Invitation to a Board Dinner

It was my birthday. Having a birthday in December is always bit of a mixed blessing, but thankfully it’s far enough from the 25th that it never gets tangled up with Christmas (though I can never display my birthday cards for more than a week). Anyway, my birthday this year was very pleasant.

Husband kept the day clear of work, and we went shopping at Bluewater. If you read my blog regularly, you will know that I hate shopping, especially for clothes. This was an exception, and it was rather fun.

A couple of weeks ago, I was invited to join a board dinner at Trinity House. Do you know Trinity House? (I think you can tour it during the day—it’s next door to The Four Seasons hotel, near the north bank of the Thames.) Anyway, it was nice to be invited for a posh meal, and I dressed carefully. I knew that the board members would be arriving straight from a board meeting—mainly in suits/office attire. So smart, but not evening dress. I am completely uninterested in clothes, but I do own a few ‘posh’ items, so wore some smart trousers with a silk blouse and cashmere sweater, added some pearls and earrings, checked my hair for bits of hay/chicken poop, found some clean shoes, and set off. I thought I looked fine.

The evening was lovely. Trinity House is beautiful. We left our coats in the cloakroom, and walked up a sweeping staircase to where drinks were being served. I was introduced to a few people, and then the gong sounded, and we were ushered into the dining room. There was a big fireplace, and oil paintings, and an huge oak table with flower arrangements. Dinner was very fancy, and the company was good, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

The following day, I made the mistake of mentioning my outfit. I explained to Husband that I intensely dislike wearing heels, and you can’t wear a dress with flat shoes, and was my outfit okay? Apparently, it was ‘surprisingly casual.’ I pointed out that the clothes were all expensive, but discovered this makes no difference. Apparently, there are certain items (like sweaters) that are ‘casual’ and other items (like jackets) that are ‘formal.’ I therefore decided that for my birthday, I should buy a ’formal’ outfit. But a comfortable one, because heels and tight bodices and cold knees spoil the evening.

Bluewater has lots of shops. I hoped to find everything in John Lewis, but they don’t keep many clothes in my size, so we failed, and had to venture into other shops. My sister had advised me to buy the whole outfit, so I wouldn’t go home wondering which cardigan or shoes to wear. Husband agreed that trousers can be smart, but only when worn with a jacket. This I do not understand. We found some trousers (they looked to me exactly like the ones I had worn). We found a jacket (which looks to me no smarter than my lovely sweater). We found some shoes, which honestly look exactly like the ones I wore—but when I remarked on this in the shop, the assistant told me that my shoes were ‘casual’ and these were ‘formal.’ In another shop, the assistant entered into the project and brought me several things to wear (which I rejected) including a gold top, which surprisingly, I kept. Goodness! Who would have thought I would ever wear a gold top?  Very disco! But apparently it isn’t disco at all. Apparently, when worn with smart trousers and a jacket, it’s ‘formal.’

I admit, I have learnt nothing. I am still completely bemused as to what the difference between clothes is. However, I now own an approved formal outfit. Am just waiting for the next invitation…

Hope you are suitably attired this week. Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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A November Trip to Malta

Malta Holiday Diary

Sunday 20th November, 2022. Late.

Arrived in Malta. The Airbnb is a 20 minute drive from the airport. Staying in Valletta, which is pedestrianised, so parked in multistorey car park and wheeled our suitcases through the city. Rain was forecast but never appeared, so felt very thankful.

Dumped bags in the apartment and went to McDonald’s. Sometimes, when you’re very tired, you just want something very easy/familiar. It hit the spot. We were the only people, including the staff, who were over twenty!

The apartment is weird. It’s all on one level except for the bedroom, which is reached via a steep spiral staircase. The bedroom contains a bed—nothing else. We left our bags in the sitting room, changed in the kitchen. Very odd.

Monday 21st November.

We woke early and went for a run. (Well, ONE of us woke early, and then had a hard job waking the other—but we did both go for a run.) The apartment looks better in daylight. It’s right in the centre of Valletta, and has two balconies that overlook the city. The bedroom, whilst odd, is also wonderfully light and has a view of the sea. Husband carried up a small set of shelves, so I can put a few things up there.

We had breakfast in Eddie’s Café in Republic Square. They didn’t serve croissants, so I tried a Maltese pastry—which was flakey pastry (quite greasy) filled with cheese. I wasn’t a fan. Husband had Eggs Benedict, which was much nicer, so I ate some of that.

It then basically poured with rain all day. The bedroom has a tin roof, so I read an Ethics book while the rain rattled above me. The sea turned from blue to grey and then disappeared from view. We walked to a little Italian restaurant for dinner: Papannis. Great food and wine, with friendly service. Returned to the apartment feeling happy.

Tuesday 22nd November

Not raining. Brilliant! We ran through the Victoria Arch, along the coast, then up the hill to the apartment (one of us walked up the hill). Showered, then had coffee and croissant at Caffé Cordina in Republic Square. Perfect.

We can see a big dome from the apartment, so we walked there (it’s a big church, rebuilt after the war. A LOT of Malta needed to be rebuilt after the war.) We found our way down to Boat Street, and had a lovely walk next to the coast. As we passed the imposing city wall, we could see where the bricks had been cut from the rock. When the knights arrived in Malta, they must have cut the rocks into bricks (thus lowering the base) and built the wall right there (hence not needing to transport the bricks very far). Clever. The wall is now weathered, but I still wouldn’t fancy having to climb it to attack the fort.

The weather was windy (needed my woolly hat) but sunny. When we sheltered from the wind, it was very warm—tee-shirt weather—but mostly we needed a jumper and coat. This was unexpected, I had assumed Malta would be warmer in November.

Returned to apartment and I read more of my Ethics book (quite heavy-going). Fell asleep while reading, and woke up to feel the bed shaking—thought it was Husband trying to wake me—realised it was an earthquake! It didn’t last very long, but there was quite a lot of movement. I checked Twitter (which is always the fastest way to confirm an earthquake I have learned). The earthquake was measured at 4.4.

Dinner at Papannis again. Lovely.

Wednesday 23rd November

Lots of wind and rain (and church bells) during the night, so woke up tired. It was grey and windy, but not actually raining, so we went for a run. I love running next to the sea, there’s something that makes me feel like a child again.

Breakfast at Caffe Cordina again. Today the pigeons were annoying. They’re very aggressive, and as soon as they see food they try to fly onto the table. If people leave uneaten food when they leave, the table is instantly swarmed with pigeons. Not very hygienic. I don’t like city pigeons much (they’re like rats).

Went back to apartment and I tried to read more of the Ethics book. Managed to not fall asleep. Gave up, and we went for a walk along the south eastern coast. We could see warships and a cruise ship and more of Malta across the inlet. Malta is distinctive, with its cities of golden stone and steep walls rising up from the coast, and so many churches—domes and steeples in every direction. Which means lots of bells. The bells near the apartment were fairly random in when they rang, and some of them rang throughout the night.

Dinner at Papannis again—we will have to eat somewhere else tomorrow as they shut on Thursdays.

I will tell you more about our trip in my next blog. Thanks for reading.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

If you enjoy my travel blogs, you should read my book: The Sarcastic Mother’s Holiday Diary

Available from Amazon as a kindle book or paperback—it makes a great Christmas gift!

(You can read it for free if you have a kindle.)

