Chapter 30 – Iveco Minister 3 horse day box

My bones ache, deep down ache.
Not pain, not real pain, not like when the needle man came, pulled my leg, my bad leg, hurt so much that i wanted to hurt him, smash his head in, but I didn’t, because I am a good girl, so I just stood there, being a good girl.

Sometimes, in the morning, they hurry me too much, expect me to walk too quickly, it takes a while for my old bones to get warmed up, get moving, but I do my best, try and keep up.

When the needle man came, she did that thing with her eyes, that crying thing and I leaned against her and she cried into my coat.

Outside, the others don’t always stay with me, I get scared that I will be left alone, but Jasper, Jasper is a good boy, he stays with me, makes sure that I am not on my own.

I am tired, glad that I don’t have to work anymore except when I see her fussing over one of the others and then I feel something I have no words for.

People think we are stupid, but we hear well and listen carefully and almost never forget anything and we watch everything.

Sometimes, late at night she comes and stays with me and i lean into her and smell her, such a familiar smell and I eat and we are there together and it’s good and safe.

I can’t remember a time when she wasn’t here, not really, just little pictures, myself, but young, my legs gangly and then later when I learnt to be a good girl and to try hard and do my best and I can remember running, when nothing ached and I can remember running with her, when the others could not catch us up and she laughed and when we got to the top of the hill she told me I was a good girl, a great girl and i was happy, knew I had done my best.

I remember running with the dogs, their music cutting across the morning mist and my excitement and the running, oh the running.

And i remember when she wanted me to go in circles and I tried, I really tried and sometimes she was pleased and told me I was a good girl and sometimes she was cross and i wanted to tell her that i was doing my best, but sometimes it hurt, because already my bones were beginning to ache.

i have met so many of the others over the years, black, brown, white, big and small. I am easy going, get on with everybody, I am known for it, for being a good girl, never starting fights, being difficult. Sometimes the others would just go away, never return and sometimes it would be me who left, but there was always a new friend,a new outside and besides she was always there, keeping me safe.

Nowadays, i would prefer to stay in the indoors, warm, no mud, plenty of food, so today, i am happy when no-body comes to take me & Jasper to the outside and even when no breakfast comes, I don’t worry, just stand looking out, being quiet, being a good girl.

Finally, she is there, breakfast in hand and I make the special food noise, the one that makes her laugh, but she doesn’t, not today and the breakfast is wrong, has sweeties in it. Sweeties are for afterwards, for after work, for when I have been an especially good girl, but, I eat them, enjoy them, even if it’s confusing.

And then the lorry comes and I wonder which of the others it is for and then she leads me out of the inside,slowly, carefully and I realize that the lorry is for me and I wonder where we are going and who the new friends will be and i am a bit excited, walk a little quicker, eager to get there, wherever there is.

I am good at travelling, so I don’t understand her face when i get on straightaway, she is normally pleased, likes it when i show everyone how good i am and then i am on and the lorry starts to move.

Everyone agrees, it is heartbreaking, the way the old mare sees the lorry and perks up, obviously thinking she is going somewhere. She almost trots up the ramp, loads herself and buries her big brown face in the hanging hay net.

The woman gets into the filthy battered tiny 4×4 and follows the horse transporter.

The hunt yard is quiet, very clean, solid brick stables and kennels full of hounds and terriers.

The mare comes off the lorry, head in the air, a little anxious, not sure where she is, what is happening. The men are quiet, gentle, stroking her head, finding treats in their pockets.

The woman pets the horse too, rubbing her ears.
Tears are pouring down her face, her shoulders shake with sobs.
The men nod, tell her its time, she hands over an envelope, payment for this service.

She walks back towards her car, turns for one last look, the men have produced a feed bucket and her last view is of the old mare, face in an unexpected second breakfast.

She drives away, twenty yards away, she has to pull over into a muddy gateway, where she is violently, horribly sick.

Chapter 29 – Saab 93 Convertible

You want to laugh out loud when you see the traffic jam stretching ahead for miles, yessss, you think, metaphorically punching your arms in the air,a result, with any luck you will be stuck here for hours.
All around you other drivers sit hunched over their steering wheels, desperately trying to make forward progress, mobile phones clamped to ears as they attempt to re-arrange their day,faces tense, tight, but you are different, you lean backwards, slip off your shoes and then stretch luxuriously and then you carefully, deliberately switch off both the phone the radio and the I-Pad and you sit back and fall into this stolen moment, this almost silence
Of course, its not really silent, the middle of a huge traffic jam is as noisy as it gets, the sound of a thousand engines all in neutral, all going nowhere, the constant rings, beeps, chirps of mobile devices and the snippets of music, talk shows, current affairs floating over the stalled movement machine.

