Three Siblings – Week 4 of the 52 week short story challenge

stick-figure-unhappy-family-fun-cartoon-divorce-abuse-concept-33512931

I came back to work after a week’s holiday and found the Bennett family in residence. Two girls and a boy; they were withdrawn and several of my colleagues were finding them difficult to deal with. As a consequence of this – and because I was in the middle of my social work training and considered best placed to take on the ‘awkward’ children, I was allocated as their key worker.

The first few days were spent going about my usual routine of getting children and young people out of bed, dressed and down for breakfast. As a female member of staff I usually worked in the girls wing, but as one of the few females who would volunteer to get the boys up I had the chance to observe all three children without being too intrusive.

Ray was the eldest of the three; at fourteen he was in the middle of our group of boys but he was very much apart from the lumbering big boys constantly flexing their macho muscles, the voice-breakers who turned from squeaky to bass at a moment’s notice and the little ones who had some very severe behavioural issues.

Ray constantly sought the company of his sisters; twelve year old Angela and eight year old Suzanne. The three of them were frequently found in a small and very self-contained huddle in the TV room or at the far end of the veranda when told they had to go outside for some fresh air.

After three days of trying to get to know my key children, I stayed on for a couple of hours after my shift ended in order to sit and read their case files.

It was not comfortable reading.

For the past six years the Bennett parents had been arguing over access arrangements following their divorce. Their mother had custody of the children after fleeing domestic violence and spending a period in a hostel. She had never reported her husband’s abuse to the police and there were no third-party evidence records, Mr Bennett was denying any form of abuse and demanding that he have weekly access to his children.

The children refused to see him.

They had been to family court on numerous occasions and it was accepted by Mrs Bennett that the children would attend a centre where their father could have supervised access. Mr Bennett refused this however. He wheeled out a number of family friends who attested to his good character and what an excellent father he had been. They also claimed that Mrs Bennett had mental health problems and was using the children to get back at her ex-husband.

At the most recent court appearance the judge had made an order that the children should go out to dinner with their father once a week without supervision. Mrs Bennett was distraught. The children – led by Ray – flatly refused to go and the judge ordered that they should be taken to a children’s centre as their mother was ‘obviously’ having a disruptive influence on them.

They came to us in just the clothes they stood up in. A hastily appointed social worker had been to their house and collected clothes and belongings but their mother was in such a state that the suitcases contained a strange jumble of items that had to be supplemented by our meagre stock of clothing and toiletries.

Until things were resolved the children were not allowed to have visits or even phone calls from either parent. Letters and cards were to be opened by staff and vetted before being given to the children. The social worker had been charged with compiling reports on all three of them, and, as the key worker, had to compile daily reports based on my own observations and those of my colleagues when I was off duty.

What had I observed so far? Ray was quiet; he didn’t join in with the usual banter and he sought the company of his sisters wherever possible. Angela was equally self-contained but Suzanne was more sociable; joining in with the younger girls when they chatted about hair and clothes and TV. A look from her brother or sister would bring her away from the group and back to their sides.

We were one of the few centres in our local authority to have a school unit on the premises; educational assessments had so far revealed that all three children were of above average intelligence but would not participate in team activities and would not talk about their past. Of the three, Suzanne was the most outgoing but any attempts to get her to talk about her home life were quickly prevented by the interventions of Ray and Angela.

We all tried to break through to them but after two weeks we were still no closer to understanding what had sparked their defiance in the courtroom. The social worker had been to visit their mother several times but she was just as withdrawn and reluctant to say anything other than that the children wanted to stay her and that she was frightened of her husband. The social worker stated – rather gruffly – that Mrs Bennett seemed unable to say anything specific about what it was that her husband had done to her.

Unable,  unwilling or terrified?

The good thing about training to be a social worker for two and a half days of my working week and coming in to carry out usual duties for the other two and a half, was that it was easier to put my newly acquired knowledge into practice. We were currently studying play therapy as a means of getting children to open up about their experiences. The more I learned, the more I wondered if this was a way of finally getting through to the Bennett children. I talked to my tutor and he gave me some books to study, together with a group of therapy dolls; mother, father and three children.

I had an idea that the key to it all was to get Suzanne alone, so with the blessing of my manager, I arranged for her to be released from morning classes for a couple of hours. I found out later from the teachers that Ray and Angela were rather distressed when Suzanne left the room and they had to be quite stern in order to prevent them from following her.

I had set up one of the smaller conference rooms with cushions, bean bags, toys and the dolls. I also laid on refreshments in an effort to make the atmosphere as pleasant as possible. Colleagues were advised not to disturb us. I’d spent the previous evening reading up on everything I could relating to the use of dolls in play therapy and although I was nervous, I also felt exhilarated at the thought that I might possibly get to the bottom of what was disturbing the Bennett children.

It wasn’t easy. Suzanne had been well-schooled by her siblings. The wall that the three of them – and their mother – had built up was almost impenetrable.

Almost.

I used the dolls to talk about my own family. My father coming home from work, my mother cooking dinner, my sister reading a book and my brother and I playing with his cars.

All very normal and harmless.

