Hi lovely people!
Hope that you all had a lovely bank holiday weekend whatever you were doing. Maybe you joined in a distanced street party on Friday or maybe like us you just enjoyed the sunshine in the garden or if you don’t have outside space perhaps you just soaked up the sun’s warm rays on your walk, run or cycle. What a pity the weather went to pot yesterday and t-shirts were replaced with jumpers and if you’re a cold mortal like me, you dived for cover under a throw and lit a fire! Still as the British are good at saying, musn’t grumble at least it didn’t rain all weekend as it often does on a bank holiday.
Since I last posted on my little blog I’ve spent most of the day at my laptop writing. I’m giving myself a weekly target which to a seasoned author would be seen as pretty pitiful, but as I can only type with two fingers (an improvement of my previous one finger attempts) I can’t be too ambitious otherwise I’d be up most of the night tap, tap, tapping away. I’ve had to start popping Post-its on my study cupboard door so that I know who’s who and what’s what in my book so that I don’t get confused and make mistakes. Half way through an earlier instalment I noticed that I’d completely changed the names of Maggie and Gordon’s two children..oops!
I’m now at the stage where I’m wondering what would be a good title for my book. It started out as Taking the 1A Bus To Freedom and then became Maggie Thornden, Where Are You? Neither really work but to change it to what?
I am feeling a bit despondant about posting these instalments as I’ve noticed on my blog stats that there’s a definite decline in the number of people looking at it. It won’t stop me posting but it does make me wonder if the book will ever get published. I don’t really want to go down the self publishing route so I’ll need to find an agent. I know that I have to be realistic and expect a mass of rejections but I do hope that someone somewhere will be willing to take on Maggie and Gordon’s story. It’s my baby and I’m very proud of it and I’d love to see it in print with a lovely cover!
So here is the next instalment. Remember that it is in its raw state and hasn’t been edited yet so apologies for typos or anything that just doesn’t make sense!
Take care all and keep well.
Maggie Thornden, where are you?
Maggie reached for her sweatshirt that was hanging over the back of the garden chair that she was sitting on. There was a slight nip in the air indicating that summer was drawing to a close and the early evenings of eating supper outside were coming to an end. Maggie put down her phone and sighed. Looking for a job had yet again had come up with nothing suitable. It was no good. She didn’t have the skills or experience that potential employers were after. Her history degree was pretty useless after gaining it over thirty years ago and everyone seemed to want you to be computer literate which she most definitely wasn’t. She’d just learnt how to use Skype and that hadn’t been easy. Gordon had tried to be patient with her as he explained what to do, but she could tell that he was getting frustrated as she kept messing it up.
Since their lunch with Susan four weeks earlier Maggie had been busy redecorating their living room. It had always been Gordon’s job to deal with any decorating, but Maggie wanted to do most of the work herself. Gordon had been hesitant when his wife announced that she would be tackling the painting but if he fancied helping her then that would be most appreciated.
The kitchen table had been strewn with interiors magazines whilst Maggie sat and designed their new room. She showed Gordon the mood board that she was creating filled with paint and fabric swatches and images of furniture, lamps , rugs and other bits and pieces. Maggie had dragged a disinterested Gordon around home stores and pointed out home furnishings on web sites that would apparently finish off the room beautifully. Gordon would nod and agree and try to appear enthusiastic but as far as he was concerned she could paint the room sky blue pink. Interior design just wasn’t his domain. He didn’t understand why sofas needed cushions or throws and scented candles often made him sneeze. The main thing was that Maggie was enjoying herself and if she was happy then he was too. The trouble was though, it wasn’t an emotion though that he found easy to show.
Maggie had finished the painting. Gone were the magnolia walls, and in their place the softest of dove grey. The beige carpet that had seen better days had been replaced with pale oak flooring and a large watercolour effect rug in shades of soft slate blue and warm white. Much to Gordon’s horror, Maggie had painted the teak furniture white. She wanted to eventually replace the furniture but for now they would have to make do with what they already had. A new sofa was on order but would take three months to arrive so for now the black leather sofa that had been so trendy back in the nineties was covered in neutral coloured throws. The heavy dark curtains at the square bay window had gone and in their place were white shutters.