You cast an almost professional eye over the jam, you have become a cognoscenti of queses, a reader of random traffic torpor and you estimate this one to be worth at least 30 minutes, maybe even more of the next exit has chugged to a halt too.

Thirty minutes, half an hour, a significant block of time to be off message, under the radar and yes of course you could use the time to make calls,send e-mails, read reports, be productive, but you have made a vow to yourself, that this year you will start stealing from the corporate world where you have spent your working life.

Not money, not stuff, not even ideas or insider knowledge, you are stealing time, taking back, one minute at a time, to try and reclaim all the hours, days , months that they have taken from you in twenty five years of work.

The rules are simple,in any situation possible, without risk of censure or causing trouble to colleagues, you will do as little as is possible and ideally nothing at all – it is your way of trying to reclaim your life.

It failure
Delayed flights
Snow on the track
Meetings in which colleagues fail to attend

All of these are fertile ground for your re-appropriation of time, but it’s traffic jams that have been the most useful.

You can, quite legitimately, you feel, explain that you were unable to make calls, send mail, pull together a PowerPoint as the traffic was so stop start that it needed your full attention and so far, no-one has questioned this or wondered why you seems to meet such terrible traffic so very often.

You have calculated how much of your life has been wasted, stolen by the world of work

I’ve been thinking recently about how short life is and, on average, how much of it we spend working. I decided to do some calculations and see exactly how our time is used. If we consider that an average working week is 40 hours then that equates to 1,960 hours per year once annual holidays are deducted. That’s 22.4% of our lives, not including any overtime that we may be required to complete.

I took it a step further because I was intrigued how many hours that we spend working in an average lifetime. This is where things really add up. Allowing for school and tertiary education, let’s assume that the average person begins their working life at age 21 and retires at 65. That’s a career that spans 44 years. If we use the same 40-hour working week we arrive at a figure of 91,250 hours!

That’s a huge amount of time and accordingly it’s a huge proportion of our lives that is consumed in this way. The average human life expectancy in developed countries is 78 years, which means that we sleep for about 205, 000 hours. All our other chores and tasks have to be done in the remaining time which means that there’s often very little time left for relaxation and leisure.

and have decided on a number of refinements to help you calculate exactly how many hours you will need to re-claim.

You admit that some elements of work have been worthwhile, even interesting or at least useful to others if not to yourself, so you have re-thought the original maths. The world of work owes you, you have decided, 30% of your work life back, that’s for the pointless training seminars, the sales meetings, the just ironing out the bugs in the new software weeks and months.They owe you time for making you write reports on subject so obscure that you began to suspect that you had fallen into a Kafkaesque nightmare.

Of course some of the time stolen from from you is harder to calculate, is more than the actual hours, minutes and days, carries a heavier tariff. So, the two days spent at a pointless conference in Vancouver which cost your presence at the birth of your second daughter will need at least a month of re-claimed time, the meeting that ran endlessly over and kept you in an airless windowless room while your mother fought and lost her own battle with airlessness, well, you haven’t yet calculated that payback rate, but you know it will be high.

Today’s’ traffic jam is for all the missed assemblies, all the lost chances to see your son, your daughter on a wobbly primary school stage. Your phone rings and you carefully ignore it.

There are of course additional rules, conditions that you have imposed upon yourself. The delays must be genuine, you cannot invent over turned lorries on the M25, trains de-railed in ice and snow, fog bound panes at Gatwick.
You must occupy the moral high ground even as you steal back the fragments of your life.

Regretfully, you see that the traffic is moving and you look at your watch, twenty two minutes, a successful, worthwhile delay.

You are reconciled to giving the rest of the day, the working hours, back to the world of business, but then, only twenty minutes later, fortune smiles on you.
A single lane road, far too twisty to even consider overtaking and oh joy, you are forced to drive at less than twenty miles an hour, a large white horse lorry, followed closely by a filthy Suzuki Jimny. The lorry is being driven carefully, slowly, but the Suzuki is far more erratic, driven as if the driver is paying not enough attention to the road.

You sit back, consult your watch again, if all goes well, you may be able to reclaim a whole hour today.

Chapter 28 – Mr Whippy – stop me and buy one

Ice Cream Vans play a part in everyone’s life. Whether young or old, each and every individual has a fond ice cream memory.

Mobile Ice Cream Vans first appeared at the beginning of the 20th Century and have established themselves firmly in today’s society.