Suzanne picked up the father doll and put him to one side. She put the mother doll and the three children together on the sofa I had made from cushions. Then she picked up the father doll again and looked at him.

She looked at me.

‘Would you like to say anything to the father doll Suzanne? Or to any of the other dolls?’

Suzanne looked back at the doll. I could see that this was difficult for her and being a novice at play therapy, my tutor’s advice about not going too far or too fast was ringing in my ears.

Suzanne threw the father doll face down on the carpet.

‘You are a bad man. You make Mummy cry and you come into mine and Angela’s room at night. Ray says we mustn’t tell though.’

‘Why not?’ I asked. ‘Why mustn’t you tell?’

‘Ray says that Daddy will kill Mummy if we tell. He saw Daddy in the kitchen with Mummy. Daddy had a knife. He hurt Angela and made her cry too. We don’t like Daddy. That’s why we won’t go to dinner with him.’

She started to cry then; frightened because she had told the big secret. Frightened that her Daddy was going to hurt them or even kill their mother. I put the dolls to one side and we hugged before polishing off most  of the sweets.

Leaving Suzanne building a car out of Lego, I went next door and spoke to my manager. He called the social worker – who was out of the office as usual – so we decided that the next step was down to us.

I went down to the classroom and collected Ray and Angela. They looked sullen and even more withdrawn than usual. From the glances that they gave Suzanne, I could see that they knew something had happened.

My manager took the lead. He explained that adults often try to get children to keep secrets but that some secrets are bad, and the adults have no right to make children keep them. He told them that a part of our job was to protect children from bad secrets and keep them safe from people who frighten them.

They were truly frightened and now we knew why. My manager looked over to me and indicated that I should let them know that we understood their secret.

‘I think that your Dad has asked you to keep some bad secrets. I think that he has told you that if you tell anyone, he will hurt your Mum and then you’ll have to go and live with him. I think that your Mum is just as frightened of your Dad as you are and that’s why she has never told anyone about what he does to you all. You shouldn’t have to keep secrets like this. It isn’t fair on you, or your Mum. We will do our best to protect you. Will you let us help?’

It took a while but we both knew we had to be patient with them. The three exchanged glances and eventually Ray spoke.

‘He doesn’t hit Mum but he makes her cry and tells her how useless she is. He – he – hurt Angela and he said he was going to do the same to Suzanne when she is a bit older. He says it is his way of showing them how much he loves them and if we tell anyone he will pay for someone to kill Mum and he will get custody. He has lots of money and he can pay for a decent lawyer to make it look like we are the liars. If he tries to hurt my sisters I will kill him. I don’t care what happens to me.’

Ray’s croaky boy-to-man voice brought tears to my eyes. My manager took charge at this point. We had to get the police child protection unit involved and once the social worker was tracked down, she came in and took over supervision of the interviews.

The children had been through several different hells but as a consequence of their disclosures the court order was overturned, their father was arrested and once their mother realised that they were all safe, she gave an interview that confirmed everything her children said – and more.

Packing up their worldly goods to go home was one of the happiest tasks I had ever undertaken. It wasn’t the end of the story by any means but we had started the ball rolling and the social worker was arranging for counselling for the children and their mother.

Their father was remanded in custody. He had maintained his very professional coldness throughout, but when the alleged sexual abuse of Angela was brought up, he snapped and attacked the female detective conducting the interview. From the names he called her, and the threats he made,  it left no one in any doubt of the mental abuse he had inflicted on his family.

He was found guilty and imprisoned but who knows what lasting damage was done to those three children and their mother? Hopefully the counselling helped but that sort of support is expensive and when cuts have to be made in social care, aftercare and support of abused children is a low priority.

If there is any justice in the world then there should be a happy ending to this tale.

Advertisements

Retelling a fairy story – Week 3 of the 52 week challenge

billboard_WLM_1920_02

 

There was once a man called Colin who had worked hard all his life and was very honest: this honesty meant that he took pride in his work and made sure that everything was done properly. This did not go down very well with his colleagues, especially the management team, who wanted Colin to work faster and didn’t really care much about the quality of his work.  Colin smiled sweetly when his colleagues complained, and dreamed his secret dream of living in a shack on Venice Beach in California. He had been there on holiday with his wife Morag and their two daughters; the women spent their time shopping and seeing the sights but Colin just wanted to sit in the sunshine outside an old wooden shack and be happy.

His daughters grew up and left home; Morag became a senior executive in the same company as Colin. She did not want him to retire. She did not want him to live on Venice Beach. For some years Morag had been having an affair with one of her fellow executives. Carrying on the affair under Colin’s very nose added to the excitement for Morag,  she was also very possessive and wanted to make sure that she knew what Colin was doing at all times. As a consequence it was Morag that held the family purse strings and monitored their bank accounts.  Because of her position in the company, most of their wages were spent on ensuring that Morag looked the part; designer clothes, regular hair appointments to stop her grey roots showing and the odd spot of Botox so that she never revealed a wrinkle or a frown.

Apart from his secret dream, Colin had one other pleasure. He liked to bet on the horses. On Saturday mornings he would wander along to the village newsagent, buy a paper, sit in the cafe and study racing form before placing his bet at the bookmaker. Morag very graciously gave Colin thirty pounds each week from his wages for these bets. He had small wins sometimes but was too cautious to ever make any real money.

