A Moving Story

10 A different light

We first saw the cottage early last year. It was freezing February, the sky was bleak and grey, the hedges lining the narrow lanes were bare and we were lost. We found a pub with a roaring fire and asked the way and were told we’d be mad not to buy any house that came up in the tiny rural hamlet.
But when we finally came across it in the maze of winding lanes criss-crossing the fields, we only saw dark shrubs and dank thatch. We thought it too isolated, too old, too remote. So, a year later, when we walked past the estate agents in the heat of July and M grabbed my arm to point at the chocolate box cottage in the window, I reminded him we’d already seen it and he hadn’t liked it. But I don’t think I’d mind it now, he said.
We were on our way to a house viewing, having commenced our house hunt in earnest once we’d exchanged on the sale of our home. We had rushed to the charity shops with boxes of clothes and toys cleared from our cupboards and were running late for the appointment. But the cottage in the window stopped us, so we arranged to view it the next day.
It wasn’t February, it was July. It wasn’t cold, it was warm and sunny. The trees weren’t bare, the fields were abundant with crops and the cottage couldn’t have looked more different. The thatch looked clean and fresh, roses clambered around the doors and the hedges, which had looked so black and ominous in winter, encircled the garden in a protective hug. The lawns were neat, the paintwork immaculate, the rooms were bright and welcoming. We gazed across the gold and green patchwork of fields to where the sun would later set and we were both entranced. I really like it, M said and I said I think we can make this feel like home.

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How to save the world – chapter three

“Psst! Metal boy! Are you there?” With a scraping of claws, Nat slid down from the back of the cupboard onto which he had been clinging, squashed against the wall.

Puffing himself out and brushing himself down as he walked, he made his way over to the robot which was still lying in a jumbled heap on the floor.

“Well that was a close one wasn’t it, metal boy?” Nat looked down at the robot’s face. Its eyes remained shut, its mouth remained closed. “Personally, I didn’t like the sound of it.” Nat gave a shudder. “Not at all. In fact, I think it may be time to resort to Plan B. Not that there is one. In fact there never really was a Plan A. I mean I was happy enough here in the lab. I could have done with more pizza but Big and Bob looked after me. I’ll be sorry to go. Thing is, metal boy! Hey metal boy!” Nat kicked the robot and the pain of metal on his foot made him regret it. “Metal boy!” he repeated. “I think that woman’s after you too. So we should go.” The robot did not move. “Ok then, be like that, stay here. I’ll go on my own.”

Nat shrugged and turned away. He looked at the door. The handle was still a long way up. The door was, probably, still locked. He sighed.

“Erggh!” The robot moved. “The humans – have they gone?” it asked, its voice grating through the still laboratory air. “Erggh.” It moved again and struggled to a sitting position.

“Glad you could join us metal boy,” said Nat, jumping up and scuttling towards him. “Now come on. Those humans have gone, but they’ll be back. I say we take off sharpish and go some place safer. Now come on lad, open the door.”

The robot scraped and clanked as it got to its feet.

“Why shall we go? Where shall we go?”

“I dunno, but somewhere that isn’t here. Didn’t you hear them humans? They were bad humans, bad with a capital B-A-D. They’ve got something nasty planned, at least that one with the clicky heels and high voice had. I think the other one, Cedric or summat, just does what he’s told. So get that door open and we’ll be off.”

The robot extended a long finger and twisted and turned it in the keyhole. There was a click. The robot paused, then said, “It is not locked now.”

“So, come on then, what are you waiting for?” Nat tapped his foot on the floor.

“My finger is stuck in the keyhole.”

The robot did not completely understand the words that Nat used yet but they sounded harsh and perhaps a little rude. Nat also did what seemed to be a little dance which involved shaking his front paws and stamping his back ones. Finally he sighed. “Right then, metal boy, let’s have a look.” He scampered up the robot’s legs and back and along its arm to the wrist where he stopped and placed his paws around the robot’s finger. “OK now, altogether now, one, two, three, pull…” The robot and the rat pulled hard. The finger did not budge.

“Again!” commanded Nat.

They pulled. They pulled. They pulled.

“Yeeha!” Nat and the robot fell backwards with a crash into the table.

“C’mon then! Hurry!” Nat leapt up and ran to the door.