Ice Cream Vans offer you the flexibility of vending in a variety of locations allowing you to take the ice cream to the people. And you are not just limited to ice cream; these custom built vans allow you to sell the exact products your customers want.

Whitby Morrison are the world’s leading manufacturer of Ice Cream Vehicles; established by Bryan Whitby in 1962 in the UK, our products have been exported to 60 countries around the world. A dedicated team of the UK’s finest craftsmen ensure that Whitby Morrison Ice Cream Trucks are the finest available in the world today.

The Whitby Morrison factory is purpose-built with separate moulding, fabrication, refrigeration, vehicle build, paint spray and finishing facilities. Confidential research and development is conducted in our own independent design centre. As the demands of the market develop, so does the capacity for innovation and level of in-house ability. Ice Cream Vehicles are the core product of Whitby Morrison, alongside Trailer Kiosks and Tricycles.

Today, Bryan’s son Stuart is Managing Director and in 2005 Bryan’s eldest Grandson, Ed, became the first from a third generation of the Whitby family to join the Company. These three generations and their workforce continue their work together, with that same belief:

“we produce the very best, or we produce nothing at all”

He scowls down at the child,who is only just tall enough to peer over the counter.
“Whaddya want then?”
The boy who, he can tell from bitter experience,is a ditherer,the kind of kid who will make and change his mind six or seven times,is staring intently at the empty wrappers stuck on to the inside of the van as a make shift menu. He is mouthing the different names to himself,trying them out on his tongue, trying to work out which one will catch.

Funny Feet
Tongue Twister
Orange Maid
Milk Maid
Lolly Gobble Choc Bomb
Mini Milk
Cider Refresher

The Ice cream man glares at him
“Come on,I havnt got all day”

But he has of course, his pitch at the Country Park on a bitter February day will hardly bring in enough to cover the diesel, so he stick it out, hang around till school chucking out time, hope that some of the yummy mummies will decide that a blast of fresh air is on the agenda today, hope that the pester power will drag at least a few of them towards his van.
” I want…………………” but indecision paralayses him and the childs’ voice trails off.
The ice cream man tries to smile, bares his teeth in what even he doubts is an encouraging expression.
“Come on sonny, they’re all good”
He grabs a handful of lollies from the freezer behind him and displays them fanlike to the child.
The boy scowls, knowing he is being rushed, the delicious anticipation, the choosing , that moment of decision making should be within his control,not this angry loking grown up.

There is a pause, the ice cream man becomes aware of a tingling in his fingers, the bloody ice lollies are making his already cold hands unbearably uncomfortable. Without turning round he slings them back in the open freezer. That will be another complaint at the depot, another crime against frozen confectionairy, not keeping the product trays tidy.

The boy speaks
” I want a 99 with sprinkles, jelly sweeets and strawberry, no chocolate sauce”

He sighs and starts to prepare it and then of course the boy changes his mind and wants strawberry sauce and then fumbling in his fleece, the child is 10 p short, but the product is made and the ice cream man shoves it at him and digs around in his pocket to make up the short fall,thereby avoiding the sin of not balancing the take.

The child walks off, no please, no thank you.It has been a graceless exchange. The ice cream man wonders where his parent is, they are meant to keep an eye on this sort of thing, head office is keen to promote them as the ears and eyes of a community,made them watch a video at the last product launch.

The ice cream man stares and looks into space.There is a lot of space in the almost deserted car park and then a car drives in,one of those tiny Italian ones and parks next to him. There is an explosion of dogs, as three of them attempt to exit the car at the same time. They are huge, the biggest alsations he has even seen and at their middle is a short blond woman, well wrapped up against the biting cold. The dogs leap, bounce, frisk, all wagging tails and smiling mouths and the woman is smiling too,enjoying their chaos,their excitement.

She looks up at the ice cream van,the man slumped over the counter,picking his teeth.
She smiles at him,her face lit up with joy,
“Isnt it a lovely day” she says and then she and her pack make their joyous way towards the park gates.

The ice cream seller sighs and goes back to picking his teeth.

Chapter 27 – little red sports car

brummmmmmmm, brummmmmmm, car goes into the garage, neeearrrrrrrrrrr, crash, noooooooooooo, quick get superman, him mend the car, make him better, all better now, car goes fast, jumps, flying car, Transformers
The Transformers! More than meets the eye!
Autobots wage their battle to destroy the evil forces of the Decepticons!
The Transformers! Robots in disguise!
The Transformers! More than meets the eye!
The Transformers!

Car climbs mountain, bump, bump bump, car so tired now, needs cuddle, the big boy will cuddle the car, make it sleepy, feels nice, cold, stroke the car, ummmmm, tastes salty, like crisps.

