The losing of a parent in your fifties is the best anyone can hope for. And when there is a chance to say goodbye, put the past to rest, then the gods have handed you gold on a plate.
When my mother died I was fifty-three, alone, thousands of miles away in a caravan. I howled like a baby.
I never made the funeral, never got to go through her things, never got to hold her hand as she slipped away. She was my mother, but at times I felt like a distant relative.
Her death ripped my family to shreds and all I could do was phone, message.
I live in Scotland and my family in Australia, once I knew my mother was dying I went back. I spent four weeks watching grief explode in anger, arguments, resentments, and silence as the gremlins of our family took hold.
It was like the lancing of a boil that wouldn’t heal.
Grief brings depression, silence, blame, and shouting. My mother was a shouter, a fighter, and a blamer, and she was angry that my father was outliving her.
At least that is how I saw it.
I wanted peace, but I quickly realized everyone has their own way of dealing with cancer, especially siblings. My father was the sort to hold things in, head to his shed but as he was an invalid with the onset of dementia, his emotions were all over the place, contained behind a blank face and irrational outbursts of rage.
I assumed he was terrified, devastated at the loss of the woman he loved. I grew up listening to my parent’s love story, and over the years of phone calls and visits, it never seemed to change. They still held hands.
I suspect my siblings saw it differently, and they unlike me had shared their lives with mum and dad. They called dad selfish, especially when he, staggering on his one leg balled at my mother, almost blowing her frail body off her feet.
I had four weeks, everything was heightened, my time with my mother, consoling my father, him consoling me, holding me, solid as a tree trunk.
I remember washing my mother’s back, and her loving it, massaging her feet, and her ignoring, wanting my sister.
My mother had always been a mixed bag, and now with cancer, it was even more so, she went from hard to soft in a matter of minutes. She wanted to ‘go out’ her way, and thanks to my sister she did. Swallowing jealousy is not easy but as I returned to Scotland I did just that, while my sister and mother got on with the business of dying mum’s way.
Everyone retreated to their corners, my brother into silence, my father confused and hurt, while my sister and mum almost melted together. I retreated into my new job.
I dreaded Christmas, my mother had weeks, my husband of just a few months had left for Bangladesh his parents were also dying, and here was I staring at the frost swearing at my mobile unable to connect, console him or my mother.
Then it hit me, one final gesture for mum —–Christmas, it was staring me in the face.
My mum is the sort of person who holds back and her holding back taught me to jump, make mistakes, and when she said “there’s no need to come” —– like she wasn’t dying. I jumped.
As I sat there on Christmas day, jet-lagged, my way too expansive Champaign drunk by everyone else, by a sister who couldn’t be arsed with me, an uncle so drunk he knocked over the roast I watched my mother happy in her red dress.
Despite it flapping about her skeleton body like a tent she looked beautiful, drinking in every moment of what she loved. Her family around her.
She couldn’t eat let alone drink, but she was the center, sparkling, almost dancing.
My sister in her anger had moved mountains, gave mum all she wanted, my brother and his family supported her with humor and kindness, while dad watched on the sidelines, impotent to help.
It was four weeks of color, I laughed with my parents, told them stories, walked in the sun with my brother and his family, cried, and kept a distance from my sister, swithering between jealousy and admiration.
On our last day together we stopped for lunch at a restaurant where mum, my sister, and I always ate when I visited. I remember leaving my wine thinking I wanted to remember everything. As my sister drove us to the airport mum held my hand. I have a history of feeling unimportant, that what I feel or remember is not real, but when she held my hand, I felt I mattered.
God, it was awful saying goodbye and as I headed into the airport my heartbroken, my sister followed, pulled me back for one last hug.
Mum’s tiny bird-like hands held my face. She looked into my eyes and oh my god, I saw into her soul —pure mother. She dug right into the pit of my stomach, and I howled from my bowels.
