I don’t know whether it’s the change in the weather but I’m feeling a bit down today, but I suppose that’s only to be expected when times are extraordinary. One day you’re fine and full of the British bulldog spirit and the next you just want to hide under the duvet and eat your weight in Jaffa Cakes. I’m missing my normal routine, missing having a purpose for getting up and I miss human contact. Conversation at home is difficult when you are cooped up together all day. How I long to greet Mr R when he comes through the door and ask how his day has been.We see each other all the time so there’s no point in asking. We can’t look forward to the weekend and make plans as we did before and the view I see never changes. I’m sad that I won’t see bluebells, fields of acid yellow rapeseed flowers or cow parsley boardering a country road.I miss our little trips to John Lewis to look at sound systems (him) and kitchenware (me).
They are just tiny little things and I know that people are far, far worse off and struggling through all this, but I’m only human and it’s not through choice that I’m feeling morose. I’ll get through today and tomorrow I may well be back to my cheerful self. It’s ok to experience the rollercoaster of emotions we are all going through right now.
Enough of that now.
Here is the next instalment of my novel in progress. Thank you for bothering to read it and for being my guinea pigs. Hope that you enjoy.
Maggie Thornden Where Are You
“Honestly Maggie, I feel and look ridiculous.”
Gordon stood in the changing room cubicle looking very uncomfortable whilst Maggie studied her husband with one hand on her hip and a selection of clothes slung across her other forearm.
“Umm, maybe not in coral pink. They looked good on the hanger but they make your legs look sort of bluish.”
Gordon hadn’t worn shorts for years and his legs hadn’t seen the sun in all that time. Consequently they were pale except for the blue of varicous veins that threaded their way up his calves. Apart from his work trousers he tended to wear his hiking trousers that were extremely comfortable due to the elasticated waist or his white slacks if he was playing bowls. Maggie had decided that he ought to wear cargo shorts with some polo tops and maybe a zip up fleece for cooler days.
Maggie handed him a stone pair. “Try these. Maybe you’d be better suited to something not quite so bright. They do make you look as though you should be wearing a jaunty little sailors cap and navigating the Thames at Henley in a floating gin palace! I think that the look that we are trying to achieve is more Greek flotilla holiday.”
The Thorndens had left early to spend the day shopping in Cheltenham. Seeing Maggie had delivered most of his clothes in a black sack to the local charity shop, Gordon had no option but to go and buy new clothes. Ordinarily he ordered anything he needed from a company that was called something or other woollen mill (he couldn’t remember the exact name ) and his underwear had worn well and hadn’t needed replacing for years. Yes, admittedly it was all a bit faded but nobody saw it so why did it matter what it looked like!
As expected Cheltenham town centre was busy on a Saturday morning. It was a good thing that Gordon had insisted on parking just a little way out where they could be sure of a space and it was much cheaper than the expensive car parks near the shops. As usual Gordon walked at a brisk pace leaving Maggie trailing behind him. He tutted at dawdlers meaning he had to skirt around them and rather than waiting for pedestrian crossing lights to turn green, he grabbed his wife’s hand and dodged the oncoming cars.
Maggie had insisted that they stop for a coffee before they got down to the serious business of shopping. She hadn’t been to the newly opened John Lewis so suggested trying their coffee shop. Gordon wasn’t keen. Why do women always insist on having coffee when they go shopping? They’d had breakfast before they left and if he drank too much he’d need the loo. At least the department store had toilets and he wouldn’t have the inconvenience of having to find the public loos which there would no doubt be a long queue for and even worse be the type that you had to pay twenty pence to use which in his opinion was an absolute rip off and the local council cashing in on the public. He paid his council tax and surely that should include the right to pee for free!
“I don’t see why I even need shorts. And what’s the point of all of these pockets? If I need to carry anything I’ll pop them into my rucksack.” Gordon wasn’t enjoying the shopping trip one bit but if it pleased Maggie then he’d go along with it.