Every weekday morning Colin would sit at his desk and wonder why the pile of files in his in-tray never seemed to get any smaller. He knew that he had finished off innumerable cases, but however many he finished, the teetering pile was even higher the next morning. There were times when the usually genial Colin wondered if he would ever finish his work and be able to retire.

Due to a change of management, Colin found himself under even more pressure to speed up his working methods. His new manager, after a week of Colin’s snail’s pace progress, appointed a colleague to work alongside him. Young Alfie had already worked his magic in several other departments in the company and Colin’s manager considered himself very fortunate in acquiring his services before Alfie could be spirited away to another office.

Alfie and Colin got on with each other right from the start. Alfie understood Colin’s work ethics and managed to speed up the process without losing integrity. Colin told Alfie about his dream, and his sadness that Morag insisted that he carry on working because they needed him the money.  Alfie had the knack of getting people to confide in him and after making some discreet enquiries, he discovered the truth about Morag’s illicit affair, and her real reasons for blocking Colin’s retirement.

As well as helping him with his workload, Alfie  shared Colin’s interest in horses and made a few recommendations that increased the winnings at the bookmaker’s. He also persuaded Colin to open a new account at the Post Office with the proceeds. Colin didn’t really like the idea of keeping secrets from Morag, but was won round by Alfie’s suggestion that he see it as the Venice Beach fund and what a nice surprise it would be for Morag when there was finally enough for them both to retire on.

The biggest puzzle for Alfie was that however hard he and Colin worked to clear the backlog, the pile of files never seemed to go down. He decided to hide in the office one night and see if he could get to the root of the problem.

Not surprisingly, Morag was at the root. Alfie melted into the shadows of the large filing cabinets and watched as she crept into the room with her arms full of dusty files. She carefully cleaned them off and placed them at the bottom of Colin’s in-tray. Alfie watched her leave and decided to see what she did next. Colin had told him that Morag’s demanding job meant that she worked late most nights so he usually made dinner for them both after he had done all the housework.

Alfie disliked Morag long before he actually met her but working with Colin made him realise how much she took advantage of her kind and hardworking husband. That night he followed her upstairs to the office of her colleague. He couldn’t see anything through the frosted glass windows but judging from the noises that came from that room, they weren’t discussing business. Morag’s absence enabled Alfie to enter her office and have a look round. He didn’t know quite what he was looking for, but had a feeling that there was more to Morag’s behaviour than just the perpetuation of her affair.

It took a little while but magically, Alfie found just what he was looking for. The age of the Smartphone made gathering evidence SO much easier than it used to be in the old days. He snapped away happily and left the building long before Morag and her paramour had tidied up and departed by separate exits.

It was becoming obvious that most of the case files that appeared on Colin’s desk were those that had been abandoned by other staff, usually because of the death of the person concerned or due to a complete lack of interest by the case holder. Alfie sorted through the files and took the moribund cases for himself before Colin arrived for work. The pile of active cases was very small in comparison and by lunchtime the in-tray was empty for the first time in years.

Colin’s manager was very pleased by this increase in productivity – and at his own bright idea of getting Alfie transferred to his department. He suggested that Colin and Alfie take an extended lunch to celebrate. Morag, dropping into the office to check on Colin, was not best pleased at his absence or by his empty in-tray. She would have been even more unhappy had she known that Colin and Alfie were in the bookmaker’s waiting for the results of an accumulator that Alfie had put on in Colin’s name.

Colin won more that morning than he had ever won in his whole history of betting. Deciding that it was now or never, Alfie took the opportunity to advise Colin of Morag’s affair while they were sitting in the cafe eating an all-day breakfast.

Colin knew already. He had known about Morag’s infidelity for some time but turned a blind eye to it, hoping that it would stop when his daughters left home. What Colin didn’t know however, was that Morag and her lover had also been embezzling money from the company for years and putting most of it in an account in Colin’s name. Alfie explained that she probably intended to lay the blame at Colin’s door if the discrepancies ever came to light.

Alfie and Colin made a few stops on their way to the office, ensuring that they had assumed a more serious demeanour by the time they got back to work. Morag, undoubtedly tipped off by one of Colin’s colleagues, stormed into the office and gave Colin a good telling off for going out to lunch when there was work to be done. Not surprisingly the in-tray had filled up again in Colin’s absence. Morag also informed Colin that she was going to a conference in London for three days and would be leaving within the hour.

Using the luggage that he and Alfie had purchased, Colin packed up his world that night. It didn’t take long. He and Alfie had made some significant bank transfers at lunchtime so that Colin’s new account reflected his wages and winnings whilst the embezzled funds were to be found in an account that Morag had opened.

Colin was on his way to Venice Beach with a healthy but honest bank balance. Alfie saw him off at the airport before handing in Colin’s notice and presenting evidence of Morag’s duplicitous behaviour to their manager. Morag and her beau were arrested for fraud at a hotel in London at about the same time that Colin was sipping champagne over the Atlantic.

Alfie didn’t turn up for work the next day. He had problems to solve elsewhere.