If I am honest I think she didn’t want me to come because she dreaded this moment with her over-the-top emotional daughter but, when it came she was amazing, her loving hands consoled my tears, we melted together.
The world carried on but for a moment mum and I stopped, even my poor crying sister was invisible just me and my mother — a moment with no words.
Death is like sex it is never really what you expect and nothing like the movies, it’s messy, unspoken, and yet in it all its messiness there are moments like outside an airport where people are hailing taxis.
My brother and sister were there as she went into a hospice, faded into a shell, drifted into a comma. Their good-bye was different, slow like the defrosting of a joint. and if they were pissed of with me, I don’t blame them.
A few years later I went into a spree of novel writing, filling my stories with farcical comedy, and often there was a death scene. Life is never the same when death touches you. In my latest, The Downfall of Manifest The Great, Aggie having lived life with a great amount of gusto passes on leaving behind a poem.
I’m not sure how my mum would take such a poem but I like to think that there is a little bit of her there, that as she lay in the hospice surrounded by her family there was a part of her dying with gusto in her red dress naturally.
The Ramblings Of A Dying Woman
I love my body, from the deliciously farting bowels to the breast that gave me pleasure.
It has devoured food so delicious I drool, to bed-diving so spectacular my pelvis lubricates at the thought and a heart that loved so much that it ached.
My body has been there for me through thick and thin.
Crying when I needed to, dancing until it dropped, and laughing with gusto, turning a bleak day into a comedy sketch.
Even frail and old, wheeled about in a chair, my body has not let me down. With gums that fill with juices at the mere smell of sweet hemp, to full thick hair that delights in the stroking of my lover.
I love my body and those I shared it with.I give in to its passing with gratitude and thank the gods of the galaxies for designing such a miraculous and efficient machine to live in and another to share it with.
The Ramblings Of A Dying Woman can be found in my latest Sci-Fi comedy ——-The Downfall Of Manifesto The Great. Although my blog is very emotional the novel is a parody. It’s funny how writing comedy can often trigger other memories and emotions.
I am working on a novella about the start of Lockdown when we were Zoom virgins and stockpiling loo rolls. And to capture the essence of such feelings I like to write my characters in the first person; see if I can get to know them better. Here is Catrina. She and George have not been together long. In fact, they are still at the dating, dressing up phase when Lockdown throws them together…
George plonked himself down and opened his laptop like a pandora’s box.
“I am working’ I mouthed.
“I’ll be quiet” he mouthed back; quickly adding a “luv.”
Quiet is not something George is good at, even his breathing is noisy.
Impossible when working from home.
I watched him pour a whisky, waltzed to the fridge, and with a ceremonial tossing of ice—–miss his glass.
That’s what happiness does to George, he turns into a dancing sportsman with shit aim.
Lockdown has sparked road works on a grand scale and his caravan park is now full of workers who will happily unblock a drain before he is out of his pajamas.
My George is now a “happy hurler”.
Paper balls are dropped-kicked feet from the bin, teabags frisbeed, his shoes hurled, and don’t get me started on his jockstrap…
I stared at the screen, trying to focus. I was in the middle of a screen share that would send a hyperactive to sleep and George breathing like a megaphone was up his nostrils didn’t help.
“The spreadsheet will make your life easier.” Said the Know-It-All trainer.
“It’ll take more than a spreadsheet to make my life easy,” I glared at George.
Then I saw it, my face in the corner of the screen screwed up like a turtle. Seeing my face on zoom is like walking past a shop window when you’re pissed off except much worse…magnified angry is not a good look.
“Look at this Luv,” he said.
“I’m training,” I snapped, forcing a smile.
“Ever so funny,” he said.
“Spreadsheets,” I said.
“Oh that,” he said. “I leave mine for the accountant.”
He sipped his whisky like it was the elixir of genius, tapped a few words, then threw back his head and laughed so loud the cat skidded on the window sill.
“Must you?” I snapped.