I like starting clubs…

I like starting clubs. Always have. Some have been more successful than others.

One of the first clubs I started, aged about 7, was the SSO Club. I made badges, and put a pot next to the telephone labelled with SSO Club Funds, please give generously in bright letters. I figured that when people came to borrow our telephone (which happened a lot) they might mistake the club funds for the telephone donations box. Club funds would be spent on snacks (sweets) for our club meetings. SSO stood for: Secret Service to Others and the plan was that we would do ‘good deeds’ without anyone knowing. I devised a series of merits that could be earned when the good deeds were revealed at club meetings (while we ate the copious amount of sweets earned through misdirected telephone funding).

We never actually had a meeting, as no one else ever joined the club (my brother was meant to, but he was an awkward little wotsit, and was never easily persuaded into playing my games). Nor did we ever earn any funds. I do still have the badges somewhere though.

At Junior school, I once joined another club, a song-and-dance group that my friends invented. I could neither sing nor dance, so they put me in charge of costumes. This was a mistake, as I have never been even slightly interested in clothes. I think they had visions of Pans People, shimmying in shiny sexy outfits. I asked my mother if I could borrow the jester’s outfits that we had worn in the Letchworth carnival that year. When I arrived at the practice studio (Carol Watkin’s garden shed) they were less than excited to be dressed in bright yellow and red shapeless tunics—one size fits all—more tent than bikini. I don’t remember whether I was actually fired, but I don’t remember attending any rehearsals after this. They were never famous.

Letchworth Carnival in the 70’s

As an 18-year-old, I took over the church youth group (not sure whether this counts as ‘starting’ a group). I ran it in the exact same way that they youth club from my previous church had been run, with a variety of social events, light refreshments, and a 10-minute religious talk at the end. I was quite a stickler for the religious talk, and insisted that the embarrassed adult who had agreed to drive us all to bowling in Crawley also did a talk in McDonald’s afterwards. That club was more of a success than the SSO and when I left for uni, I handed over a group of about 20 teenagers (I think my sister led it after I left, and then my brother—same genes).

The adult Anne still likes starting clubs. I have run a breakfast club for teenagers, a baking club on Sunday afternoons, and have been involved in running various other groups and clubs in the town and at church. At present, I am doing nothing…though I feel the village is crying out for a cake-eating discussion club (because I like making cakes and discussing things). We will see.

Anne E. Thompson
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The Adventure of Starting College (again)

I have a question: When you are reading a book, do you underline passages with a pencil? This is something I am struggling with. I am struggling with many things actually, but this is currently the most irritating.

My M.A. course started at a local theological college, and I drove there for the first time in September. This alone was scary enough. I’m not a ‘natural driver’ and mostly I pootle between my house and my mother’s, and use public transport if I need to go much further. But Spurgeon’s College is not easily reached from my house, so driving is the only sensible option. I did a practice drive first, with encouraging Husband cheering me on from the passenger seat, but this did not prepare me for the first day of term.

Spurgeon’s College

I set off in rush hour, when obviously the traffic was heavier than when we did our practice drive, so clever Satnav created exciting new routes to beat the traffic. I didn’t know the route well enough to do anything other than blindly follow, which was incredibly scary. We turned off the main road fairly soon after leaving home, and dived through a hedge, along a footpath, over a field and back onto the road. Okay, I am exaggerating, but not by much—most roads were not even wide enough for one car, so not sure what would have happened if I had met someone going in the opposite direction. (I didn’t.)

Then we joined the ‘London traffic’ I am a country bumpkin, anything bigger than a small town is ‘London traffic.’ Satnav continued to guide me down side roads, back onto the main road (always turning right across the traffic) then back down another side road. Pretty sure we crossed someone’s garden at one point.

There were speed limits designed to catch out the unwary driver, encouraging you to travel at 40 mph, then dropping briefly to 30 mph in the widest sections of road. There were pedestrian lights, which you thought you could nip through on orange, only to discover they are actually tram lights and you are about to be squashed under a tram. Teenagers stepped into the road on their way to school, grannies opened car doors without checking for cars, buses—well! I could write a whole article on the driving manners of whoever drives those big red buses that swoosh past you and then brake suddenly to collect passengers, blocking the road while they chat, read the newspaper, eat their lunch, phone their mothers and take a nap. Meanwhile, you sit behind them, wondering whether you can inch past (into the path of another swooshing bus) growing ever more worried as the car behind honks, and streams of boys walk between you and the bus, and a motorbike skims past and away down the road. Just as you decide to ‘go for it’ and edge past, the driver finishes his lunch/phone call/nap, indicates (briefly) as he glides away from the stop. You sigh with relief, enjoy a few yards of actual movement, and then he stops and it all starts again.

However, I made it to college in time and with very few casualties. (I will need to check the post for a few weeks so I can collect all the speeding fines before anyone sees them.) I walked into college, collected my student pass (wish I had tried a little harder to find a better photo now, I have the image of ‘Aunty Ethel on a bad hair day’ hanging round my neck) and I joined my fellow students in the chapel. Felt I had probably prayed more than most other people before the day had even begun!

The course is mostly fun. There are some good discussions, and the people seem nice. Much of the learning is through reading, and this is where my earlier comment is relevant. I bought a couple of books, second-hand, from Amazon. They have arrived with lots of underlinings. I find this very irritating. I tend to read in my own voice, pausing, thinking, absorbing. Passages that are underlined feel like I’m being shouted at, and it’s hard to absorb what is being said. I have so far spent longer erasing the lines than I have reading the passages. Not sure if they will give me any credit for that, probably not. I even found underlinings in a library book. Terrible! They should bring back hanging for things like that, then people would stop.

Hope you have a good week. I will tell you more about college in my future blogs.
Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Not a Gardener

Not a Gardener

You might recall my disaster when decorating my mother’s birthday cake. I have to admit, I’m not much of a gardener either. Or at least, my skills are limited to very specific plants.

A couple of weeks ago we went to the local garden centre, and bought some tomato plants. Last year we grew some tiny orange tomatoes that were wonderfully sweet, so when we saw that there was a whole range of weird tomato plants available, we decided to try something new. We walked along, reading the labels, and selected tomato plants that would produce black tomatoes, and green tomatoes, as well as the more common red tomato. All very exciting.

We planted them in grow-bags, and waited to see what would happen. The leaves on the green tomato plant grew larger than expected, and I commented to Husband that it didn’t smell much like a tomato plant. But then, we have never grown green tomatoes before (obviously I don’t mean the unripe normal variety) and so perhaps the plant had been cleverly engineered. We know a little about clever engineering of plants, because Emm’s girlfriend is a plant scientist and she works on things like disease-resistant wheat.

I have also experienced plant engineering with the only flowers I am skilled at growing, which is dahlias. My dad always grew dahlias, and he showed me how to harvest the seeds in the autumn. If you blow away the chaff, you can plant the seeds the following spring and produce a whole new plant. Very easy. But the colours change. So, seeds from a bright pink plant will produce dahlias with a white stripe in the petal. If you then collect seeds from the white-striped flowers, the next generation will have more white, and so on, until eventually all the flowers are white. Some clever plant genetics have obviously been involved to produce the brightly coloured dahlias that we buy in shops.

However, this turned out to not be the case with our green tomato plants. When Emm’s girlfriend came, she looked at the plants and informed me I was growing cucumbers. I guess that explains the unexpected shape.