Maggie was having doubts about the shorts too. She hadn’t realised her husband’s legs were quite so puny. Maybe a gym membership might be a good idea? Perhaps she’d look into it. There was one attached to a rather nice hotel not too far from where they lived. They could have a joint membership and she could make use of the spa facilities whilst he huffed and puffed away on a treadmill. They could have a drink in the bar afterwards. She might have to work on that idea. She couldn’t really see Gordon agreeing to it.
“Just try on this last pair. I really think that you’ll feel much cooler in them on a hot day. She peered through the tiny gap in the door and watched Gordon take off the hideous pink shorts and put on the ones Maggie handed to him. “Oh yes, that’s a vast improvement. They will do nicely. Now just try them with this polo shirt. I really like this blue and white one. All that you need then are some deck shoes and a cap.” And with that she disappeared to go and find the items needed to complete the look leaving Gordon standing in the cubicle with nothing to look at but himself!
Gordon wasn’t sure whether Maggie was being serious or making fun of him. He looked at his reflection in the mirror. Apart from the fact that he looked as though he should be taking part in Cowes Week, he actually thought that he didn’t look too bad at all.
Maggie was on a roll by the time they’d left John Lewis and decided that although she had only intended on buying casual clothes on this trip, it would be a good idea whilst they were here to look at suits in Marks and Spencers. Gordon’s work suit had seen better days and there was definitely a bit of a shiny spot on the seat of the trousers. It was also a bit shapeless. A slimmer, tailored fit would take years off of him. Begrudgingly Gordon agreed to look at, but not buy, a suit. Half an hour later they left the shop laden down with a new suit and two shirts. The double cuffed ones that required cuff links. She knew that he had a pair because they’d had to buy some when they’d rented a black tie ensemble for a work’s Christmas do some years ago and had a bit of a panic when they discovered the pintucked shirt needed them. She’d left Gordon to go and buy them and inwardly sighed when he came back with a pair shaped like the top of a tap!
“Can we go home now?” Gordon pleaded. He’s had enough now of navigating busy streets full of indecisive people, families with pushchairs and children dragging their feet and women who insisted on chatting to each other, oblivious of others around them. He really couldn’t understand the appeal of shopping trips or browsing. What was the point of browsing! Have a list, buy the first suitable thing you see and go home. No fuss, no bother. He was also aware that time was running out on their parking ticket and it was a bit of a trek back to the car park. They would have to walk at quite a brisk pace and Maggie wasn’t very good at that. She was a bit of a dawdler which irritated him no end but he’d promised himself that he would bite his tongue and not pull her up on it.
With much panting along the way from Maggie, they managed to return to the car with minutes to spare. “Right, let’s get out of here. Don’t know about you but I’m starving and ready for some lunch.” Gordon said once they’d loaded the boot with the shopping bags.
“Actually, I was telling Susan about our shopping trip and she invited us to theirs for lunch.” Said Maggie wishing that she hadn’t mentioned their trip to Cheltenham.
Gordon shot her a look that showed he wasn’t happy about the prospect of visiting his daughter.
“Please tell me you declined?” Gordon asked but knowing full well what the answer would be.
“I couldn’t really could I without it sounding rude. We haven’t seen the family in ages and it would be lovely to see the twins. I’ve really missed them. Come on, Susan is a great cook and she would have prepared something delicious. I bet we will be eating in that pretty garden of theirs. It’ll mean I won’t have to cook tonight either. Cheese and crackers on trays whilst watching Casualty. What do you think?” She nudged her husband who was now buckling up his seat belt.
“Have I got any choice in the matter? Seriously you women are terrible at being in cahoots with each other and making plans without consulting us men. I bet Susan never thought to discuss it with Tom before inviting us around. I’ll be surprised if we even see him. What’s the betting he’ll be out on a run or off to some reclamation yard to look for some tat to use in the house. I’ll be the mug left to keep an eye on the twins whilst you two will be in the kitchen on the pretext of serving up but in reality having one of your little chats whilst drinking wine!”
