As much as I’m loving writing my first novel and equally love my characters to the point where I think of them as real people and find myself wondering what Maggie would do or think, I do ask myself whether I should be posting it in my blog. Should I create another blog just for posting the latest instalment and leave A Fifty Something Me for other ramblings? My intention is to, fingers crossed, turn all of these instalments into a proper book when it’s finished. Hopefully someone, somewhere will think it is. I need to find out what the process is to getting a book published. It may be the case that it is destined for the rejection heap, but if that’s the case then at least I had lots of fun writing it. It’s still early days, Maggie hasn’t even left Penzance yet, so there’s still a way to go before I finish especially as I’m such a slow writer!
I wonder if it’s normal for writers to base characters on people in real life other than themselves? When I think of Gordon I think of Jeremy Paxman. Someone who is a bit condescending, intimidating, arrogent. I actually rather like Mr Paxman, especially after watching him on Great British Bakeoff Stand up to Cancer. I also think he’s rather dishy. Unlike Gordon Thornden!
Anyway, enough of me rattling on.Here’s part five. Enjoy!
Maggie Thornden, Where Are You?
It was turning out to be another gorgeous day. The sun was streaming through the open window and although it was still only mid-morning, Maggie could feel the heat of the day rising. Maggie sat on the bed propped up against the padded headboard dressed in the clothes she was wearing when she left the cottage the day before. Her beige trekking trousers, bottle green fleece top and thick walking socks that had been perfect for a windswept and wet visit to Land’s End were already sticking to her sweat drenched skin. One of the first things that she needed to do, and do it soon, was to go and buy something more suitable to wear before she collapsed in a heap with heat exhaustion. No doubt, if she took a looked in the mirror she’d see a face that was rapidly turning the colour of a beetroot!
Her phone fully charged, there was some serious Google searching to be done. Someone, sometime must have travelled by bus up to John O’Groats. She’d heard of a man who did it on a sit-on lawn mower, so the chances were that doing it by bus was high. Bingo! A man from Basildon called Dennis had completed the trip a few years previously and had written a blog detailing the route and all the bus numbers.
You star Dennis. I could kiss you! From now on I’m going to be your number one fan!
Maggie read his first few posts, which apart from useful bus information, was mostly filled with mind blowingly boring facts about places the along the bus routes. She then tapped out a comment and hoped that he’d get to read it.
Hi Dennis. Great posts and a really good read. I’m just about to embark on the same bus journey as your epic one although it’s been a rather hasty decision to do it! You might think I’m totally mad if I told you that I had no idea that I was actually going to do this when I woke up yesterday morning! A long story so I won’t bore you with it. I’m going to find your route map and bus time tables very useful. I just hope that the busses you mention are still running! Hope that you are well. Maggie Thornden
Now to write quick post on Instagram and she’d be ready to go out. Gordon often teased her about her spending more time glued to those little squares than making purposeful conversation with him. He thought it preposterous when she tried to explain that she’d made good friends through Instagram and that she had discovered that she had quite an eye for taking decent photos. A dramatic sky, rain drops on petals, shop fronts, a lost shoe, reflections in puddles. Her regular postings had resulted in over five hundred people following her. In real life, she could count the number of her friends on one hand and to be honest she wasn’t sure if she could really class them as true friends, more like acquaintances really. Fran next door would pop in for a coffee and chat and was happy to water the plants when they were away, but she wasn’t someone she could confide in. In fact she could think of not one single person that she could go to if something was troubling her. She longed to have friends that she could go on “girl’s nights out” or spend Saturdays mooching around the shops and having lunch in nearby Cheltenham. She longed not to feel so lonely.
Maggie quickly snapped a shot of the trendy radio and the antique hardback books stacked artfully on the bedside table and composed a comment to go with it.
Spending the day in Penzance before going on a solo bus journey all the way to John O’Groats. Must be stark raving mad! #landsendtojohnogroats #solowomantraveler #discoveringmyself
And with that Maggie popped on her clumpy walking boots and headed for the shops.
The drive back to Gloucester was as always, an ordeal. The traffic on the M4 moved at a snail’s pace between Taunton and Weston-Super-Mare and when it was moving Gordon had to contend with the idiots who hogged the middle lane and the endless stream of trucks that insisted on travelling two abreast. Few people these days, according to Gordon could actually read the road. On top of the morons on the road, he had to contend with people walking aimlessly like lost sheep around service stations. By the time he got home, he was feeling more than a little irritable.
The house was as they had left it less than a week ago, although Gordon couldn’t fail but notice that the woman next door, whose name escaped him, hadn’t bothered to pick up the mail and place it in the letter rack and she had overwatered a pot plant and not bothered to mop up the spillage. Why were people so damn careless these days!
