again will I allow that thought to enter my head.
I decide to do a quick dinner of bean burgers and veg. Andrew emailed he was leaving twenty minutes before I stuck everything in the oven. I had just sat down when my mobile rang with a voice message. It was Andrew, the bloody car had broken down again. I phoned him back, forgetting the battery issue.
‘I have been trying for fifteen minutes to get it to restart. I will have to call the breakdown people so better go. I have some battery so will phone you when they get here.’
I wait and wait and wait. The phone goes. A Text.
‘Change of plan, they were bringing me home. But am going to the Peugeot garage with it can you collect me from there?’
I text back.
‘Where is that?’
Ten minutes pass and no response. I deliberate, should I or shouldn’t I call him back.
I do.
‘We are at the garage can you get me?’
Then I hear the man from the breakdown company say something about dropping him off somewhere nearer home.
‘Ok, can you collect me at Fri…’
Phone cuts out. I sit in the car, ready to leave. A woman geared up with nowhere to go. For god’s sake. I try his phone three times and just get voice mail.
I rush inside and google Fri and Oxfordshire and Peugeot and get a vague idea of where he may be. I set off and then decide to phone the breakdown company. They can patch me through (as they say on ‘24’) to the breakdown driver.
I pull in to a lay by and call them.
‘Hi, sorry to bother you but I am going to collect my husband who has been dropped off by your people and I am going to collect him. His phone battery has died so I am not sure where I am collecting him from. Can you put through to the driver he was with?’
Clear, concise sentence, yes? Obviously not.
‘Can I have his registration.’
That is like asking me can they have his waist measurement.How the hell do I know. I don’t even know my own reg without looking.
‘I don’t know it.’
‘Can I have your house number and postcode.’
I give it.
‘Okay madam, I can see he was picked up. They are relaying him home.’
‘No, they were but then there was a change of plan, can you just put me through to the driver.’
This is obviously very difficult for him.
‘Just putting you on hold madam.’
I get nice music. Then a woman answers.
‘Can I help you?’
I explain again.
‘Can you phone your husband?’
Erm, did I not cover that one already?
‘His battery died, so no I can’t.’
‘Do you think he will phone you?’
Of course, how silly, why did I not think of that.
‘His battery has died, I do not think he can. I think your man has dropped him off at one of two places can you phone him and ask him where he has done that so I know where I am going.’
By now I am driving while on the phone as it is all taking too long.
‘Putting you on hold.”
Oh, for Christ sake.
Five minutes later.
‘Do you know where the garage was?’
Oh this is getting stupid.
I give her the name of the place and say I do not know how to get there which is why I need the driver to tell me.
‘Oh, hold on. Fred,’ she shouts ‘Do you know where Frithwell is?’
I have to be in a nightmare. Surely this cannot be happening. How hard can it be to put me through to a driver. He has a bloody phone.
‘I will try to get hold of the driver and call you back,’ she says.
I go to give her my number but she tells me she has it on her system. I later find out she didn’t have it at all. She phoned Andrew and managed to get him on a small amount of battery he had left. Then realised she could not phone me back. I meanwhile am heading to a place I have never been to in my life before and have no idea where I am going. I am cursing the woman, cursing Andrew, cursing his car and am almost in tears. I try Andrew again, nothing. I am half way to the place when my phone goes.
‘I am in Cumnor by the pub, can you come there.’
Shit, I am now on the motorway. More curses and I then manage to turn around and head back. I pull up beside him with a screech and we drive home in silence at 90 miles an hour until Andrew speaks.
‘I will need clean pants when we get home if you continue like this.’
‘If you do not get a phone by this time tomorrow, I am leaving,’ I say all dramatically. I know and he knows I have nowhere to go.
‘Ok,’ he responds.
Tonight we are collecting the car and I am fearful. I feel like I am going on a fairground ride. At least he got a Nokia phone so should we lose each other, we can maintain contact. Wish me luck…

