Animal Perspective – Week 36 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

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Hola!

Allow me to introduce myself.  My name is Scooby, I am eight years old and I was born in Valencia, Spain.  I am what is called a ‘random’ dog; you can also use the phrases ‘crossbreed’ or ‘mongrel’ but I prefer random because it suits my personality.  With regard to my parentage, rumour has it that a flat-coated retriever and a German shepherd dog may have been involved but hey – who really knows? Let’s face it – I am one handsome dog.

For the first three years of my life I was a Spanish dog; I poohed over low white walls, had no need of stairs and chased feral cats to my heart’s content.  That’s how we did things over there. My Spanish Mum taught me how to sit, stay, fetch, lie down and use my paw to make requests.  She also made sure that I had a pet passport and all my jabs were up to date.  I believe that she loved me very much.

In 2011 I came to England.  I don’t remember why.  It was cold though and I got into trouble over a neighbour’s cat.  You have to bear in mind that I was used to cats being vermin – like rats and pigeons and squirrels – there are kind people in Spain who try to look after the feral cats but there are so many that most people see them as a nuisance and don’t make a fuss if you remove one or two.

There was most certainly a fuss once I got to England.  I was no longer a bueno perro for doing what came naturally to me. I was the terminator dog. I was in deep trouble. Then I got out again.  Another cat bit the dust. My Spanish Mum could no longer cope with my Spanish ways and she signed me over to the RSPCA.

I was locked up for eighteen months.

My picture was on the website; a nice man did a video of me running around and playing with a ball, and I became very popular with the RSPCA staff and volunteers.  People came to see me and said how handsome I was – especially when I grinned or cocked my head to one side.  But other dogs came and other dogs went; as soon as people knew about my little problem with cats they turned away.  Many of them had cats of their own, or other pets that they thought I might take a fancy to.  I was an unknown quantity and people – quite understandably – were not prepared to take the risk.

There was a boy – well almost a man – who wanted a dog.  He loved animals and grew up in a house full of cats. His Mum promised him that when all the cats had finally made their way to moggy heaven, they would look into having a dog.  She told him to check the RSPCA web pages but not to fall in love too soon because they had to go on holiday first.  She also told him to put his laptop to some good use and do some research on what it meant to be a responsible dog owner instead of playing games where humans killed other humans.

His Mum spotted me on the web pages and pointed me out to the Boy and to his Dad.  His Mum liked my big brown eyes and the way my ears flopped over.  She could see that I had been at the kennels a long time and that I desperately needed a home of my own.  She told the Boy that if I was still there when they came back from holiday, they would come and visit me.

Right from the start the staff were very honest about my cat issues; from the very first phone call the Mum made, she knew what they were taking on but she and the Boy had fallen for my charms already (they had to work on the Dad a bit because he had never owned a dog before).

They came to visit me on the Mum’s birthday and took me for a walk in the wood outside the kennels.  I pulled a bit.  Well quite a lot actually but they persevered and by the time they brought me back to the kennels it was a done deal.  A deposit was paid and before they had even left a yellow sign with ‘Home check’ was put up outside my kennel. Somebody wanted me at last.

They came again the next day; the Boy was in charge because he was to be my new master – aided and abetted by his Mum and Dad.  I recognised them, and as a consequence began to show off my talents a little. I still pulled but they were impressed by the way I responded to basic commands (and the dog treats they bought me).

Each time they visited we got to know each other better and I began to love the Boy.  He hugged me and praised me – well all three of them did – but his actions were the most important.  I stopped barking when I saw them enter the car park and wagged my tail in ecstasy instead. Kind people cared for me and hoped that one day I would find the right family, and they had their fingers crossed.

One of the visits included a walk to a car; the Mum was worried about whether I would be nervous about cars as I’d been in kennels for so long.  Ha!  I jumped up onto the tailgate, sat down on the blanket and gave my famous grin.

‘Take me home now please?’

Unknown to me, the Mum and the Dad were doing things to make their house a safe haven where I couldn’t get out and chase the local cats.  They put trellis on top of the fence panels so I wouldn’t be able to climb over.  They found a dog-owning fence and gate maker who mended their old gate and made a special new one so that I wouldn’t get out of the back garden. They had loved their own cats and didn’t want to put temptation in my way.

They passed the home check and once the gates and trellis had been put up it was agreed that I could come home.

By this time I had my own lead, half-check collar and a harness which the Boy bought with him whenever they came to take me out.  He always had his Mum or his Dad with him when we walked but on this day he took me out alone.

When we got back to the kennels he didn’t hand me back the way he used to.  His Mum and Dad appeared from the office and they were both smiling.  The Boy was smiling.  They lifted up the tailgate and as the Boy strapped my harness to the safety belt, I smiled too.