Hope your week has some nice surprises!

Thanks for reading. Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Family Chaos

You can’t control animals (or children…or husbands!)

As you know, I am trying to revise for exams. The Hebrew one is finished (I smashed it!) but the more I revise Greek, the more I realise I have forgotten/never understood in the first place. I have a feeling of rising panic growing inside as the exam date moves relentlessly nearer.

Now, I thought that I had at least sorted all the animals so that I could devote my time fully to my studies. I had timed the hatching of the eggs in the incubator so the ducks would be fully-grown and on the pond, I stocked up on supplies of pet food, incorporated cleaning-out times in my schedule. I was prepared. Except I wasn’t.

Firstly, the local fox decided to produce cubs, which meant it began to visit my garden at odd times of the day to snatch a chicken. The only way to keep them safe is to keep them locked inside for a few weeks until my garden is no longer seen as an easy source of food. This means the chickens now need cleaning-out more often, and they kick dirt into their water, and generally make everything more work.

Then mother duck started to sit on another nest. I calculated the date, and sure enough, they hatched this week. Which means they are now in the pond-cage I was planning to put the fully-grown ‘ducklings’ in. Which means they have to stay confined in the big cage (because if I release them on the pond now, they will sleep on the bank, not return to the pond-cage, and greedy fox will eat them—see above.) Ducks mainly spend their day putting mud into their water, which means I have to keep refreshing it. Which takes time. The new ducklings are cute, but add to the workload as I have to keep checking one isn’t stuck somewhere, plus food and clean-up schedule.

Then grumpy-old-cat-who-hates-me has started to walk further afield. She is over 20, and can hardly walk, but has decided that she will visit the outside cats each morning. They hate each other, so I’m not sure why. But she tends to climb into places that she cannot then get out of, so I have to keep remembering to check where she is in case she needs rescuing. Which takes time.

It reminds me of when my children were young, and they didn’t fit neatly into a schedule either. I’m not quite sure how families manage when they both work. I worked fulltime for one year when my children were aged 4, 6, and 8—and I collapsed in a heap at the end of the year and switched to a part-time contract. Children do not save their crises for convenient times. They will be devastated because someone doesn’t want to be their friend, or lose one shoe (only ever one) or start vomiting on those days when you have a deadline and extra stress and really need everything to be calm.

Husbands can also be a challenge (though mine is lovely of course). Yesterday Husband kindly cooked the dinner, which was incredibly kind. We had fishcakes, and rocket (nicely garnished with a tomato) and chips—all of which were lovely. There was also a dressing to go on the salad. It was a new creation, and had a pleasant taste to start with, followed by bit of a kick and then a slow burn. I don’t believe it was from a recipe book. After much discussion, the ingredients were revealed as: oil, garlic, oregano, seasoning, garlic (lots of this I think) and whiskey (which explains the burn!) I will send the recipe on request.

Hope you have an organised week—or ride the chaos with a smile if not.

Thanks for reading.

Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson
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Electric Toothbrushes Can Cause Blindness

Electric Toothbrushes Can Cause Blindness

“Get an electric toothbrush,” they said.

“An electric toothbrush is much better for your gums—and gum disease is a bigger problem than tooth decay.”

I listened to the advice from my dentist, and considered whether he might be right. I have terrible teeth, and for many years as a child I neglected them, so now they are full of fillings. Plus, they’re too big and stick out (my dear husband describes them as ‘horsey teeth’). If I had the ability to change one thing about myself, it would definitely be my teeth. I guess we all have something we’d like to change.

However, now I am all grown up, I do attempt to take better care of them, and I have not needed a filling since the 1970s, so I feel I’m doing okay. I clean my teeth morning and night, with a fluoride toothpaste, and a medium sized toothbrush, which I replace regularly. I did not see the need for an electric toothbrush. I also did not especially trust my dentist, who was a new one, due to my dentist of 30 plus years inconveniently retiring. But Mr. New Dentist was insistent, an electric toothbrush was the way to go.

I left scowling.

The following weekend, Bea visited, and I heard her cleaning her teeth. She was using an electric toothbrush. She extolled the virtues, and told me I should listen to my dentist.

I scowled some more.

I looked online. There were a vast array of electric toothbrushes available, ranging from fairly cheap to needing a mortgage. I chose a not-too-expensive one, because I wasn’t convinced it would be used more than once.

Toothbrush arrived. The packaging was impossible to open, I cut my finger trying to remove it from the plastic case. I glanced at the instructions, and there seemed to be a bit missing, but perhaps they were generic instructions and referred to a different model. I carried toothbrush to the bathroom and plugged it in, hoping that it wouldn’t charge. It charged.

Returned to bathroom and scowled at toothbrush. It stood on its stand, looking smug and slightly dangerous, as if it knew things that I didn’t suspect. I picked it up and held the head under the tap until it was rinsed, then applied a ‘pea-sized blob of toothpaste’ as per instructions. So far so good. Pressed the button, and the fun started.

The toothbrush came to life with a high-pitched whirring that took me straight back to childhood and the dentist’s chair and the whine of his drill. At the same time, the pea-sized blob of toothpaste scattered into a thousand tiny specks that coated the mirror and the sink and my sweater. I realised my mistake, and hastened to place toothbrush into my mouth. It juddered across my cheek, whirred around my mouth, snagging my gums and the inside of my cheek and skimming across my teeth. I tried to stop it, and discovered I am incredibly uncoordinated. My efforts to press the stop button, rinse the brush, return to mouth, press on button, all became muddled. I splattered the whole bathroom with water and toothpaste, and some went into an eye. Toothpaste in your eye really stings. Am pretty sure I will go blind now—but at least I won’t be able to see my horrible teeth.

I managed to stop the toothbrush, rinsed it and returned it to its stand. It looked very smug.

I am looking for a new dentist, if you have any recommendations?

Have a good week.

Love, Anne x

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QuaranTime to Read. . . Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Nineteen

The day of the Summer Fete arrived all too quickly. Jane was cooking with two other mothers. She recognised their names but didn’t really know them. She had been told that everything would be provided, she just had to bring an apron.

Peter promised to take good care of Christopher and Abigail. He planned to bring them both later, and was now busy sorting money. He had emptied a huge jar of loose change, collected over several months, onto the table.

“Good opportunity this,” he remarked cheerily, making piles of pennies and two pence pieces, then putting them into sandwich bags when he had a pound of each.

Jane eyed the mass of coppers dubiously. She was not entirely sure that a pound’s worth of pennies would be welcome at each stall. She decided not to comment and rummaged in a drawer for an apron. It was green and flowery and had a hard lump of old pastry stuck to the pocket. She was late, it would have to do. She said goodbye and left.


The barbecue pitch was in the corner of the playground, next to an inflated pool of floating ducks. The ducks had small rings attached to their backs, ready for young children to fish them out with hooked poles. Many of them were floating upside down, and a rather harried mother was attempting to readjust their weights. It was not an easy task and the yellow ducks persisted in floating with their silly faces submerged. A football bounced across the playground and landed in the pool. The mother glowered damply. It was followed across the tarmac by a bouncy father.

“Sorry!” he yelled happily. “Nice warm day to get splashed though. I’ll return this to the ‘Beat the Goalie’ stall—maybe we should rename it ‘Beat the Ducks.’ Ha!”