Gordon lugged the suitcases upstairs and dumped them on their bed. He supposed he should empty them, but that was Maggie’s job and he had no idea where everything should go, especially her things. He’d not bothered to fold everything when packing choosing instead to just throw all of their belongings in. He was tired, grouchy and really couldn’t deal with unruly suitcases right now. He heaved them back off the bed, shoved them into the spare room and returned downstairs to make a much needed cup of tea. Except there was no milk. Maggie always made sure that she’d packed away a pint at the end of their holidays so that they could have a hot drink the moment they got home. Making do with a black coffee Gordon sat down at the kitchen table with the pile of mail. Apart from the sound of envelopes being neatly sliced open the house seemed too quiet. Maggie’s habit of humming tunes whilst busying herself in the kitchen often annoyed him but as he sat there scanning bank statements and flyers for replacement windows, it occurred to him that for once he wanted more than anything to hear his wife humming.
As Maggie went in search of for everything she would need for her adventure, she caught sight of her reflection in a shop window. What looked back at her was a dowdy looking middle aged woman with greying hair cut in a severe bob. A face with a serious thread vein and facial hair problem and a body hidden under frumpy, shapeless clothes. When was it that she had stopped caring about how she looked? She had always made sure that she kept up with eye, teeth and cholesterol checks. She attended her mammogram and cervical screening appointments even though she found both excruciatingly embarrassing, and she did her best to make sure that the fridge was full of fruit and vegetables. On her fiftieth birthday, Gordon had bought her a treadmill so she could keep herself fit and she spent fifteen minutes every day on it as well as bending and stretching to her ancient Rosemary Conley keep fit DVD. She was fit and she was healthy, but she looked so tired, so dreary, so old!
The sign in the window of Fringe Benefits said that no appointments were necessary and peering inside, Maggie wasn’t sure if it was even open as there didn’t seem to be any staff let alone customers. The lights were on though and she could hear a radio playing somewhere inside the hair salon. Maggie took a deep breath, pushed open the door and stepped into the empty room. Nobody appeared but she could hear banging and thumping noises coming from a behind a door behind the wash basins. Now and again she could just make out a muffled “fuck it” and “bollocks”!
“Hello, is anyone there?”
The thumps and bangs were now joined by an alarmingly loud knocking noise that was followed by someone shouting “You shitting, bollocking piece of junk. Don’t you dare do this to me!”
“Are you alright back there? Do you need any help?”
The racket coming from the back room suddenly stopped and a bald leather clad middle aged man with tattoos covering every visible part of him from his weathered face downwards appeared carrying a bucket and mop.
“Washing machine’s buggered and it’s full of towels. I told Francine that it needed replacing but did she frigging listen?
“The boss, although you wouldn’t know it. She spends most of the year lying on a sunbed at her time share in Fuerteventura and drinking margaritas whilst I’m left here to hold the fort. Anyway my love, apologies for all the effing and blinding. What can I do for you?
“It say’s in the window that no appointments are necessary. I was wondering if you could fit me in?”
“Course I can darling, as you can see, we are hardly over run with customers right at this moment of time. What were you thinking of having done? How about sitting down at one of our mirrors and we can talk hair. I’m Jago by the way, and you are…?”
Swathed in a bubblegum pink gown and sat in front of reproduction antique mirror which had been badly spray painted silver, Howie studied her hair intently.
“When did you last have a deep conditioning treatment sweetheart?”
“Not for quite a while” Which was a little fib, but Maggie didn’t want to admit to never using ordinary conditioner, let alone a deep one.
“Maggie lovely, are you in a hurry? The reason I’m saying this is because I honestly think that your hair needs a bit of titivating. Don’t take this the wrong way, but as it is, this style is doing diddly squat for you, and it needs colouring really badly. Let me take years off you with these….” From behind her Jago wiggled his fingers “….and these” and waved his scissors.
Two hours, three cups of tea, four copies of OK magazine circa 2016 and two life stories later, Howie finally finished his titivating.
“Ta-dah! So what’s the verdict young lady? Like it?” Jago bent down so that his head was level with hers and he smiled broadly as he looked in the mirror. “Don’t you look just frigging drop dead gorgeous!”
The woman staring back from the mirror looked so different than the one who had arrived just a few hours earlier. Instead of the severe bob, she now had a short sassy one with a soft feathery fringe. The grey had gone to be replaced with burnished coppery lowlights.
“Wow! Is that really me? You are a genius Jago. I absolutely love it. Thank you so much!”
As Maggie was paying, a poster on the counter caught her attention. “That’s my band, and it just so happens that we are playing at The Ship tonight. We’re actually not that bad. Why don’t you come along?” Jago gave an exaggerated wink “You can buy me a pint as a way of thanking me for being a brilliant hairdresser”
Suddenly a pager attached to his belt made a loud bleeping noise.
“Gotta dash, I crew the lifeboat. Hairdressing, fiddle playing, lifesaving, you name it, I can do it. Can’t repair sodding washing machines though”
And with that he ran out of the salon and disappeared leaving Maggie wondering whether there was a key anywhere so she could lock up behind her and what would have happened if his pager had gone off before he had finished creating her new look.
Maggie had hung around outside Fringe Benefits for a short while hoping that someone would turn up. It didn’t seem right that she should leave the salon unattended. The last thing she wanted was for someone to raid the till and clear the shelves of shampoo and conditioner. She couldn’t let Jago take the blame for the salon being burgled especially as he had worked wonders and made her feel years younger. Fortunately a man from the gift shop next door came to her rescue.