For now, Gordon’s beloved armchair was staying insitu. Letting it stay was Maggie’s one concession to letting Gordon having his own way. It didn’t mean however that at some point it would be replaced with something more in keeping with the room’s new Scandinavian look.
Maggie stood up and stretched her arms upwards. She’d been sitting for too long and was feeling stiff. Gordon wouldn’t be home for a few hours yet so she decided to go for a walk. Grabbing her bag and house keys she was just going to open the front door when she spied Irene dead heading roses in her front garden.
Damn Irene was bound to stop her and want to chat and no doubt ask her in for a cup of tea and a slice of whatever cake she had baked that day. Irene always seemed to have cake and yet she was stick thin. Gordon said it was because she had an over active thyroid as she had bulging eyes. Maggie found it hard not to stare at Irene’s eyes when having one of their little chats over the garden fence.
Not in the mood for chatting, Maggie let herself out of the kitchen door instead and then out through the back garden gate and into the lane that ran behind the houses.
Maggie and Gordon lived in a leafy suburb of Gloucester. It had changed little over the years and still had a row of local shops that hadn’t entirely been taken over by takeaways or convenience stores. There was The Crowning Glory hair salon, usually full of pensioners sitting under dryers in curlers or children in booster seats only willing to have a haircut if it meant being able to pick a lolly out of the sweetie jar afterwards. The butcher shop that sold handmade sausages and the greengrocers that sold everything loose and not packaged in plastic. Maggie kept saying to herself that she would shop local and support the little independent stores rather than filling a trolley up at the supermarket but until now she hadn’t got round to doing so. At the end of the row was the newsagent with a post office counter at the rear of the shop.
Maggie reached the shops and stopped to look at the notices stuck in the newsagent’s window. There were posters advertising coffee mornings, toddler groups and yoga classes. Handwritten postcards from people hoping to sell anything from rabbit hutches to mobility scooters. A notice caught Maggie’s eye. It was from the local WI suggesting ladies should come along to a meeting and see what it’s all about. The poster showed images of women of all ages taking part in all sorts of activities, including what looked like gin tasting and burlesque dancing. She was quite surprised as she’d always imagined that the WI was where you made jam and crocheted doillies. Maybe she’d go along and give it a go.
Just as she was about to carry on with her walk a “wanted” postcard caught her eye.
Companion required for spritely elderly gentleman. Light household duties and some shopping. Must enjoy making conversation and reading. Previous experience not essential.
Own transport required.
Maggie noted down the telephone number and decided that she would call it tomorrow morning.
True to her word, Maggie called the very next morning. The phone on the other end was picked up by a man who introduced himself as Simon Smythe-Robinson. Maggie explained why she was calling and Mr Smythe-Robinson explained back that the person in question who needed a companion was his father, Major Sidney Smythe-Robinson who was 92 and lived alone. His father was mobile and could move around with the aid of a stick and liked to be as independent as possible but was finding it a bit of a struggle these days. He had a local lady who came in and did a bit of cleaning and cooking but her own father had taken poorly and she’d had to cut down her hours so she could look after him. The major enjoyed company and liked to chat. His great love was reading but his eye sight was poor these days and despite being encouraged to listen to audiobooks, what he really missed was being able to read his beloved collection of books collecting dust on the shelves in his library. The right candidate for the job must be happy to spend some time reading them to him. The old major’s son asked Maggie to tell him a bit about herself and if she had any experience in working with the elderly. Maggie had to admit that she didn’t but this didn’t seem to worry Mr Smythe-Robinson and he’d asked if she wouldn’t mind popping along to meet him and his father at her earliest convenience. He was due to go abroad on business in the next few weeks so was keen to employ someone as soon as possible. As Maggie had plenty of spare time, an interview was arranged for two days later.
Gordon arrived home at his usual time of six o’clock. Maggie waited until he’d removed his shoes, popped his slippers on and sat down at the kitchen table where a cafatiere of coffee was waiting for him. Gordon was secretly impressed that Maggie had been trying hard to perfect the art of proper coffee making and she’d almost nailed it. A little way to go, but give it a little longer and her coffee would be perfect.