And Colin? Well Colin Schumacher lived happily ever after of course.

 

The-Shoemaker-and-the-Elves-800-noTOJ-title-662x1024

 

 

Rising to the Challenge – Week 2 of the 52 week challenge

My kitchen is a wreck. I am a wreck. Used bowls and every wooden spoon that I own  teeter in a tower of washing up on the draining board.  Flour floats in the air and makes me sneeze violently. The dog, sporting a totally inappropriate white halo, sneezes in sympathy.

Regrets. I have had more than a few today and as I watch the tea-towel covered bowl for signs of life, my anxiety builds.

It had seemed such a good idea at the time. The ideal way to finally get one over on Caroline. Caroline the (allegedly) perfect mother and housewife. Caroline whose smug smirk has been irritating me for more years than I want to remember. Caroline whose hair and skin were perfect, whose dress sense was impeccable and whose children never, ever, ever misbehaved.

Calm down. This is nothing to get anxious about. Famous last words.

I cast an evil glance at the bowl before fighting my way to the sink.

The phone rings and it is my friend Sarah. Like me, she is in her kitchen and about to tackle her washing up too. We commiserate. We compare the mess level but neither of us is brave enough to lift the edge of the tea-towel and peek.

The call refreshes my flagging spirits. Both Sarah and I  are more than aware that our skills are inferior to Caroline’s, and that we are heading for an embarrassingly epic fail, but we are beyond caring now.

I tackle the washing up with gusto, dry it all up and stow it away in the capacious kitchen drawer – ordered specially to accommodate such rarely used but necessary implements when we had the new kitchen fitted.

The fruit goes back into the big biscuit coloured bowl; identical to the one my mother owned but much less used. I really want to take a sneaky peek but I force myself to clean up the worktops first and shake the flour from my ‘Domestic Goddess’ apron out of the back door.

According to my watch I have only used up twenty of the allotted sixty minutes. How on earth do the professionals cope with such fettered curiosity?

Shutting the kitchen door firmly, I sit down on the sofa next to the dog, and try to lose myself in a banal quiz show on TV. Either the questions are very easy or I am the unofficial Brain of Britain. Either way, the contestants are making heavy weather of it and my tolerance for their stuttering replies has vanished.

The dog and I return to the kitchen. I pick up the grimy pieces of paper so recently printed off from the Internet. The rules stated that certain ingredients had to be used and both Sarah and I have spent hours researching recipes that contain them. We are using different recipes however, in the hope that one of us will have found the definitive way to finally vanquish Caroline.

Caroline always wins our Bake Off. It is only a small competition; open only to a group of women whose children have grown up together, but whether it is a Victoria Jam sandwich, profiteroles, apple pie or – this year – a wholemeal loaf, Caroline always wins our Bake Off.

The kitchen timer rings and startles me from another memory of crushing defeat at Caroline’s ever-competent hands. Her children were always the most imaginatively dressed – whether it was for the Christmas play or a children’s fancy dress party. Nothing ready-made; no straggly tinsel wings or halo, and definitely no tea-towel head-dress for the shepherds.

Tea-towel!

I gingerly lift the tea-towel’s edge and gasp at the dough-monster filling the bowl. It is HUGE!

According to the recipe it is time to give this beast another thumping before it can go in the oven.

Oven!

The cooking times and temperatures on my recipe sheet don’t include those for a fan oven!

Calm down. You have already managed to convert the American cup used in the recipe to ounces – grams were too complicated.

You could just use the ordinary oven but then why did you buy an oven with a fan if you are too scared to use it? You love it when Mary Berry says ‘170 fan’. It makes you feel as if you are a member of her exclusive club.

You decide to risk things and go for the fan. Mary would – wouldn’t she? Caroline undoubtedly has a fan oven in her squeaky clean kitchen.

Oven on. Baking tin lined and ready.

Ten minutes of dough kneading and the beast is subdued enough to be put into the oven.

Timer set. Time to clean the worktop again and wash up the bowl before the remnants of dough set hard and have to be chipped off.

The dog has his head cocked to one side and gives a small but heartrending moan because I have forgotten his dinner. He can hear the sound of the six o’clock news and knows that I should be feeding him rather than messing around in the kitchen.

Thoroughly penitent, I give him his food and add a few treats to make up for my negligence. We sit down together to watch the news.

As time ticks on, the smell of freshly cooked bread creeps round edge of the kitchen door; an irresistible odour that reminds me of my childhood. I should have made two loaves, then we could have eaten one and used the other for the competition. This thought sparks a fear that someone may creep into the kitchen in the night and ravage my bread before it can be presented.

It will have to be hidden; not from my husband who can be relied upon not to touch it or the dog who is locked out of the kitchen at night, but my children…

The scent of my bread is being overthrown by a horrible acrid smell of smoke. I rush out to the kitchen and peer through the oven door. The loaf is cooking nicely. The smell is coming from outside the house.

Making sure that the dog is safely indoors I go into the garden where I can hear sirens and see a thick pall of black smoke on the horizon. The phone rings and I dash back inside.

It’s Sarah again and she isn’t checking on the loaf’s progress.

