I saw the sea this week and it was such a tonic. Funny that isn’t it that an expanse of water can lift your spirits, do you good. The minute I caught sight of it I smiled. Remember as a kid when you first glimpsed the sea from the back seat of the car on your way to the beach and shouting out with excitment “I can see the sea!” On my little solo Penzance adventure last October I almost shouted out the same thing when I saw the sea at Dawlish but then stopped myself when I remembered that I was on a train. Instead I smiled and took a photo.

I hope that the hour I spent at Bognor Regis eating chips whilst taking in the briney sea air won’t be the only time that I get to visit the coast this year. I hope that sometime later this Summer I get to go on another mini trip to Penzance. Maybe take my youngest along with me this time. I’d like to visit the windswept beaches of Scotland too with Mr R, but of course there’s the little issue of an unfriendly virus who could scupper any plans. Still there’s one thing for certain. The sea will always be there for another time!

Time now for the next instalment. It’s a long one this week. I struggled a bit writing this instalment. I had to do a little research so I kept stopping and starting. Away from the keyboard, I’ve joined some Facebook pages for writers which I’m finding very useful. Writing can be a bit lonely so it’s good to discover other like minded people especially as they are usually a great source of advice and inspiration.

So here goes. Don’t forget this is the first draft and there will be things that need changing. Any feedback would be great even if it’s of the negative kind, but try not to be too brutal please. Remember that I’m still a novice at all of this!

. Maggie Thornden, where are you?

Part 16

It was now mid November and Maggie was sat on the new sofa with her legs curled up under her as she flicked through her phone. It was late afternoon and it was already dark outside. She had lit a fire and a scented candle flickered on the mantelpiece perfuming the room with the heady scent of amber and ginger. Gordon would be home soon and she really ought to think about preparing supper.

Her job was going well and she’d recently started an online interior design course that kept her busy on her days off. Jill from the bowls club had been in touch and they’d met up a few times for coffee. It was nice to have a new friend. She understood now why bowls was a big part of Gordon’s life and enjoyed listening to him talk about the winter sessions that were now held inside a local leisure centre. She’d taken him shopping again to replace his old outdated clothes but rather than making him try on what she thought he ought to wear, she let him choose, although she made sure that she steered him in the direction of the clothes she approved of. The bedroom was now decorated and Gordon approved of the new mattress. Gordon’s old armchair still stood in its place in the living room and that is where it was going to stay, For now, much to Gordon’s relief, there would be no more decorating for the time being. She hadn’t told him yet that the kitchen would be next year’s big project She’d drop that one into a conversation sometime in the new year!

Maggie was about to put her phone down onto the side table when she heard the ping that alerted her that she had a new text. Expecting to see the usual message from her husband to say that he was just leaving – which reading between the lines meant she ought to start cooking- she was surprised to see that it was from their son James.

Hi Mum. How are you both? Sorry that I haven’t been in touch for a while but I’ve been really busy with work and other things!!!!! How’s the new job going? Got through all the Sherlock Holmes books yet? How’s Dad? Still making sure everyone’s toeing the line? (rolling on the floor laughing emoji times three) Love to see you both sometime. Lots to talk about!!!!! Sending hugs and kisses. J ( blowing a kiss emoji times five)

Maggie sat biting her thumb nail and wondered why the use of so many exclamation marks. What did they mean?

James had left home at eighteen to attend university in Liverpool to study media, something that his father was dead against as he considered it a Mickey Mouse degree and of no use to man or beast. A man needed a “proper” career. One with good prospects and a decent income to buy a home and eventually support a family. James was a sensitive teenager, unlike his sister who was head strong and stubborn. Gordon would complain to Maggie that his son was a mummy’s boy and needed to toughen up. He couldn’t understand why James wasn’t interested in sport or hadn’t enjoyed rough and tumble activities as a youngster, preferring to stay in his room reading or drawing. He wasn’t particularly academic and got into university by the skin of his teeth. James was indifferent about his chosen course but was determined to graduate. His student loan wasn’t enough to make ends meet, and asking his father for money was not an option. He’d rather be out on the streets than have to ask for help and no doubt have to endure a lecture from his father about not being the Bank of Mum and Dad.  To supplement his loan then he started helping out at a local nursing home for the elderly. He discovered that it was something that he was good at and really enjoyed. After graduating with a third class degree and no success in finding a job in media – it was fair to say that he didn’t make much of an effort to look – he was offered a full time job at the nursing home, which is where he had been for the last seven year and was now the manager.

