Saturday, 28 March 2020

Timothy Crumble and His Brother, Benji

The first story in a series of seven, for the National Trust’s Bodnant Garden, in North Wales.  At the time of posting the National Trust was opening all of its gardens free to the public so that people could enjoy fresh air in a safe way. 

by Anne Forrest

homemade lemonade

Timothy Crumble had been visiting Bodnant Garden since he was a
            ‘In fact’, Timothy’s mum said, ‘You’ve been coming to Bodnant Garden since before you were born – we used to come to Bodnant when you were still in my tummy!’
            ‘I don’t remember that.’ Timothy Crumble said, ‘Not at all.’
            ‘And now’, said Timothy’s dad, ‘We’re taking your new baby brother to visit Bodnant. Aren’t we, Benji?’ he said this into the baby’s basket.
            Timothy’s brother, Benji, was fast asleep in his Moses basket and did not hear their father.  Beside, Timothy was a bit fed up with this new addition to his family.  He had been quite happy when it was just Mum, Dad and Timothy. 
            ‘Let’s get going, then. We’ll be there in less than half an hour,’ said his mother. ‘Timothy, do you remember us telling you about your first visit to Bodnant? You lay in your pram under your red and white cover and with your head on your red and white pillow and you could not take your gaze away from the tall trees above you as we pushed you along the pathway. Your wide open eyes followed the shimmering sunlight as it sparkled through the leafy branches.  You watched the light dancing its way down to say Hello to you.  Do you remember that, Timothy?’
            ‘No,’ Timothy Crumble said.  ‘Not at all!’
            ‘Oh, but you must. You chuckled and gurgled at the light and tried to reach up and catch the sunbeams,’ laughed his mother. ‘And when you could talk, you said the twinkling lights looked like stars playing in the treetops.’
            Timothy scowled.  He didn’t want to share his memories with his new baby brother, Benji.  They were his memories.

