Hope that you are all fine and dandy on this beautiful morning. So what did you do on yet another out of the ordinary bank holiday? Nine times out of ten our bank holidays tend to be a wash out and best laid plans of days out get ruined because of rubbish weather. Sods law then that all three bank holiday weekends have been lovely (apart from this Saturday when boy, was it windy!) and we’ve had to either stay in or we can be out as long as we keep our distance and don’t expect to visit attractions. I read about people heading for the beaches, which I don’t blame them. We all have a hankering to see the sea don’t we. But what happened when they needed the loo? I was sad to read too that two people lost their lives in the water. There are no lifeguards at the moment so it isn’t safe to take to the sea especially when the sea is rough as it was over the weekend. Apparently only 70 of the 240 beaches that are usually manned will have lifeguards this summer so we all need to be extra careful.
Writing last week was hard. I spent more time staring at my laptop for inspiration than writing so didn’t quite reach my 3000 word target fot the week. I think it was because I kept having to stop typing to research lawn bowls of all things so the writing didn’t flow. I’m happiest when I’m writing dialogue between Maggie and Gordon. That’s easy. I just think of the sort of conversations I might have in real life!
I thought that I’d start a shout out for a book I’d recommend to read each time I post.
I’m going to start off with The Songs Of Us by Emma Cooper a heartbreaking, poignant and often funny about love lost and found. This was Emma’s first novel written when she was a teaching assistant just like me. I absolutely loved it. I don’t often cry when reading a book but I needed kleenex by the box load reading this.
Right, enough of me yabbering. I have a book to write! So here is the next instalment of Maggie and Gordon’s story. Enjoy and maybe you’ll be tempted to take up lawn bowls!!
Until next time lovely people.
PS I say this each time, but this is the first draft and hasn’t been proofread or edited yet so please excuse any typos or bits that don’t read right!
Maggie Thornden, Where Are You?
Simon as promised had phoned the following evening. Apparently the other candidate had made the big mistake of insisting on speaking to his father very slowly in a loud voice or had just ignored him. She’d asked Simon how his father liked his coffee rather than asking the major himself and Simon was convinced that she was itching to tuck a napkin into his father’s collar. Calling him “sweetie” didn’t go down too well either. As Maggie had discovered, the major may be old and his sight was failing but his brain was still in full working order and he was a fiercely independent and proud man
So the job was hers. She was to work Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday and Sally would take over for Thursday and Friday. Simon, if he wasn’t away would visit at the weekend, otherwise his wife Lucinda would pop over from their home further up the drive. Gordon seemed to be genuinely pleased about his wife’s new job especially as she would be home in good time to prepare supper for them. He hadn’t said anything, but he was worried that she’d end up with a job that meant doing shifts and that he would end up having to cook for himself. He’d discovered whilst Maggie was on her little “adventure” that even reheating a ready meal could go horribly wrong!
Maggie had started work the following Monday. Having to get herself ready and leave the house after breakfast was something she hadn’t done in years and it felt good to be doing something finally for herself. Sally had agreed to be there when Maggie arrived and go through the major’s routine and give her a guided tour of the house. Sally was a little younger than Maggie. Plump with rosy cheeks, red hair pinned into a loose knot on the top of her head and green smiley eyes. She wore a voluminous smock made up of a patchwork of assorted patterened cotton, a hand knitted cardigan with ladybird buttons and red Crocs. Maggie warmed to Sally immediately. Her easy going and friendly nature made it easy to like her. Apparently she lived with her partner Jez who made charcoal for a living and their three children, Zephyr, Zora and Ziggy in a cottage within walking distance from the major’s house. Apparently Sally and Jez used to live in a clapped out converted horsebox travelling wherever the latest environmental protest was being held but they gave all of that up when the youngest Ziggy came along and the horsebox became too cramped for them all. They were both keen environmentalists and still had strong beliefs but with children came responsibility and so they’d settled and found jobs to pay the rent and bills. They grew most of their own food, kept chickens and were keen foragers. They didn’t own a television or a computer and their one concession to technology was their basic mobile phones that were donkey’s years old. Sally had began working for the major not long after the major’s wife Clemmie died ten years ago. From the way she talked fondly about the major it was obvious that Sally loved her job, the major and his family. Unfortunately though her mother wasn’t well and needed looking after so she’d had to cut down her hours. She was pleased though that the major would now have someone to read to him. She had to admit that she’d much rather tackle the housework than have to read the dusty volumes of books in the library to the old man. Reading wasn’t her thing and she had always struggled with it. She hated to let her employer down but bless him, he would never dream of showing any disappointment. He was too much of a gentleman to do that.