Gordon knew that praising her efforts and asking her about her day went a long way.He poured himself and Maggie a cup each.
“Mmm, just what I needed. Thank you. That’s a delicious cup of coffee. Now, how’s your day been?”
Maggie stirred two spoons of sugar into her cup to take away the bitterness. Maybe a tad less coffee next time.
“Oh you know, same old same old. Cleaning, sorting, ironing. Two more chapters of my book read and a bit of dead heading in the garden.” She checked to see that she had Gordon’s undivided attention and that he wasn’t drumming the table with his fingers. A habit he had when he was losing interest. His fingers were still. “Oh, and I have an interview for a job.”
“Really? You’ve kept this quiet. I had no idea that you’d even applied for one. Come on then, spill the beans, tell me about this job you’re going for.”
“It’s to be a gentleman’s companion.”
Gordon sniggered. “Umm, dodgy. Sounds like you’re going into the escort business! You’re a bit long in the tooth for that don’t you think!”
“Well, if you’re not going to take me seriously then I shan’t bother to tell you.” Maggie said as she started to collect the coffee cups and made to get up.
“Aww sit down” said Gordon “I’m only teasing. So what does being a gentleman’s companion actually mean.”
Maggie sat down and told her husband what she knew about the major and what the job entailed.
“So you’ll be his carer?” asked Gordon.
”No, I don’t think so.” Explained Maggie “By all accounts he’s pretty independent and apart from a few household tasks, my main role would be to keep him company and read to him. Apparently he has a library.”
“Well they must be desperate if they are willing to interview someone with no experience. Not that you’d need much experience to just read to someone. And who these days advertise for jobs in shop windows. Most jobs are advertised on-line these days. When’s the interview?”
“Day after tomorrow” announced Maggie.
“Well ordinarily I’d say that that didn’t give you much time to prepare for it. But there isn’t exactly much to prepare for is there. Right, I’m going to get changed for bowls”
And with that he got up from the table and left the kitchen leaving Maggie to clear up and feel pretty worthless.
With the address she had been given added to Google maps on Maggie’s phone she had no problem finding the major’s home. She had headed out of Gloucester and taken the direction towards Stroud. The route was familiar to her as they knew the area well after years of going for Sunday afternoon drives. What she didn’t expect was to come off the road and head down a long bendy drive boarded with giant rhododendrons. It reminded her of the drive to Manderlay in Daphne du Maurier’s book Rebecca. It was way past their flowering time and Maggie could only imagine that it must look spectacular in the Spring when they are in bloom. She wondered if the flowers were crimson red like the ones at Manderley.
The drive seemed to go on forever and Maggie wondered if she had taken the wrong turning and maybe she should turn around and go back to the road. The trouble was there was nowhere to turn so she had no option but to keep going. Eventually after one last bend she arrived at Manor Farm House. Before her was a large house worthy of a place in a fairy story. The house’s honey coloured Cotswold stone walls glowed in the morning sunshine. The roof pitched steeply and sagged where the roof timbers had shrunk and cracked under the weight of the moss covered stone roof tiles. Rising at one end of the roof was a tall chimney. Two gables pointed skyward, each topped with stone spheres. The stone mullioned, leaded windows were framed with a profusion of climbing roses in shades of marshmallow pink, and wisteria, it’s lilac blue blooms long since faded. In the centre of the ground floor an ancient oak door could be seen protected within a porch and guarded by two stone Tudor greyhounds. Above the porch built into the wall was a sundial. Maggie couldn’t tell from a quick glance if it was purely ornamental or that the shadow cast on it by the sun was telling the correct time.
Maggie parked her car next to the green Land Rover Discovery near the high garden wall to the side of the house. She checked her hair in the rear view window and applied a fresh coat of lipstick. Getting out of the car she smoothed down the beige linen shift dress she had chosen to wear and popped on a black cardigan. The sun may have been warm outside but these old stone houses with their small windows could well be chilly inside. Maggie felt as though nervous little butterflies were flittering inside her tummy. She really could do with a visit to the loo but she could hardly ask if she could use the bathroom the minute she arrived at her interview. Hopefully it was just nerves and the feeling would disappear once she got focused on the task of securing a job in this beautiful house.