“My finger!”

“What about it?” asked Nat.

“It is still in the lock!”

Nat looked up. The robot was standing now and holding its right hand in front of its face. The hand had just four fingers.

“Whoops! Well, never mind, you’ve still got some left which is better than having none. Get the door open and we’ll be on our way.”

“But…” started the robot. It looked at its hand and then down at its body. What the rat said made logical sense. It reached its other hand over and moved the handle. The door opened and the robot peered out. Nat waited to know whether it was safe so he was still crouched on the floor in the direct line of the handle when the finger in the lock finally fell out. It hit him on the head.

“Ow!”

“Quiet!” hissed the robot looking at Nat and then around. It hoped the corridor was as empty as it seemed to be.

“Grr!” muttered Nat, rubbing his head with his paw. He looked at the broken robot finger. “Could be useful I suppose.” He picked it up in his mouth.

They stepped out cautiously and the robot pulled the door closed behind them.

Moonlight shone wanly through the window at the end of the corridor and the two of them crept towards it. To its left a deep stairwell plunged down into darkness, lit faintly here and there by moonlight or streetlight from outside the occasional window.

“Down there lies the great outdoors!” said Nat, removing the finger from his mouth and twirling it like a walking stick in his paw.

“What shall we do in this great outdoors?” asked the robot.

Nat had not yet considered this. He only knew that he did not want to stay indoors.

“I have a cunning plan,” he said. “It involves two stages. The first involves finding a nice quiet place to get a bite to eat.”

“What does the second stage of the plan involve?”

“Ah, yeah, well, that’s on a need to know basis.”

“And I do not need to know?” The robot sounded puzzled.

“Yeah, of course you do, metal boy, course you do,” There was a hint of hesitation in Nat’s voice. “Tell you what, I’ll let you in on that over dinner.”

Corruption Exposed

FerdyFliersSMuch later, replete from a supper of Adnams beer battered cod fillet, tartare sauce, mushy peas and hand cut chips followed by strawberry ice cream, Beryl and Ferdinand returned to the tent and settled down for the night.   Soon after dawn Ferdy was woken by the brass alarm bell and the smell of cooking.   The breakfast fry-ups were magnificent, rustled up on a primus and washed down by billy-can tea.   But soon it was time for their mission.   Ms Clutterbuck settled herself in the pilot’s seat.   In the back with Ferdy were bundles of pamphlets tied up with binding twine.   With a roar and a whirr the Dominie bumped and bounded along the makeshift runway, lifted lightly into the air, banked in a wide arc and headed for West London.   Once in the air Beryl started to laugh, a lighthearted tinkling laugh that persisted almost all the time she was airborne.   She had the side windows open and her long blonde hair writhed in the draught.   Once off the ground she was a goddess.

“We’ll start over Hyde Park and the festival and then spiral outwards, make sure we cover as much territory as possible.   Ferdy, you open up the bundles and begin shoving the pamphlets out as soon as were over the target.”   The young bird unhinged the cabin door and placed it carefully to one side, then he cut through the twine on the first bundle with the larger of the two blades on his Victorinox Explorer.   As soon as he saw the big wheel and the Steam Fair below he started scattering the flyers.

“Ha ha, fliers eh?” he shouted to the pilot.

These were not Slasher McGoogs’ usual ranting handbills; these were factual and detailed documents.   The majority of the bundles revealed the contents of the Fluffy Files – Fluffy Media Inc’s extensive archive – information on the misdeeds and indiscretions of the rich, the famous, politicians, law enforcement chiefs and judges – anyone who might one day be persuaded to do the cat a favour, or be susceptible to blackmail or intimidation.   Next came the photographs – telephoto images of peccadilloes and parties, liaisons, meetings and luxury holidays at exotic resorts; fuzzy smart-phone snaps of politicians, policemen, spies, media oligarchs, bikini clad Chattes Souterraines, flauschige kätzchen.   Then there were bank statements detailing payments made and received, false and exaggerated claims, frauds and embezzlements.   Finally the e-mails – so many e-mails – threats and cajolings, cover-ups and conspiracies, self seeking fawnings, advancements, promises and threats.