The Good Life

I jumped from my bed at this morning and it was not to go to work. My cat was howling like a banshee. I cursed as I fell over three pillows and then four cushions. I could almost feel Andrew’s smirk. Almost six years ago we had moved into our Cotswold village and our darling cottage. I was determined to make it as cosy as possible. This culminated in us being inundated with “ideal home” and other similar type magazines. The bedroom was to be the dream room and the bed the icing on the cake, so it was layered with pillows and then topped like an appetising desert with an abundance of colourful cushions. I cannot recall a night when Andrew had not complained about them.
‘I only need one pillow to sleep on, so why do I have three and why do we have numerous cushions as well? We need to come to bed thirty minutes earlier just to clear the bed.’
I did try to explain the aesthetics of the idea but it seemed to go over his head. Now, this particular morning I am beginning to agree with him. It took me forever to find my clothes which were nicely hugged up with all the cushions. Finally, I got downstairs and quietly called in my cat, and not for the first time silently moaned under my breath, ‘bloody village. For, the whole village would have heard his antics and in fact, if my window is not closed they can often hear mine, I imagine. Such is the way of village life. I am not a country girl at heart. I spend the mornings drowning wood lice that reside in my bath and the evening hoovering up spiders. I drive to work at 10 miles an hour so I don’t hit a pheasant with my car. I use to scream hysterically when Bendrix (the cat) first brought in mice. I have now learnt the art of scraping them up with a shovel. The live ones I do seriously run away from or grab someone in the village and do a trade.. One woman hates butterflies, so I will get them out of her house and in return she removes live mice from mine. But the rabbits, oh don’t go there. My cat seems to like the heads only. Sometimes I come home to scenes out of ‘Fatal attraction’. I leave those for Andrew. So what made a townie like me move to a village? Is village life all it is cracked up to be?
Well, there is a lot to be said for bell ringing I am sure. The Women’s institute is probably fascinating, except I have not quite built up the courage to join yet, even though they have badgered me for six years.
The local pub is useful as it is within walking distance and if you have a penchant for god, well, the church is right opposite the pub. Handy, I guess, if you should want to drown your sorrows after confession. Mind you, if you want anything else then you need a car as there are no shops for two miles but we do have a mobile library which I find rather decadent for some reason.
As to why we moved here, well, maybe that should be part two.
But country life, and country folk are a law unto themselves. I love my little village. It is pretty and people actually visit it and take photos! I don’t ever recall that happening in Romford, in that little known county of Essex. Did I feel a cringe? Yes, I am an Essex girl. We are a brand of our own. Known for dancing round our handbags and of course infamously known thanks to Jade Goody. But, not to fret. Surrey born Andrew knocked the Essex twang out of me very quickly. You would never know it now. I get more horsy sounding with each day. Talking