‘Did you see the fire?’

‘See it! I can still smell it, and I’ve been deafened by the fire engines. Where was the fire?’

‘It was at Caroline’s.’

‘What?’

‘Caroline’s here at mine. She went out to fetch some butter from the corner shop and her oven exploded. The fire brigade got there very quickly and put the fire out but the kitchen is totally gutted. So is Caroline.’

‘What was she cooking?’ I ask this although I know what the answer will be.

‘Bread.’

‘Oh dear.’

‘I think we should cancel the Bake Off – I’m ringing round to see what everyone else thinks?’

‘I totally agree. It wouldn’t be a Bake Off without Caroline’s contribution.’

There is a moment while Sarah has a quick conversation with Caroline. I take the opportunity to don an oven glove and remove my handsome brown loaf before it burns as well.

‘Caroline’s going back to the house now – a rather lovely fireman just came to get her. I’ve just taken my loaf out.’

‘Me too. How does yours look?’

‘Gorgeous. Too good to eat really. Not that I’ll be stopped by that.’

‘Me neither. I have plenty of butter too.’

‘Damn! I’m all out.’

‘Come round then Sarah, and we’ll compare loaves. We met the challenge anyway.’

‘I’ll be round as soon as I’ve made these calls.’

‘Sarah?’

‘What?’

‘Make sure the oven is turned off…’

 

 

 

A new beginning – Week 1 of the 52 week challenge

Gerrit_Dou_(Dutch,_1613–1675),_Sleeping_Dog,_1650._Oil_on_panel

‘Do you need a lift?’

Danny looked at his mother; still wearing her dressing gown and her hair was in a state of bird’s nest tangles.

He shook his head. ‘It takes me twelve minutes and forty-five seconds to walk to the centre. I have twenty-two minutes and thirty seconds to finish my breakfast, wash up and put things away, put on my coat  and trainers. I have already made my lunch and packed it into my rucksack. It will take you at least forty-three minutes to go back upstairs, wash, brush your teeth, get dressed and find your car keys – which are in the bowl on the breakfast bar. I put them there this morning because you left them next to the microwave. So, no thank you.’

Whilst speaking, Danny had already moved from the table to the sink and washed up his bowl and spoon. His mother was about to tell him to leave the drying up for her but she knew that Danny preferred to wash up his own crockery. She watched him as he moved to the hallway, pulled on his trainers and tied the laces meticulously. She longed to be the sort of mother who could give him a hug and a kiss before he left the house but was held back by the knowledge that this would make him freeze and back away from her.

His coat was on now, and after checking that he had his own keys, his wallet and was wearing his rucksack with the straps adjusted equally, Danny nodded at her and left the house.

Even allowing for pavement crack avoidance, Danny still managed to arrive at work with two minutes and twenty-five seconds to spare. He keyed in the combination  on his locker, hung his coat and rucksack inside, and carefully juggled the numbers again so that no one would be able to guess his secret code. Other workers were already waiting in the staff room; as was his custom Danny took a seat at the other end of the line of chairs, away from his colleagues. No one was offended by this however, that was just Danny.

On the stroke of eight o’clock, Maggie, the centre manager joined them and began cleaning off the white board so that she could write up the jobs for the day. Danny expected to be on kennel cleaning. This had presented him with a problem at first but Maggie made sure that he always had the right gloves, a boiler suit, boots and an apron to wear, and it gave him a warm sense of accomplishment when he left the kennels clean, tidy and ready for the dogs to come back to.

Today was different though. Maggie didn’t give him any jobs. This worried Danny. She had explained to him and his mother that the centre couldn’t afford to take on many permanent staff, and that Danny could have expenses as a volunteer but would need to prove that he could work hard with his colleagues, and for the good of the dogs that had been abused and abandoned by evil, thoughtless people. Danny loved the dogs. He loved his job. He began to breathe heavily as he imagined what life would be like without his job at the centre. Maggie was very quickly at his side.

‘Come with me Danny. I have a very special job for you. I don’t know how long it will take you or if you can manage to do it, but I have a feeling that if anyone can succeed, it will be you.’

Danny followed her out of the room. Maggie was nice. It didn’t look as if she was going to sack him after all. He hoped that he could do the job – whatever it was.

They walked along the corridor: anxious doggy faces peered through the bars of the kennels. Some dogs barked, some whined, some yapped. Most of them wagged their tails as they recognised people who only ever showed them love and kindness.

‘In here,’ said Maggie as she unlocked the door to the special kennel. ‘This little boy was brought in during the night. I’m afraid that someone has been very unkind to him and he is extremely scared. He doesn’t know what to do when you touch him because he thinks you are going to hurt him. The only noise he can make is a scream of fear. I need you to spend some time with him every day. Talk to him, try to stroke him if you can. Your job is to help him to trust people again. Do you think you can do it Danny?’

Danny nodded, not taking his eyes from the skinny, cowering dog hiding in the furthermost corner of the kennel.

‘I’ve put in a clean bean bag for you to sit on; there’s fresh food and water, keep the door closed while you are in here and lock it when you leave. The noise he makes is pretty bad so come out when it becomes too much. Any questions?’