We went home.  Mi casa.

Adios.

 

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Competition – Week 12 of the 52 week short story challenge

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Bitchiness alert! 

But consider this a therapeutic blog – please?

After all – it’s all fiction isn’t it?

I can vaguely remember the day you came for an interview. Our boss Barry showed you round the office as if you were his most prized possession. Unbeknown to us he had met you at a different office and persuaded you to apply for the job.

And to be fair, everyone in the office agreed that you were very young and attractive; with more than a passing resemblance to Cameron Diaz in her Charlie’s Angels incarnation. At the time we thought we were paying you a compliment but we later found that it was a comment guaranteed to wind you up.

Not surprisingly, Barry gave you the job – but you didn’t have much in the way of competition.

Introducing a young, blonde female into an office of largely middle-aged (and in some cases aggressively menopausal) women might well have been Barry’s way of brightening up his surroundings. Whilst we all welcomed you; there were some – and I include myself in this – who wondered if there was a brain inside that regularly coiffed head.

It didn’t take long to find out.

Nope.

Well, there was natural cunning in evidence…

There was also the ability to charm every red-blooded male within a five mile radius – even those senior managers who oozed sleaze as they patted you on the shoulder and leaned just a little too close when looking at your computer screen.

Trying to teach you how to actually do the job wasn’t easy.

It took patience and the ability to overlook the fact that you were very good at evading work.

You had come from a receptionist’s post where the most mentally taxing issue was working out the whereabouts of people in the building and whether they were ‘available’ or not.

I have to admit that your phone voice was okay – except for  the constantly niggling ‘we was waiting for you to call us‘ or ‘you should of called us earlier‘.

Other less critical staff members put it down to your youth and the fact that you came from a ‘rough’ part of the town.

But me…

I gritted my teeth and tried to close my ears. Luckily you spent most of your time working – and I use that word loosely – in the smaller office.

Your dog got run over a couple of weeks before Christmas and Barry, being the big softy that he was, told you not to come into work until you felt better.

Whilst we were all very sympathetic about the dog, but this was the animal that you came into work complaining about how smelly it was and how it barked at you all the time.  We didn’t expect your mourning to last well into the New Year however. No mention of the poor dog on your return but you regaled us with how merrily you had spent the festive season. Your roots had been done, your nails were newly lacquered and you were wearing a beautiful white wool coat that fitted you like a glove and must have cost all your Christmas money.

The only sign of grief was when you went in to see Barry to explain why you had been off work for so long. It took but a few tears and dainty sniffles – he didn’t ask for a doctor’s certificate or ask you to take the time off as annual leave but patted your hand and told the rest of us to be kind to you – you were refreshing your mascara in the toilet at the time.

Some of us who had covered for you over Christmas and New Year were not feeling too sympathetic as you boasted about your ability to twist Barry round your little finger.

Not an ability that I ever acquired.

Despite having known Barry for several years before he became our manager, he still made me take annual leave when later in the year my husband was rushed into hospital with kidney stones and I had two small children to take to school and collect. He didn’t think my circumstances met his criteria for compassionate leave.

I was still rankling from this when you and your long-suffering boyfriend decided to buy a house together.

For months the offices were inundated with pictures of potential houses. I’m all for youth and exuberance but you really overdid it. You spent more time toting your estate agent specs around the offices than you actually did at your desk. Even total strangers coming into reception asking for advice were cajoled into giving it instead.

A sigh of relief went round the office when you finally completed the sale.

A collective groan went round the office when you decided that you needed our advice on everything you bought for the house – from toilet brushes to cutlery to the colour of the paint for the garden shed. There was far more but those of us who showed less enthusiasm were ignored after a while.

Hooray.

Then we moved from our offices to a different building where we were given one big room with a glass partitioned office at the end for Barry.

Needless to say, you picked a desk where you could simper at Barry whenever he caught your eye, but positioned so that he couldn’t see the amount of time you were busy on FaceAche chatting with your friends while your office mates were busy with the extra work you were making.

Some of your colleagues covered for you.

Some of us didn’t.

We were asked to carry out an audit on the work we were doing in order to justify our jobs. We were aided in this by the IT department who ran stats on each of the computers as well as the telephone logs.

After the first week, guess who had accomplished the least?

Half an hour of batting the baby blues, sobbing in a contrived fashion and using every tactic within your limited repertoire, you managed to persuade Barry that you felt intimidated by ‘some’ of the other people in the office – especially those who criticised your grammar and spelling.

Barry arranged for you to attend Access to English classes after work at the local Adult Education Centre. He then took the opportunity to lecture the rest of the office about jealousy and bullying.