He retrieved his ball and bounded away. Jane heard dark mutterings from the duck lady and smiled. She was busy weighing down paper napkins and plates on a table. It was breezy, and they fluttered as though trying to escape. There were several bottles of tomato sauce—the cheap runny stuff that tastes of acidic sugar—and a fat tube of mustard. Jane left her task and went to find the meat.

Sausages and burgers were stored in cool boxes beside the barbecues. Jane was working with May and Alice. Both wore smart navy-and-white striped aprons, and were brisk and well organised. May had attached the gas to the barbecues, and was now heating them. Alice was deciding how much meat to cook initially.

“You do the sausages Jane,” said Alice, glad to have someone to organise. “Start with about thirty and see how you get on. The barbecues should be ready in about ten minutes.”

Jane began counting sausages, pulling them from the box in strings.

“What are you doing?” asked May.

“Getting them ready…” hesitated Jane.

“Oh. Well, you could separate them I suppose” said May, sounding doubtful. “It is much too early to start cooking them though. And do try and keep them off the cloth, we need to keep raw meat away from where we’ll be serving. Obviously.”

“Obviously,” agreed Jane, coiling the string of meat onto a plate. She needed to separate them, but wasn’t sure how. Frozen sausages were already separated. She didn’t have a knife. She took the first sausage and pulled hard. It slithered, greasy, in her hand, depositing a blob of sausage meat on the tablecloth.

“Here.” May passed her a knife. Jane cut through the skin.

“You need to prick those,” said Alice.

“No, it’s best not to,” contradicted May.

Jane had no opinion at all, so covered them with a napkin and went to wash her hands.

To the left of the barbecue was a trestle table laden with mouldering books. The covers were faded and the pages brown, many showing unevenly at the sides where they had come away from their binding. Jane recognised some titles from the book stall at the Christmas Fair. The parent manning the stall was making neat piles of adult books, with children’s titles spread out at the front. He surreptitiously sidled one back into the box. Jane wondered if the title was deemed too racy or if he fancied reading it himself.

She passed a tombola, a bouncy castle, and a table spread with a treasure island. There was a candy-floss seller, signs beckoning her to guess the weight, guess the name and have a lucky dip. One mother had dressed as a gypsy with red headscarf and hooped earrings, and was offering to read palms. Another was busy arranging face paints on a small table.

There was a cake stall, laden with sponges sweating in cellophane and plates of smaller cakes ready to be eaten. Someone was unloading two grumpy donkeys from a horse box. Jane could hear the chairman of the governors testing the microphone as she entered the school and went in search of the girl’s toilets.


When she emerged from the school, people were beginning to arrive. Excited children hurried through the gate, followed by cautious parents who stopped to pay their one-pound entrance fee and collect a photocopied programme.

“Where have you been?” said Alice, as Jane arrived back at the stall.

“She washed her hands,” said May.

“Oh. We can’t keep disappearing,” said Alice, frowning. “Here!” She handed Jane a pack of disinfectant hand wipes.

“Of course,” said May, “those are only good for killing germs on clean hands. They will not actually remove any dirt. Proper dirt needs to be washed away with soapy water.”

“Better start cooking,” said Alice, ignoring her.

“Probably better to wait a while,” said May. “We’ll begin in ten minutes.” She looked at her watch, as if absorbing the time.

Jane decided not to point out that ten minutes would make very little difference. She spied Peter coming through the gate. He held a purple carrier bag and was laboriously counting pennies into the patient hand of the parent on the gate.

He saw her and hurried over. Alice and May were busy, placing meat on the barbecues.

“We made it!” said Peter, as if this was unexpected. He was not often in sole charge of the children.

“Yes, well done,” said Jane. She moved closer, “You will keep an eye on Christopher won’t you? Don’t let him wander off on his own.

“Abi does country dancing at two, so she’ll need to change into plimsolls before then. Listen for the announcement.”

“We’ll be fine,” said Peter. “We’re raring to go, aren’t we Chris?”

Christopher grinned up at his father. He was clutching an orange bag, which Jane feared was also full of pennies.

“Don’t let them eat too many sweets,” she pleaded. “And definitely nothing that’s not wrapped.” She lowered her voice again. “Some of the little cakes look a bit dodgy,” she said, “can you make sure the kids don’t buy them?”

“We’ll be fine,” repeated Peter. “Come on Chris, donkey ride I think before the queue gets any longer.”

Jane watched them walk away, then turned to the sausages and began to add them to the barbecue.


There was little time for conscious thought for the rest of the afternoon. The women had a steady stream of customers at their stall and Jane worked hard, turning sausages, placing them on the outstretched rolls, turning down the heat to a mere glow.

May was busy with burgers, flipping them every few minutes, then turning to check Jane’s progress with the sausages.

“These are a bit slow,” she worried, turning the heat up to full. “They need to be cooked quickly.”

Jane passed a sausage to a waiting child. Alice fished for change in her money pot. Then she moved back to check the meat.

“We don’t want them to cook on the outside before the middle is heated through,” she said, turning the heat back down to its lowest setting.

Jane saw Abigail arriving, laden with bottles.

“Dad’s on the tombola,” she informed Jane, passing her some olive oil and bright green bubble bath.

“It takes him ages to count out the money,” she giggled. “Can you hold these?”

Jane bent and hid them under the table. May leant over her and turned up the heat on the barbecue.

“Don’t forget it’s country dancing later,” said Jane, as Abigail skipped away. She returned to the sausages. A few were beginning to turn black.

“You must keep turning them,” chided May.

“That heat’s too high,” observed Alice, reaching to turn it down.

Jane began to slice a fresh batch of finger rolls. Abigail returned, this time carrying a bottle of rum and some cheap red wine.

“Dad says his luck is improving,” she told Jane, passing her the bottles.

“You can’t keep those here,” said Alice, “they’ll be in the way.”

“I thought they could go under the table,” said Jane.

Alice and May exchanged looks. Either one was helping to run a stall, or one was not. Bottles were an unnecessary hindrance. They said nothing. They didn’t need to—their expressions were eloquent.

Jane paused.

“They can go in your locker Abi,” she decided, “we can get them later.” She passed them back to her daughter.

“And don’t run with them!” she called, as Abigail hurried towards the school with her latest prizes.

May turned down the heat on both barbecues and began to move the cooked sausages to the edge. Jane handed two sausages to a parent, then tried to open a new sauce bottle. The foil seal under the lid was firmly stuck down and she could not lift it. She scratched at it for a while, then grabbed a fork and stabbed through it. Red sauce squirted out, splattering her fingers and the table.

“Well that’s one way of doing it,” said a familiar voice. Jane whirled around. There, standing behind her, was Matthew.

He stood close, smiling down at her. Jane felt herself blush with surprise as she returned his smile.

“What…” she began.

“I saw the posters,” explained Matthew, “wondered if you’d be here. Though not,” he admitted, “at this particular stall. Cooking..?” He raised an eyebrow.

Jane laughed, her heart singing. The whole world felt brighter.

“Be careful, or I’ll sauce you!” she threatened, wiggling her red-coated fingers towards his face.

“I need to wash these,” she said, and began to walk towards the school, ignoring Alice as she waved wet wipes at her.

Matthew followed, chatting easily. She didn’t look at him, but was aware of his proximity, aware that he was with her.