of which, they are in abundance here, horses that is, not Essex girls. When I first arrived in the country I cooed over them. Now they drive me mad. I set off for work at an acceptable speed and then find myself forever moving at a snail’s pace so as not to frighten the numerous horse riders on my route. I may as well cycle to work the time it takes me. But all those hills stop me even considering that. There are many pleasures to living in the country after you have removed the wood lice, the spiders, the wasps, the horses and the walkers. The walkers are the worst. They walk through the village and then suddenly stop and stare through your window into your living room. So far I have never been caught naked, but you never know. I still try to make the cottage look like the rooms in ‘Shabby Chic ‘but it just doesn’t work. When it does, Andrew will come in and throw all his stuff everywhere and should I complain, I get that look followed by the same sarcastic comment.
‘Maybe we should have two homes, one to live in and one for show.’
However, I must admit it is rather nice to walk to the local letter box and stop several times to chat to my neighbours, all, of whom, I know. I even volunteered to help with the cream teas one year during the open garden season. All very middle class and all that. In fact, sometimes I think we have dropped straight out of a Jilly Cooper novel, except I can’t seem to find the scandal here. I am sure there must be some .Maybe I am not looking hard enough. I even have a milkman who delivers and I cannot smell a wiff of scandal about him. I really feel I ought to be making a bigger effort with my scone making and such like. I already feel guilty for not attending the WI on a Monday and then bell ringing on a Tuesday and I think Wednesday might be the history group. We did attempt to keep an allotment but it got so overgrown that we actually got fined. But all in all we have kept out of trouble. Oh no, I lie. One Wed evening a representative of the parish council had to visit us on the issue of my car being badly parked and that Mrs Watson, all of ninety, had some difficulty getting around it. Obviously my parking has improved dramatically since then.
Today, however, I looked at the house and decided I am becoming a compulsive house cleaner in my determination to have a cottage that resembles one out of ‘Country Life’ magazine. Worse of all I even try to hide it like a junkie might their drugs. I pretend I never clean. I give the impression I am a domestic avoider when in fact I actually vacuum as Andrew is doing his D.I.Y. No chance of sawdust hitting the floor of our ‘Country Life’ look alike cottage. By the time he had finished hanging a new back door at the weekend I was exhausted. I had been vacuuming as he sawed, wiping up varnish as he dripped it, getting out and then putting away tools as he used them. Of course, all this accompanied by heavy sighs from him the whole time. I even tried to maintain the kitchen so it looked exactly the same while he worked in it! We must have walked into each other at least a dozen times. At one point I am ashamed to admit that I even vacuumed the garden to clear up the mess. It is time to stop! I am always complaining I do not get enough time to write and study. The time has come to hang up the polish and the floor mop. I only hope my withdrawal symptoms do not last too long.