“We all need a little laughter during lockdown.”
“I’ve got some half-my-age-know-it-all telling me this space-age spreadsheet is a piece of piss and you’re telling me to laugh it up?”
“I can hear,” snapped the Know-It-All.
He jiggled his glass “fancy a whisky?’
Tea, coffee? I’ll make it.”
“Look” snapped the Know-It-All “if you don’t have the time right now I can put you on a course.”
“Course?” I said “that’s the council’s answer to everything. Don’t they understand that working from home is stressful enough?”
“Why don’t you have a go and call me if there are any problems.”
I was about to answer, tell her what she could do with her “have a go”, launch into the joys of sharing a kitchen table with a man child when I noticed George was silent.
“Well that’s the pension fucked” he spluttered.
She who’s half my age stopped…
George jumped up to pace.
“What was that?” the Know It All said.
“I think he’s looking at his savings,” I muttered.
“Oh that,” she almost looked concerned.
“Fucked as a fucked camel.” He shouted.
“Tell him to wait, things will come around,” she said.
“Tell him? In that state? Your talking “red rag to a bull”; swearing that’ll have Quentin Tarantino blush.
She looked at me like I had two heads and one was rotating.
“There’s no need to worry” she shouted.
“Worry,” He said “I’ll be working until I’ve crocked it until I am paralyzed by a stroke and spoon-fed by the Polish.”
“What goes down always rises again. Every man knows that.” She almost smiled.
He turned on me with those “red rag to a bull” eyes.
“Darling,” I said, “we’re on zoom.”
I don’t think he heard the “darling” because he began to rant about waiting and piles.
The-Know-it all asked what waiting had to do with piles and he, making a rude gesture to his backside yelled “it’s an age thing.”
I told him piles were all in his head.
“In the arse more like it.” at which point Know-It-All began to talk of calming down, which as everyone past the age of consent knows has the opposite effect.
Finally, he stopped for a breath.
“You’ve got piles?” Said the Know-It-All.
“No damn it….”
“Just as well” she laughed “there’s bugger all toilet paper in the co-op.”
If you want to read more of George and Catrina, how they got together then check out A Dame Called Derek just click on the link below for a free book and the chance to join my newsletter.
In May I passed sixty and headed into the heady heights of sixty-one.
With a strong cup of coffee, I stared into my complicated face; a face with more crevices than the moon and thought …
I look more like my father than my mother and that’s with a shave… (LOL)
Thank the galaxies for long hair, hair dye, eye liner, a nice husband and candle light. I could write a bigger list, move onto the artillery of underwire, the miracle of colour and the great illusion of chin lifting by smiling but instead I tossed away my hair removal cream, and dug out a poem.
Not that I see myself as a poet or write many but this one was inspired by a “Flames Zoom Workshop.”
Contemporary performance in your own home.
Fiona the director of Flames and Tricky Hat productions asked us to create a piece “in my wildest dreams” and this was mine…
In my wildest dreams is an old folk’s home where people are screaming to get in.
An old folk’s home with topless barman, palm trees, fairy lights, and bespoke incontinence pads- with fabreze built in.
The words “dear” will be banished along with microwave mash and plastic cups, instead there’ll be cocktails, a good view and real hash brownies.
In my wildest dreams my fanny will not only be bejewelled but, tattooed the following…
“I made men weak at the knees; some even paid for a sniff. So treat me with kit gloves. And don’t fucking clean me like a cooker top.”
In my wildest dreams growing old with be a blast, With dancing, snogging and denture cream that not only works but is free on the NHS.
In my wildest dreams growing old will be as celebrated as birth.
We will be heard and listened to, and asked how to make soup rather than “did your bowels mover”.
We’ll drink malt whiskey, wear red lipstick, and have lots of kittens to pat.
We’ll have so many visitors we’ll be turning them away.
“Why is the world so shit?” They’ll say “why didn’t we listen to you?”