We had eight weeks of you telling us about Shakespeare and how we should be reading Romeo and Juliet – like what you were. It was inconceivable to you that any of your colleagues had ever even heard of Shakespeare. Access to English had turned you into a self-confessed culture vulture in only eight weeks. Your own access to English was still limited but at least the spelling improved on your FaceAche posts and the very dodgy emails you circulated.

Those of us with more sense and an awareness of the computer use rules,  deleted the emails without opening them – I really didn’t need to look at pictures of male genitalia  thank you.

The IT crowd picked up one of your dodgiest emails when they were running a security check. You tried to plead ignorance and said that ‘a friend‘ had sent it out on your behalf and you hadn’t even looked at it.

We all got another lecture from Barry on circulating dodgy emails and were warned that a very close eye was being kept on us now.

Then you and your fiancé decided to get married.

It was terrible.

 

If I thought the house buying and fitting out was bad – this was a million times worse.

I could see your screen from where I sat and it was a constant shade of violent pink as you surfed the net for your fairy-tale wedding while the rest of us tried to zone out your wedding wittering.

I didn’t care whether your wedding favours were going to be blush pink, purple or puce. I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be finding out first-hand anyway.

 

Even the most doting of colleagues was beginning to get a bit cheesed off with your wedding obsession.

Sales of Black Cohosh from the health food shop increased dramatically and even Barry was seen sneaking a pill or two out of the communal container in moments of deep stress.

(Black Cohosh is very good for menopausal symptoms – allegedly).

The budget for the event of the year climbed and climbed and climbed.

We wondered where all the money was coming from – none of us were paid that much and neither was your fiancé.

When the number of adult bridesmaids requiring designer dresses climbed into double figures, something snapped.

Your husband-to-be called off the wedding on the grounds that it was far too expensive, it wasn’t what he wanted, he was sick of going to wedding fairs and missing his Sunday football, and you just wouldn’t shut up about the (*******) wedding!

You had to have the best – or what you deemed to be better than anyone else’s.

The young man moved back to his mum’s but we were spared the initial fallout because Barry very kindly told you to take time off to recover.

Due to the fact that a couple of your colleagues FaceAche  friends and could see your page, we were all a little surprised that in your grief at being jilted, you had found time to spend some of the wedding money on laser surgery for your eyes as well as several girly nights out and a trip down to that London.

It was noted that your eyes were suitably red and sore when you finally returned and Barry put it down to grief.

We knew different.

Fate took me away from that office shortly afterwards, and into a new office arena where I was better managed, less irritated and far more mellow – for a while.

I heard on the office grapevine that the two of you got back together eventually, and the wedding took place – a much quieter affair because by then you were pregnant and your fiancé had finally put his foot down.

The honey locks reverted back to their natural mousey brown post-wedding; mascara made your lasered eyes water, and you went to work in another office – managed by a hard-nosed female who was wise  to your laziness and unmoved by your sobbing. You eked out your maternity leave as long as you could, and within a few weeks of returning to work had become pregnant with your second child.

This became something of a pattern.

The last I heard you were on your fourth and you weren’t going back to work after this one.

For the record; I never envied you your youth and exuberance. I often asked myself if I would have developed such a deep dislike for you if you hadn’t been so young and attractive. But no, I was never bothered by your external appearance – it was the stuff inside your head that I despised.

It was never a competition even if you thought that it was.

You always reminded me of a poem that I learned at school

For Anne Gregory

by W B Yeats

‘Never shall a young man,
Thrown into despair
By those great honey-coloured
Ramparts at your ear,
Love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.’
‘But I can get a hair-dye
And set such colour there,
Brown, or black, or carrot,
That young men in despair
May love me for myself alone
And not my yellow hair.’
‘I heard an old religious man
But yesternight declare
That he had found a text to prove
That only God, my dear,
Could love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.’

I work from home now and am much more mellow these days.

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Countdown – Week 10 of the 52 week short story challenge

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‘Twenty – come on – you can do this!’

I was never really sporty at school. I enjoyed hockey but lost interest when they stopped using the bully off. My skills on the tennis court were non-existent; I would still be looking for the ball long after it had gone bouncing across the playground.  It was at netball that I was completely useless however; on the one occasion that I was given the red tabard with ‘GS’ on it I failed miserably to put the ball through the net. The exasperated games teacher sent the other team in to get showered and it still took me another twenty minutes to score. I now know that my problem with hand-eye coordination may have something to do with my ability to use my left hand almost as well as my right.  Due to my extreme short-sightedness, I never learned to swim in school lessons either because I couldn’t see where I was going and wasn’t allowed to wear my specs in the water.  As a consequence of my sporting failures in my final school year I was asked if I would prefer to go into town and attend drama classes at the tech college instead. Freedom!

‘Nineteen – pull your core muscles in.’