They climbed into the car.  What a lot of stuff they packed for this new baby – why, Timothy only needed his rucksack filled with a bottle of water, a few biscuits, a notepad for jotting things down and pencils of all colours in case he wanted to create a picture.
            ‘We have to take all Benji’s paraphernalia,’ explained his mum.’ He’ll need his nappy changing and he’ll want his feed.’
‘Aren’t we going to the café?’ asked Timothy, askance.  ‘We always have a cake at the café.’               
 ‘Of course we’ll go to the café,’ his mum answered. ‘We’ll still have our treat once we’ve finished our walk, but Benji can’t eat cake. He’ll want his bottle.’
            ‘Whew!’ said Timothy Crumble under his breath.  He couldn’t imagine not having a Bodnant cake after their walk.
            The car left the driveway and as they set off, Timothy’s mum and then his dad, kept reminding Timothy of his favourite places in Bodnant Garden.
            ‘Hey, what about the time when we three tried to hold hands and wrap ourselves around the huge oak tree just in front of the Ha-Ha, and mum became dizzy just looking up!  And when mum asked if you’d like to sit on the topmost branches and look all around you like a king in his castle, you said, ‘Yes, yes, please, and can I wear a cloak and a crown?’ You made us laugh a lot that day, Timothy.’
            ‘Hmph!’ was all Timothy replied.      
‘You must remember the Ha-Ha?’     
‘No, I don’t.  Not at all!’  
‘Don’t you remember Dad falling into the Ha-Ha when he got too near – you had such a surprise when he disappeared before your eyes – surely you remember that happening, Timothy.  Especially when he popped up again.’
            ‘You must remember the gardener coming up to Dad and telling him that he should not go too near the Ha-Ha?’
            ‘I’m afraid I don’t’, said Timothy loftily.
            ‘Oh, dear,’ said his mum.  ‘Your brain isn’t working very well
today, is it?’
            ‘No, it’s not.  Not at all.’
In his mind, though, Timothy couldn’t help remembering the day they’d formed a chain as they three held hands and tried to wrap themselves around the huge wide trunk of the big oak tree, and of the bright sunshine twinkling above him as he laughed up into the high branches. And he did remember the Ha-Ha: of course he remembered it! His dad had told him that a Ha-Ha was a trench dug out of the ground to separate the big lawn from the park without having to plant a hedge or build a fence.  A hedge or fence would have spoiled the view, you see, his father had explained, so they split the land into two by digging a trench!
            The Crumble family travelled in silence for a while and then Timothy’s dad tried again. ‘And what about all the other trees at Bodnant Garden, there are some very rare ones including the Giant Redwood. You remember us telling you that the Garden’s Great Redwood is the tallest tree in the whole of Britain, don’t you, and that Bodnant have quite a few of them in the Dell?  They were planted about a hundred and fifty years ago, Timothy.  Can you imagine as far back as one hundred and fifty years?’
‘No, I can’t imagine that at all!’  he replied.  ‘Nor can I remember
even a little bit of that tale!’
‘Oh, dear,’ said his mum, and trying again, she said.  ‘And what about your most favourite place – the Laburnum Arch!  How you loved that cool, shady tunnel hanging with streamers of beautiful yellow flowers. Do you remember saying the flowers looked like yellow rain as they hung above you, Timothy?’
            Timothy didn’t answer, but he did remember standing under the
long tassels of yellow rain which, in the breeze, swung and swayed until
the flowers looked as if they dripped golden honey.  He remembered
that the long tassels cast a dappled light all over him.
            ‘Surely, you remember the Arch, Timothy?’
            ‘No, I don’t think I do.’
            Mr and Mrs Crumble hoped Timothy would cheer up once they
arrived at Bodnant.
This was the first time the Crumble family had visited Bodnant
since the new tunnel had been built under the road.  Under the road!  So
that everyone could enter the Garden safely.  Timothy felt he had to race
through the new tunnel to come out into the familiar space near the
shop.  On the way, he saw one of the gardeners, Graeme, working on the
flower bed against the wall, Graeme pulled up bright green weeds and
piled them high into his wheelbarrow.
‘Hello, Timothy Crumble,’ he called out.  ‘Nice to see you again.
Hey, what’s this.  A new baby?  Is it a boy or a girl?’
            Timothy didn’t seem to hear the gardener ask about the new baby.  He just called over his shoulder, ‘Hello, Graeme.’
            ‘Wait for us,’ said his dad.
‘Yes,’ pleaded his mum. ‘Wait for Benji, Timothy.’
Timothy’s dad manoeuvred the pram through the doorway and showed their Family Ticket to the lady in the foyer.  Timothy and Benji’s granddad had bought them a Family Ticket again, so that they could all visit the Garden as many times as they wished.  ‘Good old granddad!  Aren’t we lucky, boys?’ said their Mum to Timothy and the baby who was just waking up.  ‘Would you like to push Benji in his pram, Timothy?’
Timothy Crumble had suddenly cheered up, he put his hands around the pram’s handle and pushed it towards the famous Laburnum Arch, he edged the pram so that baby Benji was right under the golden flowers which hung like yellow rain.  Timothy saw Benji’s face light up as if a sunbeam had kissed it.  ‘You’ve gone a sunshiny yellow!’ said Timothy to his brother and he laughed as the baby tried to reach out and touch the shimmering sunlight.  ‘Look! Benji’s trying to catch the sunbeams!’ announced Timothy, proudly. ‘Isn’t he a clever boy!’  He then showed his brother the way the branches formed a golden arch of flowers above their heads.  
They moved on and when they got to the massive oak tree, Timothy wanted to hold hands again and try to stretch their arms right around the tree’s wide, wide girth.  ‘Let’s get Benji out of his pram and hold his hands, too!’
‘Yes, let’s.’  So Benji was taken out of his pram and between them all, they tried to reach around the tree, balancing Benji and holding his small arms out as wide as they’d go.
‘Oh, no!’  Timothy said, disappointed.  ‘We’ll never do it.  We’ll
have to wait until Benji and I are bigger!  Never mind, Benji, it was a good try.’
Benji was placed safely back into his pram, and Timothy whispered to him.  ‘When you do get bigger, Benji, do you think you’d like to sit on the topmost branches and look all around as if you were a king in his castle, and wear a cloak and a crown?’  He then said, ‘Dad, will you fall into the Ha-Ha while Benji isn’t looking, and pop up again? Please, please!’
‘I’m afraid not, Timothy, I shouldn’t have gone too near it last time.  Ha-Has are not for falling into, not unless I want to get a telling-off again by one of the gardeners!’
But Timothy and his mum turned the pram to face the field with the Ha-Ha sliced through it, and told Benji all about the time dad went too near, fell in, then looked as is he was buried up to his neck when he re-appeared.   Everybody laughed aloud, Timothy louder than anyone else! 
Eventually, they moved on and Timothy asked, ‘Can we take Benji down into the Dell to see the Giant Redwood trees, I want him to know that one is the tallest tree in Britain, and that they were planted over one hundred and fifty years ago!  Do you think he’ll remember all this information?  Do you think he’ll be able to imagine as far back as one hundred and fifty years?’
‘I’m sure he will if you tell him, Timothy.  I’m sure he’ll remember all the information you’ve given him this afternoon, and because of that, who knows how his imagination will grow!’