And thanks to the fabreze in our knickers, no one will ever know that the squelch of a fart five hours ago was really way more than that…
"Tight equipment is not something to shout about but then neither is a tenner pad."
I was in the loo pondering the wisdom of my mother despite most of it being as useful as a three-cup bra. She had me confused about many things.
I grew up thinking the G spot was a new marker pen, and a scrotum was French for a sausage roll.
According to her public loos had more germs than a cesspit, and sitting on one led to the plague. By the time I was ten I was a master at hovering over a toilet like a spaceship.
I could hear the rattle of a loo roll in the next cubicle followed by a long-suffering “shit”.
“The Argyll” was not great when it came to loo paper. I pushed a fist full under the wall, not an easy thing to do when suspended like Yoda above a toilet.
“Cheers,” huffed my pal.
She, having spent the last few hours listening to me rabbit on about a death scene in my latest sci-fi comedy was fed up to the back teeth.
Plying her with wine hadn’t helped. If anything it just confused her. To her comedy was anything with Hugh Grant in it.
“I thought you wanted to be funny?” she yelled from the next door.
I stumbled regretting that third glass… or was it a fourth?
“Death is funny,” I shouted back.
“A dying Alien coughing her last phlegm is as funny as a shopping list.”
I counted one, two, three…
“You’re doing it again aren’t you?”
I didn’t answer, you had to do it five times and I had lost count.
“I knew it,” she snapped with a flush.
“Intermittent peeing” was another of my mother’s mantras. “It keeps everything in good working order” she used to say and I was doing my best- daring gravity to do it’s worse.
Seeing double had that effect on me, suddenly the state of my equipment was on a par with world peace.
A tap splurted on.
“So much for Bellydancing,” said my pal.
Three or was it four?
“So much for your sneeze freely promise.”
“What?” I said.
The hand dryer blasted on.
“Laugh without pads…”
Finally five… I sighed and flushed.
My years of body hating started early, back in the days of beauty pageants. My parents picked holes in the contestants like a judge at Crufts Dog Show leaving me fretting in front of the mirror.
Bellydancing changed all that, along with the odd man who knew what he was doing….
My pal eyed me as I appeared safe in the knowledge that all was still working.
“So why all the pee holding?” She said.
“You have to cover all angles,” I muttered.
A few drinks later we were sitting at the table shouting over an eighties’ band killing a Madonna song.
The singer was ancient. He had the look of someone who’d been around the block way too many times to remember.
His half-hearted gyrates were as mesmerizing as a car crash.
“Like a virgin touched for the very first time ….”
Bellydancing made me feel my body was not only ok but a delicious piece of equipment designed for pleasure.
My mother had as much concept of that as the singer had of virginity. My mother thought a middle-aged stomach should be hidden away like a toilet brush.
“Why do mothers do that, rise from the grave and drag you back to a time of confusion?” I said.
“I never did like Madonna; too many dark roots,” said my pal.
“She hated my belly dancing,” I said.
“What? Madonna belly dancing? Don’t think so.”
“I was talking about my mother,” I yelled. “She had no idea about dancing for pleasure…”
My pal gestured I can’t hear.
“Or connecting with your body; hip circling…” I yelled.
“Touched for the very first time….”
My pal shook her head with a “still can’t hear”.
“And as for pelvic pleasure…” I shrieked.
The singer stopped.
My pal snorted a laugh as the whole bar stared at me with a “what so great about your pelvis” look. She topped up my glass with a who cares snigger, turning to the very thing she had been avoiding all night.
She sipped her drink and in the dark light of the Argyll read what I had been working on all day. The poetry of an Alien woman who had done many things and leaves the world celebrating the memory.
The Ramblings of a Dying Woman.
I love my body, from the deliciously farting bowels to the breast that gave me pleasure. It has devoured food so delicious I drool, to bed-diving so spectacular my pelvis lubricates at the thought and a heart that loved so much that it ached.
