Margaret Henderson Smith Margaret Henderson Smith
Margaret Henderson Smith ‘Oh no!’ October 23rd, 2009

I’m waiting for all my rosy apples to arrive. I’m looking at the board. The new board standing there with nothing to do. As bored as the last one. I’m waiting for the phone call. It’s been too long now. Increased offer? No chance! I’m thinking of our other viewer. He came twice. Said all the right things. No word either. I’m used to it. Well after two years you get used to it. Well you would do if all of the three houses we’ve recently viewed hadn’t now turned up as ‘Sale Agreed.’ All three of them! ‘Oh no!’ I say. I can hardly believe it.

‘Someone’s got to be making decent offers or people are still accepting lousy ones,’ I tell my better-half.

‘Not us!’ he replies. ‘I wouldn’t have wanted to live in any of them, anyhow.’

‘Neither would I.’ I hastily agree. But there’s something niggling me inside. There’s something about them all being sold that makes me want them. The only difficulty I’d have now is choosing which one.

I open the front door. All my rosy apples are back from their ‘tropical island.’ It’s lovely to see them and Pikachu of course. This huge soft cuddly yellow rotund creature with horny ears and a wavy tail leads the way.

‘He sat on my table on the aeroplane,’ big apple informs me.

‘And did he have a lovely holiday, too?’ I ask.

She pushes him at me. I hold him up. Of course I have to ask him myself.

‘He says he had a super time on that tropical island,’ I tell her.

‘It wasn’t a tropical island,’ she declares. ‘Tell him it was Menorca. I whisper in his ear. He feels damp. I ask why?

‘He was sitting on the edge of the pool watching us swimming. We splashed him.’

‘Oh no!’ I say. ‘He’ll catch a cold.’

She is laughing. She agrees I sit him on a chair by the radiator. He’ll be dry by the time she comes home from school.

I’m thinking about their ‘tropical island.’ I think about the sea and how compelling it is. How we are drawn to it. I think how fortunate my rosy apples are to live facing it. I think about how very nearly we came to buying a house just at its edge. Oh no! I can hardly bear the thought.

I think about our move to this house. we are just about one mile from the sea in a straight line. We almost back onto this straight line, a linear park that meets with fields and then the sea. I’m convinced we’ll see it if we have a window put in the loft. We’re in the middle of work anyway. We’re opening the chimney for a real fire. It’s not the best day for doing the work. Blowing a gale. They arrive with a chimney pot and clamber on the roof. I’m desperate to know if they’ll see the sea from up there. I look at them hanging on to the chimney stack for dear life.

‘Can you see the sea?’ I shout up.

‘Yes we’ll have a cup of tea,’ comes the reply.

I go in and put the kettle on. I make loft window enquiries whilst it’s boiling.

Just a few years ago we spot a house on the edge of the countryside, half a mile or so, as the crow flies, from the sea. It has drawbacks but the double garage swings it for my better-half. He concedes and we move in. The biggest drawback is the lane it sides on to. It goes all the way to the shore once it’s crossed the railway line. It’s busy. Very busy. We plant hawthorn seedlings all the way along one hundred and twenty feet of fence. We are trying to make it private. We plant trees. The garden’s looking nice. I finish it off with my planter. Reminiscent of a Grecian urn this one especially now it’s old and weathered. It looks like marble as I swivel it on its plinth, careful not to cut myself on its chipped brittle plastic edges. I sink it into the gravel under the kitchen window sill. Job done.

One morning I am filled with overwhelming joy. I rush to my better-half with binoculars in hand.

‘You can see the sea from the front bedroom window,’ I say. He follows me upstairs. Looks across the fields to the sea wall.

‘Oh so you can. Well you might see it better if the windows were cleaned. Why haven’t you found a window-cleaner yet?’

I ignore it. I’m excited.

‘What’s covering them, anyway?’ I ask.

‘It’s spindrift, carried by the wind from the sea.’

All of a sudden my sea-going engineer has gone poetic. Totally out of character.

‘That’s it!’ I say. ‘Right that’s it. That’s what we’re calling it.’

‘Calling what?’ he asks.

‘Calling the house,’ I say. ‘We’re calling it spindrift.’

‘Oh no!’ he groans. ‘Completely over the top! What’s wrong with just having a number?’

I sense the brief poetic interlude has just come to an end.

We find a local chandler’s. House names. They do house names. We order ours in grey Cumberland stone. It will have spindrift proudly written across it in gold leaf. I can’t wait for it to be ready. At last the day arrives. My better-half fixes it to the wall by the front door. I feel as though I’ve brought the sea to our doorstep. Not my better-half though. The refuse collectors have been. The wind’s caught a few papers.

‘More like bindrift,’ he mumbles.

I pretend I haven’t heard. I find a window-cleaner. Soon we’ll be having guests. House guests for a whole week. We are entertaining an Australian business client and his wife for a whole week.

The windows are cleaned in time. Before he leaves he asks the question. I agree. He leaves his ladders in the garage.

They arrive. We arrange a gathering of like-minded people to a summer evening barbecue. I’m delighted at the opportunity to show off the new house, the garden. I forget about the lane. We are all chatting, laughing, exchanging all the niceties of life. A couple of young enthusiasts bike past. They are back again, revving for Britain. Back and forth all evening. A van stops. The driver jumps out. He’s lost his way. He’s shouting for directions over the fence. Suddenly lads descend in droves. Fooling around as they walk down the lane. Some drinking, hurling cans; shouting, screaming. We look up. A micro light overhead. We look up again. This time it’s a powered paraglider. He’s whizzing through the sky hanging from a big wing with an engine strapped to his back. There’s a screech. We see the back wheel of a bicycle spinning in the air whilst the front wheel and the handlebars are firmly entrenched in the rill on the lane side of the fence. There’s a helicopter circling low. The trains are hooting past. I replenish the wine glasses as fast as I can. ‘Oh no!’ I say. My husband is laughing. I don’t think it’s funny.

