I Spy July (through a gap in the storm clouds)

Monday 2nd July

Collect William from the cattery in a caravan (mobile home, corrects Brian). Holy Moley! What a picture of abject misery which has nothing, I hasten to add, to do with the quality of accommodation and care. He looks totally surprised to see me and appears to be in state of mild shock. Back at Convenience Close he gives the house a thorough and suspicious inspection and then follows me around all day, even sitting next to me as I type. Tonight he is on our bed before us and does not move. Very strange. We didn't have this performance last time he was at the cattery for a similar duration.

Tuesday 3rd July

William seems to be back to normal and is pleased to see Good Friend return from her house sitting duties. I think I've solved the mystery, though. As I had been summoned early to London it fell to Brian to deliver William to the cattery, a hitherto unprecedented event, and I fear William had interpreted this as abandonment or at least punishment as his conscience may also have been pricking following the unpleasant terms on which we last parted. Oh dear, these fragile male egos. I don't know about finding paid employment. I already have a full time job just rallying the troops.

Wednesday 4th July

American Independence Day. The significance of the date passes me by until I happen to ring a Houston friend and learn that they are waiting/hoping for the rain to clear so they can fire up the Barbie. Last year Brian and I were in Port Aransas on the SW Texas coast enjoying a pretty impressive firework display but not as impressive as the rain and subsequent flooding which hit the following day. We were marooned in a coffee shop for something like 3 hours waiting for the water level to subside in the car park. At least we weren't stuck in our safari-themed room at the Port Aransas Inn where everything was brown, or if not chocolate then a particularly nasty shade of new baby poo mustard yellow. And we thought Motel 8 was the worst Texas had to offer....

Never mind the Spice Girls reunion, later in the evening good friend and I score massively for Girl Power, defeating both male hegemony and technological tyranny. Good Friend has a Chick Flick DVD saved from the Mail on Sunday and as soon as Brian is safely tucked up we breakout the Tesco's chocolate cake and settle down for a good wallow. Slight problem; only Brian is "qualified" to co-operate the recently acquired DVD player and to wake him up for this purpose would defeat the object big time. "Well, how difficult can it be?" quite rightly questions Good Friend. Approximately 7 minutes experimentation with 2 TV remotes and various buttons on top of the DVD player which require GF to stand on the pouffe to operate and we're in. To say our enjoyment of the film was greatly enhanced by the thrill of our brilliantly executed coup would be no exaggeration at all.

Thursday 5th July

Sitting a deux in the early evening, my eyes widen but I remain stumm as Brian opens a drawer in the Texas bought Home Entertainment Centre (i.e. TV cabinet) and extracts the designated DVD remote.

Saturday 7th July

Shocking revelations in bed this morning. Brian wants to know if I have unlocked both the garage and utility room cat flaps which he had locked prior to William's departure to the cattery some 10 days ago (little wonder he was traumatised). No, I have only released the outer flap not dreaming that anyone would be so obsessed with his own bottom as to block both. But, just a minute, what about the other night when Good Friend and I were up late watching a DVD and William went out but was back in the house in the morning? In mid scoff about cats who apparently materialise through brick walls, the import of my unwitting revelation suddenly resisters. "What DVD?!! You don't know how to operate............... Smothering his disbelief with a Texas sized bolster, I slither out of the marital bed and hurry downstairs to release the utility flap and make grovelling apologies, on behalf of the man upstairs, to a graciously forgiving William.

Sunday 8th July

Roger, the brick paving man arrives before 10 am with some samples. As instructed by My Dear Husband, I make myself presentable and join them just as Roger is telling Brian he could start the job tomorrow, if we so wish. "Oh, we certainly do wish, don't we Dear". The colour drains from Brian's face. Is he not to be allowed even one night of sleeping on it? Nope, because I am already choosing a pretty shade of pale green for the front door which should make a pleasing contrast with the pink brick path. Painting your front door is a radical move on Onceuponafarm Estate and I intend to be in the vanguard.