My body has been there for me through thick and thin. Crying when I needed to, dancing until it dropped, and laughing with gusto, turning a bleak day into a comedy sketch.
Even frail and old, wheeled about in a chair, my body has not let me down. With gums that fill with juices at the mere smell of sweet hemp, to full thick hair that delights in the stroking of my lover. I love my body and those I shared it with.I give in to its passing with gratitude and thank the gods of the galaxies for designing
such a miraculous and efficient machine to live in and another to share it with.
She read it three times, mouthing each word, occasionally looking up with what I thought was an impressed look.
Then over the massacring of “Pappa Don’t Preach” she yelled…
It takes two years and a TV remote to know the dark side of a partner.
I decided to say a Christmas thank-you to my son the only way I knew how- with chocolate; apparently it’s not that great in China.
My husband, a man with more vouchers than Amazon brought so much cheap chocolate I had to send it in batches.
Or eat it myself …
Every day he came in from work looked at the pile of chocolate and asked…
“Have you sent that chocolate yet?”
Sometimes I looked at him like he was stupid, other times I just said “yes.”
Finally, my inertia got the better of him.
He waltzed in brandishing a chewed up roll of Christmas paper which needed a little “drying out”, a roll of
Sellotape so old it took half an hour to find the end, and an empty box marked “adult’s only.”
Where he got them I haven’t a clue but I suspect like most things, in some dark corner at work where no one dares to linger…
Three buggered fingernails later I looked up from the sellotape, the end still stuck like super glue.
My ability to breathe life into a has-been, Sellotape is legendary, but this thing had been glued together since the Thatcher years.
“Shall I just buy a new one?” I said.
He peered from his precision paper cutting with a “hardly” look.
Recycling is his middle name, in fact if there was a recycling superhero he’d be it. He could recycle a used postage stamp if he put his mind to it…
His cupboards are full of leftover underpants, mismatched socks, and jackets that don’t fit, usually from his twice the size brother or even worse, his sister.
When I first discovered such talent I was mesmerized, amused. His talent for recycling was on a par with his packing. I’ve seen him pack an 80inch flat screen TV into the back of a Minnie as a surgeon puts back organs. Hell, I’ve seen him parcel up a a running machine for his home in Bangladesh and still have change from a tenner.
And how he does it is as much a mystery to me as getting a souffle to rise.
I stared at my hubby folding paper around the ‘adult” box like he was making an origami H bomb.
It was going to be an all-night job.
My hubby likes to make a meal of things. What is a mundane task for me is truly saving the world for him. When he peels potatoes, which usually involves a critical inspection of my knives, he expects a round of applause for the symmetry…and don’t get me started on his foreplay.
Finally after an argument about my “flamboyant use of sellotape,” we headed for the post office.
A voluptuous elderly woman admired hubby’s handwork.
“Get a load of this,” she gestured to her comrade.
Her comrade polishing her glasses peered at the address while the voluptuous one praised my hubby for the excellent “taping of the corners”.
“That’s precision that is,” she said “impenetrable”.
Hubby beamed with pride.
“I have wrapped up more presents than Santa himself,” she said “but never anything as, well…perfect,” she eyed Hubby.
“You can wrap my parcel any day.”
He gave her his best shy face.
“Pity,” said the comrade.
“What?” I said.
“Well it’s way too heavy for China,” Said the comrade.
“Even by ship?” said The voluptuous one.
The comrade jiggled the box in her hands and blew through her lips.
Chocolate to China it seems is a lot harder to send than a running machine to Bangladesh.
She placed it on the counter like it was about to explode.
“It’ll never make it on a ship, way too suspicious.”
She threw me a look. “They’ll have the squat team after it in Peking.”
“Squat team, in Peking?” Snapped the voluptuous one “Who are you the next Micheal Palin?’
“You need to make it into two .”
“Two?” Snapped the Voluptuous one.