Sally left Maggie with the major in his library. Despite it being the early days of Autumn and there was still some warmth in the sun, a fire was gently burning away in the fireplace. The leaded windows let in little light and the low beams and panelled walls made the room feel slightly claustrophobic. Along two of the walls were bookcases filled with mostly leather clad books. Their spines embossed with the title and author’s name in gold. Under the window was a huge oak desk on which stood a desk lamp with a green glass shade and photos in gilt frames. The wall surrounding the fire place was covered in yet more framed photos. The only concession to modernity were two chrome floor standing reading lamps placed next to the two leather wing armchairs that stood either side of the stone fireplace.
The major sat in one of armchairs, immaculately dressed as he was before, blazer with pocket handkerchief, shirt and tie and a brightly coloured pullover. As previously, he stood up and extended his hand in greeting. Maggie wondered if he would do this every day that she worked. She’d rather he didn’t as he struggled somewhat to push himself out of the chair. His old bones creaking as he did so.
“It’s so lovely to see you again Mrs Thornden. Did Sally show you the ropes? She’s been such a good girl. A bit bossy at times, but her heart’s in the right place. She tried to get me to give up meat once. Told me it was ethically wrong. I’m afraid I gave her short shrift. A man can’t exist without his meat!
The major passed over a slim red leather bound book. “I think that you might enjoy reading this. It’s the first Sherlock Holmes novel called A Study in Scarlet. Of course I’ve read it before but it was some time ago and I’ve forgotten the finer details. Why don’t we get started and then have a little break for coffee and biscuits.”
The major sat back in his chair. His old hands clasped together and resting under his chin, he waited for Maggie to begin reading to him.
Weeks past and Maggie settled into a routine. Light the fire in the library followed by an hour of reading to the major. Morning coffee and a chat. Some light housework whilst the major napped or listened to the radio. Make a lunch for them both, something cooked for the major and a sandwich for herself. More reading followed by a walk around the garden if the weather was fine. Afternoon tea and finally Maggie would prepare sandwiches for the major’s supper, turn down his bed, pop a fresh glass of water on his night stand and lay out his clothes for the following day. Ocassionally she would drive to the nearby village shop to pick up a few things but as Sally sorted out shopping lists and then order a grocery delivery online these trips were few and far between.
She would phone Sally on Wednesday evening to let her know how the major was and anything that she needed to know. Now and again something would need fixing and Sally would either organise someone to come out to the house or she would let Simon know. It was usually Sally who contacted Maggie on Sunday evening rather than his son or daughter-in-law to give her an update. It did niggle her a little that the family spoke to Sally rather than directly to her but she had to remind herself that Sally was almost part of the family, and she had been there for all of five minutes.
The two women would talk not only about the major and the house, but would also chat about their families and share news. It was Sally who did most of the talking and it quickly became obvious to Maggie that although they didn’t have two pennies to rub together, Sally, Jez and their two youngest children were content that their days were filled crafting, caring for their vegetable plot and chickens or walking through the local countryside with baskets in search of mushrooms, berries and edible plants. They were happy with their alternative lifestyle. The only time Sally didn’t sound upbeat was when she mentioned fifteen year old Zephyr who was desperate to fit in with his school mates by having his own phone. Not like the ancient rubbish ones that his parents owned but the latest iPhone or android phone so he could be just like them. He didn’t want to wear his mum’s knitted jumpers or take to school packed lunches of dahl and nettle soups. He wanted to be like everyone else. To be normal! There had been incidents when he’d “gone off on one” and would storm out of the house and not return to much later smelling of beer and cigarettes, but Sally and Jez believed that their children should be allowed to be free spirits and make their own choices. She could just imagine Gordon’s reaction if Susan or James behaved in the same way. She rarely talked about Sally and her family to Gordon. He’d only call them scrounging hippies and that Jez should get a haircut and find a proper job!