Her arrival must have been observed as before she could reach the front door it opened and a man strode out followed by a golden retriever. The man held out his hand in greeting.
“Hello, I’m assuming that you are Mrs Thornden. I’m Simon, we talked on the phone the other day. Do come in and meet my father. He’s really looking forward to meeting you. I’ve been given strict instructions to make us coffee and not to forget the fig rolls. Hope that you like fig rolls. I’m afraid we don’t have any other biscuits in the house!”
Simon’s handshake was firm and vigorous. He was a man in his sixties, lean and tanned with greying hair, piercing blue eyes and a wide friendly smile. He wore navy casual trousers and a pale blue linen shirt.
Maggie followed Simon into the house and through a hall where beautiful oriental rugs covered worn stone flooring and a staircase rose to the floor above. The house smelt faintly of woodsmoke.
“My father is in the conservatory enjoying the sunshine. The house can be a bit dark I’m afraid as the windows don’t let in that much light. It comes into its own in winter when the fires are lit and it becomes quite cosy.”
“It really is a beautiful house.” said Maggie “Do you live here?”
“No, I live further up the drive in the main house with my wife and two of our children who are currently home from uni and eating us out of house and home.”
Maggie wondered quite how big the main house must be as the house she was currently in seemed to her to be pretty huge.
They reached the back of the house and entered a beautiful Victorian conservatory that extended into the garden and was filled with pots of beautiful exotic looking plants including orchids and citrus trees. The heady scent of jasmine lingered in the air. Three Lloyd loom chairs and a table stood at the far end where double doors had been flung open. Beyond them Maggie could see a beautifully maintained lawn boarded by deep flower beds filled with colourful perennial plants and shrubs. Sitting in one of the chairs with his head bent over a book was an elderly man who Maggie presumed was Major Sidney Smythe-Robinson.
“Pops, look who I found outside, it’s Mrs Thornden who answered the ad that you had Sally put in her local newsagent window.” To clarify to Maggie who this Sally was, Simon added “Sally is the person I was telling you about who normally comes to look after dad.”
The major looked up from his book. “Correction, she comes to tidy a bit and make me the odd cup of tea. The only person who has ever looked after me was my mother and that was some time ago. I have spent my entire adult life not being looked after and I have no intention of anyone needing to look after me now!”
Major Smythe-Robinson pulled himself to standing and put out his hand to shake Maggie’s hand. She noticed how the parchment thin skin stretched over his bony knuckles. His grip though was warm and firm. “Lovely to make you aquaintance Mrs Thornden. I’m Major Sidney Smythe-Robinson. Bit of a mouthful I know, my chums call me Sid. Not that I’ve got many chums left unfortunately. That’s what happens when you just keep on living I’m afraid. Bit annoying actually and frightfully inconsiderate of them to leave me with no one to talk about old times. Apologies, I’m being terribly rude and not offering you a seat. This lad of mine will go and make us some coffee and bring a plate of fig rolls.” Simon smiled at his father and playfully saluted before disappearing, leaving Maggie alone with the major.
Pulling a chair out for Maggie to sit on and then making himself comfortable again, Maggie noted the old man’s pale rheumy eyes behind his wire framed glasses. His eyebrows sprouted rogue wirey hairs and a sparce white moustache sat under his nose that looked too big for his face. He was almost completely bald apart from tuffs of snowy white hair growing around his ears. A tweed blazer hung big over his shrunken frame and a neatly folder handkerchief peeped out from its top pocket. Under the blazer the major wore a shirt and tie under a mustard coloured lambs wool jumper.
“Simon’s a good lad. He’s some bigwig in advertising and is away a lot. Don’t tell him I said so, but I’m awfully proud of him. Now Mrs Thornden. I know very little about you. Why don’t you tell me while we wait for that coffee. Hope it won’t be long as I’m rather thirsty.I do like my elevenses at eleven. Afraid I’m a stickler for timing. That stems from being a soldier”
“There’s not a great deal to tell you really. I’ve lived in Gloucester for years. I’m married to Gordon who works at the council and we have two grown up children. Susan and James. I’m also a grandma to twins.” It dawned on Maggie that she really didn’t have much more to add. How foolish she had been to think that she could get a job with no experience.