Danny shook his head, his eyes still focussed on the little dog.

‘We’ve called him George. He didn’t have a name before.’

Maggie left the kennel, mentally crossing her fingers that Danny would be the one to save George. The centre relied on donations and being able to rehome dogs once they had recovered from their pasts. She was doubtful that George would ever recover.

Danny moved the beanbag closer to George and reached out a hand to touch him. George screamed. An ear-splitting noise that Danny had never heard a dog make before. He turned its head towards Danny’s hand as if to bite it but experience had taught George that this action would only result in a kick or a punch, so he was too nervous to actually make contact with Danny’s gentle fingers.

‘It’s alright George. I won’t hurt you. I promise to look after you. I’m just going to sit here on the bean bag next to you for now so that you can get used to my smell.’

Maggie found them there, side by side, when she came back near lunchtime. George still looked scared but he wasn’t screaming. Danny looked up at her and she could have sworn she saw a glimmer of a smile.

‘Time for lunch Danny. You can either take a couple of the dogs round the field this afternoon, or you can come back and spend some more time with George – but only if you want to.’

Danny got to his feet stiffly and turned back to George.

‘I am going for my lunch now George. It will take me precisely twenty-six minutes to wash my hands, eat my lunch, go to the toilet and wash my hands again. I’ll come back here afterwards and bring my magazine with me. It’s about computers so you won’t really understand it, but it will help you to get used to my voice if I read to you. Is that alright Maggie?’

‘Oh very alright. I’ve explained to the others what you are doing with George but it’s completely up to you how much time you spend with him. If you need a break and want to stretch your legs, come and find me.’

Danny nodded, knowing that taking time to have his lunch would be the only break he needed. Maggie closed the kennel door behind them and handed Danny the key. He walked quickly down the corridor, feeling proud that she had trusted him with this very special job and not wanting to take any longer over his lunch than necessary.

It took two weeks in all. Every day Maggie made time to visit the kennel and listen to Danny’s soft voice telling George about computer systems, how to cook scrambled eggs, cleaning out kennels and making sure that the dogs had a balanced diet – anything that Danny felt George would like to know about. George stopped screaming when Danny reached out to him, and eventually took to creeping closer to the bean bag until the wonderful day when Maggie peered through the kennel bars and saw George curled up on Danny’s lap, sleeping happily as Danny stroked him.

Maggie went back to her office feeling a bit choked. She picked up the phone and called Danny’s mother.

‘I have some good news for you. I haven’t told Danny yet so act surprised when he comes home.’

‘What? What?’

I’ve been given a grant to take on an apprentice kennel worker. I want Danny to have the opportunity  – if he wants it.’

Danny’s mother almost choked on her reply. ‘How wonderful! Oh Maggie! I never thought I’d see the day that Danny would have a real job. Thank you. Thank you so much.’

‘No, it’s all down to Danny. I gave him a job that I didn’t think anyone would be able to do and he’s excelled at it. Has he told you about George?’

‘A little bit every day. We looked at some of his old books and discussed whether George would be receptive to music. It always soothes Danny when he gets wound up. I’d better work on looking surprised for he gets home tonight.’

Maggie walked back to the kennel, smiling at the sound of Danny singing an old lullaby to George. It would be a new beginning – for both of them.

 

But now I know the things I know And do the things I do, And if you do not like me so, To hell, my love, with you.” Dorothy Parker

Quotable-Dorothy-Parker-in-Pictures.004

I am fast approaching my Heinz beanz birthday and I can’t help wondering – how old do I have to get before people stop telling me who and what I should like?

I am embarking upon another ranty blog –  so look away quickly if you are easily offended.

No one and nothing on earth will ever make me vote for a political party that targets the poor, the sick and the elderly in order to put money in their own  pockets and those of their already well-off mates. I was brought up as a socialist (thanks to Lovely Mum) and have yet to see anything that will make me change my mind. I will post and share what I like on FaceAche and if you don’t like it – ignore it. No amount of unfriending, blocking or emotional blackmail is going to turn this woman.

Toxic people have no place in my life. If the only way you can be happy is to make others unhappy then I don’t want to know you.

I finally unfriended someone who has irritated the hell out of me over the years with whines, complaints, envy and spite. I helped this person out some years ago when the police were threatening  prosecution over something done in this person’s name. A policeman turned up at my place of work to take a character reference in support of the person. I never even got an acknowledgement from them,  just some snide FaceAche comments accusing me of making a fuss about nothing after I had an accident at work.

This rant was sparked by Biker Boy and I having another of our stimulating conversations about W-O-R-K. He cannot understand how ANYBODY can spend all day in an office in front of a computer. Some of us had no choice.  Before you read this next bit, please let me point out that as per my blog disclaimer ‘All characters in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, live or dead, is purely coincidental.

So ner.

There have been people who I thoroughly enjoyed sharing an office with. I’m still in touch with most of them – so you know who you are and you have my undying admiration for having survived sharing an office with me. There were others possessed of such tunnel vision that they had no awareness of how their behaviour impacted upon others – and probably would have burst into crocodile tears if anyone ever dared challenge them.