The next morning my better-half is off to work. Our guests are off home. I go outside. I notice the back garage door open. I look inside to see the ladders have disappeared together with many other things. I phone my better-half. He comes home to tell me he’s had enough of living alongside the lane. I get ideas. Big ideas! Suddenly my sea view becomes very skimpy.

‘Look,’ I say. ‘You know how I always wanted to live by the sea before I reached 40? Well let’s do it. Now!’

‘Oh no! The Roaring Forties. No thanks. Too late anyway,’ he says. ‘You’ve done The Big 40 now.’

‘Too late? Never!’ I retort. ‘That’s not fair. It was just an arbitrary deadline.’

‘We’ll think about it after Christmas he says.’

I am excited. The evenings have drawn in and Christmas is getting nearer. We go shopping for presents. I buy a picture. Photo-art for the new house. Just a lighthouse battling a wild sea. Oh and the lighthouse keeper standing in the doorway. It’s nearly dark when we get back. My better-half looks at the kitchen window.

‘Oh no!’ He declares.

He strides outside with his torch. He’s inspecting all the window frames. I am curious. I join him. He points the torch to the planter under the kitchen window. It’s crashed to the ground. The old brittle plastic finally split in two. Compost and bulbs everywhere. He shines the light into the gravel now disturbed into one long skidding ridge. My better-half is furious.

‘We could easily have walked straight into it. He’s certainly had a good go at them all. Whoever it was has almost broken through this one. He could have been inside.’

‘If he hadn’t fallen off the planter. It went from under him, didn’t it?’ I say.

‘Just as well,’ fumes my better-half.

‘Oh no! He could have hurt himself. He must have thought it was marble. Thought it would take his weight.’  I suddenly see the funny side. Then it feels scary.

‘We’re definitely getting out of here!’ My better-half means it.

It’s the end of January. The house is on the market. We have much interest. I can’t wait to move our spindrift sign to a more legitimate setting. We negotiate a house right on the sea-front.

‘I’m not looking at that thing when we get there!’

My better-half points to the lighthouse picture. Of course I couldn’t wait to hang it. I’m thinking better of it now. I know this is our once and for all, last time ever chance to be that close to the sea. Until our buyer pulls out, that is.

‘Oh no!’ I say.

We get another buyer. I phone the agent.

 ’They’ve withdrawn the property from the market for the time being, I’m afraid.’

‘Oh no!’ I say. We let our buyer go. We have no choice.

I’m browsing online. See it back on. At a higher price. Even so I’m excited. We get another buyer. Offer more money. It’s accepted. We pay for the survey. We get a call from the agent.

‘They’ve decided to sell privately to another couple, I’m afraid.’

‘Oh no!’ We say. We simply don’t believe it!

We end up with a house one road removed and a sea view from the back bedroom that could be slotted into the eye of a needle. We don’t bother  to unpack the spindrift sign. We have good reasons to move on.

Back to today. We’ve delivered our rosy apples to the places they go to. We walk past the boat in the front garden. I’m still thinking of the sea.

‘Couldn’t we just put our spindrift sign up? It would be right by the boat. At least we’ve got that association.’ I think of the costaplenti and the dunroamin name plates. Ours would be OK.

‘You’ve got to be joking!’ declares my better-half as the cars whiz past. ‘It’s the roar of the sea you want for that, not the roar of traffic. Anyhow that’s going down to the sailing club. One of these days when we get round to it.’

‘I want to look out of the loft window, then,’ I say. ‘Please.’

My better-half pulls the ladder down. With the binoculars I see a ship on the horizon. It looks like it’s sailing in the sky.

‘Look,’ I say. I’m excited. My better-half looks.

‘You’d see it a lot better if this window was cleaned,’ he says.

‘What’s on it then?’ I ask.

‘Spindrift, I guess,’ he replies.

I look at him and point to the grey Cumberland stone lettered in gold, half in, half out of a cardboard box alongside him.

‘Someone might buy it if it’s called spindrift.’ I suggest.

‘Oh no!’ He declares. ‘Don’t even think of it!’

 

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‘Way over the top!’ October 18th, 2009

We are busy getting ready for our trip. The phone rings. It’s the estate agent again.

‘HIP, they want to see the HIP. They might increase the offer. We don’t appear to have a copy. Have you got one?’

‘We’ve got it on disc,’ I reply, racking my brains trying to recall if we were ever sent a written one.

I turn on the computer. I need to email the question to the HIP surveyor.

‘It’s a straightforward question. Keep it short and to the point!’ I hear my better-half being bossy over my shoulder.

‘You know what I’m like with emails,’ I protest. ‘I find it very difficult keeping to the point. Anyway he was a nice chatty guy. There’s nothing wrong with sending a friendly one.’

He shakes his head in exasperation. ‘Way over the top!’

‘Come here,’ he says. ‘I’ll do it!’

I watch him type two lines as if there’s a tax on words.

‘Now that’s the way it should be done.’

I try to take it onboard. I think about writing. I think about writing for fun. I think about how difficult it is to turn it all off.

He lets me have my computer back. I need a jacket. I go to my favourite auction again. I am greeted with words. “Feed your passion for Pokemon.”

‘No thank you,’ I decide. I really don’t have a passion for Pokemon. Now if  they’d said “writing”, I’d be more than happy to go along with it. I show my better-half.

‘Just an example of over the top writing,’ I suggest. He laughs. ‘It’s still not as bad as the stuff you come out with. You couldn’t even compile a straightforward road-sign!’

I am reminded we are going away. We need to leave the keys with our nearest and dearest as my rosy apples and their mummy and daddy are on holiday. According to big apple they’ve all flown to a ‘tropical island’. I make the phone call.