Nor were civil servants exempt, nor bank managers, local councillors, traffic wardens, nor swimming pool attendants, anyone whose lust for power had compromised his integrity, smothered any vestige of compassion; all were named and shamed.   There was Mr Fluffy laid bare on the printed page – the fantasies and lies, the threats and bribes, and his dealings with Les Chats Souterrains, so tied in with their machinations that he was no more in control of his destiny than any of his victims.   And finally, evidence against Slasher McGoogs himself, the catnip scam and so much more.   Was this his final joke?

At the bottom of each page was the web address where every revelation could be reread and cross-referenced.   Provenances were detailed, sources revealed, and all available on line with a link to Facebook.

As the last leaves fluttered down Ferdy fell back, physically exhausted, but also stunned by what he had read.   Was there not one honest soul, good and true, anywhere in this blighted world?

A Moving Story

9 Homeless
We thought we’d found our next home. Months before we’d sold our house I’d noticed that a cottage where my great aunt and uncle had lived during the war, where other relatives had escaped the bombings and to which my father had cycled from East London as a teenager, was on the market.
I was convinced it was meant to be. It had been extended over the years and M thought it was too big, but we both loved the gardens, the view over fields towards the South Downs, the quiet lane that led off a busy road and the peace of the bluebell woods on the doorstep. I had visited the cottage as an inquisitive child and managed to get myself shut in the hen run for my curiosity. I imagined attending the church in which my aunt had worshipped for most of her life, where I organised her memorial service. I thought how often I could visit the cemetery where my uncle is buried and where my aunt’s ashes joined him on their return from New Zealand twenty years ago. We lunched in the pub which was one of many my publican uncle would have frequented during his years at the cottage and in the town.
Once we were confident our house was going to sell we made an offer which was initially rejected, But then, after a few weeks, we were guided by the agent to increase our offer and we felt sure the cottage was ours. We furnished the rooms in our minds and imagined walking to the pub across the fields and shopping in the nearby town. But the owner did not hear of our offer immediately and by the time she did, a higher offer was on the table, from bidders who had already sold their house. We were shocked and deeply disappointed; we had felt so sure for months that the cottage was going to be ours.
Now nothing else could compare and we knew we had to leave our beloved home in three weeks. And although we were lucky in having a holiday home as a bolthole, we struggled to minimise our belongings and the consequent storage without knowing where we would finally live. We had been so optimistic about selling the house we had loved for 21 years, but suddenly, having no idea where we would finally put down new roots made us deeply anxious. In theory we could continue our house hunt long distance, but in practice we felt homeless, embarking on a journey with no idea of our final destination.

How to save the world – chapter two


“Oh.” Nat paused. “Ah.” Another pause. “Oops!”

Nat walked around the robot. “Hey metal boy, wake up!” He gave it a gentle tap. “Come on!” He shook its shoulder. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. Just larking around. Oh glory! It can’t hear me at all. What am I going to do? Hey, metal boy,” Nat’s voice rose to a squeak. “I said ‘what am I going to do?’”

In the silent laboratory Nat scampered up and down. “It’s not like it’s my fault after all. Big and Bob can’t have made it too well. Never thought they were much good. I’ll just nip back into my cage and pretend I don’t know anything. I was asleep. Yea, that’s it. Big and Bob won’t suspect me.”

He stopped scampering and looked down at the robot.

“Poor metal boy,” he whispered. “I’m sorry.”

Nat turned away and looked up at his cage, high above. He shuffled over to some computer wires hanging down to the floor, gave them an experimental tug and began to climb them.

“Oil!”

Nat was so startled by the robot’s grating croak that he let go of the wires and tumbled to the ground.

“Ow! You made me fall!” he complained, but his voice was light and happy.

“Oil!” repeated the robot.

“Yeah, sure, of course, oil!” Nat skipped across the room and looked up at the table.

“It’s up there, but, hold on, sorry about this.” He clambered onto the robot and walked along his body until he was close to a chair.

“Right,” he said, standing on the robot’s left ear, “I should be able to reach the table from here. One, two, three…” scrabble, scratch, “bother!”

As Nat tried – and failed – to jump onto the table, his flailing paws caught the edge of the can. Nat tumbled to the floor, closely followed by the oil can which bounced against the robot’s body, spraying oil as it went. The robot moved. Oil was trickling along its stomach and down its arms and legs, easing the joints.