Friday, 27 March 2020

Heads or Tails

By David Gower

A large gin and tonic!

The spinning coin rose into the air, the light catching it as the eyes of its owner followed. It slowed, the battle between the initial upward force and gravity would turn into the overwhelming, inevitable victory of the latter. In moments like these time seemed to freeze. It could not be more than a second, two at the most between the flick of the thumb which had launched it into the air and the smack of it landing on the hands below.

When it was uncovered the decision would be made. Whether heads or tails showed would decide the fate of the two individuals that were the latest acquisition for Lewis.

‘How did they get here? They have to go. Where are they?’ Sarah had said when first her brother, Lewis, had told her of his experiment.

‘I want them. I want to keep them forever. They’re just things, like little pets,’ Lewis had replied firmly showing steeliness in his eyes that Sarah had seen many times over the years.

‘No. It's cruel and they don't belong here. They should be free. Forever, is a long time and they will die. What will you do then?’

She wanted to use emotion and logic with Lewis. Sometimes, reason would bring him round to her way of thinking and draw him away from his selfish, immature, short term desires.

‘They are mine. I want them and you can’t make me let them go.’ Lewis stiffened in his resolve to have his own way regardless of anyone else.

‘You'll get into trouble.’ Sarah’s voice implored her brother Lewis to reason.

‘I don’t care, let me show you them. Then you will see what I mean. They don't know that I want to keep them for ever and ever.’

Lewis seemed to be willing to talk. A good sign.

‘Why not toss a coin and see what happens? Heads you keep them forever and tails we let them go.’ Lewis always liked the randomness of tossing a coin or leaving the outcome of events to some ‘other’ power. It allowed the blame to be placed elsewhere sometimes.

If Lewis left the fate of his latest prisoners to the coin he could save face. Sarah would also have a 50/50 chance of resolving the issue without the argument escalating.

‘All right, have you got any money?’ Lewis never had any money but Sarah had a shiny pound coin in her purse. She had confidence in her ability to spin the coin high and whilst Lewis watched she could make a swift movement and release the captives.

Lewis caught it and shrieked with glee. ‘Heads. Heads, I win and keep them forever. Come and look.’

Lewis lifted the glass tank lid. Inside was a branch and some leaves. Two dried husks of what Lewis had wanted as pets lay on the floor of the old aquarium. He had expected to see two figures encased in silken wrappings but now two butterflies jinked this way and that past his face. Lost forever.

Sarah explained to him that caterpillars change into butterflies and then have very short lives. The larvae had been hedge browns, also called gatekeepers, and they had entered a new phase of consciousness flying off for the next stage of their short lives. They were free of the dastardly Lewis – aged seven years – whose older sister Sarah had battled yet again to keep him out of trouble before Mum got home. School projects always seemed to be more trouble than they were worth.

Thursday, 26 March 2020

Episode 5 Nina

by Janet Howson

cartons of juice

Nina held on tight to both her children’s hands. This part of the road was always busy. She still experienced a feeling of panic after all these years. Also, the guilt had never gone away. Her twin sister Freda was four at the time. The same age as her eldest daughter, Alwyne. They had been allowed to go to their local sweet shop, with strict instructions to stay together and to cross the road at the pedestrian crossing. However, Nina could not be bothered to walk down to the crossing and leaving go of Freda’s hand she said she was going to run to the other side whilst there were no cars. Freda protested and sounded scared. Nina ignored her. “Cowardy, cowardy custard,” she shouted out to Freda. The next thing she remembers was the scream of the siren on the ambulance and her sister’s body being carried away. Her mother had never forgiven her and there was hardly a day went by that she didn’t mention Freda.

Her mother was looking after her two girls today. She couldn’t have them until four thirty as she volunteered in a charity shop on a Wednesday afternoon. Nina had a dress rehearsal for her drama group’s production of ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ at seven thirty which left everything a bit tight. She said she would meet Phil round the corner from her mother’s house at four forty five. He would be in his car so they could go for a drive somewhere. Her mother thought she was meeting her friend Kay to do a bit of shopping. She had no idea about Phil.

They had met on the set of her drama group’s summer production, Alan Ayckbourne’s ‘Table Manners’. He had been Reg and she had been his wife Sarah. She had seen him before in other plays as he was in another local group but Shirley, their director, thought he would really suit the part and asked him to play it. He was excellent in the role and the two of them got on really well. Nina didn’t really know how it happened but one day they were talking after a rehearsal and the next minute they were kissing. They started to meet secretly. Nina feeling guilty about her disloyalty to her husband Geoff and her children.  Whenever she swore to end it with Phil, she looked in his eyes and she was lost.

Nina rang on her mum’s doorbell. After a few minutes the door was opened.