They went into the school, gloomy after the brightness of the sunny afternoon. The corridor was deserted, everyone outside at the stalls. Their footsteps sounded loud in the quiet building, it felt forbidden to be inside, as if they were breaking some rule. Still Jane did not look at him. She could feel her heart, was very aware of everything, especially how alone they were. How unseen.

Their feet were loud in the deserted corridor, clattering on the wooden flooring. Jane passed paintings of summer flowers, smelt the glue and paper smell of the school, the odour of stale air and many bodies. Her senses were alive, and she knew, without looking, exactly how close to her Matthew was walking, her ears attuned to the deep echo of his voice.

They reached the sinks, and she paused. She looked at her hands, red with sauce. Matthew reached down, over her, to turn on the tap for her. He was leaning very close, looking at her face. She could smell him now, that soapy smell she knew so well. She opened her mouth to thank him for turning on the tap.

“I missed you!” she blurted out, the tension of the moment controlling her words.

She was immediately mortified. What would he think of her? He would think she was some desperate, clingy housewife. She felt her face burn and thrust her hands under the water, washing them frantically, wondering what she could say to make it sound less odd, less blunt. Trying to make the moment casual, like it didn’t really matter.

“Hey,” he said softly, seeing her confusion. He was still looking at her, trying to read her expression, she could feel his gaze on her, almost feel his eyes burning her skin, searching her face.

“I missed you too,” he said, as if trying to take the tension from the exchange, to stop her embarrassment. “I used to enjoy chatting with you,” he said, “we had fun didn’t we?”

Jane nodded. She wanted so badly to salvage the situation, to turn this back into a light conversation between casual friends. But he was too close. She was too aware of him, her emotions were spinning, she could barely draw breath and she could feel tears welling behind her eyes. She folded her lips and bit down, trying to distract herself, to calm her feelings.

He paused, as though considering an idea. He moved even closer, they were almost touching, and when he spoke, Jane could feel his breath on her cheek. She thought, for one wild moment, that he might be going to kiss her.

“We could meet, if you want,” he murmured, so quietly that Jane could hardly hear him. He was still looking at her, an intense stare, holding her eyes with his own—eyes so bright that one could drown in them—a gaze so strong, he was seeing, Jane felt, into the depths of her.

She nodded, not trusting herself to speak. The corridor where they stood felt full of electricity, all was fuzz and static, only this moment, the two of them, was real.

Jane broke his gaze and looked around. The sink had splatters of powder paint around the edges and smelt of damp newspaper. Everything looked normal. Nothing had changed.

She shook the drips from her fingers and turned off the tap.

“Okay,” he said. He reached up, tucked a stray hair behind her ear. Jane thought she might melt. She kept very still, not daring to breathe. Something had changed between them, unspoken but tangible.

“I’ll text you, in a few days, arrange something?” he said, raising an eyebrow.

Jane nodded, smiling now.

“I’d better go,” he said, “can I trust you not to kill anyone with that sauce bottle?”

The tension was gone, they were back in familiar territory.

“I think so,” grinned Jane.

She watched him leave. She stood at the small children’s sink, and watched this man, this man who she desired, as he walked the length of the corridor. Tall, broad shouldered, moving with fluid ease, looking as out of place in a primary school as a film star. Then through the door, and he was gone.

Jane dried her hands on the rough green paper towel, and dropped it into the open bin beside the sink.

“He came to see me.” Her thoughts were a whirl, tumbling in a muddle with her emotions.

“He still has my mobile number,” she realised. “He wants to see me. It was his idea, he suggested it, he wants to see me. I matter.”

Feeling somewhat shell-shocked, she returned to her stall. Along the corridor, back into the sunlight. No sign of him now, as she passed the cake stall, the books, parents queuing at the tombola. She walked, dream-like, through the crowd. Nothing felt real, it was as if Jane had evaporated, and some shell, which looked exactly like Jane, was now acting in her place. She was behaving like the old Jane, she spoke and responded like the old Jane, but it was all pretend. Jane, the real Jane, was somewhere else.

Several customers were waiting for sausages. Alice had taken their money but felt unable to serve them—for health and safety reasons, she explained. One should not handle both money and food. May had disappeared to use the toilet.

Jane screwed the lid onto the rather sticky sauce bottle and reached for the tongs. She lifted the sausages onto the waiting rolls with a polite smile, apologising for the delay.

Abigail appeared. She pushed her way through the queue.

“I’ve lost a plimsoll,” she announced.

Jane stopped, feeling confused, sausage suspended in midair.

“He must like me, really like me,” she had been thinking, “to risk coming to a school fair.”

“What?” she asked, slightly dazed.

“My plimsoll,” repeated Abigail loudly. “I have lost my plimsoll. And I need it for dancing. Now!”

Jane became aware of the voice crackling from the loud speaker.

“Could all our dancers please join Miss Mott next to class four, for the country dancing.”

“Oh, I see,” said Jane.

“It should be in my locker,” said Abigail, growing more agitated, “someone has stolen it.”

“I expect it’s there somewhere,” mumbled Jane, wondering if she could abandon Alice again to help her daughter. However, the decision was unnecessary as Hilary and George appeared in the centre of the playground.

“There’s Gran!” said Abigail, “She can help.”

She ran across to her grandparents, who looked relieved to see her.

“Ah, Abigail,” said Hilary, “we were wondering where you were. Your father said to come at two o’clock.”

“And we were here on time,” added George.

“I’ve lost a plimsoll,” Abigail said, “and I need it for country dancing, which is now. Can you help me find it?—Please,” she added, as an afterthought.

“Can’t you dance in shoes?” asked George. “It’s only skipping really.”

“Oh George, of course she can’t,” said Hilary. “Right, you go and find Peter,” she said to her husband. “Abigail, show me where your gym shoe should be, we’ll start there.”

“Plimsoll,” corrected Abigail as she led her grandmother into the school.

They passed a mother and child as they left the toilets but the rest of the corridor was empty. It seemed strangely dim without the strip lighting turned on, and Abigail felt it was a little frightening being here alone. Her grandmother’s heels clicked authoritatively beside her as they walked past giant collages of multicoloured birds.

They went to the cloakroom and she pointed to her locker. It was a red cubbyhole, one of several against the wall opposite the coat pegs. There was a number six painted above it.

“That’s mine,” she said, “but no plimsoll.”

Hilary opened the door, and decided the best method would be to empty it completely. It had the look of a cupboard that had been rummaged through. She began to remove items and pass them to Abigail. Navy blue shorts were tangled with a white tee shirt.

“That’s what we wear for PE,” said Abigail, being helpful. There was a pink folder with torn covers. “That’s History.” Next came a black plimsoll, with a white sock tucked inside. “That’s the one I already found,” she said, folding her arms.

Then, jammed safely at the back, were two bottles. The rum was standing upright, its lid nearly touching the top of the locker. The wine was on its side, wedged with a sock and a sweatshirt.

“Those are Mummy’s,” said Abigail. “She’ll get them later I expect.”

Hilary paused, said nothing. Instead, she knelt down and felt beneath the unit. Her hand closed around a soft shoe. She extracted the rather dusty plimsoll and handed it to Abigail, who beamed at her.

“Just in time!” she said, pushing it onto her foot.

“Thanks Gran,” she called as she ran back to the playground. Hilary folded the clothes and placed them tidily in the locker before closing the door and returning to her husband.