‘If you wouldn’t mind just collecting the post, please.’

I think about letters, cards. The written word in all manner and form. I need to write birthday cards before we go. Again the voice of my wise-one from behind.

‘Happy Birthday will do. Just keep it simple. No need to write “War and Peace”. Oh no! You’re not writing two for each of them again, are you? Way over the top!’

I protest. One card for the occasion, one for the present. I can’t see anything wrong. I think of wrong writing as my better-half leaves me to it. I recall my experience as press officer to the local community association some time ago. I’m delighted with my recent appointment. I can’t wait to tell the local newspaper all about the new building. I am writing my piece as honestly as I can. I open the evening paper. A headline, “New Community Centre Nobody Wants.” I die a thousand deaths. I apologise and resign my post. No comfort from my better-half. ‘That’s you,’ he says. ‘Way over the top!’

Back to today. I’m not having any luck with my jacket so we go to the shops. We are looking at toys, trying to find something to take to littlest apple. All of a sudden a voice from behind us.

‘What are you doing here? You’re not welcome here! You’re not welcome here looking like that. Go away you don’t belong here.’

I jump. ‘But that’s exactly why I’ve come. For a new jacket,’ I think. We turn round. No one to be seen. My better-half laughs as it starts all over again. We look at the toys round and about. All boxed.

‘Of course it’s coming from one of these,’ he says.

‘Huh! Fine way to get business. Way over the top!’ I reply. We choose a big red racing car for littlest apple and I find a jacket.

All set to go. Our nearest and dearest call in to collect the keys. We sit in a foursome for a few minutes drinking tea.

‘Did you see him on television last night?’ I’m asked.

‘I did,’ I reply, beaming to the sound of the men groaning. We talk about politics. A few heated moments debating our pet dislikes.

‘Now,’ I say, if he were Prime Minister he’d do something about all of it. He’s the personification of common sense.’

‘Never!’ groan the men. ‘He’s way over the top!’

‘Oh no he isn’t,’ I reply, ‘just wait and see. One day he’ll be leader of his party. One day he’ll be PM. One day he’ll be delighting the nation.’ They laugh. I’m serious.

At last we’re on our way. I think of our conversation of yesterday afternoon. I think of this one famous person I would really like to meet. I think of his books, his writing, his intelligence, his wit. I am less than miniscule. He is grander than grand. I want to write. I want to leave  feedback for his book. I want to pluck up the courage. Alas, I decide I am not worthy.

We are motoring. Mile after mile. We join the motorway, the road signs are starting to appear for London. The numbers are getting smaller.

‘There, that’s how to write a road sign,’ my husband laughs, observing my intense interest in them.

‘We’re only sixty four miles away from him,’ I inform my better-half.

‘Sixty four miles away from who?’ he asks.

‘Sixty four miles away from our future Prime Minister,’ I say. He laughs as we turn off the motorway. We join the A34. Road works on the other side. ‘Must find a different way back,’ my better-half suggests. I look at the map. We join the M4. Those signs for London again.

‘We’re only forty four miles from our future PM now,’ I say. He laughs again.

‘Oh no you’re not. Don’t forget he’s in Manchester at the moment. You’re getting further and further away from him by the minute!’ I pretend I haven’t heard.

‘How about we go back via London?’

‘Most definitely not!’ declares my husband. ‘That’s way over the top!’

We arrive. From under his mop of blonde hair littlest apple smiles with those big blue eyes. He loves his red car. We leave him with his mummy and daddy as we make our way to the hotel. It’s fine this one. We’ve stayed here before. Not on the top floor though. Not in the attic. We wind our way up two flights of stairs. The floors are uneven. It feels like we’re at sea. The window’s too high to see out of. I try to sink that spooky feeling. I turn the television on. It keeps going off. Turning itself off for no reason at all. I look at my better-half.

‘Sorry, wrong place,’ I say.

‘Nothing at all wrong with it,’ he declares. ‘A silly reaction. Way over the top!’

I try to believe him. Most of our time will be spent with littlest apple and his mummy and daddy. I settle down. Dining is superb. We are having a lovely time.

Today we are all taking a drive in the countryside. We come across a new housing development. We love show houses littlest apple’s mummy and I. We nod our heads in agreement. Next thing we’re all inside. Interior designed to perfection, even the jars of preserves on the kitchen side blend in with the decor. Littlest apple’s busy rearranging the black and red sports cars sitting on the designer bedroom window sill. We hear the men debating the lack of doors.

‘Way over the top,’ declares my better-half on the way out. ‘Don’t be getting any ideas!’

‘If only!’ I think.

We are on our way home. I think about writing. I’ve got work to do when we get back. No black cloud leading the way this time. We drive the whole way watching the sun from a clear blue sky painting all the shades of autumn into the countryside. A perfect day to end a perfect break.

We drive in.

‘Oh look, we’ve got a new board,’ declares my observant better-half.

‘It looks the same to me,’ I reply.

‘Different phone number. They’ve opened a branch in the village remember?’

I can’t wait to go in. There may be a message. Yes! A message! We play it. It’s them. It’s the estate agent. I’m excited as I anticipate almost the asking price.

‘Mr. and Mrs… are still thinking about it. We’ll let you know if we hear any more.’

‘Oh!’ I say.

My better-half moves to the pile of post. He’s holding a hand-written note.

‘Oh look! There’s one here asking if we want to sell the boat.’

‘First the camper, now the boat. Why can’t we get one about buying the house?’ I can’t conceal my disappointment.

‘Stop whinging,’ demands my better-half. He shows me the note. ‘Look, that’s how to write them. Short and to the point.’

‘Oh really?’ I say. He looks at me.

‘Do you think if I stand you in the garden I might get a decent offer?’ He’s laughing.

‘Not since The Big 40,’ I answer.