“Hi mum, here they are, I’ve put two cartons of juice and two bananas for their snack in their school bags, and I will be back to collect them at six o clock. They can watch some T.V. after they've done their homework, as they are pretty tired.”

“Don’t be late. You know I like to get my dinner at six. I get indigestion if I eat any later.”  She kissed Nina on the cheek and steered to girls inside listening to their news about school.

Nina called out to the girls, “be good for nanny, I won’t be long.” The girls ran off into her mother’s living room, quite happy to be with their nanny as she always allowed them, to watch more television than their mother. She could hear them arguing about who should operate the remote control. She shouted out to them, “Don’t forget your homework!” but didn’t expect a reply.

“See you later mum,” she said to her mother’s retreating back. She could never get used to her mother’s coldness towards her. The door was slammed and Nina turned and walked down the path scanning the road for signs of Phil’s blue Fiesta. She spotted it on the corner, he was revving the engine, very unusual for him. Perhaps he didn’t feel happy about being on her mother’s road. She walked briskly to the car, opened the door and got in and quickly shut the door. The car pulled away at speed. She turned to Phil. Her stomach lurched with shock. It wasn’t Phil.

“Who are you? Stop the car, I am so sorry, I thought you were a friend of mine, you’ve  got the same car as him. You must think I’m mad.” Nina laughed uncertainly, “I did it once before when my husband was picking me up from the library, again it was the same make of car and the same colour. I realised immediately and he didn’t drive off. He thought it was quite funny… If you stop the car now I can easily walk back.” Nina paused hoping for a reaction but there was none. Why wasn’t he stopping? She started to feel slightly sick and her brow was wet with perspiration.

“Shut the fuck up,” the driver pressed harder on the accelerator pedal. Nina looked at him properly, trying to stay calm. He had a shaven head with one earing and a tattoo of a snake curling round his neck. She guessed he must be in his late twenties. He was chewing hard on gum. “I don’t wanner ‘ear your voice no more.” He leant over and turned on the radio. Heavy Metal music blasted out filling the small car with ear splitting sound.

Nina felt really frightened now. Who was he? He could be a serial killer, a rapist or a drug runner who would extort money from her to fund his habit, then kill her. Her mouth felt dry. She swallowed and tried to appear calm. She was not the kind of person to scream and shout but she was having problems supressing the desire to do so. She  felt that would not be a good idea. She didn't want to make him angry.

“Listen, I have two young daughters waiting for me. I can give you some money if that’s what you want, but please just stop the car and let me out.”

He laughed. “You didn’t think of them when you was with your fancy man, did yer? A slut like you deserves all she gets. As for your toy boy he won’t be bothering you no more. Quite a nice little motor this. Too good for the sorts of ‘im.”
“What have you done to him?”

“I said I didn’t wanner ‘ere your bleeding voice again. You can talk all yer want when we meet up wiv your husband. You’ve gor a lot to explain. He’s a good man. He don’t deserve a tart like you.”
Nina remained silent. She feared what this vile man would do if she kept questioning him. She was in shock as well. So Geoff had organised this? Geoff, her reliable, staid husband who led a fairly organised but boring life. Work from nine to five, watching West Ham on a Saturday, taking the girls swimming on a Sunday. She felt she didn’t know him now. To send a thug to…She didn’t dare think what he had done to Phil or what was going to happen to her.

Suddenly the car swung sharply to the left and Nina could see ahead of her a building that looked like a warehouse. Parked outside was Geoff’s car. Her stomach lurched. She took a deep breath and tried to remain calm. Surely he wasn’t going to have her killed. She was the mother of his children This was ridiculous, it couldn’t be happening. She would apologise profusely. Explain it meant nothing, it was just a silly mid-life crisis. He would understand. He always understood. That’s what Geoff was, understanding.  

The car was brought to a halt sharply. Nina lunged forward in her seat. The thug got out and went round to her side of the car, pulling the door open.

“Ger out.”

Nina struggled out of the car. She felt the nausea rising in her stomach. She musn’t let herself be sick. She swallowed.

“Right, stay by my side. You’re goin’ to go into the warehouse and then you ‘ave a lot of explaining to do.”

Nina walked with him and they entered the building by a back door. They went down several corridors until they reached an office. There was a plaque on the door saying Manager and Geoff’s name underneath. She had never realised this was where he worked. She just knew he went off to work each day as regular as clockwork in his car. He was a qualified engineer. They had met before he went to university and for three years they commuted between their separate universities. These thoughts were all going through her brain. Surely he couldn’t hate her so much? Not after all the years they had been together?  