  • Miss Trivia – our Boss gave this female a week of undeclared leave when her pet dog died whereas I was told that I had to take annual leave to look after my children when Hub was in hospital with kidney stones. I didn’t bat my baby blue eyes and simper enough obviously. Miss Trivia also became so obsessed with buying a house with her long-suffering boyfriend that every day the office was bombarded with updates on what kind of kitchen scouring pads she had bought, the colour of her washing up bowl and what excellent taste she had. She made such extravagant plans for their impending nuptials that said boyfriend broke off the engagement and moved out until she could be persuaded to scale things down
  • The ‘Not-in-my-Day’ tyrants – older women who would kick up a fuss if anyone in the office with children was allowed time off to deal with a domestic crisis. ‘I was never allowed time off with MY children – it wouldn’t have happened in MY day’. Strangely enough they made no complaint about Miss Trivia’s leave …
  • Smokers – as an extremely ex-smoker myself, I have every sympathy with those who cannot give up the evil weed, but all understanding went out of the window when they hung their smoke-ridden coats on top of mine – leaving me to travel home stinking of stale tobacco
  • Football fans – having a ‘discussion’ with a colleague who doesn’t support the same team as you so loudly that no one else in the office can hear the person they are trying to have a conversation with on the phone. I tried asking them to keep it down once and was told off for being rude
  • Those with ‘ungrateful’ grown up children – who, when they weren’t being berated on the phone during working hours, were the burning topic of endless office diatribes
  • Infinite beverage makers and washers up – one of the most effective ways of avoiding work is to make endless cups of tea and coffee for your colleagues, and ensure that you also do the washing up afterwards. People will think that you are kind and helpful without realising that they are doing all the work while you are swanning off to the kitchen area in your Marigolds
  • Fridge pilferers – they creep into your office in the gap between staff leaving at the end of the day and the cleaners coming in – sometimes they are so brazen that they carry out their dirty doings while the cleaners are there. Tins of biscuits that were half full are  empty the next day. Cans of fizzy drink left in the fridge mysteriously disappear – even foodstuff stored away in your own drawer isn’t safe unless you lock it away. One pilferer was so determined that he had a method of unlocking drawers with a penknife. I left him a very rude note and a piece of ripe Camembert once. The drawer was a bit smelly for a while but it did seem to put him off 🙂

Of course, at the root of all office-based conflict is the manager. I have worked under good managers and bad. I had thought that laissez-faire management was the worst but I had to invent a new category for one manager – flaccid-faire. If the man couldn’t shout you down when you asked him to do a bit of managing, he would shrug his shoulders, put on a wimpish face and bleat ‘Give me a break’.

Senior managers are often a bad joke. They are merely for show, get paid an extortionate amount of money and are classic examples of people who are so adept at avoiding dismissal that they just keep getting promoted up the ladder into jobs with titles that no one really understands. There is usually a very loyal and intelligent administrator lurking in the shadow of such senior managers. This person has to make their dental, doctor and hair appointments, rewrite their badly written reports and lie about their whereabouts to family and colleagues – as in ‘No, he’s not back at his desk yet. I think he had to see someone else on the way back from his meeting.’ Said manager can usually be seen outside the building in smoker’s corner. Lesser mortals have to clock out and back in again when they need a cigarette but not managers.

I made the decision to become self-employed in July 2013. I was somewhat forced into the decision but I only have regrets about it at Christmas time when I don’t get an outing to Wetherspoons for a cheap roast dinner or a Secret Santa present that only goes to show that Santa couldn’t really give a monkey’s about what I might have liked as a present. No one ever bought me a cattle prod or a taser. Even comedy ear muffs might have eased my office-based burden.

There are no arguments over beverage making in my home office. I don’t drink tea and only drink coffee made by the penguin coffee maker that was a present from Hub (Scoob and the boys) on Mother’s Day. Hub and I take it in turns to wash up depending on whether he is at work or not.

No need for smart, sensible office clothes. I am typing this wearing my nightshirt and it has gone midday! Such decadence. Scoob is sitting next to me and providing moral support. My chair is my own and so is my computer. No one from IT moans at me because I mouse left-handed and I don’t have to answer the house phone within three rings because it is usually some dork trying to sell me a boiler, new windows or wanting to run a health check on my pc.

Nob off!

Important calls and texts come in on my mobile, which rarely leaves my side.

The downside is that I haven’t actually earned any money yet, and my intolerance of other people has increased now that I don’t actually have to suffer fools any more.

BB is just as intolerant and even less forgiving than me but he will find his way in life I have no doubt – I managed to get this far without actually killing anyone (in reality anyway).

But hey, haven’t I had enough of being dictated to now? Am I old enough to meet someone – online or off – and decide that I don’t want them in my life? Am I old enough to have my own political and social opinions yet? Am I old enough to wear purple and a red hat that doesn’t go? (Thank you Jenny Joseph.)

You bet I am.

This is the beginning of anything you want…

 

Flying Eagle

Well, I’m back on the blog again.

New beginnings.

I have new lenses in my eyes – replacements for the old ones cluttered with cataracts – and can see like an eagle (can cause issues in the supermarket especially in the raw meat section).