Maggie and Gordon had settled in the living room for the evening. Supper had been eaten and the dishes carefully stacked away in the dishwasher. As usual Gordon had made himself comfortable in his armchair and was reading the latest copy of Bowls International magazine. Maggie knelt on the floor as she created her latest mood board. Strewn all around her were fabric and wall paper samples, cuttings from interior design magazines and those strips of cards you get in DIY shops with different shades of paint on them. Gordon had hoped that now she had her little job to keep her occupied she would forget all about wanting to make over their house but Maggie seemed to have more energy now than she had had for years and was keen to get going with her next project, their bedroom. It was true that they needed a new bed. The one they had was bought when they’d moved to the house. The mattress sagged badly and he was waking up these days with a sore back. He could see nothing wrong with just replacing the mattress, but Maggie was insisting on replacing the frame as well. There were murmurs of getting a memory foam mattress that came rolled up in a box. Thank goodness they already had built in cupboards so there wouldn’t be the expense of buying new wardrobes. It was already bad enough that his clothes were gradually being replaced with new, more stylish alternatives. He’d looked high and low for his comfy sage green cords the other week only to discover when he asked Maggie if she’d seen them that they’d gone to the charity shop because they were a throwback to the eighties. Nobody in their right minds wore cords with turn ups and a pleated waist these days. Well he obviously wasn’t in his right mind because he rather liked wearing them. They were roomy in the underwear area and very comfortable. After that he’d bagged up his Parka covered in patches that he used to wear back in his college days and stored it in the far corner of the loft when Maggie wasn’t around one day.
Maggie looked over to Gordon who was frowning slightly whilst reading and smiled. As she was in danger of getting cramp in her calf from kneeling for so long, she stood up and stretched out her legs before walking over to Gordon and perching herself on the arm of his chair and bent down and kissed the top of his head. He carried on reading.
“Gordon, I’ve been thinking.”
Without looking up Gordon responded. “Oh yes, and what have you been thinking about?” He was reading a very interesting article about improving your game and didn’t really want to be disturbed. That kiss though was rather nice. That didn’t happen much these days. He hoped that it wasn’t some hair-brained idea to build an extension or put in a loft conversion.
“You know that we said that we should do more things together.”
Actually it was you that suggested it not us thought Gordon.
“Well I’ve been thinking that I should take a greater interest in your bowls. Maybe even learn how to play. I know that it’s been a big part of your life for as long as I’ve known you but apart from attending the odd Christmas do, I really don’t know anything about it except you roll balls down a lawn to hit a little one. A bit like boules.”
Gordon closed his magazine. This was new. Maggie never showed any interest in his bowls. He had tried many times to tell her about the games that he had played or the latest going -ons at the club but he could tell that she was only half listening.
“Bowls is similar in some respects to boules but in boules the balls are thrown and in bowls they are rolled.” he explained “There are different versions of bowls played in this country. I, as you know play lawn bowls, but of course there’s crown green which is also played outside and then there’s short mat bowls and carpet bowls that are played indoors. People are under the impression that lawn bowls is for the older generation. But that just isn’t so, it’s a game for all ages. As you know I’ve been playing it since I was a teenager. My dad as you know used to play and he took me along to his club and in no time I was hooked. The kids at school used to give me stick about it. Called me a boring old fart and would throw stones and sticks at me on club nights when they got wind of where I was playing. The other members used get really angry and chase after them but do you know, I was never going to let it get to me. I loved that time with my dad and those kids were not going to stop me doing something I loved”
“It sounds like the little sods were bullying you.” said Maggie. She felt a twinge of guilt. There had been plenty of times that she had teased him about his bowls but it was only meant to be playful ribbing. He’d told her years ago that he’d had a tough time being teased by his peers but he hadn’t talked about it for years. When they first met she loved that he was different than the other men she’d known. Shy, sensitive and at times intense. When he’d told her that he played bowls she hadn’t laughed and she remembered that she had asked him to show her how to play one day, but that was the only time that she had asked, and then babies came along and time passed and it got forgotten.
“Do you remember all those years ago that I asked you to show me how to play? You never did. How about you honour your promise and teach me?”
Gordon wasn’t sure if Maggie was just trying to humour him. After all of these years why was she suddenly taking an interest in his hobby?