‘There you go again. Way over the top!’

He hugs me. I feel better!

 

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‘Not quite as expected!’ October 4th, 2009

He arrives. It’s his second viewing. We recede. We remain as inconspicuous as possible to allow him complete freedom of the house. He is asking all the right questions. His smile is unmistakable. I think he will buy it. We are merely waiting for the call.

The phone rings. It’s the estate agent.

‘It’s the lady who saw it on the internet again. She’d like to arrange a viewing. They are most anxious to see it.’

We arrange a viewing. They come. They ask all the right questions.

‘Got to be a better offer this time,’ I think.

I’m excited. ‘We’d better start looking, too,’ I suggest to my better-half. ‘Any day now it will all come together.’

I trawl online for possibilities. I’m trying to work out garden sizes. Suddenly my better-half is over my shoulder.

‘That’s not much good,’ he says. ‘Try Google earth.’

Before I know it I’m looking at a map of Europe. It looks very familiar. Tiny red dots set everywhere against the green terrain, marking out towns, cities. As he zooms in this familiar sight suddenly becomes very significant.

‘Stop!’ I say. ‘Please stop just there. Zoom out a minute.’

‘It’s back gardens we’re trying to get to. We’re not looking at buying the best part of Europe!’

‘No, no,’ I say. ‘It’s the map. I’ve seen it before. It looks just like the map on my social site.’

‘Social site?’ he queries.

‘Yes social site. Remember, I told you about it? As soon as I became a member I told you about all the red dots, all the places all over the world where people have clicked on my site to see my book. Do you remember how I couldn’t believe the huge response?’

‘Vaguely,’ he says. I see that ‘Oh no not again’ expression on his face.

‘Well,’ I say. ‘Why do some of those red dots exactly match the red dots on my social site home page?’

‘Probably because places tend not to move around.’ He laughs. ‘You haven’t quite got the hang of it yet, have you?’

‘No,’ I say. ‘Not quite as expected!’

He leaves me to my bitter disappointment. The similarity of the maps. I’ve got to have misinterpreted all that data. I’m wondering just how can I manage to loose a whole world full of interest in one swipe? I was only looking for a back garden!

I continue to zoom in as I marvel at this modern miracle. I hadn’t quite realised all these virtual trips down virtual roads, all this route planning, had emerged from a world map covered in little red dots. ’No wonder they haven’t turned green yet,’ I think. ‘No wonder they haven’t shed their anonymity.

I am reminded we’re going away. Heading south to see littlest apple. Well worn route this one. No need to play, I’ve got work to be getting on with. Once I’ve logged onto my favourite auction, that is. My favourite place to be. I need a new jacket, for the trip. I absolutely refuse to wear mine any more. I won that one, too. ‘Brand New With Tags’ and exactly what I was looking for, at the time. I was pleased with my pale pink bargain, until I saw it walking around. Everywhere! Until people started saying. ‘I thought it was you for a minute. From the back.’

I think of the collective consciousness. I think how readily we can lose our identity in droves for the famous. I think how little we like our identity being taken away on the street.

‘Not quite as expected,’ I think.

Back to the trip. Well we may not get there yet. The car’s decided to play up just as we’re about to go away. It usually happens.

‘We’ve got to be thinking about replacing it,’ my better-half informs me.

‘I’ll sell it for you.’ I offer.

‘No you will not!’ He declares.

‘You mean the “silver slipper”, I say.

‘Exactly!’

It felt like the most sumptuous car in the world. So it was christened. Alas, its life was limited. On the day we part company my better-half leaves a list of faults.

‘Make sure he reads this,’ he says. ‘It’s only worth… Now don’t be trying to get more.’

My better-half goes to work. I collude with my chicks.

‘But its worth far more than that. It’s luxuriously comfortable and it looks good,’ we decide.

The doorbell goes. The fault list goes straight out of my head.

‘Sold as seen.’ At least I remember to say that. He looks it over. He agrees.   

He drives it away. We’ve talked up the price. We can’t wait to spill the good news.

Good news? No most definitely not, I’ve never seen my better-half so cross. I look at my chicks in silence. The phone goes. He’s taken it to the garage. Had it checked out. He’s bringing it back. We return his money. I hide in the back as I hear my husband apologising profusely. I feel bad. He closes the door.

‘I’m not suprised it was “Not quite as expected,” he storms. ‘Don’t you ever do that again. Well you won’t get the chance!’

Back to today. I must break from my work. We’ve got a viewing. We go to see a house not too far away.

‘Oh look,’ says my better-half. There’s your pink jacket again.’

‘Actually I’ve disowned it.’

He laughs as we drive up to the smartly dressed girl with a clipboard, standing on the drive. It needs work, more work than we thought.

‘No. Definitely not,’ declares my better-half. ‘Not quite as expected!’

We drive away. Every time we brake the car clanks. We come home. I look out of the window. Suddenly the grass looks greener! I go to the front. Already my clever better-half has the wheels off.

‘I need some more rags,’ he says, as I look at his oily hands.

I run in. I run out with my pink jacket. ‘Here use this before it goes in the bin.’

I hear the phone. It’s the estate agent. They’ve made an offer. We turn it down.

‘Not quite as expected!’ I think. I’m disappointed. I’m trying to think cheerful. I think of my book. There’s always a chance of a significant red spot appearing somewhere in the world. It might even turn green! I check it out. I think I should have been looking for little red and green balloons. ‘Not quite as expected!’ I return to my writing.  I return to Harriet. I think of The Big 40.

‘Now that definitely was “Not quite as expected!” No disappointment there!’

 

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‘Spooky!’ September 27th, 2009

Today, no apples. I have a whole day to spend with my computer whilst my better-half  is busy grouting the tiles in his newly completed utility. His talents are diverse and many. Knowledge flows from him like wine, only my bottle of red never depletes. His brilliance is second to none. I leave him to it.