The relationship between James and his father still wasn’t brilliant even now. Gordon found it difficult to comprehend why any man would want to grow their hair long and insist on wearing beads and cover their arms with tattoos. Nor did he agree with men having their ears pierced as well as other bits of their anatomy. As far as he was concerned his son was a hippy and made it painfully obvious during James’s infrequent visits that he didn’t approve. He didn’t actually have to say so outright, it was just the little digs and snide comments that made being together awkward. Susan was great at standing up for her little brother so Maggie always made sure that his sister, Tom and the twins were invited over when James came home. It pained Maggie to think that she had always taken a step back and not take sides. Instead she’d left Susan to fight James’s corner. What sort of mother would do that!

Later that evening during supper Maggie casually dropped into the conversation that James had sent her a text. Gordon’s day at work had gone well and apparently there were no idiots on the road during his journey home to moan about. He had arrived home in a good mood which had been helped by the fact that Maggie had whipped up an apple crumble, his favourite, for pud rather than plonking the usual low fat yoghurt in front of him. She had a suggestion to make and she needed to butter him up.

“I was thinking….”

Gordon chuckled “Don’t think too hard or you’ll hurt your brain!”

“Listen, I’m being serious. I think it’s about time we visited James. We haven’t seen him for months and we always wait for him to come and see us. Let’s make a weekend of it and go to Liverpool.”

“Maggie, our weekends are when we get jobs done, not to go galavanting up north on a whim, Christmas is next month, we can wait to see him then.”

“There is nothing that needs doing urgently this weekend. Oh come on, please let’s make the effort and visit him for once. Going by his text I think something has happened and he wants to tell us about it.”

“How could you possibly know that” protested Gordon.

“Call it a mother’s intuition. Why don’t we stay somewhere nice for a change, maybe down by the Albert Dock and make a weekend of it. Look, I’ll even share the driving if you’re worried about it being a long way.” Maggie actually had no intention of driving, especially in a city she wasn’t familiar with, but she knew full well that Gordon would never agree to that.It had always been that he did the driving whilst she navigated.

“I don’t know  Maggie, It just seems a bit frivolous to just up-sticks in less than a week’s time. We haven’t had time to plan or decide an itinerary. We’ll go another time. After Christmas maybe when it’ll be a lot quieter and the hotels will be cheaper.”

This was so typical of Gordon. The annual holiday in the Thornden household was planned and organised with military precision. Daily budgets had to be worked out, the dreaded itinary finalised, restaurants and tearooms to be researched. Not to mention the million and one checklists. Spontaneity wasn’t a word in Gordon’s vocabulary.

Maggie didn’t want to wait until after Christmas.

“Right, I’ll go by myself then. I’ll catch the train on Saturday morning and be back sometime on Sunday evening. You don’t mind looking after yourself do you? Good, that’s settled then. Do you want more crumble. If not I’ll clear away!”

Gordon looked aghast “You aren’t being serious are you?”

“Damn right I’m being serious. If you won’t go to see your son then that’s up to you, but I am going whether you like it or not. Do you know what? We have never been back to Liverpool since the day of his graduation ceremony and what a fuss you made then about having to go then.”

“I was fine once we got there” Gordon protested

“But you made such a big song and dance about it. What route to take, where to park, how graduation ceremonies drag on and that you’re usually sat so far away from the stage that you can’t see much anyway. I can never look forward to anything as you always make a big song and dance about it.”

Maggie had got up from the table and had cleared away the pudding plates, even though Gordon had rather fancied a second helping. The dirty supper things were in danger of being smashed as she practically threw them into the dishwasher and cupboard doors were slammed noisily as she put things away. Once the kitchen was tidy she stormed out of the room slamming the door behind her.

For the rest of the evening Maggie refused to speak to Gordon. He offered her a cup of coffee but all he got back was a curt No thank you. She sat curled up on the sofa, noisily flipping through the pages of a magazine. Every now and again she sighed noisily and would pur

se her lips as she studied her finger nails. Gordon tried to watch the television but it wasn’t easy to concentrate when his wife was making it obvious that she was in a bit of a strop. At ten o’clock Maggie got up and went to bed without saying a word.

Gordon watched the ten o’clock news then turned off the lights, locked the doors and went to bed too. Maggie was lying on her side, facing away from him. He could tell by the way she was breathing that she was awake. Maggie always snored when she was asleep, even though she strongly denied it, and she certainly wasn’t snoring as he sat propped up reading an Ian Rankin novel.

