Last week was hard. The prospect of schools closing was more or less a certainty. We’d drummed into the children the importance of hand washing and assemblies were cancelled but apart from that school life went on as normal. It was important that routines and expectations didn’t change whilst it was still possible, but at times it felt pointless to worry if their handwriting wasn’t perfect, full stops had been ommitted or a sum didn’t add up correctly. Enjoying our time together whilst we could seemed so much more important. The children in my class are too young at five and six to fully understand the enormity of the situation and that’s probably a good thing in some ways, but it was sad to hear them talk about their plans for exciting birthday parties knowing that those parties with their friends would be on hold for how long is anybody’s guess.

The announcement came as expected that school’s were to shut to all but the children of keyworkers and to vulnerable children. Our head teacher decided that our last day in school was going to be all about having fun with friends as it was going to be sometime before they were able to see each other again. She wanted a day full of laughter and chatter. It was a decision that was really appreciated by the children’s parents and by the class teachers and teaching assistants.

Last Friday was so difficult and surreal. It wasn’t like the end of the school year. That’s an expected conclusion of the school year and an exciting time when we have a long break to enjoy, especially if we have a holiday away to look forward to. No, this was entirely different. We wouldn’t be seeing the children that we care about and have grown relationships with for weeks, maybe months. There was one moment during the morning when my class started singing together spontaneously. Oh my goodness, that was a killer. I could feel myself welling up, but I had to keep it together. They were having a ball and the last thing they needed was a blubbering teaching assistant!

I was told that due to being very ill a few years a go with severe pneumonia and a pleural effusion I was considered to be vulnerable and to stay at home. I wasn’t to put myself at risk by working as part of the skeleton staff needed to look after the children that would be in school. This was hard to accept. I wanted to do my bit and it went against my work ethic. I felt so guilty and that I was letting my colleagues down. I have no idea if the pneumonia has left my lungs with some degree of weakness. I do know however that I get more breathless now than I used to so maybe I am vunerable. I hope that I don’t get to find out!

So here I am like many others with time on my hand and of course doing my bit by socially distancing myself from everyone apart from Mr R. I plan to Spring clean, read, bake, try new things and of course write. No excuses now not to get my book finished.

On that note, here is the next instalment of Maggie’s adventure. Enjoy and stay safe.

Maggie Thornden Where Are You?

Part 9

The alarm on Gordon’s bedside clock had woken him up at 6.30am but as usual he had pulled the duvet over his head and had drifted off back to sleep. It was always down to Maggie to give her snoozing husband a gentle nudge every ten minutes until 7am and then get herself up to go and fetch him a cup of tea. This had been the same workday routine that they had followed for most of their married life. But of course there was no Maggie this morning to make sure that he actually managed to get up, provide him with tea and had breakfast ready for when he finally came down stairs.

Gordon squinted at the clock and the put on his glasses to double check that what he was seeing was right.

8.30am

“Damn the woman!”

For the first time in over thirty years Gordon Thorndon was late for work.

*************

At the same time that Gordon was scurrying around their bedroom looking for underwear and a clean shirt, all of which were either still in the tumble dryer or on the back of a dining room chair, Maggie was starting the next leg of her journey on the number 22 bus to Taunton.

She had promised Charles that they would stay in touch and had swapped telephone numbers. When it came to paying her bill Charles had told her to put her purse away and that her stay was on the house. Maggie insisted on paying and reminded him that he was running a business and he wouldn’t last long if he treated all his guests to freebies. Charles had kissed her cheek awkwardly and waved her off with Hero at his side as Maggie crossed the road to wait at the bus stop. He was still waving as she settled into her seat as the bus moved off and continued its journey to Somerset.

According to Dennis’s schedule, Maggie would be able to get as far as the small Gloucestershire town of Wotton-Under-Edge today but the only place she could find in walking distance of the bus stop was full. Maggie opted to stay over in Bristol instead where there was a lot more options. Their home in Gloucester was only a few junctions away from the city on the M5 and they used to visit Clifton zoo and the Downs years ago when the children were little. She smiled at the memory of Susan charging along the pedestrian walkway of Brunel’s suspension bridge whilst James held back, convinced that he was going to slip between the walkway planks and fall into the muddy river Avon far below.

Four bus rides later Maggie arrived at Bristol bus station. It was a short walk from there to the YMCA that she had booked herself into. She had hoped that there was a single room available but there hadn’t been and Maggie had to make do with a bunk in a dormitory, but it was only for the night and no great hardship to share just as long as her sleeping companions didn’t snore or chat all night!