Maggie playfully punched her husband on the arm. “Oh, stop your moaning and get a shift on before a parking chappie comes and gives us a ticket. I promise that I won’t abandon you and leave you alone with your grandchildren, destroyers of middle aged men! Here’s the deal. Get through the next few hours without moaning about the state of the world economy and I’ll let you watch the cricket highlights this evening and even ask you to explain what a bye means. Deal?”
“I was going to watch the highlights anyway, but I suppose I can try and not discuss important topics that affect us all if it’ll make you happy.”
“Tell you what” said Maggie “how about I drive back and then you can have a drink with your lunch?”
“No, you’re ok. I don’t mind sticking to water. I can have a glass of wine later if I feel like it.” Gordon would rather forgo a glass of wine than have to put up with his wife’s indecisive driving, but decided best not to mention that to her!
Maggie and Gordon waited for their daughter or son-in-law to open the Farrow and Ball painted front door on their Georgian terraced cottage. Maggie had made Gordon stop at a florists so that she could pick up some flowers and popped into a Sainsburys Local to buy some chocolate buttons for the children. Susan often made a point that she didn’t like the twins eating sugary treats but in truth she often caved in when they were being fractious and popped the two of them in front of CBeebies with little pots of sweets to give herself a break.
Through the door Maggie could hear the running footsteps and the excited squeals from Lottie and Milly. Even though it had only been just over two weeks since she’d last seen them when they met in the park, she had missed them lots and was really looking forward to being with them again. She was a bit more hesitant about seeing her daughter. Although they had spoken on the phone since Maggie returned home, she knew that Susan still had lots of questions to ask her mother. Maggie wasn’t really up for an interrogation. She just wanted a nice family meal together. She’ll just have to try and play it that she wasn’t left alone with Susan for too long. At least Gordon would be pleased about that.
The front door opened and the two of them were greeted by two little people flinging themselves at Maggie’s legs.
“Come on you two little horrors, poor old nanna might fall over and hurt her hip. That would make me and nanna very sad and we don’t want to make people sad do we.” With that she scooped up both children and kissed Maggie on the cheek. “Hi Mum, lovely to see you. Hi Dad!”
Maggie kissed her daughter back whilst gently tickling her granddaughters causing them to giggle with glee. “Hi darling lovely to see you too, but less of the old please.”
Maggie, Gordon and Susan were sitting at the table in the small back garden. The twins were happily playing in the sand tray wearing matching floppy sunhats and plastered in factor 50 sunscreen. Susan had apologised for Tom’s absence but apparently he had an appointment to see someone who had some reclaimed bricks that would be perfect for creating a garden path. When Gordon asked Susan if her elusive husband could have perhaps rescheduled the meeting to another day, he was told that the bricks were not going to hang around and if he didn’t go and see them today then they would lose them. Gordon wasn’t entirely convinced about the brick story but decided it was best not to say anything. Tom was a nice enough chap but he found him difficult to strike up a conversation with. He tried his best to talk to him but half the time they ended up twiddling their thumbs with an uncomfortable silence between them.
Susan poured herself and her mother a glass each of sauvignon blanc and a glass of sparkling water for her father. Maggie admired the Provencal print tablecloth and the rustic looking plates and blue recycled glass water tumblers. Gordon speared a black olive and popped it into his mouth. He wasn’t too thrilled to discover it had a stone in and that he’d have to discreetly extract it from his mouth and put it –where exactly? Seeing nowhere obvious he slipped it into his trouser pocket.
“Well you two, what have you been buying in Cheltenham this morning?
” Susan winked at her father.” Has mum been dragging poor old you around the shops to find things to add to her new collection of clothes?”
“Actually we’ve been buying new clothes for your father. It was about time his wardrobe was updated.” She looked over at her husband “We should have brought them in with us and you could have changed into your new casual clothes and given us a twirl!”