The big boy likes crisps, not pink one though, green ones are best, blue ones second best, nearly as nice. Mummy says crisps are bad, apples are better.

After singing and before painting, we have apples and juice, the best juice is red juice but only with a straw.

Bendy straws are the best but Mummy forgot when she went to the shops, but Daddy said be a big boy, help your mummy, so I said that the juice was just as nice, but it wasnt.

Car is awake now, wants a big adventure, the big boy says we must watch out for pirates, get the treasure. The pirate ship got broken, silly Maeve, tried to make the ponies go in, everyone knows that pirates don’t have ponies. The big boy told her but she didnt listen and Mummy got cross, said that big boys dont fight. Mummy gives Maeve the best pirate, the one with the black beard, the big boy is sad but strokes the red car, up and down, up and down, up and down and then when Mummy isnt looking he rubs the car against his cheek. Daddy said only little babies did this, not big boys like him.

Babies and toddlers need transitional items – items that make them feel safe when they go to visit relatives, start daycare, or enter any unfamiliar environment. The child’s temperament will determine what the child chooses as their transitional object. It’s important for parents and caregivers to know that each child is an individual and that the child needs to choose the objects that make them feel safe and secure.

Mummy’s car isn’t moving, but his car is busy, up and down up and down
Stop it says Mummy, stop it, she shouts, I cry, not a big boy now, just a little baby, thumb sneaks into mouth, naughty thumb, bad thumb, the big boy promised his Daddy.

Chewing gum, be careful says Mummy, dont swallow it, he is careful, keeps his mouth open, yum yum yum, nice, like toothpaste. Mummy says do it yourself, here is your postman pat toothbrush, up and down, up and down, up and down

Postman Pat. Postman Pat.
Postman Pat and his black and white cat.
Early in the morning, just as day is dawning,
he picks up all the post bags in his van.

Postman Pat. Postman Pat.
Postman Pat and his black and white cat.
All the birds are singing,
and the day is just beginning.
Pat feels he’s a really happy man.

Cats are nice, cats are soft, the big boy can write C A T, he did a painting at painting time, him, mummy, daddy and a big cat, the cat was orange, mummy had blue hair, Maeve had the red, wouldnt share, naughty Maeve.

Big dogs, I wave at the dogs, I tell Mummy look at the big dogs, the big dogs are smiling, the big boy smiles back, the lady smiles and Mummy smiles and the big, big dog, him is so clever, he waves back.

Daddy wants a dog,but Mummy says that dogs are dirty,make mess.
Like in the park when Daddy had to take his shoes off, wash them in the grass, Daddy was cross, the big boy was sad but Mummy got ice cream, pink ice cream.

Sleepy now, car rubs against face, sleepy, car is sleepy, the big boy is sleepy, smiles at the doggies, the doggies smile back.

Hush, little baby, don’t say a word.
Papa’s gonna buy you a mockingbird

And if that mockingbird won’t sing,
Papa’s gonna buy you a diamond ring

And if that diamond ring turns brass,
Papa’s gonna buy you a looking glass

And if that looking glass gets broke,
Papa’s gonna buy you a billy goat

And if that billy goat won’t pull,
Papa’s gonna buy you a cart and bull

And if that cart and bull turn over,
Papa’s gonna buy you a dog named Rover

And if that dog named Rover won’t bark
Papa’s gonna buy you a horse and cart

And if that horse and cart fall down,
You’ll still be the sweetest little baby in town.

Chapter 26 – Landrover Freelander

Despite the Land Rover badge, which should have conferred supreme off-road ability, the first Freelander compact soft-roader was not blessed with greatness. It was plagued by mechanical dramas, including a V6 petrol engine with an appetite for head gaskets.

When the time came in 2004 to give the vehicle a makeover, Land Rover had the opportunity to exorcise a few demons but it didn’t work out that way.

Rather than address reliability issues, Land Rover gave the car a mostly cosmetic styling makeover.

Mechanically, Freelander buyers received fewer, not more, choices, as the troublesome petrol V6 was dumped. That meant the only engine became the 2.0-litre, four-cylinder turbo diesel. The base-model S had the option of a manual gearbox but the SE and HSE models were automatic only. The auto suited the vehicle better anyway and fuel economy was pretty good.

With just 82kW of power and about 1700 kilograms to haul around, it was anything but overpowered. Handling was disappointing, too, with limited grip on the bitumen.

For all the hoopla about it being a new model, the Freelander’s reliability was not the great leap forward it should have been.