I’m back with Harriet, time’s moving on. I’m thinking about the estate agent. ‘Any minute now, there’ll be a call.’

The doorbell goes. I go down to answer it. No one there! I return to my computer. It goes again, and again, and again. I go down. Still no one there. Puzzled, I return to my work.

‘Spooky, not Halloween yet,’ I think.

The phone goes. It’s the estate agent.

‘I’ve just had an unusual call. Someone wants to buy it,’ she says. ‘She saw it on the internet and wants it.’

‘Without a viewing?’ I gasp.

I take the offer to my better-half.

‘Tell them we’ll stick that one to the wall for the time being.’

I’m disappointed. I return to my work. Back to Harriet. The doorbell goes again. I shoot downstairs. Still no one there. Even spookier! I look for my better-half to tell him. Nowhere to be seen.

Back to my computer again. All manner of spooky thoughts suddenly come to mind. I think of that very old hotel in the Devon countryside. The one where the owner behind the bar tells me our room is haunted. He speaks of a long lost soul who’d had his life grotesquely taken. He sets the historical scene.

All this just before we are about to turn in for the night. I don’t believe it! I want us to stay just where we are.

‘Don’t be so silly,’ says my knowledgeable better-half.

We go upstairs. Everything creaks. I shiver. I don’t want to be there.

‘He’s talking it up. Good for the trade!’

Without success my husband tries to reassure me. All night I cling to him, banking on his faultless knowledge. All night I think, ‘Never again!’

And never again it was! I’m speaking of a last minute family gathering. We needed a hotel.

‘Just one room left,’ the manager says. ’It’s beautiful, the bridal suite. All on its own right on the very top floor.’

‘Hang on a minute,’ I think. ‘The bridal suite? A bit late for that. Almost a child bride, me. Long before The Big 40! No, I’d feel silly in there!’

‘Do you wish to book it?’ he’s asking on the other end of the phone.

I think quickly. I go for it. At least it’s not haunted!

We arrive. Endless flights of dark narrow stairs take us to our room. We meet the door. It’s shaped like a coffin. We go in, ducking under the thick, heavy, dark wooden beams hanging low from the ceiling. All around looking like sets of gallows.

‘It’s spooky,’ I declare. My better-half despairs.

I phone my littlest apple’s mummy. ‘Can’t stay here. We’re going to have to find something else.’ I feel bad. I disrupt all the arrangements. One of our kindly couples swap. They’re up for an adventure. I’ll always be grateful.

Back to today. I suddenly remember, we’re going to see littlest apple and his mummy and daddy soon. I need to book the hotel. Relief! Availability. I book it. I’m OK with this one. It’s the other end of town.

I’m deviating. I get back to my work. It’s the phone again.

‘The gentleman that came last week. He wants a second viewing.’ I’m delighted. I tell my better half.

‘We need to find a house,’ I think. ‘He might just want to buy it. Not anything spooky though.’

Not like the one we used to live in. Well, there wasn’t enough to positively identify it as such, but there were some unexplainables.

One day, I’m sewing. My better half’s at work. The children are at school. I’m by myself. I stop sewing. All’s quiet. Then suddenly the machine takes off and starts rattling away, all on its own! Spooked, I regress to little apple status, jump in the car and decide to go shopping. I stop sewing after that.

And there was the evening we were all together. The conversation turns to spooks. I recall my sewing machine story. It widens out. We’re all laughing nervously as spooky tales come to light. Suddenly a loud explosion. Then silence!

We look at one another while my better half investigates. He’s looking in the kitchen cupboard. Glass everywhere, shattered into hundreds of tiny pieces. Everything swimming in sticky, undiluted orange squash.

‘Spooky,’ we all say.

Back to today, again. I’m making little progress. The doorbell goes again. This time I try to find my better half. He suddenly appears. I go running towards him then trip, straight into his arms. I think of Harriet. He laughs and points to the vacuum cleaner.

‘How could you possibly miss that? It’s like a big orange pumpkin!’

I think of Halloween. I think of spooks.

‘Someone’s been ringing our doorbell,’ I say.

‘Why didn’t you answer it, then?’ His face is straight.

‘By the time I get there, they’ve gone.’ I insist.

‘Gone?’

‘Yes gone. No sign of anyone.’

‘It might have been either or both the viewers. Couldn’t wait for an appointment. Look what you’ve missed!’ He’s laughing. ‘You don’t change much, do you?’ he says.

I think of The Big 40. I think of all things spooky. I think it’s made no difference. I think there’s no correlation between maturity and the rationalisation of fear, though it’s open to debate, of course.

I turn to my better half.

‘Someone has most definitely been ringing the doorbell,’ I insist. 

‘It was me. I’ve been fixing it,’ he laughs. ‘You wouldn’t want viewers left floundering on the doorstep, now would you?’

There’s just no answer to my clever bottle of red!

 

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‘Men don’t do The Big 40!’ September 22nd, 2009

Yesterday big apple had her birthday party. Well I say ‘her’ birthday party with some reservation. The kids all disappeared upstairs. We had a whale of a time. The men were in good form. It was bouncing off the four of them. From one to the other like a game of doubles. We girls of course, took it all in our stride. On such occasions we’re used to it, side swipes from the men. Nevertheless, I’m admiring them all. Thinking how like red wine all men are with age always on their side.

 ’No “Big 40″ issues with them,’ I think.

We laugh ourselves silly to the sound of wine bottles slooshing themselves empty. Even the dog wants to join in, obliterating the sea view as she jumps up and down on the trampoline outside, trying to look through the window. It becomes too much for this big brown chocolate Labrador. She gives up to perch on the corner of the bench under the window, peering into the glass of red wine from the wrong side of the window sill.

 ’If only!’ I almost hear her think.