He turned over the corner of the page, shut the book and put it on the bedside table before switching off his lamp.

“Okay Maggie. You win. We’ll go to Liverpool this weekend.”

Next to him Maggie smiled and thanked him.

Four days later and Maggie and Gordon were on their way to Liverpool. Maggie wasn’t proud about the way she had gone about getting Gordon to agree to the trip. She had behaved like a petulant child who wasn’t getting her own way. She’d got angry and when that didn’t work she’d sulked. The only thing she hadn’t done was stamped her feet and shouted It’s not fair!

Gordon had agreed to let Maggie find somewhere to stay for the night. He was hoping that she’d find a Travelodge or Premier Inn as there was little point in spending a fortune on a hotel  when all they would be doing was sleeping in it. But Maggie had other ideas and had booked them into the Hilton close to the Royal Albert Dock. The hotel had the benefit of its own car park, something you didn’t always find in city centre hotels. She’d let Gordon find out later that he’d have to pay for it. The last time the two of them had stayed anywhere special was in the country house hotel where Susan and Tom had got married a few years earlier. It was about time they treated themselves.

When an excited Maggie had phoned James to let her know that they were coming, she had suggested that she book a restaurant so they could all eat out together in the evening. James knew the city and decent places to eat so asked his mum if she wouldn’t mind if he sorted out the meal. Maggie would have liked to have spent a few hours scrolling through Tripadvisor for a somewhere to go for their meal but she supposed it made sense if James chose the venue.

The only slight problem James had pointed out when Maggie told him about their visit was that he had to work on Saturday. In her haste to arrange the visit to their son she had forgotten that there was a chance that he might be working. Care homes don’t close up at five o’clock on a Friday afternoon. James’s worked shifts that included working some weekends.

James had a suggestion. Why didn’t they pop along to where he worked before checking in to the hotel in the afternoon? He could show them around and introduce them to his work colleagues and some of the residents. When she told Gordon the plan he was a bit dubious about it. Would he be talked into taking part in sing songs or have to listen to some old chap talking about the war? His only experience of care homes wasn’t good. His mother had suffered from dementia and had ended up in one when it became impossible for her to stay in her home.. He remembered his grandmother slumped in an armchair that’s seat was protected with an incontinence pad and mumbling to herself whilst constantly fiddling with the ribbon trim on the blanket that covered her knees. The room was hot and airless and the majority of the residents were dozing whilst a muted television showed voiceless cheery contestants competing against each other on afternoon game shows.   The room smelt fusty and of the previous meal which was often liquidised as many of the “inmates”, as Gordon called them, had lost their false teeth. The staff was mostly indifferent towards the residents and beakers of tea would remain untouched, hair not brushed or chins and cheeks unshaven. There were times when a resident became agitated which was distressing to see especially if they were scolded rather than being calmed and reassured by a caring person.

His grandmother had been dead for nearly thirty years, but those memories of her in that awful place had stayed with him. The home was eventually shut down by the local authorities and he remembered the local news showing reporters at the owner’s large house hoping for a comment from him as he hurriedly got into his shiny Mercedes and drove away.

Maggie knew about Gordon’s grandmother and had sensed his discomfort of the thought of visiting James’s work place.

Maggie had put her hand over his. “It’ll be fine” she reassured him “I’ve seen the website for the home and it’s a lovely place, nothing like the home that your grandmother was in. Do you honestly think that our kind and caring James would allow his residents to live in such a place?”

Gordon nodded “You’re right. I’m just being silly but that place was awful. Nobody cared. Grandma sat there in that chair day after day wearing clothes that weren’t even hers and that didn’t fit half of the time. It was pitiful Maggie. Nobody should end their days like that. Corners were cut left right and centre just so that bloody owner could make money. It was all about making profit and not about giving confused and vulnerable people a place where they felt safe and looked after with care and dignity.”

Maggie sat with the map book closed on her lap. The journey so far had been uneventful. There were the odd occasion when Gordon would cuss some driver who was hogging the middle lane or tailgating their car but that was nothing unusual and Maggie tended to ignore her husband. She was nervous now they were on the outskirts of Liverpool that she needed to direct him to the care home. Gordon refused to get a Sat Nav and Maggie had to rely on the directions on the print out from the RAC route planner which she had studied several times before they left just so that she’d be familiar with them. The traffic was heavy for a Saturday morning and she needed to keep her wits about her. She knew from experience that she needed to give exact directions in plenty of time and not dither but trying to follow the directions and look at the road for signposts and for which lane to be in wasn’t easy.