“Perfect! And just how skilled am I at putting on a drop of oil?” Nat clapped his front paws together.

“Give me oil can!” creaked the robot.

“Right you are, you’ll soon be right as rain or my name’s not Nathaniel, which it probably isn’t, ’cos that’s just the name Big and Bob gave me. Don’t know what me mum named me. Prince probably, or Glorious One.” Nat jumped lightly off the table and skidded on the oil on the robot’s stomach.

“Whoa! Ow!” he sat up and rubbed his head. “I tell you, it’s all fun and games with you around. Here we are then.”

He pushed the oil can towards the robot who picked it up with stiff fingers and raised it awkwardly to its mouth. It glugged oil down its throat until the can was empty. Then it flexed its joints and rose slowly to its feet.

“Told you, better already,” grinned Nat. “You still look a bit stiff though. Tell you what, let’s do some exercises. Up, down, touch your toes…er, where are my toes? Hmm. Well maybe rats are meant to be a little tubby. Still, come on metal boy – stretch, up, up, uh? What’s that?” He stood on his hind legs, his head to one side.

“What is what?” asked the robot, turning his head to one side to mirror Nat.

“Ssh! I can hear something! Us rats have excellent hearing. Something is coming. Quick! Hide!” Nat leapt off the table and scuttled under a cupboard.

“Where shall I hide?” The robot swivelled its eyes around the room.

“Just lie down, shut your eyes, and your mouth! Honestly,” grumbled Nat, “I thought robots were meant to be clever.”

“I believe you said we must be quiet,” the robot said and sank stiffly to the ground and lay still.

Nat opened his mouth to say something insulting but whatever it was remained unspoken. Instead he stared towards the door. Through the pane of frosted glass in the top half of the door, Nat could see a shape. There was a tap at the door followed by a pause, then a rattle, a clink, a click and a creak. Something or someone had turned a key in the lock and had pushed open the door.

Nat held his breath and backed further under the cupboard.

Light flooded the room. Click, click. Nat could just see a pair of red high-heeled shoes cross the floor.

“Tut! What a mess!” A female voice complained. “Oh, and look, the cage is open. Where is that rat? Cedric!”

“Yes, ma’am.” A gruff male voice responded. Its owner sounded nervous.

“I thought you said the rat would be in the cage!”

“Yes, ma’am. It was earlier. I saw it.”

“It!” muttered Nat. “Him, please. Have some respect.”

“What did you say Cedric?” snapped the female voice.

“I said I saw it earlier.”

“No, you said something else.”

“No, ma’am, honestly I didn’t.”

“Well don’t! Speak only when I tell you too! And, ow!” There was a crunch. “What is that pile of rubbish down there?”

“I, er, think it is a robot ma’am.”

“Yes, I can see it’s a robot. I just hit my foot on it. Let’s have a look at it.” There was some scraping and clanging.

Nat crept forward and peered up. A human female had the robot by the neck so that its body and limbs dangled limply down. Nat willed the robot to keep its eyes shut.

“What’s that?” The man called Cedric dropped to his knees and peered towards the spot where Nat was hiding.

“What’s what?”

“The rat!”

“Well get it then!”

Cedric stretched a gloved hand out and reached under the cupboard. He groped around.

“No, nothing. It must have been a shadow. Sorry ma’am.”

“Stupid man! They must have put the rat somewhere else. We shall have to look around. ”

“Would you like me to carry the robot for you ma’am?” Cedric simpered.

“No, idiot. If we take it now we’ll arouse their suspicions and I don’t want to do that before I’m ready to reveal my final plan. This thing is not finished anyway. It’s just a pile of junk.” There was a crash as the robot was dropped onto the floor. “Come on Cedric. You’ve still got some work to do outside.”

“But it’s raining ma’am,” grumbled Cedric.

“So, a little water never hurt anyone. Hurry now, we need some rats!”

The high heels clicked again towards the door followed by the slower clump, clump of Cedric’s boots. The room went dark. The door creaked, there was a clink and a click. Silence.