‘Mind the black bags,’ I say to my scrambling apples as they thud up the stairs the next morning. I’ve been doing some sorting in anticipation of the move. Well, the motivation wasn’t quite as clear cut as that. My better-half needed some stamps.

‘In the back of my purse,’ I say.

‘This purse is as disorganised as your bag,’ he shouts up the stairs.

‘Huh!’ I think. ‘He’s lucky to be allowed in there.’

‘As disorganised as your office!’ he finishes.

I take the hint. I start sorting and shredding before we go off to the party.

‘It was good,’ I think as we pile into the car to deliver our apples to where they go. I look at the board, any minute now the phone will ring. I just know he’ll want a second viewing. I visualise the red ‘sold’ sign along the top as we drive past.

Our apples get safely distributed. On the way back I’m still smiling.

‘What is it about the collective consciousness that makes us smile and keep smiling when we see someone famous?’ I ask my better-half.

‘Get a move on!’ he replies to the little green and white car in front. ‘You’ve passed your test haven’t you?

‘That’s exactly why she’s put that green “P” plate on,’ I try to explain, ‘so people like you won’t get annoyed!’

I’m still smiling. I would be. Someone I’ve only ever seen on TV has just smiled and said ‘Good morning,’ to us. He was most charming. Charmingly mature. Another bottle of red wine! I try to recall any other famous people we’ve seen. An MP in Birkenhead. A PM conducting the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. The Queen looking radiant, waving from her car window, twice. I remember smiling at the teacher. I remember smiling at my pupils. Oh yes, and another MP, a cabinet member at the time kindly held the door open for my husband once when he was on business in London. And that’s about it really. No wonder I’m smiling. 

We return home.

‘Right,’ says my husband as he eyes the full to bursting bin-bags on the landing. ‘Which of these have got to go and which still need shredding?’

I pull the one sitting by the door back into the office.

‘I’ll do that when we get back,’ I say. ‘It can go with the rest of it after lunch.’

We go. He drives straight to the right skip and tips it all in. It’s windy, I see it starting to blow around.

It’s that big black cloud again. We follow it back. It looks like rain. I switch the shredder on and reach for an assortment of identifiable paper from the black bag. I don’t believe it! Wrong one! I start shredding innocuous stuff in the hope my better-half won’t notice. I shudder at the thought of all that lost confidentiality being blown on the wind. I look at the sky. I want it to rain. I want the contents of the skip to turn to papier-mache.

Caught in fear, I’m still shredding needlessly while my better-half goes to bring little apple back. Finally I tie the bag and put it with the rest.

After lunch we’re on our way back with the rest of the bags. I hope he won’t notice. He finds the same skip, empties them all, then looks down. Foot-marked receipts, mini bank-statements, anything and everything that escaped the shredder blowing around. Impossible to catch.

‘I hope they’re not ours,’ he says as he gets back into the car.

He sees my face.

‘They are, aren’t they?’

‘Could be anybody’s,’ I hedge.

‘Anyway, fancy seeing him this morning. What a surprise. You know I was watching you all at the party. All of you men. How is it that men just get better with age? I bet “The Big 40″ never even crosses your minds. ‘

He suddenly smiles. It starts to rain. I’m happy again. For the moment at least I’ve kept the cork from popping on my bottle of red wine! I just want the phone to ring now. 

 

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‘Sorry! Wrong place!’ September 17th, 2009

We wave goodbye to our viewer. He liked it a lot though he told us he still has a couple more to see. I’m convinced he’ll go for it. His unmistakable enthusiasm inspires me. I’m surfing the net looking for the right house to buy. I see a bungalow, identical to the one we moved from. It’s just a few doors away in the very same road. We needed to go. We’d over-done it a bit with the down-sizing, especially as more baby apples came along. I continue scrolling.

‘No, we don’t want another one of those,’ I’m thinking. I missed the space. I missed my up-stairs.

There was something about it, though. Something that drew people to it. Let me explain. One light summer evening we are sitting in the lounge when suddenly a man’s face appears at the side window, hard pressed against the glass. He starts banging and knocking and gesticulating. My husband goes out. He disappears for ages. Finally I see them both chatting on the drive. I’m filled with curiosity but stay put in the hope of enlightenment.

‘Any minute now,’ I think. I keep thinking. At last he comes in.

‘He spotted the bikes,’ my better-half finally informs me. I’m left wondering how four old motorbikes could possibly generate such unbridled enthusiasm.

It doesn’t stop there, though. One day we return home to find a chap with a clipboard peering in through the front windows, moving from one to the other and then back again to the front door. 

‘What’s he doing?’ says my better-half as we drive in.

‘Oh there you are,’ the man says, ‘there doesn’t look too much wrong with this double glazing, actually. Still it’s the conservatory we’re looking at. You’re thinking of a new one?’

‘No. Not us thank you!’ My husband is brief and to the point. No room for intervention there!

The man checks his clipboard. Checks the number on the door.

‘Sorry! Wrong place!’ he says. He scoots off.

I open the top front bedroom window. Later I return to see the postman fully stretched, pinned against the glass with his arm through the opening. A parcel lands on the bed!

‘Sorry! Wrong place!’ I think. He’s away.

It’s lunch time, I’m making sandwiches. I’m listening to one of those light-hearted radio programmes. Suddenly the door swings open. I jump! A complete stranger! He’s standing in the kitchen. I don’t believe it!

‘As I’m in the area I just thought I’d pop in to see how Mrs. … is doing. I’m her doctor. Shall I go through?’ he asks.

‘Sorry! Wrong place!’ I say. He disappears leaving a wake of profuse apologies.

I recall the bus driver and the camper. I wonder if this place is shaping up the same way. I continue scrolling. The phone rings.