The End Of The Holiday

So, where did I get to? Oh, I remember. The last thing was the great rowing boat trip on a Loch of one’s own.

Ah, holidays. I am seriously wondering if they really are worth all the time and effort and dare I add stress. We finally said goodbye to Glencarron and Ba Ba black sheep.
I now have the fun of phoning ‘Bon Prit’ to see if I can return one lamb nibbled skirt. I have no doubt they will say ‘no problem.’ (NOT).

Now, for all the news I left out. Did I feel you shudder? Also, did I mention that I barely got out alive? The midgies nearly ate me to death. It really was worse than ‘The invasion.’ I must have spent the last week scratching myself to pieces. My legs are still not a pretty sight. Not that they ever have been.
I hate to admit, that for me, the best part of the holiday was having a dishwasher. I feel embarrassed even mentioning it. Oh, what a luxury. What a difference. I mean, I told Andrew a dishwasher would change my life. I even swore it would cure my PMT. He looked doubtful. I do not hold out much hope of obtaining one. The tiny television was something of a let down. I had taken my new boxed set of ‘24’ thinking I would be watching it on a great plasma screen and instead had to peer closely at a 12 inch monitor. One cannot have everything I suppose, but that would have been nice.

Our first week was fairly uneventful. I got over the shock of not holidaying at a Blenheim look-alike and finally settled down. I actually became quite attached to the two cats, three dogs, and one lamb that followed us about. Brian the stalker was very helpful, that is when he heard us knock at his door which was not as often as we would have liked.
On the Wednesday Andrew chose to do some clay pigeon shooting. I have never seen my husband behind a gun. He has seen me behind a knife admittedly, but I had no intention of being in the same vicinity as my husband when he had a shotgun. I stayed at East cottage reading my racy little novel and jumping every time there was a shot. I prayed each time that he had not killed the stalker. It then began to pour with rain. I expected him to return but it seems Brian had just laughed when this had been suggested.
‘It’s a wee drizzle man,’ he had declared.
Yes, well. One man’s drizzle is another’s soaking.
Andrew came back full of his days fun and then winked at me.
‘I have the key to the Lodge. We have fifteen minutes to look around’
I jumped up and down in glee. I am not sure why. From the outside it looks like something out of ‘Great Expections’. So, my only expectation was seeing lots of cobwebs. Oh, what a surprise. The place was amazing. Enough bedrooms and bathrooms for 20 people. I already started planning a murder mystery evening until my dear husband brought me down to earth. He began telling me about the owners and I realised, not for the first time in my life, that we do not live in a classless society as I keep deluding myself. It seemed the poor stalker was not treated at all well. All the correspondence we had been sent had indicated the stalker would expect a gratuity fee each time he took us somewhere. This fee was something like £30. But when we tried to give him anything, he was deeply offended. He obviously has no idea this is sent out to holiday makers. I was left speechless when Andrew told me that once Brian had been stopped by the owner after being given two scones by the cook. He was asked to explain himself until he eventually handed them back. I left the Lodge feeling quite sad that there are some people who will always think they are better than others simply because they have more money, or a better education. Maybe I am naive to think we are all the same underneath. That everyone is deserving of love no matter how educated or rich they are, and also deserving of respect. But, the reality of life is that I soon forgot this and continued with my holiday.
We phoned home to check my car was back after its MOT. I already knew that was going to cost around £600. The cat was doing fine. He had his stitches put in and all in all that had cost another £300. So, already we had spent a £1000 just sitting in our holiday cottage.
The following day we decided to have a quiet afternoon. I chose to read while Andrew studied. Suddenly Buster the dog jumped up to the window with a thump and sat staring at us. We in turn stared at each other. We knew we were both thinking the same thing. Do we let him in. His sad watery eyes pleaded with us. I opened the door to be knocked over by Buster who was quickly followed by Ba Ba black sheep. Suddenly mayhem broke loose. Buster skidded around the house like a racing car, while Ba Ba black sheet bleated away in between getting small nips on his leg by Buster. We quickly tried to gain control but all was lost. The cats had now run in.
Suddenly we were overrun. Buster was barking like mad and trying to bite the lambs leg, while the cats rubbed themselves affectionately against us. Suddenly Buster grabbed the lamb and was dragging it by its leg outside. It seemed jealousy had reared its ugly head.
‘Oh my god, do something,’ I screamed.
‘Like what,’ retorted Andrew.
I opened my mouth but of course I had no idea either. At that moment Brian came to the rescue and suddenly all was quiet again. We both let out a sigh of relief.