“Stop it” I say, my voice sharper than maybe I intended, but it’s just annoying and he knows it and still bloody does it.
I turn round to glare at him, I’ve got plenty of time, the bypass is completely gridlocked, no chance of the car moving, no chance of me getting him there on time now.
He stops, for a moment anyway, although I know from bitter experience,that this is only a respite.The moment he thinks my attention is diverted, he will start again and then I will shout and the morning commute will end in tears,again.

I stare at the unmoving traffic, we are going to be late, seriously late, I will be judged and found wanting, again.

I’m so wound up that I find my teeth biting down on a nail and only just manage to stop myself in time, the last thing I need is ragged, chewed finger nails.
I think longinly about the packet of Marlboro Lights hiden in the depths of the glove compartment. The moment I drop him off and have driven safely out of sight, I will light one.It is probabaly the highpoint of my day.

“Dog” says Ben, ” Big Dog, mummy, look” and he’s right, in the tiny car next to us are three of the biggest dogs I have ever seen, the car is 90% dog, windows steamed up with doggy breath, paw prints everywhere, god, it must stink in there, but the woman,the driver looks madly happy, she’s singing along to the radio, absently patting the biggest dog, the one in the front seat, actually the one filling most of the front of the car.
It’s one of the good things about the 4×4, you can really look down on people, have a good nose in their cars, their lives.
Simon said that it was the perfect car for me, but then Simon said a lot.

“Brum, brum, car goes into the garage,brum brum”,he’s started doing it again, running his toy car up and down the back of my seat. It’s one of those sensations that starts off as nothing, but the longer it continues, the more annoying it gets until finally you just want to scream
“Stop it”, so I do and then of course there’s tears and then, then he pulls the flanker
“I want my daddy………………I want my daddy”

So then, I’ve got instant guilt, guilt AND lateness, great, so I start rummaging in the glove compartment, hoping the ciggies don’t fall out, and bingo, sugar free chewing gum. Ben is placated with the lure of grown up sweeties and the tears dry up
“Look ,look at the doggies,lets wave to them”

Simon said we should get a dog, said every family should have a dog, said it would be good for Ben, good for us, we could go for lovely long walks in the country when he was home and when he was away, well, the dog would bark, keep us safe, make me feel more secure.
I looked around the house, imported stone floors, cream sofas, nothing out of place and I shuddered, the idea of paw prints,hair, slobber made me feel actually sick and I managed to head that idea off at the pass.
And besides, there was no dog on earth that could keep me feeling secure in those 6 month,9 month stretches.
But these dogs, the giant dogs in the clown car are doing the trick, Ben is smiling, showing them his red sports car and the woman, the woman feels our gazes, looks up and smiles a smile of complete joy and then she picks up the paw of the dog next to her and moves the paw so the he is waving back. Ben is delighted, laughs out loud and I can’t help myself, I laugh out loud too and for a moment,there is complete happiness, a tiny dialogue betweeen the woman with the pets and the fleecey top and us.

But, we’re still going to be late, appallingly, toe curlingly late, again.
Simon said that I had no time management skills, no discipline. When he came home,he would look at the bad habits, the sloppiness that Ben & I had fallen into. Tea on trays in front of the TV, Sunday mornings in bed, Ben watching cartoons while I dozed, dishwasher left half filled for days, hoover standing sentry in the hallway,not back in its proper place in the cupboard under the stairs.
His lips would tighten ,just a little, and I would up my game and Simon would take over the ironing because he said he was better at it than me.

Bugger,bugger , bugger. I turn round to talk to Ben and he’s fallen asleep, this is a disaster, this means that I’ll have to wake him when we get there and then he’ll cry and they will look at me in that way they’ve been looking at me for months and even my cigarette,my favourite smoke of the day won’t take that taste out of my mouth, the taste of failture, again.

I know I should wake him now,prod him ,but I can’t bear to.
Simon said I was too soft on him, let hin get away with too much, had started talking about prep school, common entrance, boarding school, mapping out a future with a terrible militairy precision.
His son following in his footsteps.

And the traffic is still not moving, we’ve advanced maybe 200 yards in 20 minutes, Ben has curled up in his car seat, face pressed against the fabric, but still clutching the little red car in his fist. I’m wondering about a sneaky cigarette,open the window wide, breathe the smoke out. I know it’s bad, but, but, butt, I smile at my own terrible pun.