“For Pete’s sake Maggie which lane? Left or right?”

“I think it’s left?”

“Just thinking is no good, I need  to know for definite.”

“Definitely left.”

Gordon took the left lane and found himself on a duel carriageway.

Oh fuck

“Sorry, it should have been right”

And with that the Thorndens found themselves driving out of Liverpool and back towards the way they came!

Sometime later and after several more wrong turns Maggie and Gordon finally arrived at Deacon Ridge Care Home, a modern brick built building with big picture windows surrounded by immaculate landscaped gardens. Maggie could imagine the residents sitting on the benches that lined the meandering paths and enjoying the outside space or sitting at one of the wooden tables on the wide terrace. When they reached the entrance Maggie pressed the intercom to announce their arrival. Through the glass sliding doors she spied James, a huge smile on his face as he came to greet them. As the doors opened Maggie rushed inside and hugged her son tightly. Meanwhile Gordon hung back feeling left out as he watched his wife and youngest child. He was somewhat taken aback to see James look so smart. He was used to seeing him in scruffy faded tee-shirts and ripped jeans, but here he was wearing smart navy trousers and a pale blue button down shirt. His hair was still long but today it was neatly tied back and Gordon noticed that he still wore strings of coloured beads around his wrist.

James stepped towards his father and held out his hand. “Hello Dad” Gordon shook his son’s hand “Hello James. Good to see you after all this time.” It was an awkward greeting between the two men but that was nothing new.

Maggie linked arms with her son.” This is some place James. I’ve seen photos of it on your website but it looks even better in real life.”

“We are very proud of what we’ve achieved here. We want our residents to think of it as home and that we are all part of one big family. Come on, I’ll show you around and you can meet some of our residents and staff.”

“You take your mother and I’ll sit here and wait. It’s been a long and frustrating journey and I’m feeling rather tired and could do with a rest.”

Maggie noticed a brief shadow of disappointment cross her son’s face. Just for once it would be good if their son’s father could show some enthusiasm and interest in what their son did. He wasn’t going to let James down yet again.

James had been called over by the receptionist to answer a phone call giving Maggie a chance to plead to Gordon to change his mind.

“Please come don’t be difficult Gordon and come with us. Just for once in your life show some interest in our son.”

“It’s not that Maggie, I just can’t deal with these places.” Gordon was thinking back to the dreadful home that his grandmother had spent her last few years in.

“I know that you’ve got bad memories about your grandma but times have changed a lot since then and look around you. You can see that this place is nothing like where she was is it. Come on, it’ll be fine.” She nudged Gordon and squeezed his hand briefly.” I’ll hold your hand if you like!”

“What, and look like a schoolboy being shown around his new school by his mother! No, you’re alright, I’ll be fine. Thanks for the offer though. Come on, it looks as though James has just finished his call.”

The interior of Deacon Ridge was as impressive inside as it had been outside. James showed them the beautifully decorated lounge with a conservatory at one end where residents could take part in activities if they wished that were regularly organised by an activities co-ordinator,sit and have tea with their families or just enjoy the company of others. The dining room rivalled that of a smart hotel and James explained that residents could choose from a menu and there was even a wine list this was more for the benefit of visiting relatives than the residents. There was the option to eat in their rooms if anyone wasn’t feeling sociable. It was important that the ladies and gentlemen of Deacon Ridge had the freedom of choice to decide what they wanted to do although, as James pointed out, the staff would try and gently coax someone to venture out of their room if they were spending too much time in it. Maggie was surprised to see a fully equipped hairdressers. Apparently the ladies enjoyed having the odd manicure too. Mrs Travis had asked last week to have crystals applied to her nails after admiring the ones on her granddaughter’s nails.

As they wandered around Maggie noticed how the elderly resident’s eyes lit up when they saw James and he would stop to ask them how they were and talked about their families and football games. Every now and again he would crouch down next to someone in a wheelchair, hold their hand and talk quietly to them.

James introduced his parents to an elderly lady concentrating hard on trying to find a piece to add to the crossword puzzle of a harbour view she was doing at one of the tables in the lounge. She reminded Maggie of The Queen with her white hair neatly styled and her handbag by her side.