George was standing with Peter and Christopher on the edge of a ring of parents. A large space had been cleared in the centre of the playground, and the first class was skipping in pairs to their starting positions. Music, slightly off-key, was blaring from the loud speaker and a teacher was gesticulating wildly, trying to encourage the children to smile. They frowned back at her as they stood in lines, waiting to begin.

Jane hurried over as the dance started.

“You smell of sausage,” said Peter.

“Why is Chris eating a fairy cake?” hissed Jane. “You don’t know how many people have breathed on that. He’ll be ill.”

“He’ll be fine,” said Peter. “Look, here comes Abi. Dances like a donkey!”

It seemed to Jane that the dancing lasted a very long time. It consisted primarily of skipping in a circle, with the odd exchange of partner along the way. The music was unpleasant and jarred her nerves. Most parents were clapping enthusiastically whilst staring with unseeing eyes.

“What is this dance?” queried Hilary, “I don’t recognise it.”

“Gay Gordons, I think,” said Peter.

“Well, they are doing it wrong,” observed Hilary.

“Perhaps they tried to simplify it,” said Peter.

“No,” she said, “it’s not simplified, it’s just wrong. And that boy has his shoes on the wrong feet. I’m very surprised his teacher didn’t make him change them.”

“Perhaps she didn’t notice,” said George.

“It’s her job to notice,” stated Hilary.

“This music is giving me a headache,” complained George. “Can’t they turn it down a bit?”

Jane, who until this moment had also found it unpleasantly loud, felt irritated.

“I like it,” she said, “it’s happy.” She began to clap with renewed vigour. The children continued to skip, some of them frowning with concentration, some smiling at their parents. A few looking as bored as the audience.

“I might,” began Christopher, pulling at her sleeve with sticky fingers, “I might, be going to wet myself.”

“Right,” said Jane, glad to escape, “let’s go quickly. Hold it in until we get there.”

They pushed through the crowd and hurried into the school.

“Hold it in, hold it in,” chanted Christopher, enjoying the echo of the corridor. “Hold it in!”

They arrived in time. Jane rushed to wash his hands and get back to the dancing before she missed her daughter. She felt cross, now she thought about it, that Hilary had let her take Christopher rather than offering to help so that Jane could watch the dancing.

In the playground, Abigail was doing her final courtesy. She grinned up at her mother in triumph. Jane waved and passed Christopher back to Peter. He was chewing a hot dog.

“Bit crisp,” he said, “but edible.”

“I think we’ve finished,” said Jane, “I’d better help clear up. Can you take the kids?”

“Sure,” mumbled Peter through a mouthful of sausage.


Alice and May were removing the last pieces of meat from the barbecues. Alice flapped the wet wipes at Jane as she approached.

“Health and safety,” she said.

Jane failed to see how it mattered as they were clearing up but she wiped her hands obediently.

“We need to cool these grills and then scrub them,” said May.

“No,” said Alice, “better to shut them and turn up the gas to full. Burn off all the fat.”

Jane returned the bread rolls to their bags and began throwing away soiled napkins.

“I’ll count the money,” offered Alice. “It will take me a long time, thanks to that man.”

“Yes,” said May, her voice outraged, “while you were gone Jane, a father bought three hot dogs and paid for them in pennies.”

“Pennies!” repeated Alice, “Pennies! Can you imagine how long it will take me to count them all? Never mind the weight!”

“Thoughtless,” said May.

“Very,” agreed Alice.

“Oh well,” thought Jane, “at least they agree on something.” She decided not to reply.


By the time they had cleared up, most people had left. Peter wandered over to say that they were leaving and would see Jane when she got home. She nodded, pushing a paper table covering into a too full dustbin liner.

“Wait!” said Christopher, “My stuff—we mustn’t forget my stuff.”

“Oh yes,” said Abigail, “he did very well.”

He ran back towards a nearly empty stall and heaved two big bags from underneath.

“I gave him some money,” said Peter.

“He got some real bargains,” added Abigail proudly.

Jane’s heart sank. She knew from previous fetes that the second-hand toy stall was always left with broken, dirty toys. Things that people had discarded but did not want to throw away were regularly dumped at school fairs. Now, as she watched her son struggle excitedly towards her, she knew that much of this rubbish was heading towards her home. The mother manning the stall was sweeping up, determinedly not looking at Jane. She sighed.

“I’ll see them at home,” she said.


As she finally drove away from the school, Jane felt tired. It had been a busy day, but mainly emotionally draining. A new knot had formed in her stomach and she could feel the tension in her muscles.


She wondered when he would contact her, where they would meet. She felt excited, but not, if she were honest with herself, particularly happy. She knew there were thoughts at the back of her mind that she was refusing to face.

“I don’t need to think about this,” she decided, “I’ll just wait and see what happens.” She arrived home and opened the door. Grubby toys were strewn across the floor. Odd jigsaw pieces lay next to a doll’s head beside a plastic castle, which was missing a turret.

Jane stepped carefully into the kitchen.

“I need tea,” she said.

Peter looked up and grinned at her. He was at the kitchen table, reading the front of the local newspaper. He looked rather pleased with himself.

“Chris is happy,” he said. “Oh, and this came for you.”

It was a plain white envelope with her name handwritten across the front. She did not recognise the writing, nor was she expecting anything. She froze. Peter was watching her curiously. Was it from Matthew? Was it possible that he had gone to text her, realised he had deleted her number, and had written her a note instead? Would he be that stupid?

“I’ll open it later,” she said, keeping her voice flippant and filling the kettle with an unsteady hand, “I need some tea first.”

“Poor old thing,” smiled Peter. “Here, you sit down and open your letter, I’ll make the tea.”

Jane slumped in a chair. Peter was watching her; she didn’t really have a choice. She felt nauseous as she slowly tore the envelope, something cold and hard spreading through her stomach. Every nerve was screaming and she felt like her blood carried shards of ice. For the first time in her life she knew what it was to feel frightened. Peter, the boy she had married, laughed with, shared her life with; in one simple stroke, he turned from her best friend to her enemy. Instead of wanting to share everything, she wanted to hide, to deceive him.

“Actually, I’m desperate for the loo,” she said, standing up. “Be back in a minute”. She hurried from the room, knocking her elbow on the doorframe as she left, crumpling the letter in her hand as if distracted.

In the safety of the bathroom, with the door locked, she perched on the toilet and finished opening the envelope. She peered inside.

To be continued on Tuesday.

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QuaranTime to Read. . . Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Eighteen

The following Thursday, Jane took Christopher to the park. It was a beautiful Summer’s day, with a high blue sky and a gentle breeze. She had parked in the small car park near the swings, and now they walked hand-in-hand across the grass. Max was in an ecstasy of sniffing under a wooden bench. The sun glinted off the paint of the large red slide, and she could feel Christopher skipping at her side. Her bag bumped against her hip. She needed to buy white cotton on the way home so that she could reattach buttons to Abigail’s school blouse.

School was not a happy thought at the moment. She had been summarily telephoned following her evening out and told: thank you for volunteering, you are manning the barbecue at the Summer Fair. Burgers! It was bad enough having to cook at home, now she would be burning food for the whole school. She sighed, at least she had nothing to prepare and it was only one day.

She lifted Christopher onto a swing and pulled it back. It was wooden and heavy, with a thick metal chain. She released it, watching it swing free, then braced for its return. Christopher wiggled his legs.