She had an hour to kill before she could book in so she used that time to browse around the shops. She’d’ been wearing the same trousers for the last few days and really could do with a change. A pretty cotton sundress caught her eye as well as a pair of light-weight chinos. She couldn’t resist buying some sparkly flat sandals either. Gordon would say that they were totally impractical footwear and not appropriate for a woman of her age. More reason to buy them then. What gave him the right to dictate what she should wear!

Maggie had never stayed in a YMCA hostel and had always imagined that they would look like the inside of an army barrack, but she was pleasantly surprised to discover that the Bristol hostel was bright and stylish with references to the building’s previous life as a police station. After finding an empty bottom bunk and a washing machine to use she decided to go out and explore.

Walking up the steep road towards Clifton and the suspension bridge Maggie was glad that she had decided against wearing her pretty, but impractical sandals. Half way up she turned off the busy street to head towards the peace and quiet of Brandon Hill. A poster outside a beautiful Georgian church was advertising a concert for that evening. Maggie recognised one of the pieces as being one that Gordon and her-self used to enjoy listening to in their early years together. Gordon would pretend to conduct Maggie as she played imaginary instruments and at the end of the piece, they would bow and Gordon would throw flowers from a vase at her whilst shouting encore, encore! Maggie smiled at the memory of the two of them laughing together whilst lying on the floor surrounded by dripping blooms and then went into the foyer and bought herself a ticket.

Sitting on a bench overlooking the city below, she sent Gordon a text.

Do you remember when you pretended to be the conductor and I played all the instruments to that piece of music we loved?

A minute later her phone pinged a response.

A single word filled the screen.

No

Maggie spent the rest of the afternoon making her way up slowly up to the bridge, popping into the city museum briefly and browsing in the boutique shops of Clifton village. The bridge spanning the gorge looked magnificent. Tourists wandered across stopping to take photos and look down to the muddy banks of the river. Maggie had noticed the help line number for the Samaritans posted on the wall and wondered about those individuals who were desperate enough to consider jumping. What awful struggles they must be going through to contemplate doing such a thing and what amazing those people must be who man the phones and listen calmly to people in despair and encourage them to move away from the edge of life and seek help.

Her own problems seemed insignificant in comparison to so many others. What did she really have to complain about? She had a roof over her head, food on the table and nothing or no one to be fearful of. Her life had become dull, monotonous and boring. She had become dull and boring. She was married to a man who was equally dull and boring. Who was to blame? None other than themselves. Not one or the other, but both of them. They had allowed their marriage to become stale. Could it be rescued before it was too late?

The concert had been wonderful. She had forgotten how much better it was to listen to an orchestra playing live rather than listening to the music on the radio or from a CD.

As she walked down the hill and back to the hostel her phone pinged. Maggie took her phone from her bag and read the text.

It was Grieg’s Hall of the Mountain King and I used a wooden spoon as a baton. X

He’d remembered.

When she arrived back at the hostel she suddenly realised that she’d left her washing in the machine so she had to sit and wait for it to dry as it tumbled round and round in the dryer. It was well past midnight before she finally tiptoed into her room, changed into her nightie and rolled into her bunk being careful not to disturb her room companions were sleeping soundly.In minutes Maggie fell into a dreamless sleep.

*************

Gordon searched through the box of old CDs that had been stored in the attic until he found the one he had been looking for. The cover of the Peer Gynt suites had faded and the hinges to the plastic case was broken but the disc looked in good condition.

He took the CD downstairs, put it in the CD player, pressed play and settled into his armchair.

The music was very familiar but Gordon listened intently to each beautiful piece, his eyes closed and his left ring finger moving to the music as if he were conductor.

As the first chords of The Hall of the Mountain King struck, he was transported back to their first home together. A garret flat at the top of a converted Victorian house in Chiswick. As the music grew louder and the tempo increased Maggie swirled in circles, her fingers playing notes on imaginary woodwind, brass and stringed instruments. Her movements became faster and wilder. Gordon meanwhile waved his wooden spoon baton frantically in time to the music. The music ended abruptly and Maggie fell in a heap on the floor. Gordon grabbed the flowers in a vase and tossed them over his wife shouting encore, encore before falling down besides her and kissed her passionately.

“You played beautifully my darling.” He murmured breathlessly into her ear.

“And you my darling, waved my trusty wooden spoon magnificently.” She replied before they both erupted into fits of giggles!