“Make that three.”
“Three?” Shrieked the voluptuous one.
“Well if you want to get it there before Christmas.”
I looked at my Hubby silent but thoughtful. You can learn a lot from a decade of bed-sharing one being when to say nothing and the other being when not to gloat.
His eyes scanned the back of the office stopping at the recycle bin…
The voluptuous one followed his gaze.
“Are those for recycling?” he said.
The voluptuous one with a larger than life smile picked a selection of scruffy padded envelopes that had, by looks of things, been around the world at least twice.
“I do like a man that recycles”, she smirked.
The comrade tutted.
My hubby with an arm full of used envelopes headed out the door, looked at the rain lashing down, and turned to me.
“There’s still plenty of that sellotape isn’t there?”
I said nothing.
True love is knowing when it’s best to feign deafness.
The unexpected arrival of an Alien is something I often dreamt about but never in a toilet let alone a disabled one and yet, a few years ago I did just that…
While valiantly trying to hold onto my sanity in a job I hated, Pete a robot made of Lyrca appeared on the pages of my laptop, setting off the hand drier in the disabled toilet of an Edinburgh cafe.
I was sitting in my hubby’s family restaurant at the time chuckling at the idea-writing asif my life depended on it.
The restaurant was busy and after thrusting a few misshaped pakora my way along with a large glass of house red my hubby left me to write and chuckle.
I don’t know whether it was the badly-behaved twins creating havoc in the toilet, or the “I am in the John!” squeal from an elderly gent when they barged in on him mid pee, but somehow toilets seemed funny that night and I was inspired.
Before I knew it, Woody had entered my writing coerced by a Battenburg to help.
Woody a dwarf with a sweet tooth is the only one who could slip into the toilet window being that the door was blocked by a semi-conscious Lyrca robot and the café owner was desperate to clear the area.
It was a laugh a minute writing session that kept me absorbed while my hubby dispensed with the runaway twins and placated the elderly gent.
Finally finished, my glass drained, my scene with a title I caught my hubbies’ eye as he appeared from the toilet brandishing a mop and several worse for wear toilet rolls.
He said little but skirted about the restaurant clearing up the trail of destruction-care of the twins. The tables were empty apart from a couple who look like they had been together long enough to argue over the TV remote and the position of a toilet seat.
I toyed with my empty glass hoping for a refill-to celebrate like.
Hubby asked me “what was so funny.”
“An entrance,” I said too pleased with my wit to register his disinterest. “but not as you’d know it.”
“I was just moping the toilet; not making an entrance.” Said Hubby with one of his “how many glasses of red have you had” look.
“I’m talking of a scene,” I said “for my book,” I gestured to my laptop “if I don’t find it funny how can my readers?’
The female looked up from her madras “you’re a writer?”
Her partner told her to “shut it.” “I’m only asking,” she hissed “nothing wrong with asking is there?
She flashed me a sisterhood smile. “I don’t mind you asking’ Isaid. “In fact, I can read you some. It’s set in a disable John.”
“John? Who’s John?” said Hubby.
“John is what Americans call the toilet.” I said “it’s a funny play on words.”
The couple looked about as interested as Hubby was in my writing, being that neither thought the word John was funny, but I couldn’t help myself I just had to read.
The couple disappeared to the pub next door and by the time I got to the “Battenburg seduction,” I’d lost my hubby to the cricket.
I stared at him glazed over his mobile phone, he looked up.
“You not listening, are you?” I said.
He nodded “Battenburg?”
“Well yes,” I muttered but there is a little more than that.
He laughed.“Battenburg a cake but not as we know it?’
Inspired by a bad case of puffing to cross the road, I decided to try and use my running machine for running rather than hang clothes on. I had two exercise bras-unused, a rapidly expanding waistline care of lockdown and a free “couch to 5K “app on my phone with all sorts of famous people claiming that not only had they done it but I could too.