I am awoken by unearthly moans and screeches close at hand. At first I think it must be Brian dreaming about trying to rescue his DVD player from under a mountain of peach coloured bricks. But no, on second hearing there is something definitely feline in the mix so I reach for a dressing gown and stumble downstairs nearly breaking my neck on the trailing belt. Outside in the misty silence of 4 30 am I can't at first identify the protagonists but a movement in the front bedroom of the house diectly opposite catches my eye. Through the open window a disembodied arm points to the driveway of the house at catty corner (American for at an angle) and yes, there is William pinned down by the brazen black and white bully. Mouthing my thanks to the arm, I advance on the aggressor and get nearly close enough to administer the short, sharp shock beloved of us radical Oldies before Mr Nasty skips off home. I have never come across a cat so determinedly insouciant. The other week I heard a horrible hullabaloo coming from the street and got to the lounge window in time to see the 2 Yorkshire terriers from the top of the Close straining their pink leashes to the limit in the throws of a near fatal apoplectic fit at the unbearably provocative sight of Big Bell nonchalantly licking his bottom in the middle of the road. The look he gave them would have knocked Catherine Tate into a cocked hat. This must surely have been the inspiration for her schoolgirl catch phrase made even more famous by Tony Blair. BB is certainly not "bovvered", unlike William who eventually slinks inside and acts like it's all my fault, again. Sometimes it's hard to be a woman....

Wednesday 11th July

I take back what I said in April about Gordon having a short and ignominious reign. So far, the boy done OK. I am especially pleased that he has put a stop to the Manchester Super Casino. To appease his critics, I suggest a modest Government controlled establishment (generous proportion of profits to charity) in Blackpool to breathe some new life into that moribund resort as even the Labour Party Conference has neglected it of late in favour of more genteel south coast locations. Although, I dare say, in line with his Calvinist principles, Gordon will be holding his first big do in Berwick upon Tweed or Whitehaven.

Thursday 12th July

Whether it is the after effects of a 5 mile walk round our local reservoir on Tuesday or the 2 cocktails imbibed in a town centre hostelry last evening, I have great difficulty leaving my bed this morning. When I finally make it to the kitchen there is William meditating on his favourite garden bench so, mug of tea in hand, I go out to join him. Despite it comprising a mere fraction of the estate he used to roam, William loves this garden for much the same reason as Brian is loath to relinquish this house; it is totally, unthreateningly manageable. From his throne at the back of the plot, William can monitor developments in the kitchen and graciously receive homage through the window. He can also maintain surveillance of all exits, entrances and borders and take evasive or confrontational action (invariably the former) as appropriate. He has a choice of several points of ingress including, worst case scenario if the minions are off duty, two (once again fully operational) cat flaps. In the daytime there is almost total silence, broken only by the occasional birdsong and a brief burst of hysteria from the ridiculous Yorkies on their daily constitutional. And what if his weekend reveries are sometimes disrupted by the panic-inducing piping of children's voices from over the fence or a more than usually unwelcome appearance from That Man. Brian with cup of coffee and Suduko puzzle in hand: cautious green; Brian approaching The Bench: Amber Alert; Brian with lawnmower and /or bug spray in tow: get me George Bush on the phone!!

I can't be the only one who's noticed that both out premiers have the same initials. I wonder if Gordo has a middle name and if it begins with 'W'. William says he has a good suggestion.

Friday 13th July

How very b****y appropriate. I had a very bad night and awoke to a miserable dawn. My Beloved did not come to bed at all last evening. Every hour I woke and hopefully patted the empty space beside me but no, the duvet was cold and empty. Well, after a long day in the garden the poor soul was undoubtedly exhausted and had most probably dozed off on the sofa. Waking earlier than is my wont, lonely and restless, I tiptoe past Good Friend's door and there they are curled up together like a pair of spoons (a soup ladle and a teaspoon if you want the full unexpurgated picture). My barely audible gasp has no effect on GF (ha!) still carrying on a good pretence of innocent sleep but the little spoon stirs and serves me an indigestible portion of smug defiance on top of the unmistakable and equally unpalatable message, "Well, it's been on offer for a good few weeks, thought I might as well take advantage". Somehow I slide downstairs and collapse on the deserted sofa to contemplate the collapse of a once perfect relationship. Some little while later the erstwhile GF slinks in proffering a propitiatory cup of tea, closely followed by the perfidious wretch seeking breakfast. "Never mind your stomach", I coldly advise, "You'd better make sure your documents are in order; the plane leaves in 2 weeks. And as for GF, I'm not saying she's not welcome here in future, but she'd better make sure she adheres to the unwritten but inviolate House Rule Number 1 (2,3,4,5,....) ONLY THE HOSTESS SLEEPS WITH THE CAT!!!