I became so enamoured with the tech college that I opted to go there and do my ‘A’ levels instead of attending a nice sixth form college like most of my contemporaries. Wednesday afternoons were earmarked for games-related activities but I found out that I could do ‘A’ level Art instead. So I did. The only other vaguely sporty stuff I indulged in took place at the rugby ground on Saturday afternoons. I went to cheer on my mates, take charge of the oranges  and look after the sponge and water bucket. The high spot of those chilly afternoons was hearing the screams of agony coming from the changing room as the worst player had his nether regions anointed with Deep Heat.  I would cut a few moves at the students’ union disco but then it was very dark and we were all rather uncoordinated due to drink.

‘Eighteen – you are doing really well.’

My time at drama school required a host of talents that I didn’t possess. Exasperated by my inability to put my best foot forward, one of my dance teachers insisted that I wear a bell tied with a red ribbon on my right ballet shoe. Whilst this method stimulated sight and sound reactions, it also caused me huge embarrassment when my classmates giggled. Sufficient to say, I enjoyed the more constructive aspects of stage management and avoided the dancing wherever possible.

‘Seventeen – keep going!’

Once I had accepted that I was not an actress, singer or dancer; and that an enjoyment of stage management, wasn’t preparation for having sex with the director in order to get a job, I changed tack abruptly. A brief dalliance with bar work ended wetly and with much bad feeling, so I moved on to residential social work in children’s homes. This kept me rather busy and I had no need for any other source of sport until the day that my left knee was attacked by a size seven Doc Martin boot wielded by an aggressive young man called ‘Spam’. It put me out of action for several weeks – my recovery was hampered by having to  limp up the four flights of stairs to the maisonette where I lived in with my parents. My GP referred me to a specialist who prescribed ultrasound  – which didn’t work, infrared – which didn’t work either, and as a last resort – circuit training. I got to watch some very attractive  and athletic young men during this last activity but my knee continued to clunk. The specialist sighed and advised me that my knee could ‘go’ tomorrow or it might last out another thirty years. That was thirty-five years ago so I assume I am on borrowed time.

‘Sixteen.’

Moving on a couple of years I was persuaded to accompany two friends to something described as ‘Limbering Class’. Both friends were a good deal thinner than me, and I had the uncharitable thought that I had only been invited to make them look thinner. Limbering classes took place in a loft at the top of an old warehouse that was in the process of being gentrified. The builders hadn’t got beyond the ground floor at that time and the six flights of stairs to the loft were rickety and steep. Not good for an overweight woman with a clunking knee. Imagine my surprise and total delight when I discovered that despite the weight and left/right confusion, I was actually the most limber person in the class – far more bendy than either of my skinny friends. I could get my leg (right OR left) up on the ballet barre. Not only could I touch my toes but I could also put my hands flat on the floor. I became the teacher’s pet because I had the straightest back in the room. My glory was short-lived. I was relying on my friends for a lift to limbering and disappointed at not being bendy enough, they both dropped out after a month.

‘Fifteen – come on!’

My next flirtation with a sporting activity was many years later when I was pregnant with our eldest son and was encouraged to attend Aqua natal classes.  We were all bounteously bumpy ladies and particularly unwieldy when climbing the unsteady metal ladder in and out of the pool.   I am still a non-swimmer with a penchant for swimming pools with steps rather than wobbly ladders.

‘Fourteen.’

We exposed our both our boys to the joys of Tumble Tots.  Our younger son proved more of a handful as he wanted to do everything at once and not in the order that the teacher wanted him to. Luckily he was ready to start at nursery anyway so we took him out before he got ejected. Inspired by the agility of my children, I agreed to sign up at the local gym with a friend. On paper it looked good; ladies only in the daytime, men only in the evening, mixed groups at weekends. It was a small gym, over the top of a couple of shops down at our local precinct and within walking or staggering distance. Suitably attired in leggings and baggy tee-shirts, we signed up and were shown the ropes – and weights. Arriving first thing in the morning was a tad unpleasant as most of the equipment still smelled strongly of man sweat from the night before. After we had been attending happily for a couple of weeks, a group of very thin, very fit, Lycra-clad ladies joined up. They giggled at us. They made audibly rude comments. We complained to the manageress only to find that they were dear friends of hers. We left.

‘Thirteen – stop looking at that man in tights!’

Once both the boys were at school full-time, I went back to work and was lured into joining a ‘ladies only’ gym a short walk away from my office. Despite having to climb two flights of stairs, it was a lovely place. There was no sniggering, no rude comments, they had toning tables that moved all your limbs for you and the whole place smelled of oranges. I found that I could fit a session in during my lunch hour and come back to the office feeling ready to take on the world – or at least my colleagues.

‘Twelve – stay controlled.’