‘Yes he liked your house very much indeed,’ the estate agent informs me. ‘He’s made appointments to see two more this week, then he’s going to make his decision.’

I put the phone down. I tell my better-half I think he’s going to buy it. We start looking, just in case.

‘Let’s drive past the one advertised in the paper. The one that’s just come on the market,’ my husband suggests.

‘But it’s a bungalow,’ I protest. ‘Just because you get past The Big 40 doesn’t mean to say you’ve got to live in a little bungalow. You tried that one last time. Sorry! Wrong place!’

He laughs as he drives me straight past the road.

 

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‘If only!’ September 15th, 2009

I look forward to seeing my rosy apples on the doorstep, but in the fleeting second they face me, I see today one of them’s turned green. I feel the draught as they thunder up the stairs, landing on top of one another in a screeching heap.

‘Come back,’ says my biggest apple’s mummy. ‘You’re supposed to be ill.’

Down she comes to be ill. She lies on the sofa as I switch her favourite TV programme on. I return to the others. I see little apple has done well having abandoned her former strategy. She’s already logged on to my computer. I am thankful middle apple seems OK with the old one today. In unison they give Polly Pocket pink hair and a matching guitar. They both up the volume. The house pulsates. ‘At this rate they’ll hit ‘The Big 40′ before they even get to be teenagers,’ I think as I go downstairs. I look at my watch. Soon it will be school and playgroup’s turn. I let them enjoy it.

They go. All is quiet.

I cover my big apple with a quilt and tell her I’ll be upstairs on the computer if she needs me. I feel bad. It’s not my day. I decide to dust it instead. Before I know it I’ve dusted everything. I’m moving from room to room, save that where my green apple is. I go in.

‘Where is she?’ I ask my better-half.

‘Three guesses,’ he laughs.

It’s lunch time. My better-half goes to bring little apple home. I go in search of big apple.

‘Are you feeling better?’ I ask.

‘Only a bit,’ she says, swivelling her chair back towards my computer.

We both stare at the eager pair of hands carefully stripping away the wrapper from a gleaming new pack of Pokemon cards. She’s transfixed by the narration. This is serious stuff!

‘It’s OK,’ she says, anticipating my next question. ‘Mummy says it’s OK for me to watch these.’

‘Shall I join you?’

She doesn’t answer.

‘Right, I won’t disturb you then. I’ll go downstairs.’

I find little apple happily playing the pirate game. I see my better-half’s one gold coin. She’s got six. She’s winning! 

‘Can I join in?’ I ask.

She shakes her head. I return to the duster. Finished, I look around. Empty vase, bereft of flowers. I look out of the front window. Roses! Before I know it I’m out doing battle with a clutch of thorny stems. I try to be inconspicuous, then ‘Ouch!’ A thorn the size of a dragon’s tooth straight into my thumb! I look up.

‘Your name Rowl….’ A neighbour waves a letter at me. I’m in serious pain. I shake my head at him as I drop my hard won blooms.

‘If only,’ I think. 

He nods towards the board. I shake my head again. He smiles and walks away.

‘If only,’ I think again. I go in.

Still sucking the pain from my thumb I coax my thorny experience into the vase and plonk it by the hearth.

‘Fit for a viewer,’ I think. ‘If only!’

The phone rings. ‘Can you manage a viewing early tomorrow morning? He’s in rented. Nothing to sell.’ I don’t believe it!

‘Not again!’ groans my better-half before going to collect middle apple.

They come back. She rushes upstairs to bag my computer. I ask if she’s had a good day in school.

‘I’m going to live in this house when I’m grown-up,’ she suddenly says.

‘And why would you want to do that?’ I ask.

‘Because everthing’s nice,’ she replies.

Smiling, I hug my middle apple. I think of greener grass. I think of the unattainable. I think of Harriet and her dreams. I wonder if life’s experience beyond ’The Big 40′ counts for anything. I wonder if the ‘if only’ factor ever goes away. Maybe you can tell me.

 

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‘The very idea!’ September 8th, 2009

It’s bin day. Garden bin day to be precise. I follow my bettter-half out, collecting the trail of fallen branch cuttings as he pushes the conifer-laden bin to the front. I look up. It’s that big black cloud again threatening to break into another of those tropical rain storms. He’s pleased he’s got that job out of the way.

‘Just in time I think,’ he says.

It’s early morning and busy out there. Suddenly, right opposite where there’s never been a bus-stop we see a double-decker pull in. It brakes to a halt. The engine’s ticking over. We are being looked at! Every head behind every window turns to face us. The driver jumps out and leaps dangerously in and out of the traffic to reach us. He lands at our feet.

‘I had to do it! I just had to do it! Every day I drive past here and today I said I’m doing it!’ 

My mind races.

‘It’s the house, he wants to buy it!’ I think.

 ’No, no, it’s the board. He witnessed the theft. It was dumped on his route. He wants to tell us!’ My thoughts escalate.

‘No, no, it’s got to be the diamond. He’s prised it from his tyre tread.’

I decide it’s time to leave them. Time to return to Harriet  as my thinking becomes excessively creative. I move to go.

‘Want to sell it?’ He points his finger at the camper. ‘They’re good these. We had one just like that but it got pinched a couple of weeks ago.’

I feel the first drops of rain as I look across to the waiting passengers. My husband scratches his head, looks at the tyres, the path, then back to the camper covering rapidly in large wet spots. I know exactly what he’s thinking! I wonder if he’s going to seize the opportunity to go back to less tonnage. He turns to me.

‘Fancy a tent?’ he asks, laughing.

I have no need to reply.

He shakes his head at the bus-driver, ‘Not this time anyway but thanks for asking.’

‘Oh well you’ve got to try!’ comes the good-natured response. 

He shoots back to his bus. I shoot back to my computer. 

‘A tent? Never! The very idea!’

That’s definitely one thing The Big 40 hasn’t changed!  