Saturday 14th July

Bastille Day. Still plenty of scope for fireworks on this side of the Channel However, mirabile dictu, Good Friend appears somewhat chastened as she is forced to admit that the aforementioned regrettable incident appears to have been a one night stand as she is disdainfully ignored like a congealed lump of yesterday's cod in jelly. Once again I hold back with the I told you so's. She doesn't even have the satisfaction of calling him a little s****e as, delightfully, he doesn't have one - of any dimension.

Sunday 15th July

Our neighbours are building a second home in their back garden and I'll bet my bottom dollar they don't have planning permission.. We certainly haven't been consulted. Yesterday there was nothing, by 11 am this morning the first floor was going in. Apparently it is for the children, Thea and Billy, their parents having discovered, like so many families in these days of crazy property inflation, that they cannot afford to set them up in a more desirable locale such as, say, Center Parcs. Thea and Billy (strangely, we can't remember the names of the parents) are 5 and 3 respectively and this, lucky pair, is to be their playhouse. OK, so we have brought up 3 girls and no one is more sympathetic than us to the need for parents to provide somewhere safe, stimulating and fun for their children to play but a 2 story Wendy house in a pocket-handkerchief back garden? I feel doubly mean because our girls enjoyed the advantage of a playhouse and many happy summers of imaginative play but it was a single story structure at the bottom of a 100 ft plot. It had numerous incarnations; a house, of course, a school, an office, a hospital and, if the paddling pool was out, a sports centre. Sadly, this perfect private den was defiled and temporarily spoilt for 10 year old Daughter Number 3 and her friend when it was turned into the proverbial Den of Iniquity by Daughter Number One and her posse who stubbed out fag end s on the fitted carpet and deposited empty beer cans in the dollies' cot when they should have been across the road at their Alma Mater learning about the deleterious effects of smoking and drinking and how to successfully fit a condom onto a banana, not leave it dangling from the handlebar of a kiddie trike. I have a feeling that Thea and Billy will not be going down the Primrose (cigarette butts didn't do much for them either) Path to ruin, at least not in their own back yard. This will not be because they are better brought up or even less rebellious but because they will be, unfortunately for all, the cynosure of every window within in a 50-foot radius.

Monday 16th July

Ring around a few local estate agents, my least favourite type of parasite, with a view to getting a house valuation. Despite several previous totally infuriating experiences I decide to give the most notorious set up, Oldboys, another chance. A very efficient young lady greets me like a long lost friend, or Grandma, and requests "a few details":

YL Name?

A Angela Merchant

YL Do you think you could spell that?

A Um, let me see, that would be A N G....

YL Are you the sole owner of the property?

A Why do you need to know; I am not instructing you at this point.

YL Because we like to speak to husband and wife together.

A I realise that I must be giving an Oscar winning performance as an Ancient Relic but my husband is an able bodied 53 year old who still enjoys a very demanding (or so he tells me) full time job. Will your valuer come out at 7 pm to see him?

YL No

A Next question.

YL Describe your house

A It is a 5 bed, 3 bath detached, built approx 6 years ago on Onceuponafarm Estate by an award winning national housebuilder

YL And do you have central heating and double glazing?

A Oh no, we bought the economy model. (Streuth)

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah

YL Thank you for that information, Ang. Is it OK for me to call you that?

A No, this is business and I'd prefer to keep it formal (ie professional - some hope)

YL Oh, alright Mrs er Munchchop. Our highly trained professional will be doing some research on your house and checking on line with Right Move so that he can establish the best possible price.

A Been there, done that.

YL Oh. .... Well, is there anything special about your house which might make it stand out from the rest?

A Yes, actually. We have a green front door and also an uninterrupted view of an Auschwitz-style watch tower in our neighbour's back garden from which they now have a similarly uninterrupted view of me and Good Friend enjoying a ("totally out of control") cocktail hour (Yeah, well, that's the way, ughugh ughugh, we like it) on the once private patio.

YL (Long pause) And , finally, what made you choose Oldboys for your valuation today?