“Higher! Higher!” he chanted.

“That’s enough Chris,” she sighed after a few minutes. “You play on the roundabout; I need to find Max.”

She left her son climbing onto the orange wheel and went in search of the dog. He lumbered over when she called, tail swaying, stick in mouth. She obediently threw the stick a few times, watching her son as he played in the low-fenced enclosure. He too had found a stick and was poking beneath the roundabout. She walked over to where he was.

Red faced and frowning, Christopher was peering under the roundabout, making frantic sweeps with a thin branch.

“I can nearly get it,” he said in frustration.

At last, with one long swoosh of the stick, his prize was dislodged and tumbled over the grass in the sunlight.

“It’s magic!” he cried.

“It’s dirty!” she said.

It was a whiskey bottle, drained empty and flung under the child’s toy with drunken disregard. The golden label sparkled in the sunlight enticingly. Before she could stop him, Christopher had snatched it up.

“Can I keep it?”

“No,” said his mother, “it’s got germs on it. Don’t touch it.”

The boy inspected it closely. No germs could be seen. The glass was very smooth and the lid was made of gold. The label was beautiful, and seemed to have secret writing on it. It was clearly magic. He glanced at his mother. Her face looked cross and he could tell she did not understand the importance of his treasure. He felt his bottom lip begin to quiver.

“Please mummy, it’s mine now.”

Jane looked into the deep pools of his pleading eyes. ‘How am I supposed to not give in?’ she wondered. She knelt down and put an arm around his narrow shoulders. He gazed trustingly at her.

“Chris, it’s not clean,” she began. His eyes began to fill with tears. “Alright, we can take it home and wash it I suppose.”

She removed it from his grasp, deciding it would be easily disposed of later, when he had forgotten about it. She called the dog and clipped on his lead, then told Christopher that they needed to buy cotton before they went home. Not having a hand free to hold his, she sighed, and slipped the bottle into her bag, hoping it was not as dirty as she feared.

They moved to the road and stood waiting as traffic passed. Jane watched the cars impatiently, wanting to go home.

Suddenly, with heart-lurching familiarly, she recognised Matthew’s car. He glided down the road towards her. She searched for his face. He saw her, raised a hand in salute and continued past.

“That was Matfew!” announced Christopher.

“Yes,” said Jane, watching the car until it disappeared.

“Mummy, we can go,” said Christopher, waggling her hand so that she would notice the road was clear. Trance-like, she led him across.

She was a blur of emotion. She had seen him. He had waved. Their contact was not completely severed. Maybe she would see him again one day. Perhaps, now he knew they visited the park sometimes he would drive past again.

Or perhaps not.

She took a deep breath and gave herself a mental shake. This was silly. She was like a teenager with a crush on a celebrity. This obsession was getting out of hand.

“Come along,” she said and led the way to the hardware shop.


Leaving the dog tied miserably to the post outside, they entered the gloom of the shop. It smelt of glue and fabric. The floor was grey cement, and the air felt cold after the warmth of outside. Narrow aisles were precariously stacked to the ceiling with a jumble of products.

“Don’t touch anything,” Jane instructed.

She led him past cans of paint, a display of brushes perched above an array of door locks. Helpful signs warned of guard dogs, not to park in front of entrances, and a request to close the gate. Christopher put out a finger and traced their cold letters. They walked around stacked plastic buckets, and passed mops that bent shaggy heads towards them. His finger trailed across rough doormats, and onto shiny saucepans that stood in pyramids above his head. They passed boxes of electrical appliances, which nestled against a display of scissors. Bolts of coloured fabric were piled almost to the ceiling. He reached out and stroked pink fur, then poked a finger through some white lace.

“You’re touching!” his mother hissed, “Fold your arms.”

Jane had stopped beside a rack of coloured cottons. Selecting a reel of white, she guided him back towards the door to pay.

The counter was very high, much taller than his head. Behind it was a tiny man with a white beard. Christopher was fairly sure he was an elf. His mother seemed to have not noticed, and was searching for her purse. He moved behind her. There was an interesting display of tools hanging from the wall. Bright orange handles with comfortable grips, connected to grim looking blades. Saws of various sizes hung like crocodile jaws. He reached out a hand. His mother was busy paying. He pointed a finger and ran it along a blade. He snatched back his hand. Dark red blood oozed through his fist. It stung. He screamed.


Jane turned. She heard the cry, turned while pulling her purse from her bag, saw the blood and leapt towards her child. Off balance, her foot caught on the edge of a broom, which began to tumble, bringing another broom with it. She tripped. As she fell, she put out a hand to save herself, pulling a large tin of emulsion to the concrete with her. Jane, brooms, a brush and the tin all fell to the floor with a crash.

For a long second, all was still.

Jane was lying on the floor; Christopher standing above her, his crying suspended; the shopkeeper, watching.

Then they all moved as one. Christopher began to wail and Jane sat up, opening her arms for him. The shopkeeper hurried towards them, full of defensive concern.

“Madam, you really shouldn’t let your little boy touch things,” he clucked anxiously.

Jane ignored him and inspected the wound. It was very minor and had stopped bleeding already. She put his finger in her mouth and sucked to clean the wound. Then she wiped his tears with her fingers and kissed his nose.

“Stop crying, you’re alright,” she said quietly, reassuring him.

“It bit me,” he whispered.

Jane smiled, “You shouldn’t have touched.”

“I do think you should watch him more closely in future,” said the shopkeeper. “This is not a toy shop.”

Jane declined to comment and began to get up off the floor. All was fine—until she put weight on her right ankle. Pain shot up her leg. She sat again quickly, waves of nausea washing over her.

“Are you alright?” asked the man. “You really should have looked where you were going. Luckily, I do not believe anything was damaged, so I won’t have to charge you.”

He picked up a couple of brooms and replaced them on the stand, then retrieved the paint.

“It’s lucky this lid stayed on,” he said. “You would have made no end of mess if that had come off. You can’t rely on that you know. Manufacturers do not guarantee that lids won’t come loose. Paint should always be stored upright you know.”

He paused.

The woman was still sitting on his floor. She did seem rather pale. He did hope she would not faint. It would not be good for business.

“I’m afraid I need you to move,” he said, his voice rising a pitch. “I will have other customers shortly and you are rather in the way.”

‘Customers,’ he thought, ‘who will buy more than a single reel of cotton and who will create a lot less fuss.’

Jane remained on the floor. She really was unsure if she could stand. Her ankle hurt a huge amount and she felt quite ill with pain.

Then, as if she were in some ludicrous farce, the shop door opened and in walked Hilary.

Her gaze swept across the tear stained child, the flustered shopkeeper and Jane, who was sitting on the floor.

“And what happened here?” she asked.

“This woman did not have her child under appropriate control and he handled the merchandise” the man hurried to explain. “Then she did not give due care and attention to her actions and she fell over. Nearly damaging more goods, may I add.”

“I see,” said Hilary. “Jane, can you stand?”

“It hurts,” said Jane, “I don’t know.” She looked at the shopkeeper. “Do you have a stick I could lean on?”

“She could purchase a walking stick,” he informed Hilary, deciding that Jane was best not spoken to and realising the two women were acquainted.

“Right, please fetch one,” the older woman commanded, “and Christopher, please sit on this chair and hold my handbag with both hands.”