“Elsie, this is my mum and dad, Gordon and Maggie Thornden. They’ve come to check us out and make sure that we are all behaving ourselves so don’t go telling them what we get up to in this place will you!” James winked at Elsie and tapped the side of his nose with his finger.”

Elsie winked and tapped her nose back and spoke in a broad Liverpudlian accent “So I won’t tell about the time Maurice sneaked into Grace’s room after lights out or when he organised an escape party so that the lads could visit a gentlemen’s club in town!”

Gordon looked aghast

“No, best not tell them about that. Don’t want them to think that we get up to all sorts of mischief here do we. ”The pair of them chuckled and Gordon realised that they were joking.

“Now who have we got here?” Elsie asked “Aren’t you going to introduce us?”

Leaving Elsie to her puzzle James took his parents in the spacious lift to the floor above. All the residents had spacious rooms with their own en-suite bathrooms. Some of the bathrooms were much bigger so that they could accommodate hoists. James explained that some residents had mobility problems and therefore needed help getting in and out of the bath. Everyone who lived at the home was encouraged to bring in things from home to personalise their rooms. These familiar belongings helped comfort those with dementia and feel settled in their new home.

James knocked at a door.” Let’s go and say hello to Stan. He’s a bit under the weather at the moment and prefers to stay in his room. I’m sure that he’d love to meet you.”

Gordon wasn’t sure about intruding on a stranger’s privacy. If he were Stan he’d hate people he didn’t know traipsing into his room. Actually, he wouldn’t be happy even if he knew them. Before he could say anything, Maggie had ushered him into the room.

The room was spacious and bright. In one corner was an old armchair, similar to Gordon’s but a little more threadbare than his. Against one wall was a small mahogany sideboard who’s surface was covered in silver framed faded black and white photos of family groups, young men with Brylcreamed slicked back hair and wearing oversized suits standing next to a motorbike or in uniform baggy shorts and army caps laughing together in barren, sandy surroundings. One photo was of a young shy couple smiling for the camera on their wedding day. The groom in a suit and the bride in a dress with a lace covered bodice and a veil atop her short permed hair. Amongst the photos were more recent colourful ones of smiling children posing for their photograph wearing neat school uniforms. As well as the photo gallery there were ornaments dotted around the room and pictures on the wall.

Sitting up in bed was an elderly gentleman dressed in paisley patterned pyjamas.

“What’s this then Stan, still in bed at lunchtime. You’re slacking these days!” James said wagging his finger at Stan.

The old man chuckled which made him cough.

“It won’t do will it but it’s this damn chest of mine. Knocked the wind out my sails I’m afraid old chap. Apparently I’m to get up for lunch any minute now.” Stan looked at Maggie and Gordon who were hanging back behind their son. “ So, who do we have here? They look a bit young to be incarcerated in here!”

“This is my mum and dad Stan. They thought that they might drop in to see if there’s room for them now that they’re getting on in years!”

Stan feigned looking shocked but his eyes crinkled with mirth “Cheeky young sod! Don’t you be so rude to your maa and daa. Treat them with respect young man and whilst your there make yourself busy and find your parents a couple of chairs. It’s not often that I get visitors.”

James pulled a couple of chairs over to the bed. “Stan, you know that’s not true. Your family visit you all the time. Half of Liverpool seems to be related to you.”

“That tends to be the case when you happen to be catholic!” chortled Stan which set him off coughing again.

Stan spent the next half an hour telling his surprise guests about his time as a young lad doing his national service in North Africa and job as a car mechanic before buying the first in a chain of car show rooms. The young bride in the photo was Peggy his late wife. They’d had six daughters, none of which were interested in cars so sadly he’d had no one to hand the business down to and it had been sold twenty years previously when he had retired. The money he’d made had allowed him and Peggy to go on the cruises and make sure that their family were all right for a bob or two. He’d joked that they were horrified when he could no longer cope at home and had chosen Deacon Ridge to live out his days in and could see their inheritance rapidly slipping away.

It was time for Stan to have his lunch and a couple of nurses had appeared to help Stan get out of bed.

“I would ask you to stay but you don’t want to see an old man being helped on to his feet like an invalid by two pretty young things.” Stan smiled but it was obvious that this proud man didn’t want to appear weak and helpless in front of anyone.