A I've absolutely no idea. Best guess, a sudden TIA resulting in total, temporary amnesia.


Wednesday 18th July

Brian has placed Good Friend and her boon companion under an ASBO (Anti-Social Behaviour Order). It is for "raucous and inconsiderate laughter" after bedtime (his) and also for forgetting to turn out the landing lights, but mainly the former. "What were you doing?" asks Daughter Number 2, just a little censoriously, I thought. "Watching re-runs of "Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps". "Eeeyow, and you thought that was funny?!!" (this from someone whose highlight of the week's viewing was "Ugly Betty"). "Yes, obviously, especially after 2 cans of diet coke and a very large G&T".

Thursday 19th July

Return from an exhaustive and totally exhausting Reconnaissance and Purchasing mission in the extensive Summer Sales (I wonder if Monsoon are wishing they'd picked another name) to find that Brian has not gone to the pub with an ex-colleague as planned but is moping around an empty house waiting for his dinner. So much for cheese and biscuits and a glass of the old Pinot. Good Friend, hopeful of getting her Asbo lifted, (am I bovvered?) sycophantically sidles up and offers soup and Wensleydale (cheese) on toast which is well received but she is still on probation. I retreat to the bedroom with my spoils but my mind is elsewhere. First my cat, now my husband. Has she really booked her passage home or will it be me "on a Greyhound bound for nowhere"?

Friday 20th July

Severe weather warning until Saturday. William tries the front door, then the back followed by the view from my bedroom windowsill before retiring to the kitchen sofa. I wish I'd picked my beautiful single apricot rose before the deluge. This really is beyond a joke but at least we won't flood although I don't suppose Onceuponafarm Estate has ever been put to the test. The watchtower could be a blessing after all.

Monday 30st July

Tomorrow is Good Friend's last day. What to do for a final fling? Lack of forethought means I have a dental appointment in the middle of the day, precluding any long distance expeditions. How about a slap-up Afternoon Tea followed by cocktails at a local hostelrie. I ring around without success and in one instance conspicuous failure. On receipt of my enquiry about the required refreshment a young female voice of pronounced Eastern European origins* apparently and enigmatically replies that "There is no but the bus is always waiting". Feeling that I have somehow stumbled into a 1950's Cold War spy drama, I repeat my request (twice) and eventually crack the code to learn that the bar is open all day and sandwiches can be ordered. Hmm, not quite what I had in mind. I consult my other good friend, Google, about tomorrow's weather prospects and he (she?) has good news: no rain, some sun and temps in the low 20s. So the back garden it is.

Tuesday 31st July

Having baked a cake and put the Cava on ice, I rush off to the dentist leaving Good Friend in charge of her packing and the smoked salmon and cream cheese pinwheel sandwiches. At 4 o'clock I return with all but one tooth having passed muster, and squeeze into the Lily Allen prom dress with the vermilion cabbage roses and black net underskirt purchased in a mood of optimistic abandon for 15 ($30) at TK Maxx way back at the start of the Monsoon season and totter downstairs to greet the third member of our hastily assembled coven, pleasingly laden with homemade scones and jam and a nice bottle of rose hastily purloined from her husband's secret cache. And what fun we have, Charlotte, Emily and Anne beneath the musty floral parasol; Mrs Bennet, Dashwood and Lady Bertram by the gently playing neo classical lion's head water fountain; three ladies of leisure of a certain age and not a daughter married amongst us - the greatest shame falling upon Yours Truly with no less than 3 still to be disposed of. Not even a whiff of "a single man in possession of a good fortune" but plenty who have left a less than delightful odour. It's a heavy burden but a few rounds of Mother's Ruin (margaritas, sparkling wine and a pot of Earl Grey tea) do much to lighten the load. William watches warily but benignly from The Bench, the Watchtower neighbours are safely in Spain and Brian dutifully follows his instructions to the letter and does not put in an appearance before 8 pm. Sisterhood at its best and we don't want it too end but this is real life and the bus (or plane) is always waiting. Come back and play again soon, won't you?

* Just right for sharing

A seemingly sophisticated (and expensive) Russian-owned restaurant, the St Petersburg, has appeared in Middletown. On opening night, prospective patrons are invited to enjoy champagne and "O'Douvres" (sic - oh, I do hope not). Trust the Irish to get a look in!

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