Crisis struck when the gym went bust. Before I could slide into despondency however, the staff at the gym clubbed together and took over. There was a name change but otherwise it remained the same, and to make life even better, our office moved to a building just across the road from the gym. I didn’t lose vast amounts of weight but I was undoubtedly fitter and my knee stopped clunking. It couldn’t last though and it didn’t. The lease was up on the lovely old building and although the gym staff had found new premises, they were outside the town AND up five flights of stairs in an old warehouse.

‘Eleven – one more and you are halfway.’

After a period of inactivity, I joined another gym in town and with the added ‘benefit’ of a pool. The gym was run by a well-known sports company and was next door to one of their stores. It didn’t have the ambiance of my previous gym; the range of equipment was limited, no toning tables and a host of sweaty male equipment-hogs that made it almost impossible to carry out the programme hastily put together for me by a nice, but harassed young instructor. I stuck it out for a couple of months but frustration and the smell drove me away. The company went bust.

‘Ten! Yes!’

After another period of lethargy I spotted a sign saying ‘Motorcise’ when I was getting off the bus to walk to my office.  The notice also stated that this was a gym specifically for older women with mobility issues and consisted of a range of toning tables. I signed up. I was the youngest member and I was in my forties by this time. The sole route to Motorcise was up a flight of stairs – so it didn’t actually cater for ALL women with mobility issues. For many of the members, it was more than a place to exercise; it was a social club where they drank coffee, ate biscuits and cakes, had regular raffles and tombola mornings. It gave them a new lease of life. They were very kind to me and knowing that I was attending in my lunch hour, would always step aside in order to let me use the tables first. It couldn’t last.

‘Nine – right down to the floor.’

It didn’t. Expiration of the lease – again. A light glimmered however. One of the girls who worked there said that she was moving to another gym with a similar set-up – called ‘Gymphobics’. It was still in town , had toning tables and I would forego the joining fee because of her recommendation.  It was a curious place; set in an arch under the railway bridge and sandwiched between an adult bookstore and a tattoo parlour. It was on the ground floor however and smelled of oranges. It was nice for a couple of months. That didn’t last either. The manageress ran off with the takings and I turned up one day to find a ‘closed’ notice on the door.

‘Eight.’

Rescue came in the form of an after-work course in Tai Chi, offered specifically for staff who had diabetes and/or arthritis. The course was run by an NHS physio  – a lovely man who had infinite patience. Half of us attended because we liked the idea of learning Tai Chi and hoped that it would help relieve our physical symptoms as well as making us less stressed. The other half of the class consisted of workers who had long histories of sick leave, and had been told by the Occupational Health department that they HAD to attend. I loved Tai Chi classes and took to it so well that the instructor asked me if I wanted to go on an NHS course to learn to be a teacher. The only proviso was that I had a first aid qualification. My three-year qualification had lapsed so I asked my manager if I could update it – and explained why. He refused. For no particular reason other than he didn’t see the value in losing me for three days or more, and then having to accommodate my taking further Tai Chi classes. Apparently some of my colleagues had complained about me leaving work on time to attend. The last class I went to consisted of me and the instructor. It was lovely but yet again – it didn’t last. For some strange reason my cack-handed and footedness was able to cope with Tai Chi and I still do the odd half an hour in my kitchen when I need to relax.

‘Seven – stop giggling.’

Whilst I was busy mourning the end of my Tai Chi classes, I was offered another post within the company that meant I was no longer working in town. Still angry with my manager I took the leap and left. Not having to wander around town in my lunch hour and having an onsite canteen meant that my waistline was expanding again. I got a call from my Tai Chi teacher asking me if I wanted to join a local gym – with a medical discount that would apply to my husband as well. We visited the gym. It was HUGE. Not only did it have an indoor running track but it also had two swimming pools, a sauna and a hydrotherapy pool. We signed up. There were a few disadvantages; it was a family gym and at certain times of day there were too many screaming toddlers and unattended youths who hogged the equipment and dive bombed each other in the pools – until a brave lifeguard tooted a whistle at them.

‘Six – come on!’

We spent a happy couple of years working out in the upstairs gym and then wallowing in the warm bubbles of the hydrotherapy pool. Then we began to notice the signs that all was not well. Equipment was out-of-order, the changing rooms were grubby, classes were cancelled at short notice. We made enquiries and were told that the parent company had backed out and the staff had clubbed together to take over the gym. This was sounding ominously familiar. We stumbled on for another couple of months and then the local newspaper revealed that the lease on the building had expired and the gym was no more. The building was being taken over by a well-known store. Another gym bit the dust.

‘Five more – well done!’