The podiatrists sorted out the right big toe – it looks much prettier than the left big toe but then it hasn’t had a crate dropped on it. Happier toes have had a positive effect on my achy breaky legs and back so that I can walk further (with my Nordik walking poles), sit at the computer, and study with much less pain. Oh, and colouring. Now that it is an acknowledged adult pursuit I no longer need to colour in secret.

I completed NaNoWriMo again this year – my eighth win – and now it is time I finished editing it all that work and found an agent.

Gap Boy – now known as Biker Boy – has finally had his tonsils removed and is better company as a consequence. His ability to mend and remake BB guns has now extended itself into the realms of motorbikes.  Ah well, they cleared out the garage enough to fit their bikes in. Biker Boy now wants to turn the garage into a man cave…any sorcerers need an apprentice?

Uni Boy is now a Young Master of the Chemical Universe, and remains at York University doing a PhD that has something to do with antibiotics and amino acids. Don’t ask me – it still goes way over my head.

Apart from scoffing a potentially lethal amount of chocolate (wrappers included), biscuits and a Lindt bear when we had the temerity to go out for a meal, Scooby remains our faithful hound and my constant source of solace when Hub is at work. The vet bills were pretty horrendous though.

BB’s bad influence caused Hub to find his way back to motorbikes too. He was a biker when I met him and he does look very good in leathers.

A new year and time to put the unpleasant past behind me for good. I stopped blogging last year for a couple of reasons.

  • I knew that some ex-colleagues were watching the page and waiting for me to say something negative so that they could run and tell tales. Sorry to disappoint them but I really can’t be bothered any more
  • I also discovered some that people who I thought were friends had used and abused that friendship for their own ends. Blocked, un-friended for ever and banished
  • There was so much negativity after this that I didn’t particularly want to share it – especially with those people who were mad enough to say that they actually enjoyed my ramblings

I don’t know how often I’ll blog but I’ve forked out for another year so I may as well inflict my money’s worth on anyone who wants to read this. It’s good practice as far as touch typing is concerned – the last three years of enforced lassitude have eroded my administrational skills.

It’s been a quiet Christmas for us – from choice – but we still managed to spend time with many of our nearest and dearest. BB actually ate duck for his Christmas dinner – instead of his usual smelly bacon noodles liberally laced with Tabasco sauce. I cooked roast parsnips (yuck) for Hub and the YM, and had a success with recreating Mutti’s red cabbage – who knew juniper berries would be so hard to source – should have gone to Waitrose I suppose but Sandbach, Northwich or Southport are a bit too far to go just for a berry or six. The Scoob was not offered another enormous knuckle bone this year – the after effects were too horrendous to discuss. I found him some less smelly Christmas chews that kept him reasonably occupied while we were eating.

We had some wonderful Christmas presents – from those who know and love us well. A huge thank you to all those people who make my life happy; my family, my old and new friends. Some of you will have got Christmas cards. Some will have seen Scooby’s card on FaceAche. We were finishing writing them and going out to make deliveries when Scooby stuffed himself, and it threw us out of kilter.

The YM was returned to a very wet York on Boxing Day – the Tang Hall brook was bubbling up through the manhole covers but YM lives on higher ground fortunately and is very nimble on his feet. He smiled and shook his head when I offered to buy him wellies or flip-flops.

Our New Year’s Eve was blissfully quiet too; just me, Hub and the Scoob – once we had finished ferrying the boys to their respective parties. We went to bed around two am.  BB rumbled home and stomped up the stairs at around four am, and YM around six am – my Scooby intruder alarm was triggered but only a few mild wuffs were uttered. YM had warned me that he might not go to bed if he was still wide awake (inebriated) from his celebrations but would pack up quietly and get the train back to York.

There was a message on my mobile when I emerged at ten am – at eight am YM was in Manch and on his way Yorkwards. At least while he was here I fed him and lent him my phone charger and iron (my ironing does not meet his standards any more – oh dear).

Hub has gone back to work today after a happy eight days off together. We saw Star Wars VII – in 3D – on our own. I want to go and see it again, and I want another Star Wars cup.

A word of warning before I sign off. There are some unscrupulous people who make a tidy little sum from selling email addresses to companies who then inundate your inbox with badly spelled beggings for their crap products – at the least – or try to trick you into responding so they can access your account. The person I gave my address to said she wanted it so that she could keep in touch, but she never used it – she then passed it onto one of her simple satellites so I got spammed twice.

My junk mail box is usually quite full these. I don’t need to open or read them before sending them into the black hole where they belong. The spelling and grammar in the subject matter and first line alone is enough to make me giggle.

I’m studying proofreading and copy-editing now that my eyes are mended. Another string to my bow and a fascinating skill to acquire.

BB has just emerged from his upper man cave and  disappeared laden with red pepperoni sticks and shortbread – an interesting mix.

Hub phoned to make sure I was missing him – I was and he knew I would be but in a good way – but he will be back by nine-thirty pm.

Finally, a sad farewell to Terry Pratchett and Lemmy Kilmister – your legacies live on in your words and music long after the rubbish novels and tone-deaf singers have faded into obscurity.

Let’s get on now and make 2016 a good place to be. XXX