James stacked the chairs away whilst Maggie and Gordon shook Stan’s hand and told him how nice it was to have met him and hoped that he felt better soon. As Gordon gripped the elderly man’s hand, Stan said quietly “You know that you’ve got a good un there don’t you. We love to banter but he’s such a caring young chap even if he does have long hair!”

Outside the door James told his parents that Stan had advanced lung cancer and that he didn’t have much time left. His huge extended family would appear later and shower him with love and would return every day until the day he would no longer be there for them.

It was time for Maggie and Gordon to leave. James had work that he needed to do and told them that he’d see them later before disappearing into his office. As they were walking to the exit one of the carers asked them to sign out.

“You must be so proud of your son. He’s done such a fabulous job here and the residents all love him. Everyone’s going to miss him when he leaves. You take care now, bye.”

Leave? What did they know that Maggie and Gordon didn’t!


After eventually finding the hotel and checking in, Gordon and Maggie spent the afternoon exploring The Albert Dock and walking along to the Liver Building before heading back to the hotel to rest in their stylish room and change before going out. Gordon had to admit that Maggie had chosen well and was glad that he hadn’t insisted on staying in somewhere that he often referred to as sleeping factories. Maggie had quizzed Gordon all afternoon on his thoughts about what the carer had said at the care home. He had eventually had had enough of her constant wittering and had stormed ahead so that she had to run to keep up with him. How on earth would he know what was going on? He would be the last person his son would confide in!

The Italian restaurant that they were meeting James in was a short walk from their hotel. When they arrived outside they were amazed to see James with a pretty girl with blonde hair worn in a long braid sitting next to him at a table in the window. They were laughing at something and she momentarily rested her head on their son’s shoulder.

Maggie grabbed Gordon’s arm. “Who’s that?” She hissed into his ear.

He hissed back

“No idea, but I think that we are soon going to find out.”  

James caught sight of his parents through the window. He smiled broadly at them and waved.

Maggie pushed Gordon towards the door. “Come on, let’s go and find out who she is, and Gordon, please try and smile now and again and make an effort to be nice!”

James stood up to greet his parents. He hugged his mum but not his father. The two of them hadn’t hugged for a long time.

Their son introduced the girl who was sat smiling broadly at his parents “Mum, Dad this is my girlfriend Emily.” The pretty girl stood up and offered her hand to Maggie. Maggie noticed that Emily was petite with clear blue eyes, a smattering of freckles across her nose and a mouth that reminded Maggie of Julia Roberts. She wore an ethnic print tunic over leggings and dangly beaded earrings.  A tiny blue gem pierced her nose and a ribbon was weaved into her blond braid.

“It’s lovely to meet you Mrs Thornden. I’ve heard so many lovely things about you from James. It’s nice to finally meet you.” She turned to Gordon who was trying hard to suppress any look of surprise and was attempting to do what Maggie had asked him to do…smile! “Hello Mr Thornden, I can see where James gets his good looks from!” Gordon was from that moment on rather taken with this pretty girl with a huge smile and good manners.

Gordon laughed “Flattery will get you everywhere young lady! It’s lovely to meet you Emily. I must say this is a bit of a surprise. We had no idea that you would be joining us tonight. It’s a very nice surprise though!”

Maggie wondered what had happened to her husband. Good grief she thought he’s looking at her with big daft puppy eyes! As they sat down she gave him a swift warning kick under the table.

Over bowls of seafood linguine and penne arrabbiata Maggie and Gordon discovered that Emily was a nurse at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital where she was a specialist staff nurse on the elderly care team. James and Emily had met when they had both attended a conference and had exchanged phone numbers.

Maggie asked her son “So you plucked up the courage to ask Emily out on a date.”

Emily laughed “Eventually! I had to wait ages. I nearly gave up waiting.”

 James intervened “Well you could have phoned me.” To which Emily replied “Ah, but I’m an old fashioned girl. Don’t you agree Mr Thornden that it is a man’s job to make the first move and ask a young lady out!”

Maggie could tell that Emily wasn’t being serious but she wasn’t sure by the look on Gordon’s face that her husband had cottoned on that she was joking.

Gordon nodded  “Quite right Emily. I think it’s a shame that women take it upon themselves these days to ask a man out on a date

” Maggie rolled her eyes. He’ll be telling her next that a man should ask the father for his beloved’s hand in marriage!