‘I think a day out tomorrow,’ was Andrew’s only response.
So, the next day off we went to a castle. As we started the journey, all seemed well. On the way back our car turned into a kangaroo and after 10 mins halted altogether.
My hands began to sweat.
‘It’s nothing. I just need to reset it and it will be fine. I get this sometimes going to work,’ says my ever laid back husband.
‘There,’ he says getting back into the car and starting the ignition, which doesn’t actually start.
‘Strange,’ he gets out again. I sweat a bit more.
This time it does start and we are off again. Five minutes later it is spluttering.
‘Oh no, we will never get back home like this, how will we get back to work,’ I say helplessness evident in my voice.
Ok, so we are not going home for another four days, but one needs to think ahead. Not my husband. Life is one day at a time. No, I exaggerate, one hour at a time. No, I exaggerate again, one minute at a time. So, I get a look which even I cannot describe.
We get going again and make it to Loch Carron, which is our local town, kind of, if you call almost twenty miles local. There is a garage there.
‘Bring it back friday and we’ll look at it for you’
We stress we have to get home on the Saturday. They agree to have a quick look at it while we do some shopping. It is freezing cold, windy and rainy and I have on just a light top. With teeth chattering we walk to the shops. An hour later we return to discover they need a part and cannot do it till the Friday after all.
We climb back into what I now view as the monster, and begin to head back to the cottage. We manage to drive about 200 yards and the car breaks down. we are towed back to the garage and one of the men there drives us home in his pick up. Great, now we don’t have a car. Even the loch where the rowing boat sits is too far to walk.
We get home full of shopping and Andrew lights the fire. I attempt to relax and not worry. I feel sure the car will be ok. They seemed to know what was needed and had ordered the parts.
‘But who will take you to pick it up?’ I ask suddenly.
I have a tendency to do this. We may be sitting in total silence for hours and I find my mind racing and then the last sentence will just roll off my tongue. I forget the rest of the world has not been in my head with me.
Andrew gives me a confused look, works it out as he always does and responds.
‘Oh, you mean the car. I will ask Brian or someone at the garage. That is friday’s problem.’
I hate to tell him that I am way past Friday’s problem. I am already on Monday’s and getting back to work problem..
That night I lay awake listening to all the strange house noises mingled with Andrew’s snoring and suddenly hear a loud bang. My heart thumps. I lay tense but all is quiet. I close my eyes to sleep and then, bang again.
I hiss at Andrew.
‘Wake up.’
Nothing.. I thump him on the back.
‘There is a noise downstairs. I think someone has got into the house’
I pretend to ignore his deep sigh.
I listen with ears pricked as he makes his way downstairs and grab my phone, struggling to recall if I dial 999 on a mobile or is it something different. Andrew comes back safe and sound.
‘Its the log crackling on the fire, honestly, you are a wreck.’
I cringe under the covers.
Friday arrives and I truly am a wreck. I try doing what if’s with Andrew. He is not playing. At 2.30 Brian knocks to ask if we need a lift to collect the repaired car. Is that a good omen, I think, that Brian says repaired car. I stay at the cottage and wait. Thirty minutes later Andrew comes back with the car on a tow truck. I feel tears begin to prick my eyes.
‘It’s a complicated software problem. We have two options,’ he tells me calmly.
I fight my overwhelming desire to get hysterical. I hate options. There is never a good option in my experience.
‘We hire a car to take us home and have this towed to Inverness to the Peugeot people and come back in two weeks and do the whole journey again, there and back. Or we risk it home.’
‘No,’ I shout. ‘We will break down on the motorway and cars will hit us.’
‘I will phone for breakdown cover. I will tell them our problem and see if they will cover us. I think we should give it a go.’
Is he mad? Have the midgie bites made him demented?
I cook dinner with shaking hands as he phones breakdown companies and amazingly gets us booked in with two after telling them we have a problem with the car and are 600 miles from home. He tells them the problem and he is also amazed they agree to accept us.
I debate whether I can bear to do this journey again, ever in my life in fact! The decision is made to attempt the journey home in the monster.
That night I barely sleep. By the morning I am exhausted.
Andrew is positive. I have gone through all the what if’s and am as prepared as I can be.
Believe it or not, even with toilet stops we made it home 16 hours later and the car is still going.
As for Scotland. It was lovely, but I think I will really check out the details of my rental home next time and always remember they take the best photos of the place.
I am still secretly thrilled I broke a knife that was already falling to bits and they did not even notice and gave us back our deposit. Now that is a result I say.