“Why this sudden interest in bowls now? Gordon queried “You’ve made it quite obvious over the years that you couldn’t give two hoots about it. When I talk about the bowls club or anything to do with the game, I can tell that you aren’t really listening.”
“I know and I’m sorry. I should have been more enthusiastic but half of the time I didn’t have a clue what you were talking about so I just switched off. A bit like you do when I try and tell you about my day. When we had that long talk after I came back from my few days away, I suggested that we should do more things together and you agreed. Well, I meant it. I want to share your interests and you to share mine and also to try new things together.”
“I’m not sure what your interests are Maggie. Apart from looking after our home and going to work now, which, can I say, I think is just what you needed and I’m pleased that you are enjoying it, I don’t know what else you like doing?”
Gordon realised that after thirty years of marriage he didn’t really know what his wife enjoyed doing in her spare time. Before her little adventure she spent their evenings watching television or doing puzzles in magazines. At the weekends….well, she was just there, pottering around the house. Actually, he couldn’t really think of what she did! Since then she spent a lot of the time redesigning the house. But that could hardly be called a hobby could it!
Maggie pointed to the board and the samples and cuttings that she was working on.
“That’s what I like doing. Since deciding to redecorate the house, I’ve discovered that I really enjoy interior design. For years I just went along with you and agreed to your choices. That doesn’t mean that I agreed with them. I used to go to Susan’s house and feel envious. She has such a lovely eye for detail and I thought that I could do that too. I have an eye for detail too but I just didn’t have the confidence to do anything about it in our own home. That was until now!”
“But you can’t expect me to have a clue about all of this can you and pretend that I’m another Lawrence Llewelyn-Bowen.” Hanging wall paper was one thing, choosing it was another.
“No of course not, but you could show a bit of an interest in what I enjoy doing, just as I should show an interest in what you do. Come on Gordon, let’s not slip back into our old ways. I was serious about what I said a few months ago. Let’s make time for us!”
Gordon sighed. He could tell that Maggie wasn’t going to let this drop and he really wanted to get back to the article that he had been reading. “ Look, there’s a taster session at the club this week. Why don’t you come along To that and see if you like it. I can introduce you to some of the other members. They’re a nice bunch except for bloody Frank Summerville. Thinks he ruddy well owns the place because the twat played in a national tournament years ago years ago. The Sargeant-Major we call him behind his back. I’m sure that I’ve told you about him before.”
He probably had, but Maggie had a habit of switching off and not listening to Gordon the moment he brought up the subject of bowls and had no idea who this Frank Summerville was. She felt sorry for the members of put up with both Gordon and Frank!
Ardington Park Bowls Club (Members only) could be found in the grounds of the local park a short walk away from Gordon and Maggie’s home. It was what Maggie called “a proper park” with wrought iron gates and pathways bordered by well-manicured lawns and flowerbeds with regimented rows of bedding plants in the summer and flowering bulbs in the Spring. One of the flowerbeds was slightly raised at one end and had been designed as a floral clock whose hands were stuck permanently at twenty past two. On one side of the path beyond the flowerbeds was a set of tennis courts and on the other was the bowls club hidden away behind a hedge of neatly trimmed privet. At the end of the formal part of the park stood an ornate Victorian bandstand and a pavilion café. Beyond that the path sloped away in a zig zag fashion down to the boating lake, open grassland and a play park. All that was missing was a park keeper in a uniform and a peaked cap.
Maggie and Gordon entered the club through silver painted iron gates topped with an arch with the name of the club worked in metal. Before them was the pristine bowling green and beyond that the club house, an ugly pebble-dashed box of a building with aluminium windows and a flat roof. It looked oddly out of place in the gentile setting of the park. Milling around the green were several club members chatting amiably together. All of them dressed from top to toe in white. Some of the older ladies wore white pleated skirts but to Maggie’s surprise there were women there of a similar age to her that were wearing polo shirts and tracksuit bottoms. Maggie had always assumed that the sport only attracted retired people. Well of course there were exceptions, her husband being one of them especially as he had started playing so young. Maggie felt slightly out of place wearing her old M&S navy jogging bottoms and a grey zip up fleece but Gordon had assured her that although they had a strict clothing policy for members, visitors could wear sportswear of their choice. Looking around she couldn’t see anyone else that looked like they were here for the taster session so she felt rather conspicuous amongst all the white clad men and women.