She felt a push from behind and she was rudely shoved into the room. There he sat, Geoff, tapping his fingers on the desk. He was reading a letter and didn’t look up at first.  

“Geoff, please I can explain.  We never planned it, it just happened and it got out of control. I felt so guilty, being unfaithful to you and the girls. I was going to tell Phil this evening that it was all over.”

Still Geoff didn’t look at her, he continued reading, mouthing the words silently to himself. She realised she didn’t know this man, the man who had been her husband, her lover the father to her kids. All these years and she would never have suspected he was capable of sending a thug to steal Phil’s car and hijack her, forcing her to confront him in a warehouse, miles from anywhere.
“Aren’t you going to speak to me? Please Geoff, what is it you want? Remember the girls. They don’t deserve to be punished by us splitting up or losing their mother.” Nina realised the thought had passed through her mind that he might kill her and dispose of her body then say she had run off with Phil? Did she think Phil was dead too? Had the thug killed him and then stolen the car? She felt suddenly very nauseous and thought she was going to faint. She looked round for a chair, there was one in the corner of the office.

“Can I sit down? I don’t feel too well.”

Geoff looked up sharply, “You don’t feel too well? How do you think I’ve felt knowing every time you are out that you might be seeing him? Every time you answer your phone and disappear into another room with it, that you are probably talking to him? You have no idea what you have put me through.”

“Geoff, I am so sorr..”

“Shut up, just shut up and listen. At first I thought you would tire of him and it was just a silly fling, then I realised you were not going to end the affair and it went on and on. You are never in long enough for us to have a proper conversation. What with seeing him, the drama group and seeing your mother. I was just an inconvenient hindrance in your life. I could see that. Then I started to get angry rather than feeling sorry for myself. I wanted to teach you both a lesson, so I had a word with one of the truck drivers. He tracked Phil down and warned him off. He got it out of him that you were meeting up outside your mum’s house and he would be in his car, the blue fiesta. So he ‘borrowed’ the car and he picked you up instead of Phil, and here you are. Oh, by the way, your precious Phil just thought it was a bit of fun. He said you were far too old for him.”

“Well he would say that if he was frightened for his life.”

“Oh that’s not all we found out about Phil the Philanderer. He is also going out with a young member of the drama group he belongs to. Been with her for years. She won’t be too happy when she hears about you.”

Nina was stunned into silence. She couldn’t believe she had been so stupid as to think a good looking man twenty years her junior would fancy her. He had taken her for a fool. Tears welled in her eyes and she held on to the desk for support.

“I want a divorce, Nina. I have lost all my trust in you and I don’t think it will ever return. I was just reading through a letter from my solicitor. If you admit blame because of your infidelity, the divorce could be quite painless. You owe me that at least. The least disruption the kids are put through, the better.”

His words were echoing in Nina’s head. She couldn’t make sense of any of it. The words divorce, solicitor, kids rang out. This was all moving so fast. She couldn’t keep up. He had to forgive her.

“Surely I am allowed a second chance? We can all make mistakes.”

Geoff roared with laughter. “Mistakes? This is more than mistakes. You have destroyed the family. Put your own desires above your children’s needs for a good mother. I have worked damn hard to bring in a reasonable income into the house and this is how I am repaid. You make me sick. Get out of my sight. Toby , take her back to her mother’s and return the car.”

Toby pushed Nina towards the door, she twisted her body round and tried again to reason with Geoff.

“Please, Geoff, just listen to my side of the story. I will change I will stay in more and…”

Geoff laughed again “and pigs might fly. I wouldn’t put it past you to still go to your dress rehearsal tonight as that has always come above your family in the past.”

Even in the state she was in, Nina glanced at the clock on the wall. She would never get there now. She would miss the most important rehearsal and the first performance was on Thursday. Shirley would be livid. She realised immediately what she was doing. Putting her own hobbies before her family. Geoff was right. She was selfish and now it looked that she would lose Geoff and the stability of her home. She would change. She would talk Geoff round eventually, Wouldn’t she?

Links to previous episodes:

About the Author

Janet taught Drama and English in various Comprehensive Schools for 35 years. She wrote and directed plays for the pupils. On retirement she joined a Writer's Group and hasn't looked back from there. She loves writing short stories, has been published by Bridge House and Chaple Town Books and has a novel coming out on March 31st called "Charitable Thoughts"

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Staying the Night

by Lena Green


We called it snogging or necking in those days – and we did quite a lot of it. Mostly it happened on a Saturday as we walked through the park, or along the banks of the river as we walked into town. Other times it would be in the cinema, and of course when we got back home and sat on the settee drinking coffee. 