There’s a hole in my bucket

I really don’t think holidays suit me, or I don’t suit them. So, we continue. This is not for the squeamish, so if you should be that way inclined. I would advise you not to read on.

Andrew looked again at the instructions.
I stared at the house. This cannot be it, I kept repeating to myself. A large coalscuttle stood outside the door with an old bucket on top.
‘It says the key is under a bucket,’ Andrew says walking towards the only one we can see. I pray hard there will not be a key there. There is. He holds it up and I hold back my tears.
I hesitantly follow Andrew into the house, cursing all the time.
‘This is not how it looked on the web page.’ I mutter.
We walk straight into a fairly modern kitchen.
‘This looks ok,’ observes Andrew.
We head along to the lounge which looks like the lounge of a retirement home. Old-fashioned paintings line the wall and a large sideboard with a broken glass pane is full of old books and the place smells of dogs. I feel faint.
‘Just wait until I contact that woman,’ I snarl.
Andrew silently goes in search of the stalker, I follow, constantly tripping on the pebbled driveway in my sandals and curse again. I tell myself all will be well. Someone in the house next door will tell us we have the wrong ‘East Cottage’ and direct us further along to the Estate. I am in a state of denial about the key being under the bucket of course.
‘What about the lamb?’ I ask. Somehow I feel responsible for the injured lamb on the roadway.
No response. I guess he is not in a shepherd mood.
‘I am going home I bet there isn’t even Internet connection here. Just try and see. I want to look at the web page again,’ I demand. ‘Didn’t we insist on internet connection?’
I can see Andrew is getting irritated now. I force myself to be reasonable and tell myself all well be well in a few days when my period starts.
‘Well, if you want to drive another 14 hours you can go home. I am staying.’ He states firmly.
First day of our holiday and our first row, great!
‘Well just wait until I see this stalker,’ I retort falling over the stones and twisting my ankle.
The front door seems to be round the back, or we are round the back and have to go round to the front, the whole place is a muddle to me. I march ahead of Andrew and walk straight into two meowing cats. I have to admit they are cute but I ignore them, I have no time for animals right now. I turn the corner and collide with a black sheep who begins to chew at my new skirt.
‘No! Andrew do something’ I scream.
By now the black sheep has chewed a hole in my skirt and is bleating away contentedly. My god, am I in some kind of nightmare? I am supposed to be on a holiday on a wonderful estate with a beautiful Brideshead revisited driveway and instead I look like a dishevelled character out of a Dickens novel with a bleating lamb chomping away at my skirt and now the damn midges are biting me to bits. It is beginning to resemble a horror movie. I feel this more acutely when the stalker opens the door and confirms we are in the right place. I slap my face – not to shake me out of shock, but to kill a midge you understand while fighting off the black sheep with my other hand.
‘Right, I am checking this,’ I snap, and storm back into the house and start up my net book
‘Look, see no internet connection.’ I say triumphantly.
I receive another ‘pull yourself’ together look from Andrew before he returns to the stalker for a passkey. I follow.
‘Oh aye, no problem Mr Cook. Anything else I can help you with, it’s no wee problem’
No Wee problem? No wee problem? Oh, I despair. Does Andrew say we are not happy? No. Does he say things are not quite as we expected? No. What he does ask however, is how he should go about booking Clay pigeon shooting. I march back to the house with the passkey and of course log on straight away. We both stare transfixed at the photos. How can this be? It is the same place. Did they airbrush them or something? The old fashioned paintings everywhere cannot be seen in the pictures, or the broken dresser full of pointless books. The whole place smells of dogs. I feel faint.
It was equipped with everything it said it should have. A large sheet of paper lays on the coffee table and we glance at it to realise it is an inventory of everything in the house from beds to kitchen sink! I look around for the TV and DVD player and finally spot it in the corner. The screen is 12inch! Believe me, with my eyesight that is useless. We both check the inventory for a microscope. My laptop is bigger than the TV. I begin to cry again.
‘I cannot face going upstairs,’ I sob, ‘I will complain and demand my money back.’
Andrew calmly sits me down.
‘We have everything here that is stated on the web page. There is nothing you can do. I agree it is disappointing, but there is a TV, a well equipped kitchen, heating, Internet connection. Even the black sheep of the family greeted you, come on, make the best of it.’
Thoughts of watching my new series DVD of ‘24’ on the tiny TV made my heart sink.
Miserably I unpacked, resigned to the fact that there was no great estate. The only consolation I had was that the next day my car was being collected and at least that would be fixed.
It takes me a while to realise that the only bathroom is on the ground floor. I mean I know it stays light for a long time in Scotland but by the time I have travelled downstairs, done what needs to be done, in a bright bathroom, and finally made my way back to bed I will be wide awake.
‘We need the bucket,’
Andrew stares at me.
‘You are joking?’
I assure him I am not.
He retrieves the bucket with a smile on his face.
‘I don’t think so, there is a hole in the bucket’
Oh for god’s sake.
Exhausted, we retreat to bed only to find the curtains are so flimsy it is like sleeping in the daytime. We get up and spend half and hour finding black bin bags to cover the windows. At last back to bed.
I tell myself in the silence, between Andrews’s snores, to relax. I mean, things cannot get any worse.
Oh, if I had only known…

To be continued.