The evening was going really well. Emily was fun, bright and enchanting. James was obviously hopelessly in love with her and she with him. Maggie glanced over to father and son whilst she was chatting to Emily about her family. She inwardly smiled as she saw the two of them talking to each other. There was none of the awkwardness between them that had been the case for as many years as she could remember. Maybe Gordon was finally accepting  James for who he was and not someone he, his father, wanted him to be.

Over coffee Maggie sensed that the two of them wanted to tell her and Gordon something. Was it something to do with the carer’s comment?  She didn’t think that they were going to spring a surprise engagement announcement on them or that she was going to be a grandmother again as Emily had been drinking wine all evening. She was itching to find out. It was no good, she’d have to say something.

“James, can I just ask you something?”

Her son smiled at her but she noticed that he looked slightly awkward and that Emily was suddenly fussing with a tassel on her tunic. “Fire away mum?”

“One of your lovely members of staff said something earlier that took me and your dad by surprise.”

James’s eyes narrowed slightly “Go on…”

“Well, she mentioned something about you leaving. Is there something that we don’t know? Have you got a new job?”

“ She was right” said James “ I am leaving but I haven’t got a new job.”

Gordon was quick to step in “Oh for goodness sake James, don’t tell me you’ve bloody well gone and got yourself fired!”

Maggie winced. Just when it was going so well between father and son.

“No Dad, I haven’t been fired. But there is something Emily and I want to tell you.”

So they are getting married, but why would you leave a job with no job to go to if you had a wedding to arrange and a home to set up? Thought Maggie Maybe they are already living together. Now I really am confused!

“The thing is, the two of us are going to South America after Christmas for a year to do voluntary work with the VSO. It’s something that we really want to do. I didn’t tell you sooner as we weren’t sure that we were going to be accepted, especially as we are a couple and finding a placement for us both wasn’t easy.”

It was Gordon that spoke first. “Son, that’s wonderful news. I’m so proud of you. Proud of you both. Don’t be an old fuddy duddy like me and get stuck in a rut” He looked at Maggie “ I don’t mean that I feel stuck in a rut with you. I mean that I haven’t done much with my life except work in the same safe but boring job.”

Maggie jumped in “But you had a family to look after. You had responsibilities.”

“But before the girls came along we could have done so much more with our lives and then after they grew up, well, Mags, you know how it is! Ha, listen to me getting all maudlin. You go for it the pair of you. Live your life. What do you say we buy a bottle of champagne and celebrate!”

Maggie had slipped into her nightie in the bathroom and was applying moisturiser to her newly cleansed skin. Gordon was already in bed watching a late night film. Maggie had needed to thread her arm through her husband’s on the walk home. The wine and champagne had made her feel unsteady. She was going to pay for her overindulgence tomorrow and suffer with an almighty hangover. The centre of Liverpool was full of groups of young women scantily dressed and walking arm in arm with confidence in towering heels and young men with designer stubble and wearing sharp suits making their way to the city’s clubs. Normally Maggie would feel ill at ease in this situation and Gordon would remark on their rowdiness but not tonight. Maggie kept stopping and looking in shop windows and Gordon kept trying to talk like Harry Enfield’s Scouser character… Calm down, calm down…. that had Maggie shushing him one minute and  giggling the next.

Maggie poked her head around the bathroom door. “ I had a really good time tonight. Best night out in ages. Isn’t Emily just lovely? Do you think that they’ll get married? I hope so. Bet they won’t have a conventional wedding though. Not like Susan and Tom’s posh do. Who’d have thought that our daughter would have turned into a Bridezilla” Maggie hardly paused for breathe. She wasn’t really expecting Gordon to reply which was a good thing as he’d drifted off to sleep whilst the theme tune of The Good, The Bad and the Ugly played as the credits rolled at the end of the film.

Maggie climbed into the bed next to Gordon who’s head was now lolling to one side and was snoring loudly through his open mouth. Maggie gently took the remote control from his hands and flicked through the channels. She stopped on a channel showing Fifty Shades of Grey. The couple on the screen were in the middle of a rather erotic scene involving a billiard table. Maggie felt herself being turned on as she watched. It had been a long time since she had felt that tingling sensation deep in the pit of her abdomen.

She turned over to face Gordon.

“Hey lover boy…”

Any tingling sensations suddenly disappeared when she saw that her sleeping husband was drooling from the corner of his mouth creating a damp patch on the 300 thread Egyptian cotton pillowcase.

She turned off the television and the bedside lamp, rolled over onto her side and within minutes was snoring in harmony with the man lying next to her.