Simon said that smoking was disgusting, cheap, bad for him, bad for his son and although it felt like a bit of an afterthought, bad for me too.
I smoked when we met and then it was ok,part of who I was,it didn’t seem to be an issue, it changed when we got married.
That’s when I became a secret smoker, inventing journeys so that I could top up my nicotine levels.I didn’t want to give up, it was my final link to my old life, my dirty, urban life and besides, i didn’t want to put on weight.

Simon said that being fat was a sign of laziness, the symptom of disorder,of someone who isn’t trying anymore.

I sigh, check the babba is soundly asleep and then and I sneak, actually sneak in my own car, get the packet and light a cigarette ,it’s not as good as the usual morning one, but it’s OK and then guilt kicks in and I have to throw it out of the window,hoping no-one will notice, judge the bad mother subjecting her tiny child to the dangers of passive smoking.

The car ahead starts moving,the jolt wakes Ben, too abrupt, he is startled,starts to cry and I look around madly for something to distract him, the lighter is probably not great, nor the scrunched up silver paper from the fag packet.
Simon said I was too casual, not careful enough, not a good enough mother, not fit to care for his son.

Finally, the traffic is moving, I can see our exit ahead and breathe a sigh of relief, we will only be averagely late.
I signal, Ben is happier
“Bye bye doggie” he shouts, waving happily as the joyous woman and her huge pets continue up the by-pass.

We are nearly at the nursery, I look in the mirror, arrange my face in an appropriate expression and pull into the car park.
The young women are gentle with me and Ben, careful around us, considerate, quiet. No-one mentions how late we are.

i start the drive home, savoring the pleasure of the proper cigarette and defiantly keep the window closed.

Simon said that this would be the last tour, that everything would be OK, that nothing bad would happen and then Simon said
“we need to talk Fleur, we really need to talk when i get back”.

I think about the house, unwashed breakfast dishes in the sink, an ashtray on the kitchen table, a basket of over due ironing in the utility room, a muddle of my nightie, Ben’s superhero pyjamas in the double bed.
I look at my face in the mirror and I laugh and I laugh and I laugh.

Chapter 25 – Fragments of Conversations in Cars

Conversation 1
She looks away, fiddles with the ashtray, tries not meet his eyes. The car moves forward, stalls. He curses,but the car coughs into life and they move all of 40 feet before everything stops again.
She turns on the radio, hoping for upbeat, cheerful music, a tune they both recognise, something with a good chorus, but the radio has , yet again, re-tuned itself to Radio 4 and there’s some bloke talking about the stock market, falling prices, a double dip recession. there is a pause, a silence and then he asks
“How bad is it?
She looks up from her careful contemplation of her nails, startled.
“I opened your mail” His voice is tight with pent up anger
“£45,000” – her voice is gentle,low key, as if this will make any difference to the outcome.
She watches as he grips the steering wheel, his knuckles white.
The traffic moves and the car stalls again and this time he does nothing and the car sits, motionless in the slow moving traffic.

Conversation 2
“Its not you, its me”, Alex has the decency to look embarrassed, the lie sticky in his mouth, catching on his tongue.
They sit, side by side, both looking straight ahead.
Nell refuses to make it easy for him, “exactly, how does that work then?” she asks.
This is not playing by the game, she should begin to cry quietly, so that he can comfort her, talk about what a shit he is, how he’s not good enough for her, describe his emotional crippledom.
But, her voice is chirpy, interested, she considers him carefully, as if he was an interesting but unexpected find at a car boot sale, at any minute, he thinks she will touch him, check him for flaws, marks of over-usage.
He tries again ” I’m in a bad place right now, can’t give you what you need, what you deserve….” he pauses, waiting for her to pick up the cue, make the right response, get this little scene back on the proper tracks.
Nells’ voice is bright, brittle, she smiles
“No, it is me, you don’t want me anymore and you haven’t got the guts to say it, haven’t got the balls to tell me her name, her, that girl, the one who hangs around, thinks I don’t notice her eyes on you, watching you, your every move”
The car hasn’t moved for at least a minute.
Nell straightens up, makes her decision and in one movement, the car door is open and she is gone.
Alexs’ last ever view of her is her back, ram rod straight as she walks through the stalled traffic.