I managed to find my old Tai Chi teacher and fit in some classes (specifically for pensioners but he made an exception in my case). I learnt the other half of the routine and spent some very mellow Friday afternoons there. Then it was decided that our office would be moving back into the town centre and the leisure centre that had been hosting the Tai Chi classes was being demolished. Shortly before the office move I was involved in an accident at work which resulted in my foot being damaged, nine months of sick leave and an acrimonious parting of the ways between my employer and me. I couldn’t go out alone for fear of falling over and I developed arthritis in my right knee as well due to the pressure put on it whilst my foot was healing.

‘Four!’

I registered as self-employed once I had shed the shackles of office life, and used some of my tax rebate to buy a pair of Nordik Walking Poles – a friend had recommended them as a way of improving my mobility and my confidence. Slightly nervous, I took to accompanying my husband and our dog on night-time walks round the neighbourhood.  I was still relying on an ordinary walking stick to help me get around – except for supermarket trips when a trolley was essential however small the shopping. I had acupuncture to help ease the sciatic pain that kept me awake at night and finally had an MRI scan that confirmed that I had stenosis of the five lumbar discs. The skills of our osteopath – the Phizzard – put me back on my feet when things got bad but a more permanent solution to my mobility issues had to be found.

‘Three – keep going!’

When my ex-employers finally accepted responsibility for the accident and paid the damages claim, my husband and I decided it was time to join a gym again. We had been looking at a branch of a national chain that had opened less than a mile away, was open 24/7, had plenty of equipment, catered for over-16’s only and had excellent security. We applied online, got free three-day passes and went down for a visit. It was SO clean. Air conditioned. Loads of equipment, all on one level, NO STAIRS and the manager assured us that there was no chance of them going bust – fingers crossed.

‘Two – nearly there!’

We went for our induction visit. My instructor and I hit it off immediately. She is now my personal trainer and she makes this knackered body do things that I could never have imagined it would do. In my first month I have lost seven inches. I haven’t had to use my walking stick for weeks and I look forward to going to the gym so much that even a viral infection and sinusitis didn’t stop me.

‘One! You did it!’

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

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‘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.

 

‘Christmas is only eight months away’

 
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The work top is an essential part of any kitchen.

My new kitchen work top is black with sexy coloured glittery bits in it. I can have Christmas all year round in my new kitchen especially when the pretty blue lights under the units and near the floor are on.

I have had two phone calls and three letters reminding me that my new kitchen is being delivered next week, to blow up the blue balloon and tie to my gate (the party will be later) and make sure there is a space 2m x 3m to store the stuff in until my builder is ready for it.

We are SO ready for the new kitchen.

We know that we will be eating takeaway off paper plates for a couple of weeks and that personal hygiene and clean clothes may fall by the wayside when the water is off.

We have broken the news to Gap Boy that he may find himself separated from the PC when the power is off – Minecraft battles may have to wait.

Uni Boy and Bezzie Mate are staying away until the new kitchen has been installed.

Scoobs may spend the next couple of weeks wuffing and whining at the strange men who will be demolishing part of the house and rebuilding it again (I hope).

This afternoon I got a call from a six year old (well maybe ten – okay then a sixteen year old ) work experience girl who had issues with her fs and ths.
There ‘as bin a nerror at Haitch Q apparently. My kitchen has been ordered – bu’ sum1 forgot tuh order yer worktop. Sumfing muzt ‘ave gonn wrong sumwheh – dunno wot ‘ appened, or oo didit but it woz sum1 ‘ere – not sum1 at the shop.
Enough of the junior jargon – they are going to supply us with a temporary work top until my sexy work top arrives, then my builder will be coming back to take out the temporary one and fit the new one.

At no cost to us.

Well, that’s a relief then!

Today we have been mostly clearing out the Krappy Kitchen.

Hub and I are dirty and dusty, and now I am disheartened too.

GB has thudded down from his bedroom every now and then to bark at the dog (who is wuffing a lot because he feels insecure), snarl at me and Hub and tell us what a lousy job we are doing.

Go on then GB – set us a good example to follow – thought not.

His one contribution to Operation Chuck It Out so far has been to take his clothes mountain out of the bathroom and dump it on his bed so that we could swap over some bookcases and books (our upstairs bathroom is a very dusty but literary place).

I really should not have chosen basic black to wear when sorting  out dusty but much-loved books.

On the plus side, I have found many favourites that I thought I’d lost – and have now purchased and installed on one of my Kindles – I can’t throw books away though and the charidee box looks rather sparse.

I was given a medicinal sherry to cheer me up after the phone call – I had to hand the charmless teen over to Hub before I said something extremely rude to her.

Spit that gum out!  Spit it out NOW!

It wasn’t so much the news that she was imparting; it was the lethargic ‘so what’ manner with which she delivered it.

I could almost see her examining her cuticles with disinterest as she dropped the bombshell on me.  I wonder if they drew lots in the office as to which of them should break the news of their incompetence to Mrs Angry?