Gordon looked very uncomfortable “Thank goodness we didn’t!” He could think of nothing worse. It was going to take some used to being seen out in public wearing shorts. People were bound to laugh behind his back. Perhaps he could sneak the bags back into the car when Maggie wasn’t looking and pop into John Lewis after work and return everything. Maggie wouldn’t be pleased but she wasn’t the one who was going to have to wear them. Maybe he should insist that she wore shorts too. Bet she wouldn’t like that!
“Wow Dad, are we going to see a new you too? At this rate I’m not going to recognise my own parents! So, what did Mum make you buy? I can’t imagine for one minute that you went clothes shopping willingly!
Maggie answered before Gordon had a chance. “Would you believe that I’ve finally managed to get your father to buy some shorts! He’ll feel much more comfortable wearing them when it’s hot. Don’t you agree Gordon? You must be sweltering in those trousers?”
As Gordon hadn’t worn anything other than trousers for years, having clammy legs on a hot day was normal for him.
“So, does this mean that you two might go somewhere other than Cornwall for your holidays.” Susan gave her father a nudge and an exaggerated wink. “Maybe you could whisk Mum away on a holiday where there’s soft white sand, warm tropical oceans and cocktails on tap!”
“Don’t put ideas into your mother’s head Susan. She looks forward to her Cornish holiday every year, don’t you dear? No point in lining the pockets of foreigners when we can do our bit for the tourist trade here.”
Maggie sighed. Yes, she loved Cornwall. The coastline was stunning and the harbour villages were fun to explore but just for once it would be lovely to go somewhere different. Somewhere exotic maybe. Definitely somewhere where you lived in shorts and sandals and not an anorak and walking. Somewhere where it was hot!
Susan noticed a change in her mother. From being chatty and smiley when she arrived, Susan noticed the frown on her face and that she looked subdued.
Blast Dad, trust him to put a downer on things!
“Dad, would you mind coming into the kitchen and help me carry out lunch? Mum, can you keep an eye on the twins for me?”
Gordon was a bit surprised by his daughter’s request. It was his wife that usually helped with sorting out in the kitchen. The kitchen wasn’t really his domain but if it got him out of trying to keep the twins entertained then he was happy to oblige.
He followed Susan into the kitchen. He’d never understood why they had decided to expose the brickwork on one wall. Surely it couldn’t be hygienic and why have floorboards when you can have vinyl which would be far easier to clean.
Susan busied herself with putting slices of meat and cheese on wooden boards and slicing bread which she piled into baskets. He’d been hoping for a cooked meal and not a picnic. Never mind, Maggie could prepare something later.
“Dad would you mind drizzling some olive oil over those sliced tomatoes and tearing some basil over them.” Gordon looked at the pots of different herbs sitting on the windowsill. He hadn’t the foggiest which one was basil. As if reading his mind, Susan leant over and picked up the herb and gave it to her father.
“How’s things with Mum since she came back home?” asked Susan as she rinsed some radishes under the tap.
Ah, so this is why you wanted me to help you in the kitchen!
“Not that it’s any of your business, but things are just fine. Your mother and I have had a little chat and she’s sorry that she had us unnecessarily worried. She just had a bit of an out of character moment. Nothing to worry about. Probably hormonal!”
“Dad…I can’t believe you just said that. Actually no, I can believe you just said that! Mum’s been on the phone to me and we’ve had a good chat. Don’t look so shocked, of course we’ve talked. She was actually feeling pretty positive and that being away gave her time to have a good think about what she wanted and didn’t want. She’s been bored Dad and fed up with being taken for granted but she also said that the two of you are going to work together to put a bit of spark back into your marriage and be a team again. She also mentioned getting a job. Which incidently, I think is a jolly good idea. I hope that you do too.”
“I do, and I’ll try and support her as best that I can. But it’s not easy for me to change. I don’t know if I’ve got it in me to do that.”
“Dad, have you considered that if you don’t try then she may well jump on another bus and not come back next time? Now, can you pick up the bread and that salad bowl and take them outside.”
Gordon did as he was told.
Maybe Susan had a point!