It was modern to drink coffee then and I remember that although neither of us liked coffee we were keen to be seen a modern. We would take sips, place our cups back on the coffee table, look at each other, and then, well … neck!

Occasionally on the settee a hand would wander, his, not mine, followed by one of those ‘stop it - I like it’ struggles of unexplored desire. It was all very new. It was all very innocent.

And so it was, that one evening some ten days after my sixteenth birthday, my cards still displayed on the sideboard, he whispered in my ear, 'Can I stay the night?’

Failing to realise the inference in those simple words I said, ‘Of course you can!’ before calling to mother saying, ‘John’s asked to stay the night. Is it OK?’

I'm still not sure whether she read the situation better than I but I remember her busying herself with spare blankets and sheets, making up a bed or him on the very settee where had had until two minutes ago sat contented in deep snog.

John was very quiet the following morning. By contrast I was bubbly, girlish, pleased to be sharing the breakfast table with him, oblivious to anything other than his presence.

He said he needed to get back home so I walked with him. Still I chatted, still he remained subdued, until on reaching his door, he said, ‘but I wanted to sleep with you.’

In that moment my girlish world stopped. Embarrassed by my blindness, my gauche inexperienced failure to understand what had been implied, I sobbed. Every glimmer of the sophistication I was trying so hard to acquire was stripped form me.

We stood in silence: I frightened by the realisation than I stood on the brink of something of which I was not ready. That someone fancied me – not just for snogging - but for ‘going all the way’, and surely not –sex!

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Waxing Lyrical

by Dawn Knox

house wine to go with the Chef’s Special

Previously: Having avoided a terrifying, badger ambush and a deadly, chocolate avalanche, Sat Nav guides Eddie, Brian and Gideon to Great Puddington - the spy pig’s final destination. So, is this goodbye to Gideon? 

  “For once, things are going our way,” remarked Eddie as Monsieur Brioche waddled ahead of them, leading the way to a table by the window.

“Monsieur Guttle reserved ze best table in ze restaurant for you, Messieurs.” The penguin pulled the red velvet chair out for Eddie to sit down and the one opposite, for Brian. There was a pile of telephone directories on Brian’s chair and he helped the muttering monkey on to the top of them.

“Stop sulking,” whispered Eddie when the mâitre d’ had gone, “there’s nothing wrong with being short.”

“And you can’t wait for an excuse to point it out, can you!”  

“Stop being so prickly! Look, we’ve finally got rid of Gideon and after a slap-up meal, we can be off. In a few hours we’ll be in Hummus-on-Sea and we can relax and start a new life. Now, let’s just enjoy this meal. We’ve certainly earned it.”

“Yes, I suppose so. And it is a relief to get away from the sat nav. One more verse of Frère Jacques and I’d have gone mad.”

“There is only one verse.”

“So why did it go on for hours? Every time I thought it had finished, someone started it up again.”

“Messieurs?” said the waiter, “May I recommend ze chef’s special to start, and zen for ze main course, ze chef’s special?” 

“Yes please,” said Eddie.

“How d’you know we’ll like chef’s special?” asked Brian when the waiter had gone.

“Who cares? Gideon’s paying.”

“But Eddie, Gideon hasn’t paid for anything the whole time we’ve known him. He doesn’t appear to have any cash.”

“No, he always pays by cheque,” said Eddie winking. 

“But this is Great Puddington, the place where spies come to train and renew their licences. Don’t you think the folks here might be wise to the old disappearing-ink-on-the-cheque trick?”

“Too late now,” said Eddie, “the waiter’s bringing our chef’s special.” 

“What d’you mean you can’t pay?” said Eddie when Gideon arrived, “why did you book us a table in an expensive restaurant? You know we’re skint!”

“Well, old chap, I must confess, it was a bit of a ruse.”

“Ruse? Ruse?” screeched Eddie.

“Lower your voice! The waiters are looking,” said Brian. 

“Iz zere a problem, Messieurs?” asked Monsieur Brioche, who was flanked by two burly penguins. 

“Er, do you take cheques?” asked Eddie.

Monsieur Brioche shook his head, “Zis iz Great Puddington. Cash only.”

“Well, my good penguin,” said Gideon, “it’s like this. I’m afraid I’m a bit short at the moment and I’m going to have to request Option B.”

“What’s Option B?” asked Eddie.

One of the waiters scuttled off to the kitchen and returned with some rubber gloves. He pulled one of the fingers and released it with a ‘thwack’. 

Eddie screamed, “It’s no good searching me! I haven’t got anything!” he backed away with his wings raised.

“For you,” said Monsieur Brioche, handing one pair of rubber gloves to Gideon, “for you,” he said passing another pair to Brian, “and anozer pair for your excitable friend who iz standing against ze wall. You will find ze washing up in ze kitchen. Zat way!” 