What was there too loose?
The first week started with a five-minute walk and a three-minute jog I switched on Neil Diamond and by the time “Cherry Cherry” had finished I was sweating like a Camembert in the sun.
Not the best half-hour I have spent despite Neil’s greatest hit, in fact, it sort of put me off, Neil.
The first couple of weeks were tough I have never jogged before but I had made up my mind to follow this app to the letter. Each time I made it to the five-minute walk cool down I celebrated with a sweaty tossing of a bra ceremony.
There is nothing like the flinging off of a tight bra to cheer a woman up. Five weeks later the run flashes by, I still sweat and toss the bras but I feel great and can now talk when I run across the road. My hips haven’t shrunk but I swear when I hold my stomach in I have definitely lost weight.
And if you are looking for something to read that isn’t going to break the purse string check out the links below …
Rise and shine its’ June So another month has passed and we are here, reading and wondering about what the future has for us.
Well I guess I shouldn’t really speak for you should I?
Writing and working from home can do that to a woman-mix up her pronouns because there is no one but the TV to talk to. All my family are in another country-everything is hello on a screen.
The last hug I received was from the next door’s cat and that was only because I’d been cooking fish.
The other day the neighbour of the cat offered me a home brew outside by the sun, with line drawn on the ground by his daughter to keep our distance. Clutching my new “I luv cats” mug I tucked into a delicious white wine that had me forgetting that four hours in the sun can burn a woman with freckles.
I think he’s seriously worried about my obsession with his cat. He asked me to stop leaving fish heads about the bin, I told I was a vegan and he looked at me with the sort of look a child who know there is no Santa gives to a man dressed in a red suit at Christmas time wanting him to sit on his knew. Needless to say I didn’t sit on my neighbour’s knee.
Nor did I leave any more fish lying around. Instead I accepted the offer of helping the local carer group.
Decked out in a plastic apron, gloves and a mask I managed to spread and receive some human kindness all be it with plastic between us.
I hope you have some human kindness this month, it makes the sun shine even on a raining day.
I can’t live without it.
if you would like some free books then check out the links below
A wee story for you to help chuckle away the Lockdown blues…
George’s codpiece is a magnificent piece of expanding equipment which, with the aid of a long-life battery, pulsated to music.
The straps are studded with green and red baubles. The tip (or “main event,” as George likes to call it) sprung forth like a jack-in-the-box, presenting a bloodred, jewelled disco ball at the end with an almost ta-da–like quality, spurring a woman to forget her “darling, I’ve a headache” as soon as she saw it.
George had first spied it in the Red Cross charity shop. He walked past on his way to the butcher’s and there it was in the window passing itself off as abstract art. He stopped and stared at the red tip just shy of the mannequin’s askew wig and soon forgot about his pork chops.
The charity shop was run by Elsa and Karin, two women who had spent their lives making scones for the Women’s Rural Instute, (WRI). The only codpieces they had seen, apart from ballet on Television, were Henry VII’s armor during a school trip to London (which wasn’t yesterday) and the amateur dramatics society’s one and only attempt at Shakespeare—as Hamlet as camp as Liberace who wore his codpiece like a hairpiece and, according to the local paper’s witticism, had “as much acting ability as a glass of water.”
The codpiece was hanging on the doorknob in a Marks and Spencer bag when Elsa and Karin arrived.
Elsa, with a quick glance, thought it was a joke coat hanger, which started her off on a rant that Karin had heard many times. In fact, the mere mention of “hangers” often led to her plugging in her headphones and nodding like a Chinese cat doll.
“What’s this,” said Elsa, “another of those friggin’ crochet-covered coat hangers?”
Karin, shop keys poised, huffed a silent “here we go.”
“I mean who came up with that idea?” said Elsa. “They are about as much use as one of those crochet toilet roll covers.”
Karin opened the door.
“Surely there are better ways to use up spare wool than crocheting pointless covers,” said Elsa.