Who the hell orders a kitchen and forgets to order the work top?

Doh.

Easter is over but I am still one Hot, Cross Bunny.

Fingers crossed that I have my kitchen for Christmas – only eight months to go.

‘Quite a Good Friday – really’

 

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Ups, Downs and Mis-deliveries

The day started well, with bright sunshine.

So bright that we had the covers off the table outside and the parasols erected ready for lunch al fresco. Scoob has his own parasol.

Gap Boy had been up most of the night yakking at his US mates so he was tucked up in his bed when we arose in a leisurely fashion.

Scoob was happy because he got treats and a walk with Hub. he also liked the fact that there were no postmen and no delivery men: the bin men took him by surprise however.  He can’t and won’t like them.

I was happy because I had Hub to myself, I had indulged in a very long and very intense discussion with Uni Boy which ended in exhaustion but also with the exhilaration of knowing that we have bought both our boys up to have minds of their own – not just me and Hub clones.

Hub bought me a glass of Marsala when the conversation ended.  I needed it.

Bezzie Mate was coming to stay; I was cooking a cake to celebrate – rhubarb crumble cake with ginger –  and we were having Chinese takeaway for dinner.

All in all, a good Good Friday.

We did a minor shopping trip – too big for a handbasket, too small for a big trolley so the small trolley was just right – bit like Goldilocks and the Three Bears meets Tesco really. Even the checkout man was in a good mood.  the sun seemed to have brought out the best in everyone.

Lunch in the sun on the patio.  Scoob was slathering after our bread and cheese.  Depending on his posture, he was either sitting in a pool of drool or wearing an unattractive soggy patch down his curly black frontage.

Hub very kindly laid out the ingredients for the cake and whilst I didn’t exactly do a Jon Richardson and pretend that I was on a cooking programme, it made the whole process more amenable having an array of bowls, spoons and other implements all ready for my use.

The cake went in the oven and Hub very obliging hoovered the lawn and the front room (misnomer really as neither machine used was actually a Hoover).

I was in contact with BM throughout his journey North, and we were actually on the phone when a large white delivery van pulled up outside – much to Scooby’s consternation.

Hub placated Scoob, I dispatched GB outside to fetch the parcel and busied myself between making sure GB’s mince didn’t burn and trying to turn my cooled cake out on to a rack – oh how Mary Berry am I!

GB returned, grumbling and clutching a card. He informed me that the delivery man had delivered my parcel to a different house and that he said it was up to us to go and collect it.

Boom! Ballistic me!

So GB gave the card to his father to go and collect the  parcel from the wrong house that it had been delivered to.

Unhappy Hub. He had been sitting contentedly reading his ‘Which’ magazine and like me, waiting for BM to arrive.  BM meanwhile was on the phone listening to me rant about the delivery man, and giggling.

Hub went off to collect the parcel.  GB had forgotten to tell him though, that the people who had my parcel had now gone out – which is why the delivery man had told us we would have to collect the parcel later.

I picked up the phone and complained to the company from whence came the parcel; no names, no pack drill but they share their name with a very long river.

The young lady I spoke to was very apologetic and very helpful, so my anger subsided. It takes a very good customer service person to calm me down.  She was extremely good.

BM arrived in the midst of the furore and was much amused by my transition from Mrs Angry to Mrs Placated.

Hub, BM and I had planned to pop down to the local tavern for a small cider and to watch the sun set, so I wrote a suitably nice note to the person who had my parcel and included my phone number so that they could contact us when it was convenient to come and collect.

As we were turning into the road, a white van came hurtling out and missed us by inches.  I knocked on the door of the wrong delivery house and was told that the delivery driver had just collected my parcel.

So we went back home again; the parcel had been received by GB, and I had a conciliatory email from the company requesting the outcome.

Off to the tavern; a tad chilly now but the sight of the sun setting behind the power station was one to behold.  The cider was pretty good too.

Chinese takeaway ordered, collected and eaten.  A pleasant evening  filled with wine, good conversation and more dog slather than you can throw a stick at.

Hub has now gone to bed (early shift tomorrow), GB is out on his motorbike, BM is watching ‘The Bourne Supremacy‘ and I am tappetty-tapping to beat my midnight deadline.

It has been a pretty Good Friday and we all have Easter eggs to look forward to – and rhubarb and ginger crumble cake.

 

‘Sally Forth’

Her husband held her particularly close that morning as he left for work. She waved him goodbye and checked her watch.  Six fifteen. Shower first or breakfast?

The dog’s soft whine and imploring eyes were a momentary distraction from her purpose. She stuffed her feet into a pair of old suede boots, pulled on her duffel coat and opened the patio doors.  He ran out into the garden with a joyous abandon that made her smile initially, then feel slightly envious. Picking up his lead and some doggy treats, she gingerly stepped out in the courtyard to join him.