It’s no good searching me!” mimicked Brian, doubling up with laughter.

“All right, all right!” said Eddie, “I panicked. I’ve seen people use rubber gloves before and it wasn’t pretty. Before you know it, your gizzards are intimately acquainted with your parson’s nose.”

“Well, no harm done, eh?” said Gideon.

“What d’you mean? If it wasn’t for you, we wouldn’t be elbow deep in soap suds.”

“I’m very sorry, chaps, I thought the meal would keep you here in case I failed my test and needed a lift out of here. And sadly, I did fail. But I hadn’t quite thought it through. I’m so used to paying for everything with a cheque and I’d forgotten that no one would accept one in Great Puddington.”

“You failed your test?” asked Brian, “What does that mean?”

“It means I have to do a spy’s refresher course but I simply can’t afford it.” 

“Can’t you just resit the test?”

“It’s not permitted if you fail everything.”


“Yes. Apparently, I’m too fat, too unfit and too slow. I didn’t hit any of the targets at shooting practice and my explosive device failed to go off.”

“Is that all?” asked Eddie sarcastically. 

“No,” said Gideon, “I think I might have indisputably failed when I shot the examiner with my pen… Well, it’s an easy mistake to make.”

“But why d’you think we’re going to take you anywhere?” Brian asked, “I don’t want to spend the next few hours strapped in the van seat with you again.” 

“Yeah!” said Eddie, “I think you were the one who kept Frère Jacques going for hours.”

“Well,” said Gideon, “it’s like this, chaps, when we get to Hummus-on-Sea, we’ll need somewhere to live ̶ “

We? What d’you mean we?”

“Do you have any money to rent a place?” Gideon asked.


“I do, or rather I have a cheque book and we could rent somewhere rather nice overlooking the beach.”

“He has a point,” said Brian.

“This is beautiful!” said Brian opening the glass doors leading to the roof terrace, “just look at that sea view! And we’ll have a bedroom each!”

“Are you sure we can afford the rent on this?” asked Eddie.

“I’ve just given the cheque to the agent, old chap. So, the answer is yes, we can. Well, until our cheque scam is discovered.” 

“Let’s order pizza and celebrate!” said Brian, “I’m starving, lunch was hours ago. That chef was a bit stingy with his special.”

“Ah!” said Gideon, “I’m afraid that might not be possible, not unless you can pay.”

“Write the pizza delivery person a cheque.”

“Ah!” said Gideon again.

“What do you mean Ah!”

“Well, I gave the estate agent my last cheque and without a spy’s licence, I can’t get another special cheque book.”

“You mean we haven’t got a bean between us?”

“I think you can count on it,” said Gideon.

“Let’s not panic,” said Eddie, “at least we’ve got an apartment. Tomorrow, we’ll get jobs. It can’t be that difficult. This is a busy town and I’m sure we’ll all be employed before we know it.”

“Hey look,” said Brian holding a ducat coin aloft, “I found it down the back of the sofa! Shall I ring for pizza?”

“No, we need to look for jobs. Go and get some fish and chips. We can read the newspaper once we’ve eaten.”

“You’re going to love it, I promise,” said Eddie the following day as they walked along the promenade, “the pay is excellent and the hours are short.”

“Is it legal?” asked Brian.

“Of course!” 

“Then why won’t you let me see the advert?”

“We’re nearly there and then you’ll be able to see for yourself,” said Eddie turning into a dingy, side street. 

“It’s a bit seedy down here, old boy,” remarked Gideon.

“That’s artists for you,” said Eddie vaguely. “Look, this is the place.” He opened the door and led them into a large studio filled with easels. 

“Greetings, gentlemen!” A chubby cat in a paisley kaftan glided towards them, her bangles jangling discordantly, “No need to be overawed, tiny creature,” she said to Brian, “I may be famous throughout the Isle of Macaroon but I assure you beneath all my talent and flair, I am a mortal, just like you… Well, not greatly like you… but you get my drift.” 

Eddie, anticipating that when Brian spoke, it might not help their job prospects, inserted himself between the monkey and the cat. 

“Leonora Da Finchy! How wonderful to meet you. I’ve heard so much about you and your brilliant paintings!” Eddie said, bowing politely.

“Well, of course you have, and here are a few of my babies,” said Leonora, her bangles jangling as she swept her paw through the air, drawing attention to dozens of framed paintings on the studio wall, “Now, how can I be of assistance? Have you come to buy a masterpiece? Or to enrol in my wonderful painting class? No? Well, a selfie with me, perhaps?”