Through gritted teeth and a false smile, Maggie murmured to Gordon “Looks like I’m the only one here for the taster session. I feel like a right wally!”
Gordon murmured back “Don’t forget that this was your idea. I told Frank that this was a silly idea. It’s our last session before we close for the winter so it’s a pointless exercise trying to get anyone interested in bowls this late in the day. Stupid bugger wasn’t having any of it. Just so bloody typical of him. Speak of the devil, here he comes!”
Striding towards them was a rather short man with a ruddy face, a bulbous nose, round wire framed glasses and what looked like a rather poor excuse of a dark brown toupee that didn’t quite blend with the lighter shade of what was left of his real hair. His zip up top strained to cover his very ample gut and Maggie noticed that he had very small hands and feet. She had to stifle a giggle as she wondered if something else might be small too! He looked like someone she’d seen on the television. That was it, he reminded her of Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army.
“Ah Gordon old chap, good to see that you brought the little lady of the house with you tonight. We could do with some new lady members. Even things up a bit especially with the Christmas do only a few months away. We need some more ladies to sort out the buffet. How are you at making sausage rolls dear?”
“Maggie isn’t here to join Frank. She just wants to have a go and see what I do here every week!”
“Ha, old chap, we’re still wondering what you do here every week! Obviously I’m only joking Mrs T, your husband here is a valued member of the club. Now Gordon old bean, why don’t you leave Maureen here to me and you go off and join the rest of the gang who are about to kick off. Whatever you do though, don’t ask Elsie how Maurice’s little op went unless you want all the graphic details.” To which Frank exaggerated a grimace and pointed to his nether regions and then took Maggie by the elbow and marched her off. She looked back over her shoulder to a scowling Gordon and mouthed help!
For the next half an hour Maggie had to put up with patronising comments and the odd wandering hand when showing her how to grip and deliver the bowl from the mat. He prattled on about aims and stances, follow throughs and foot faults, forehand shots and back hand shots. Most of which went straight over her head. Frank would wag his finger at her and tut when she got it wrong or grinned and told her that she was a clever girl when she got it right.
How Gordon or anyone else at the club put up with this obnoxious little man was anyone’s guess.
Despite the awful Frank, Maggie discovered that she was actually enjoying the game. There was more skill required to play it than she had imagined. If only this silly man would leave her alone.
“Right old girl, it’s time we stopped for a tea break. I’ll point you in the direction of the kitchen where you’ll meet the ladies who do a marvellous job of preparing the tea and biscuits, although this being our last session, I am hoping that they read my email and have bought homemade cake with them.” And with that she was again taken by the elbow and pretty much frogmarched into the club house where she was left to look for the kitchen whilst Frank marched off to round up the men. Maggie wondered if the members actually knew that they were living in the 21st century and that there was such a thing as equal rights and that women had burnt their bras long ago.
Maggie could hear chatting coming from the direction of a room at the far end of the corridor and went to investigate. In the kitchen she discovered several ladies busying them selves with filling teapots from the urn, laying out cups and saucers out on a trolley and taking cakes out of cake tins. She wondered if she should have brought along a cake, but then Gordon, being a man wouldn’t have received the ladies only email so wouldn’t have known.
An officious looking woman looked up from what she was doing and saw Maggie hovering by the door.
“Hello, it’s Maggie isn’t it. You managed to escape from Frank’s clutches then. Come on in and join us, we’re just finishing off here and then we will wheel this lot into the club room. Would you mind just folding some of these serviettes into triangles for me and put one on each plate in that pile. Did you enjoy your little lesson just now?”
“I must admit that I enjoyed it more than I thought I would. I can understand now why you call Frank the Sargeant-Major. Don’t you think he looks a bit like Captain Mainwaring from Dad’s Army? Tell me, is he usually so touchy feely and patronising?” Although Maggie had never met these women before she thought that Gordon would be impressed that she’d made the effort to be friendly and chatty with them.
The room went deathly quiet and the majority of the women looked at Maggie aghast. A few tried hard not to snigger.
The woman gave Maggie a look that could kill from two miles away. “I’m not sure if my husband would agree with you about looking like a character from Dad’s Army!” And wheeled the trolley out to where the men were waiting.