There were few cars and even fewer people around at that time of the morning.  The dog performed a ten-second wee, then dragged her back towards the house.  His momentary distraction by a low-flying wood-pigeon nearly pulled her off-balance and she felt the racing pulse of fear begin. The dog seemed to sense that something was wrong however, He stopped pulling and waited patiently for her to open the gate that would let them back into the safety of the courtyard.

Back inside the house, she sat down briefly in order to calm herself.  The doggy brown eyes worked their charm again; he was soon settled with his breakfast and she was free to continue with her own preparations. She checked the clock. Twenty to seven.

Breakfast first and she took the easy way out with cereal and fruit juice.  Knocking back the parade of pills lined up on the counter top, she wondered if she would ever get back to a time when she was pill-free? Pain-free? Panic-free?

The dog joined her on the sofa as she crunched her way through the cereal.  The BBC news provided a slight distraction but the dog’s warmth on her leg, the touch of his silky ears and the occasional grateful lick, all these provided her with the reassurance she needed for now.

She washed up her bowl and glass, leaving them on the drainer to put away when she returned.  If she returned.  How silly! Of course she would return.

Giving the dog a brief hug, she went off for a shower, hoping that the hot water would wash the muzziness away and help her to think more clearly.

The stimulus lasted long enough to help her choose her clothes for the day. Nothing sloppy but nothing too restrictive or uncomfortable.  She needed to be comfortable.  The last thing she wanted to worry about was her appearance but she took extra time drying her hair, applying her brave face and finally, getting dressed. She checked her watch. Had a whole hour and a half gone past?

There was still no need to rush though.  They had arranged to meet at ten o’clock. It took five minutes to walk to the bus stop (ten to allow for her reduced speed of walking).  She had checked the bus timetables on-line and the journey took twenty-five minutes provided the bus arrived on time.  She had a back up  bus going from the other side of the road in case the first bus failed to turn up.  She dared not think any further than that because the panic rally would set in and she’d never leave the house.

Standing in the kitchen, fully dressed now, she checked that everything was there. Keys, purse, phone and rucksack so that she could carry her worldly goods and still have her hands free.  The Midas card that she and her husband had purchased two days earlier so that she didn’t have to get anxious about having the correct money for the bus.  The walking stick.  Her constant companion for the past nine months, only ever replaced by the support and comfort of her husband’s arm.

She went back in and gave the dog another hug, knowing that she was procrastinating.  It was time to go. Her heart pounded as she pulled on her coat, filled the pockets with the items she needed immediately and pushed her arms through the straps of the rucksack.

Locking the door was achievable, so was walking down the garden path to the point where the dog regularly watered the shrubs by the front door. Opening the gate was harder.  She took a deep breath and hurried through, pulling it closed behind with a clang.  The stick!  She forgot the walking stick! Retracing her steps with a speed that had been alien to her for so many months, she unlocked the door, grabbed the hated stick, locked up again and was back onto the pavement before she realised it.

She checked her watch. Only seven minutes to get to the bus stop! Concentrate. Walk fast but don’t fall.  The stick will help you.  She could see people waiting at the bus stop.  Would they ask the driver to wait for her if they saw her hobbling down the road? Would she fall? Would she lie there like a stranded fish; unable to get up, embarrassed by the concern and kindness of other people again?

She put on an exceptionally brave spurt of speed and got to the bus stop with time to spare, joining the queue of elderly people and their walking sticks.  She looked down at hers, feeling less resentful and more grateful for the support it had provided.

The bus arrived. There were plenty of seats. The Midas card worked and as she picked up her ticket and sat down, she could feel some of the anxieties ebbing away; each one a hurdle that she had overcome.

She checked her watch again. On time and only one more obstacle along the way.

As the bus neared town, she felt herself grow cold. As she approached the scene of the accident she grew hot again. For nine months they had driven the other way, had avoided the place where the careless driver had hit her as she crossed the road, throwing her into the air and against a wall, where she lay, winded, confused and in such pain. Nine months ago.

Nine months of struggling to walk again.  Nine months of being too afraid to go out alone in case she fell. Nine months of falling in the house, of not being strong enough to take the dog out for a walk, of needing her husband’s arm to support her.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, trying desperately hard not to panic. She had to do this.

The bus stopped and opening her eyes, she realised that the danger had passed.  They were at the bus station.  She was safe again.  She got to her feet to join the other passengers and as she and the stick got off the bus she heard a sound that made her smile and banished all the fear. She turned and saw her friend, grinning like a loon and hurrying towards her.

“Sally! You did it! I’m so proud of you! ”