“Actually, Miss Da Finchy we’ve come about the job.”

“Oh! Well, why didn’t you say instead of wasting my time? You can go in that cupboard over there to change… and then pose over there…” the bangles clashed as she indicated first the door, then two sofas on the raised area in front of the easels. “Class begins in ten minutes. If my students like you, I’ll consider keeping you on, although I only really wanted two models but we might be able to work the tiny creature in somewhere.”

Eddie reached behind his back and slapped his hand over Brian’s mouth.

“Thank you,” he said leading Gideon and Brian to the changing cupboard door.  

“Don’t forget,” she called after them, “every stitch off. I want flesh and lots of it. A nude model should be just that… nude.”

Eddie managed to open the door, push Gideon and Brian inside and close it before the word ‘nude’ ricocheted off the walls and ceiling, followed by the words ‘Not on your life!’ 

“It’s all right for you, Eddie old chap, you’re only wearing a jacket. When you take that off, you’re practically nude. And Brian isn’t wearing anything but a hat. As for me, I’m wearing a tailored dinner suit.”

“It’s not going to fit much longer if we can’t afford to eat…”

“Point taken, old chap. Can you pass me that hanger?”

“I feel ridiculous!” said Gideon, “if she only wants two models, why don’t you both do it?”

“Because if we all do it, we’ll have three wage packets instead of two. The sooner we get some money together, the sooner we can find better jobs. Now, are you ready? We need to go out.”

“Just a few more moments, old chap…”

Eddie opened the door and peeped round it. He gulped and closed it softly.

“What’s the matter? Don’t tell me you’ve gone shy!” said Brian.

Eddie gulped again. 

“No, it’s Leonora, she’s… she’s…” he whispered.

“She’s what?” asked Brian.

“She’s sharpening pencils!”

“So, what?”

“She’s sharpening them with an axe.” 

“Perhaps her pencil sharpener has broken? Let me look!”

Brian opened the door and peered through the gap.

“Crikey, you’re right! And have you noticed those paintings behind her desk?”

“No, art appreciation wasn’t exactly on my mind.”

“Well, I suggest you look,” said Brian, shuffling out of the way to make room for Eddie.

“I see what you mean,” said Eddie with a gasp, “on reflection, I think we ought to get dressed and run.”

Gideon seized Eddie and Brian by the scruff of their necks, “Not so fast! You brought us here, old chap, let’s see it through. So, she’s sharpening pencils with an axe and you don’t like her paintings. It could be worse. We could starve to death.”

“You don’t understand!” wailed Eddie, “Those paintings are of beheaded chickens!”

Gideon pushed them both out of the cupboard, “We’re ready, Miss Da Finchy!” 

“Excellent! Some of my students have already arrived, so if the pig and the chicken could drape themselves artistically over the sofas, I’ll take the tiny creature next door. He’s much too hairy for this class. I told you I need nude models, he looks like he’s wearing a fur coat.” 

“Well, this isn’t too bad at all,” said Gideon, “if one closes one’s eyes, one can’t see all those people peeping at one. And I must say, the students seem to be a jolly lot, judging by all the laughter.” 

Eddie glanced at the clock, carefully avoiding the decapitated chicken paintings. “Still another fifty-eight minutes to go.”

“Have two whole minutes gone already?” asked Gideon, “My, my, isn’t time flying?”

“Shh!” said Eddie, “Did you hear that? Someone’s screaming.”

“I think it’s that hedgehog at the end easel, she keeps shrieking with laughter. I don’t think she’s taking this lesson seriously, at all.” 

“No,” said Eddie, “there’s definitely someone screaming… oh, it seems to have stopped.”

Leonora appeared at the door of the studio, pushing what looked like a scrawny, pink-skinned rat in front of her. He had his hands crossed over his modesty and he was glaring at Eddie. 

“There, that’s much better, tiny creature,” she said, “now, go and join your friends.”

“Brian? Is it you?” asked Eddie aghast, “What happened to you?” 

“I will never forgive you for this, Eddie! That was agony! If my hair doesn’t grow back, I’m going to sue. I thought she was taking me into a candle-making class when she started talking about hot wax. But I can tell you, she had no intention of making candles!” 

Links to previous stories in The Macaroon Chronicles series
The Macaroon Chronicles Prologue and the Three Wise Monkeys -

About the author

Dawn’s latest book is ’The Basilwade Chronicles’ published by Chapeltown Books. She enjoys writing in different genres and has had romances, speculative fiction, sci-fi, humorous and women’s fiction published in magazines, anthologies and books. Dawn has also had two plays about World War One performed internationally. You can follow her here on, Facebook here DawnKnoxWriter or on Twitter here