 

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‘I surrender!’ September 6th, 2009

I open the door to my three rosy apples and their mummy. Their eyes wide, I see computers in them. In silent reluctance I surrender. Today I know it’s not my turn. They rush past to stampede their way up the stairs, tripping as they go. There are three up there, but it’s not either of the old ones they’re interested in. It’s mine! Mine’s the new one and they stick to it like bees in a honeypot. If it’s not ‘Pokemon’ or ‘PollyPocket’, very soon it’s going to be ‘Moshi Monsters’ filling the screen.

I say ‘very soon’ because a couple of days ago I look over her shoulder to see a registration form. She’s three. She points to the three green ticks. She’s put her name in, something else and the password.

‘I’ve done that right,’ she says, ‘Now you do your email in there.’

‘Help!’ I think, ‘She’s better at it than me!’

Back to today. I watch her judge it as the scramble upstairs suddenly goes quiet. Still on the bottom stair. Her long dark lashes fringe the determination in her ever widening eyes.

‘I’m going on the old one,’ she announces.

‘That’s good,’ I say, thankful she’s not desperate to be online. That one was never connected. ’Lots of games to play on that.’ I try to sound convincing. All’s quiet. I follow her upstairs. She glides onto the empty chair clicking her way into ‘Polly Pocket’.

‘I thought you wanted to go on this one to play games,’ I say, anticipating the worst.

‘No! This old one!’ she replies. Suddenly it breaks! World War III!

‘I wanted that one!’ My middle apple wails.

‘Why didn’t you go on it then?’ I ask.

‘Because I wanted that one!’ She points to mine. 

Now completely transmogrified my biggest apple refuses to budge from her Pokemon world. The little one keeps her head down. Her strategy has paid off! 

Suddenly, the slam of a car door.

‘Oh look out there,’ I say. ‘I think that man’s bringing us a new ‘For Sale Board.’

I watch him stand on the wall as he hammers away at the post, driving it hard into the ground. He picks up the board, looks at it then takes it back to the boot of his car. I wonder why? He fishes out another. Holds it up. A band of bright red sits across the top. ’SALE AGREED’ it says. My heart sinks as I feel the intensity of disappointment returning. ’ What is this man trying to do to me?’ 

Then I watch him unbutton the red band. He drives away. Back to the boring board.

‘I want to go on that computer!’ The wail regenerates.

‘What about playing some games on this one?’ I suggest.

‘That’s boring,’ she replies.

‘You and me both,’ I say as I glance at the fully requisitioned screens and then out at the newly planted board. ‘Come on let’s go and say goodbye to mummy. 

She pulls me down the stairs then lets my hand go so she can jump the last one. She’s happy again. It’s infectious!

Grandchildren? A totally unexpected bonus after The Big 40!

 

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‘I don’t believe it!’ September 2nd, 2009

Still with the holiday theme, a few years back we had a lovely family break in Devon. We went to Hope Cove, a magical place and stayed in a delightful hotel overlooking the sea. It was a perfect holiday, it’s just that the rub is generally in the home-coming.

‘Where’s my diamond pendant?’ I ask as I’m returning the rest of my jewellery to its box.

‘Oh no, I don’t believe it!’ comes my better-half’s familiar refrain. ‘You haven’t left it in the hotel, have you?’

‘I think so,’ I say. I feel sad. It was a very special Christmas present from him. We search and search but no luck. I’m promised another.

Still missing and a few weeks before Christmas I decide to go online. I spend many happy hours searching but as you’d expect, diamonds bid up. They go very high. I start scrolling the lab creations. It doesn’t feel right. I go back to the diamonds and unbelievably I spot one,  ’As new, hardly worn, “Bid or Buy it Now”. I consult my better-half and ’buy it now’.

‘You can’t have it until Christmas,’ he says. 

I can’t wait for Christmas to come to wear it, though I live with the niggling thought of why someone should have wanted to sell it. I try to put it from my mind.

‘That’s not your concern, it’s merely a business transaction.’ Wise words from my husband.

Christmas comes and goes. I finally give up looking for the old one but my ethical concerns about the new one refuse to go away.

I notice the clasp starting to stick but I keep wearing it. The other day in the car as my husband backs off the drive, I go to touch the diamond. It’s not there! Undone, the fallen chain loops into my blouse. I can’t find the diamond anywhere. I spend the next few days searching, searching for them both. Finally I rummage in the top drawer of the dressing table at the back where I keep a few old bracelet boxes. I take one and open the lid. Just as expected it’s empty. I go to close the box then suddenly decide to lift the black velvet liner. There, underneath, is the original diamond pendant. It’s a complete mystery! I’m ecstatic. I simply don’t believe it!

Today we are backing off the drive. Head down I’m yet again rummaging around wondering if my ‘unethical’ diamond has gone down the side of the seat after all. I look up.

‘I don’t believe it,’ I say. ‘The board’s gone!’ The bored board has totally vanished. Unbelievable in the face of my first post. Once back we inspect the spot. No obvious signs of removal. No footprints in the springy lawn, no spread of soil, just a small hole in the ground and nothing else.

I phone the estate agent. They know nothing of it. They are wondering, too. How can a ’For Sale’ board vanish without sight nor sound?

And so to the other question in my mind.

How could it be the first diamond pendant judiciously appeared at the right moment?

Could I have sensed a sad history to the one I lost? Was I never meant to have it? It never really felt mine.

I’ve taken to wearing Harriet’s ‘Faith, Hope and Charity’ pendant just now. I feel comfortable with it as I think of the lost diamond and someone’s need to sell it. Like the ‘For Sale’ board, I wish somehow it could make its way back to where it belongs.

And in case you are wondering, none of this would ever have crossed my mind before The Big 40. I’m not sure if that’s a good or bad thing. You decide! 

 

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