“My son didn’t mention what line of work you’re in.”
“ I haven’t actually worked since my eldest was born. I’ve been a housewife ever since.” She felt embarrassed to have to own up to that fact.
“Absolutely nothing wrong with that. It’s a commendable job to bring up a family and look after a home. Tell me about the last exciting thing that you did. Mine was walking to the greenhouse with only the aid of one stick.” The major chuckled “That’s as exciting as my life gets these days!”
“Well I did hop on a bus at Land’s End with the intention of going all the way to John O’Groats by bus.”
The major rubbed his hands in glee “Now this sounds like an adventure I need to know about.”
Maggie found it easy to give a recount of her recent adventure to this delightful old man who listened intently. She felt entirely at ease with him and any nerves she’d had previously had vanished.
“What are you two laughing about?” asked Simon as he reappeared carrying a tray loaded with their elevenses.
“Mrs Thornden here was telling me about latest adventure. Do you know that she abandoned her husband at Land’s End and he’d thought that she’d fallen into the sea!”
“Really? Sounds pretty serious to me and not a laughing matter.” Simon looked slightly shocked. Oh dear thought Maggie I suppose it does sound rather callous of me!
Simon poured them all coffee. The Major took a biscuit and dunked it in his tea. “Do you like reading Mrs Thornden? By reading I don’t just mean magazines and romance but proper books. How about Arthur Conan Doyle?”
“Ahh, the creator of the famous detective Sherlock Holmes who lived at 221b Baker Street.”
“That’s the one. I’m a great fan of him and Robert Louis Stevenson. Unfortunately my eye sight is failing and I’m finding it awfully difficult to read these days. Frightfullu annoying but what can you do! Simon here has suggested audio books but that’s just not the same as reading from a proper book. I bet great chunks are missed out.”
Maggie saw Simon smiling and shaking his head. He’d obviously tried to explain that this wasn’t the case but his father was plainly not in agreement.
“Now the thing is Mrs Thornden, I need somebody who would be happy to sit and read to me for a couple of days in the week as well as not mind chatting with an old codger and prepare us a bite to eat. Maybe just give the plants a water and wash up whilst he has a bit of a snooze. Sally is in the other days to do the dusting and all those sorts of things. She did try to read to me, but I could tell her heart wasn’t in it. I’m afraid I dropped off at one point which made her a bit cross. I had to apologise profusely.”
Maggie was enjoying the company of this engaging old man with a twinkle in his eye. What a lovely relationship there was between this father and son and who could not fail to admire this beautiful house. She had only seen the wonderful conservatory and was curious to know what the rest of the house looked like. Would she get another chance to do so?
Sadly, the time had come to leave. Simon needed to get home and do some work and the major was looking tired and in need of a little nap. Being a gentleman, the old man got up to shake Maggie’s hand. “Well thank you so much for coming today my dear. I’ve really enjoyed out little chat and it was very nice to meet such a lovely young lady. I really hope that we get to meet again.”
Simon walked Maggie back to her car. “Thank you for coming. I think that you were a bit of a hit with my father. We do have another lady interested in the post and she is coming tomorrow. After that my father will make his decision so we can let you know one way or the other by tomorrow evening. I hope that’s ok.”
“Absolutely and thank you for asking me to come. I’ve loved meeting your father. He’s quite a character. I am really interested in the job so I’m keeping everything crossed”
She watched Simon stroll back to the house. He was similar in age to Gordon but yet they were so different. Maggie sighed and started the engine.
It wasn’t until she was on her way home that she realised that she had failed to ask what the terms of employment were such as hours and pay. Gordon was bound to ask when he got home and would then have a dig at her for forgetting to discuss important details.
Maggie sighed again and turned the radio on to listen to Jeremy Vine and hoped that she’d be making this journey again one day soon.
To be continued!