Conversation 3
David is watching Martin drive, his right hand on the gear stick, left one casually hooked around the wheel. He is trying to be subtle, hopes that the other man hasn’t noticed, felt the intensity of the gaze.
David has spent hours watching him, at meetings, in team briefings, over averagely cooked food in the budget cafes the IT dept frequent.
He knows his body, the public body intimately, the way the hairs on his neck curl when he is due a haircut, the tiny chip on his front tooth, the silver ring he always wears on his left hand, index finger.
The private body, hidden under clothes, is something he doesn’t dwell on, although the image of Martin, clad only in white boxers, showering after an inter- dept football match, haunted and filled his bed time fantasies for weeks last year.
David knows today is crunch time, a three hour drive to a satellite office, it will be the longest time they have ever spent together and he need to grab this opportunity with both hands, to actually do something, to stop being a bystander.
He’s practiced the speech, on his own in front of the mirror and then with Claire, fag hag extraordinaire and his best friend and after the last run through, she said he was ready, at the top of his game.
He clears his throat, coughs, coughs again,
“Martin” he says “Martin, I’ve got something to tell you”.

Conversation 4
I smile, bright, upbeat smile and turn to her
“bloody traffic, hope we don’t miss your appointment, bet we can’t find a parking space,probably won’t even have time for a cuppa”
I’m babbling, trying to keep the terrible silence at bay “shall we throw caution to the wind, treat ourselves to a nice lunch afterwards, we could really push the boat out, have a couple of glasses of wine”
I try not to look at her, skin so thin, bones so sharp that I can imagine them forcing their way out, the skull becoming all too apparent.
“It’s Valentines’ Day, maybe we ought to buy some nice chocolates, be a bit naughty, what do you reckon?”
She turns, slowly, every movement considered, weighed up, I try to ignore the grimace of pain, the shrug, the empty eyes.
“It’s nearly half term, we could book a few days away, find a nice country hotel, open fires, laze about, have someone else make the beds for a change”.
Her voice is tiny, dry, diminished.
“I’m dying ” she says and my hand reaches out, finds hers, hot, dry, even her fingers feel thinner.
” I know”, I manage and for a long moment we are still, holding hands and then the car behind honks and I jump in my own skin and the car moves forward.

Conversation 5.

Bloody Steph, bloody Ange, bloody Manjeet, yeah its easy for them. They’re not here, stuck in a car with Bev and Bevs’ bloody, bloody BO. Do it when you give her a life they said, it’ll be private, discreet, not too embarrassing. You’re good at this sort of thing, good at talking to people and someone’s got to do something,customers are starting to complain. You’re the supervisor they said, you sort it out.
So, here I am, with Bev and her sniff and her BO and her terrible dandruff and I really wish it was summer, because then I could open the windows and get a big breath of fresh air, but it’s February and I can’t open the window cos she’ll think I’m a loony.
Bev is routing in her handbag, I wish to god she was looking for a handkerchief, but I’ve had two years of Bevs’ bloody sniff and I’ve never seen her use a tissue yet, so I can’t believe I’m going to get lucky today.
I want to feel sorry for Bev, her cheap nasty clothes , the three blouses she wears in rotation but never seems to wash, her hair, lank, greasy, her skin, sallow, tired.
I’ve heard the way her mother talks to her on the phone, the way that customers laugh at her, I want to feel sorry for her, but then she moves her arm and unleashes a wave of body smell so pungent that I can almost visualize it moving across the car.
I want to feel sorry for her, but I can’t.
” Bev” I say ” you stink”.

Chapter 24 – Fiat Uno

Yeah,its a stupid car, especially when its full of dog, old boy in the front,just reinforcing his senior pet status, the girls in the back, furry faces pressed against the windows,tails going a million miles, a walk, an adventure , the pack out and about.
I could have kept the big car, the 4×4, made him leave that behind as well, but you know what, I was just so glad to see the back of him, I didnt think, didnt work out how me and the dogs would manage in the tiny car,the toy car he used to call it,laughing, at it,at me.
And anyway, the Shogun, it was all part of his world, his manliness, the big dogs, the big car ,the big man.
We showed him though and the memory makes me smile and i move my hand off the gear stick, scratch the old boy’s ears, he wriggles with pleasure and from the back of the car,the girls surge forward, thinking that they’re missing out on something and I have to put my stern voice on, restore order, remind them of the hierarchy.

We’re driving to their favourite walk,the country park and its my day off, so we’re going for a long run, then home, house peaceful, quiet, just us.
Just me and the dogs.
they’ve changed in the last few months,become less watchful, calmer. We still all curl up on the sofa together, but its different now, still comforting, their warm doggy weight on me, but they’re not waiting for the key in the door and neither am I.