“Has that Jago gone and forgotten to lock up after himself again? Bloody good lifeboat man but got a brain like a sieve when it comes to keys and all that. Don’t worry love, I’ve got a spare set. You toddle off and I’ll sort out locking up. If you don’t mind me saying, you’re looking in bit hot in that thick top!”
Several hours later, Maggie returned to the hotel laden down with shopping bags and pulling along a holdall on wheels. She had considered buying a backpack but decided that she didn’t want to go down the whole backpack route again, especially after ditching a perfectly good one the day before.
Discovering a Seasalt shop at the bottom of the high street, she bought brightly coloured cotton tops, stripy T-shirts, a cropped pair of trousers, a cardi, some trainers and a scarf. It had been a long time since she had treated herself to new clothes and buying so much in one go seemed like an extravagance but she thought of all the years that she’d made do with her deadly dull, yet practical wardrobe. Sod it, thought Maggie I’m treating myself, and if Gordon doesn’t like it then tough titty!
Feeling much cooler in her new clothes, Maggie sat in the arm chair with her feet resting on the window sill scrolling through her phone. Still nothing from Gordon. No surprise there really, and to be honest she didn’t blame him for being in a right huff with her and not wanting to get in touch with her. She wondered if he had let their children know that their mum had gone AWOL. Should she send him another text just to let him know that she was ok? Deciding not to, she opened her Instagram account to find a whole ream of comments. Most wished her a good trip, some wondered if she was alright and asked her to please message them. Maybe later, she thought.
Looking through her emails she discovered that Dennis from Basildon had responded to her comment.
Hi Maggie and thank you for your comment which I must say came as a bit of a surprise. I think you’ll find your bus journey very rewarding if you allow yourself time to explore the towns that you end up in at the end of each day. If you read through my blog you can find all manner of interesting facts about places on the way from its history to local wildlife and ancient buildings. If you need any assistance with bus timetables and routes please don’t hesitate to contact me on the email address in the ‘About’ section of my blog. Anything to do with busses is a bit of a hobby of mine. Good luck. Dennis Grimshaw.
It was very sweet of Dennis to respond to her comment but it did occur to her that Dennis and Gordon would probably get on like a house on fire if ever the two were to meet.
Having eaten fish and chips sitting on the prom and then walked along the prom to Newlyn and back, Maggie made her way up the winding street back to the hotel. Halfway up the hill she heard music coming from a pub bedecked in hanging baskets full of colourful flowers. The pub sign above the entrance caught her attention and Maggie realised that it was the pub that Jago had mentioned that his band was playing in that evening.
Maggie hesitated. Going into pubs on her own wasn’t something she had done since marrying Gordon. She didn’t even go to the bar when they went to a pub together, which truth be told was something they only ever did on holiday. Gordon wasn’t really a pub sort of man, although he did sometimes go to the The Flying Fox after bowls with his friends Alan and Stan for a swift half.
Maggie Thornden, get a grip and stop being such a wuss. What’s the point in doing all this if you are going to chicken out every time you are faced with doing something that’s out of your comfort zone. You’re a big girl now and what’s the worst that can happen? You know that you’ll kick yourself if you don’t pluck up the courage and go in.
The pub was packed and she had to push through to get to the bar. The music had stopped and everyone was clambering to get drinks in. Ordering her glass of white wine wasn’t as daunting as she thought it might be. The barman didn’t bat an eyelid, nor did everyone in the pub suddenly go silent when she, a woman, dared ask for a drink. She really ought to stop watching so many black and white films. Life had moved on for women since the times when the only drink Celia Johnson would ever think of ordering would be a pot of tea in a train station café.
“Hey Maggie, over here, come and join us.”
She looked over the sea of heads to see Jago waving at her madly. He was sat with two other men close to the area where not long before, his band had been playing.
Maggie smiled back but shook her head declining his offer.
The next thing she knew Jago was there by her side and guiding her to his table.
“I’m going to let you off buying me a drink as it’s me that needs to treat you after you kept guard of the shop this morning after I was called out on a shout. Mike from the shop next door told me about this woman with the most stunning hair and for some unfathomable reason was dressed for winter on the hottest day of the year and looked like she might collapse with heat exhaustion. Of course I knew instantly who he was talking about.”
Maggie couldn’t fail to notice Jago’s broad grin and twinkling blue eyes. Was she attracted to this tattooed man with skin almost the colour of a conker?
“By the way, can I just say that you are looking rather ravishing this evening. What happened to that frumpy woman that walked into my salon this morning?”
Boy, this man didn’t hold back by saying exactly what he was thinking. Maggie felt flattered. It had been a long time since she had been paid a compliment but she also felt slightly uncomfortable. What was she doing sitting here having a drink with another man, especially one who blatantly flirting with her?
Maggie stayed to listen to Jago’s band play their second set. They really were very good. She found her foot tapping away to the beat of the lively Cornish folk music. For the second time that day she watched Jago’s fingers move expertly, creating something magical.
She wondered if his talented fingers went beyond yielding scissors and fingering the notes of a violin.
Shocked by her thoughts Maggie got up and left the pub. It was definitely time to leave Penzance.