Christopher obeyed. He was reassured by her presence, and now she was clearly in charge of the situation he was extremely interested to see what would happen. His finger only hurt a little bit now, the pain eclipsed by the excitement of seeing Jane on the floor. He wondered if Nana would tell her off for getting dirty. He clutched the bulky bag. It was shiny black leather and very full. He longed to peek inside and investigate the contents but felt sure someone would then tell him off. Instead, he held it close to his chest, feeling the hard shapes inside. He found he could make his finger bleed again if he pressed it very hard, and he amused himself creating a line of round red spots across the width of the bag.

The man reappeared with a selection of sticks.

“Which would madam prefer? Lightweight steel or more traditional wood? Or perhaps one with a seat incorporated into the handle?”

Hilary pointed at a wooden stick with a plain curved handle.

“That one is suitable,” she said. She looked at Jane, “You can reimburse me later.” She handed her credit card to the shopkeeper.

They both helped Jane to stand and she tested her weight on the stick. She could walk, but it was painful. Driving would be difficult, so Hilary agreed that she would drive them all home. When she realised that a dog was involved she bought a long length of thick polythene. She then spent several minutes lining the footwell of her car while Jane sat awkwardly in the shop, Christopher standing close.

Jane thanked the shopkeeper uncertainly.

“Yes, he responded, “well, I hope this has been a lesson to you, young lady. One needs to take more care in life if one is not going to be an inconvenience. Perhaps you will take better care of your child in future.”

The child in question gave him an angelic smile, and placed a tenth bloody fingerprint on an unseen white tea towel before following his mother out of the shop.

Hilary had driven round to the shop front, so Jane had to hobble only as far as the curb. She lowered herself into the passenger seat. Christopher climbed in beside her. There was no child seat, which worried Jane, but she decided the journey was short enough to merit risking an adult’s seat belt. She pushed her coat under him, to act as a booster seat. Hilary, sighing loudly, was loading the dog.

They drove to Jane’s house in near silence. At one point she tried to thank her mother-in-law and explain what had happened. Hilary waved a hand dismissively. Jane was unsure if this was at the thanks or the explanation.

When they arrived, Hilary leant across for Jane’s bag.

“Let me take that for you,” she said, “then I can unlock the front door and come back to help you.”

She walked down the path then stood by the door and unzipped the bag. There, at the top, was a bottle. Slowly, Hilary removed it. A whiskey bottle. An empty whiskey bottle. Her daughter-in-law had been at the park—with a bottle of whiskey—and then had fallen over. She looked back at the car. Mother and child were both watching her. With a frown she found the keys and unlocked the door.

“I think this discussion is best kept for another time,” she decided, placing the bag on the hall table. Then she went back to help Jane.

Later, Jane sat on the sofa sipping tea. Hilary had advised her to bind the ankle tightly, cover it with a bag of frozen peas and raise it on a cushion. She had collected Abigail from school and offered to help the following day if necessary.

“I hope it won’t be necessary,” thought Jane, “I feel such an inconvenience when she helps me.”

She smiled at the memory of her unexpected appearance. Then her thoughts wandered to her glimpse of Matthew.

“Of all the moments when he could have passed,” she thought, “it was just as we were crossing. It’s like it was fate, like our paths were meant to cross.” It was a comforting idea and she settled against the cushions. “I wish I could tell him what happened,” she yearned. “He would laugh with me, make me feel better about that horrible man.

“There’s no one to tell,” she realised. “Peter will just tell me I’m silly, and then rush to thank Hilary. Once he’s spoken to her, he’ll be convinced I’m inadequate. They will make me feel like it was my fault, they won’t be sympathetic. He never sides with me against his mother. He won’t defend me to her, he won’t laugh about her with me. I am the outsider.”

A shot of loneliness pierced her and she felt close to tears.

“Oh Matthew, I do miss you,” she thought, “when will I see you again..?”

To be continued on Sunday.

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Camber Sands with Mother

Mum said she wanted a week by the sea, and I can write anywhere, so I told her that if she didn’t mind being ignored until midday each day, I would take her to Camber Sands. Am hoping we don’t murder each other.

Other people’s reactions to the news were telling. My children all declined to join us, citing work/parties/washing their hair as plausible excuses. My siblings all advised I take lots of alcohol. My friends all said, “A whole week? Gosh!” I expect they were jealous.

We set off on Saturday. The dog filled the whole boot, so I told Mum we could only take what would fit behind her seat. I packed the dog, my stuff (one tiny bag) and the food (quite a lot of bags) and went to collect Mum. Her stuff was already packed, and in a long line down the front path and round the corner and half way to the next town. But we managed to fit it all in. And I quite like eating bruised apples and crushed crisps, so it’s fine.

Arrived at the cottage in one piece, despite my dodgy driving and fairly useless brain and completely useless SatNav. We have rented a two-bedroomed house from ‘Beside the Sea’ cottages. It’s on a little estate of pastel coloured houses, and is 3 minutes walk from the beach. The house is pretty small (Mum suggested we could empty a cupboard for big smelly dog to live in) but it’s very pretty. It also – most importantly – has a shower with decent water pressure, an outside hose (for rinsing big smelly dog) and two washrooms. There are also a few luxuries, like a Nespresso machine (am on my 4th coffee this morning and the world is buzzing) and Netflix. The owners have included helpful things like capsules for the dishwasher and hand soap for all the sinks, and we arrived to cake and biscuits and a bottle of wine. All very nice.

After a quick cup of tea, we walked to the beach. I don’t know if you know Camber Sands, but in the summer months, the only part of the beach where dogs are allowed is accessed via sand dunes. Dragged Mum over one the height of Snowdon but we made it to the beach. Tried to take selfies – realised neither of us were very good at this, and we now have several photos of our feet, and the sky, and the dunes. Both dog and mother went completely nuts and insisted on paddling. Mother told me she thought I was completely ridiculous to be wearing wellies on the beach in June. But I have lived with Husband for too long. And I hate sandy feet.

Sunday: I took the dog for an early run. The tide in Camber goes out for miles and miles, so we had a good walk. The only other people out there were fishermen digging for lugworms. I worried a little that the tide might come in and we’d get cut-off, but there were no warning signs (only about riptides for swimmers) so we walked 27 miles out to the sea and back. Kia chased seagulls and brought me dead crabs and stones to throw. (I didn’t throw the dead crabs, in case you’re wondering.)

Met Mum and we walked to the little wood and brick church on the main road, next to Pontins. People seemed friendly, and there was coffee and cake afterwards, which Mum stayed for as she likes chatting to strangers, and I didn’t, as I don’t.

We had lunch at The King’s Head in Playden. I’ve been there before, and it never disappoints. It’s pretty and cosy and the food is lovely. Spent the rest of the day walking and reading and watching Netflix.

This morning I walked along a footpath towards Rye (I couldn’t face even more sand and wet dog, I figured one trip to the beach a day would be fine.) The path went past fields of chubby lambs and great pools of deep water with fishermen next to them, and was lined with poppies. Camber seems to have lots of poppies in June. Came back to write this, and will now do some work. So far the week is going well, and we are both still alive. I’ll give you an update next week.

Thank you for reading. Have a good week.

Take care.
Love, Anne x

Anne E. Thompson is an author of several novels and one non-fiction book. You can find her work in bookshops and on Amazon.
Thank you for reading.

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