Ferdy Finds Beryl

Ferdy was a long time in the tiny orange inflatable life raft, paddling furiously for the shore.   Not that it was far, but an erratic breeze was blowing his little boat all over the dock, his plastic paddle was swivelly and badly designed and mostly he was downhearted about his best present ever just sinking like that.   He had watched the bubbles where the aircraft went down, rising and popping, for quite a while.   Then he got cold and decided to be philosophical about the whole day.   Once ashore he managed to catch an omnibus that was not only going onto the Isle of Dogs, but all the way down to Island Gardens.   In fact he alighted at the North Pole… Really.   It is a common alehouse on the corner of Manila Street.   From here he crossed Millwall Dock at Pepper Street and then struck out across country.   In Millwall there was little indication of the fog that was bedevilling the East End further north and as he approached Mud Chute Farm Ferdy could see the Dragon Rapide, a magnificent yellow Dragon Rapide in Automobile Association livery, sitting at the end of a rough, grass airstrip.

The pilot was tinkering with one of the two Gypsy Queen inline engines, but as soon as she spotted Ferdy’s flying helmet and goggles she waved and rushed towards him.   She wiped some of the oil off her palm and onto her boiler suit and shook his right wing stub, vigorously.

“Beryl, Beryl Clutterbuck.   And you, I am sure, are Mr Ferdinand Desai.”   Beryl was a tall and imposing presence, but Ferdy could not take his eyes of the little saffron Dragon Rapide.

“You an AA Patrolman then?”

Beryl gave him an old fashioned look.

“She was a victim of the cutbacks.   When the AA scrapped their Rapid Response Unit she was put on the market at an unmissable price.   Come and have a good look over her, she’s a DH89A Dominie.  Those Gypsy engines produce 200 horsepower each and she can fly at 131 knots with the wind up her chuff.   I’ve got a thermos flask of lapsang souchong and a packet of Duchy Originals ginger biscuits in the cockpit.   Do you like ginger biscuits?”   Ferdy wondered if he had died in the crash and gone to dodo heaven.

Near to the aircraft was a khaki canvas ridge tent with a pair of Lloyd Loom chairs outside, one pink and the other painted blue.   There was also an ambitious Dutch dovecote on a pole, with a brass bell hanging beneath it.

“It’s the communications centre,” explained Beryl, “The pigeons are for long range messaging and the bell is to scramble the air crew – that’s you and me.   We’ll whiz up to The Gun for supper and you can tell me everything that’s been going on,” she was ushering him into a shiny black Morgan V-Twin Super Sport as she chattered.   The little three-wheeler shot off towards the inn, situated close by the Poplar dock and West India lock gates, famed as a venue for one or two of Nelson’s trysts with young Emma.   Ferdy found the journey to be exhilarating, a bit like flying, but with his bum only twelve inches off the deck.

A Moving Story

8 Downsizing for cats

There are two mice at the top of the stairs. One has lost its tail and whiskers, but the other is still intact. Jack, our ginger cat, has rolled himself up in the landing rug and is surveying his prey. Two weeks ago he had an acre of garden, grassy stretches of grounds and acres of fields to roam; now he is restricted to a courtyard garden, surrounded by small backyards and cobbled streets in this old Cornish fishing village filled with holidaymakers eating pasties and ice cream.
But Jack is adapting. His mice are filled with catnip rather than warm blood and guts and he chases them up and down the flight of stairs in our cottage, encouraged by a ravaged feather duster when he grows bored. He has no trees for sharpening claws, so he has turned to the upholstered sofa, despite admonishments. The local birds are too big to catch and are far too loud but he watches them anyway and has discovered that the neighbouring roofs are all within easy reach, so I wake to see him sitting on a slate roof opposite our cottage and when I call he jumps from house to house and through our bedroom window.
He doesn’t travel out of calling distance as he is unused to hearing people and dogs in such close proximity, but he has a collar all the same which has already been lost once and retrieved. If he does wander off he should be easy to find, as not only is he the only ginger cat in the village, he is also the only cat in the old village. Any mice on the loose will be his for the taking.
And Sammy, our elderly boy, is adapting too. He no longer has his favourite sofa, but he’s found a cushioned armchair to his liking and the gravelled courtyard garden is one big litter tray for his convenience. He spends his time dreaming of his glory days as a famed hunter and devourer of squirrels, rabbits, rats, pigeons, pheasants and woodpeckers around his former home. Blue tits and mice were mere canapés for the great striped hunter, with his leonine ruff and he never could see the point of a catnip mouse.