Maggie stood there wishing that the ground would swallow her up. The other women passed by without acknowledging her. In fact she was sure that she heard one woman tut. The last woman to leave held back for a moment.
“My god, that was just brilliant. That poor cow’s face was a picture. Tell me, did Frank’s hands wander a bit as he aligned your hips into the proper delivery position?” said the woman as she demonstrated with her hands.
The woman who was a similar age to Maggie held out her hand “I’m Jill by the way. It’s lovely to meet someone with a sense of humour and who doesn’t harp on about her husband’s prostate problem. I take it that you haven’t met Elsie yet. Come on, let’s go and have a cup of tea.”
Maggie thought about Gordon’s dodgey prostate and decided that some things are best kept to yourself!
Drinking her tea standing next to Gordon she listened to him chatting away with his fellow members. The conversation was light hearted and friendly interspersed with the odd laugh or chuckle. The kind of conversation you have with people you’ve known for a long time and who are your friends. The frown lines on her husband’s brow seemed to have softened and his whole persona was different than the usual stiff, perpetually annoyed one. He looked younger,relaxed, happy. The only time she saw the familiar scowl return was when the awful Frank joined the group, slapped Gordon on the back and bragged about how Maureen had quickly picked up the skills to make a good bowls player because of his expert tuition.
“My wife’s name is Maggie not Maureen”
“Are you sure?” Frank pretended to look puzzled “ I’m could have sworn that you called her Maureen, and it’s not like me to get things wrong! Maybe the memory isn’t as good as it used to be old chap!” he gaffawed and again slapped Gordon on the back.
“There’s absolutely nothing wrong with MY memory. You know full well my wife’s name as I’ve mentioned it often enough. Now if you’ll excuse me I’m going to get another slice of lemon drizzle!” Gordon walked off and left Maggie with the others. There was an awkward silence whilst everyone fiddled with teaspoons or stared at the floor.
“Sensitive chap, that husband of yours. Everyone knows that I was obviously joking. Right, are you ready to carry on with a little more one to one training?” Maggie couldn’t believe the nerve of the man when he then gave her an exaggerated wink.
“No thank you. I think I’ll just sit and watch.” Maggie replied and turned away to go and find her husband.
For the rest of the session Maggie was happy to just sit on one of the green painted benches outside the clubhouse and watch Gordon play. She thought that Frank’s stupid remarks would have left Gordon grumpy for the remainder of the evening but instead he was relaxed and smiling again as he played. She loved that he seemed so at home here despite the presence of the awful Frank, She smiled when he punched the air and gave his partner an enthusiastic handshake when the two of them won a pairs match. She gave him a big thumbs up when he looked over to her and waved with a big smile plastered over his face. She was beginning to understand why this place was important to him. It’s where he felt comfortable and relaxed because it was so familiar to him. Ever since he’d been a boy he had been coming to play. He needed that continuity, that familiarity. It’s what made him happy. More so than when he was with her!
Later that evening as they got into bed together Gordon turned to her looking very serious.
“Maggie, I heard that dropped a clanger in the clubhouse kitchen today. A rather serious allegation of possible sexual misconduct involving one of our members. Is this true?”
Maggie gulped. She had some explaining to do.
“Me and my big mouth. I was just trying to be friendly but obviously I should have thought before I spoke. Yes, I did mention that Frank had wandering hand issues but how was I to know that I was speaking to his wife! I’m really sorry Gordon. Have I made it awkward for you there now. I really didn’t mean to.”
Gordon sighed loudly and tried hard to keep a straight face but he just couldn’t help the twitch of a smile and the laughter he’d been finding hard to resist from escaping.
Suddenly he burst out laughing. “Oh Maggie, you should have seen your face! Sorry darling but it was priceless.”
Maggie stared at her husband who was
besides himself with laughter. “So you aren’t cross with me?”
“No you daft woman, ‘course I’m bloody not. I just wish I’d been there when you said it. Damn, I need another wee.” And with that he got out of the bed still chuckling to himself.
After his visit to the bathroom Gordon got back into bed and faced his wife who was now lying on her side and asleep. He gently pushed back the hair that had fallen across her face and tucked it behind her ear. He kissed her on the top of her head and whispered “Love you Maggie” before turning off his light.