Traffic is heavy, slow moving, I’m stuck behind a furniture van, “Bespoke sofas, individual designs, one off pieces”.
I’ve got plenty of time to read it, cos we’re not going anywhere. The girls are restless, moving around on the back seat, but the old dog is quiet, occcasionally he licks my hand, just reminding me that he is here.
I wonder how much a bespoke sofa costs, do you get to choose everything,even the shape of the legs?
If i could have any sofa, well, it would be like that patchwork quilt I saw in a museum one day,hundreds and hundreds of different bits of material, they shouldn’t have gone toghether, but somehow they did and I looked at it for ages, wondering where all the bits had come from and how long it took to make.
if I had that kind of sofa, I would lie on it at night, dogs close to me and I would look at the patterns and make up stories about about all the fabrics,the dresses they came from, the women who had worn them and, yeah , I know that sounds mental, weird, but I can do what I like now, i dont need to please anyone, I dont need to please him.

He never really liked them, not really. Although he said he did and he certainly liked the attention. 3 big dogs, walking to heel, big furry minders.
“yeah” he’d say
“attack dogs, trained, kill you on my say so”
And the dogs would look at him and then turn away, eyes fixed on me, tails wagging in unison.
They were just part of the whole package, CCTV, baseball bat leaning on the wall by the front door. Ready for some invasion, desperate to be the man who saw off some scumbag robber.
As if anyone was ever going to rob us, I mean really, we had nothing, ancient TV, CD player he found for a tenner at a car boot sale.
He spent more on security than he ever spent on the house or me for that matter.
Everything in the house was as tired as battered as our marriage. I felt about as attractive as the dingy sofa, sagging cushions, unfashionable fabric, yeah that pretty much was me to a tee.
But the dogs, the dogs had the best of everything, fresh meat, big leather collars, food bowls scrubbed out every day, coats brushed till they shone while he watched whatever sport was on the telly and moaned about our lack of Sky Sports.
When we sat on the sofa, the dogs would watch him, vigilant, noticing his every move
“yeah”, he’d nod, satisfied
“they know whose boss”
And he’d pat the nearest, not noticing the tiny flinch, the move away.
His hand just that bit too heavy.
The same way he never noticed my flinch when he touched the back of my neck, his hand just that fraction too heavy on me as well.

He wasn’t a bad man, not really, just stuck in a life he hadn’t planned, didn’t want and it made him angry, made him lash out and there was no-one else to lash out at, so he lashed out at me and the dogs watched, carefully.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I was a battered woman or anything. No late night visits to A&E, no arguments with cupboard doors, well, not many and no-one at work ever asked why I wore so many long sleeved tops, polo neck jumpers, why I jumped if someone so much as slammed a door too hard.

And besides, i had the dogs, some nights when things went badly wrong, afterwards, I would lie on the sofa, the bloody sofa, dogs wrapped round me, their weight a comfort, my hands deep in their fur, finding warmth when I felt so cold.

He liked me to walk the dogs, would watch us leave the house,
“no-ones going to mess with you, not with them around you”
And then he’d go back to the TV, his beer, the match.

When things have been a bit bad for a long time, it takes something really bad for you to notice, to realise that a line has been crossed.

So, the day i couldn’t make it to work, couldn’t cover up the damage, couldnt face the world, I knew something had to change.

I sat for a very long time, staring at the front door, the dogs staying close, unsettled by the change of routine.

And then I heard his key in the door and me and the dogs all sat up straighter, poised.

And as he entered the room, I used the word, the attack word.

When provoked, dogs can be vicious and aggressive adversaries. A well-trained guard dog can use that ability to protect you, your family and your home. Although training a protection or attack dog takes a very high level of expertise, there are ways to prepare your dog for the training .
•Choose the right breed Some of the most effective protection dogs are Staffordshire terriers, German and Belgian shepherds, Dobermans, and Rottweilers. You want to choose a dog that’s naturally suspicious and alert, that will be part of your family and accept you as the leader. Starting with a dog naturally inclined to be adaptable, obedient and protective will go a long way when it’s time to train it to guard you .

I wasn’t really sure what would happen, if they would actually do it.

But they did it, all 3 of them, moving towards him, fast, focused and for a minute, he didn’t quite know what was happening, thought it was a joke, almost a smile on his face.

And then the dogs were on him and he wasn’t smiling anymore and he was shouting.

I stood up, walked towards him, counting in my head
1 2 3. 4. 5. 6. 7. 8. 9. 10
And then I called the dogs off.

I saw him yesterday, I was out, walking the dogs and he saw us, started walking towards us.
I stopped and the dogs stopped at my heels.

He looked at me and he looked at them and then he crossed the road.

The traffic starts moving and the furniture van moves off, turn left and I cant see it anymore, but it’s planted a seed,I start figuring in my head, moving my fingers on the steering wheel while i try to do sums and then I smile and the dogs pick up on my mood,wag their tales.

I’m buying a new sofa when I get paid this month.