Karin marched into the dark shop and switched on the lights.
She sighed. “Must we go down that coat hanger road again?”
Elsa thumped the bag on the counter.
“A toilet roll is a toilet roll, a coat hanger’s a coat hanger—they’re not genitals that need covering up,” she said.
“Must we move on to genitals as well?” muttered Karin.
Elsa watched as Karin switched on the till and opened up the back door.
“They should be banned,” she said to herself.
Karin flicked the Closed sign to Open and then stopped. “If you really feel that strongly about it, why don’t you write to the WRI —or better still leave, join the Women’s Guild?”
“Guild?” Elsa jolted. “Have you seen their bottle stall? Not a wine in sight. They have no idea what the public want.”
Karin fingered her mp3 player, wondering what she had downloaded recently.
“One as bad as the other,” muttered Elsa. “As for her who runs the Guild . . . I see enough of her in here.”
Karin lifted the bag from under Elsa’s clutches and peered in.
Elsa flicked on the kettle. “She’s living in the Dark Ages”—she checked the fridge for milk—“saving the world with homemade jam.”
“I don’t think Her from the Guild believes in jam saving things,” said Karin. “
Her last bottle stall was full of ’em,” said Elsa. “As if anyone is going to spend a tenner on raffle tickets for a jar of strawberry jam.”
Karin muttered about “homemade” as Elsa ranted on about the bottle stall.
“She’s been warned,” said Elsa, “if her next bottle stall doesn’t make any money, she’s out . . . for good. I mean who gets sacked from the Guild?”
Karin, feigning listening, pulled the codpiece into the light.
“I don’t think it’s a coat hanger.”
“What?” said Elsa.
“I said I don’t think it’s a coat hanger.”
Elsa looked up from the fridge and stared at the apparition suspended from Karin’s hand as the morning sun twinkled on its baubles.
She whistled through her teeth. “Talk about genitals—that’s big enough for an elephant’s.”
Karin read the note attached to the belt. “It’s from that belly dancing teacher.”
“Well, that explains it,” muttered Elsa. “Anyone who talks about pelvic tilts and TENA pads in the same sentence as a latte is bound to be a bit, well . . . free with things.”
“Told you, as free as a nudist colony,” said Elsa.
“‘Open your mind and give your pelvis a good seeing to,’” Karin read aloud.
“Completely pelvic obsessed,” said Elsa.
“‘Fulfill your fantasy,’” read Karin.
Elsa flicked the tip of the codpiece; it sprung into action.
“It’s not one of those vibrators, is it?”
“‘Build a bonfire, dance al fresco, and discover that goddess within,’” Karin read.
“She’s been on the home brew,” muttered Elsa. She looked at her pal. “Why don’t you put it on?”
“What?” said Karin.
“It’s Monday,” muttered Elsa. “No one comes in on a Monday, even Her from the Guild.”
Her from the Guild was the new Red Cross store manager. She had only been in the role for three months and had managed to lose every volunteer apart from Elsa and Karin. She’d been given the job without any experience beyond a few hours in her daughter’s coffee shop. Some say the daughter pulled a few strings, couldn’t bear another hour of her mother’s lukewarm lattes served with a temperance sermon that turned even the most loyal of customers away.
“Why don’t you?” said Karin, handing the codpiece to Elsa.
Elsa shoved it back. “Me? My size? Where am I to put it, around my neck? No, definitely you.”
Karin jangled the codpiece. “It looks contractable.”
They stared at the so-called “one-size-fits-all” pelvic apparition swaying before them.
“Not that contractable,” muttered Elsa.
Karin said nothing.
“And you’re the one with superb hips,” said Elsa.
Karin muttered a “hmmm.”
“Even that belly dancing teacher said you were a natural,” said Elsa; she could see she was winning her pal around. Karin threw her a half-hearted pfff look.
“She said you could make hessian flow with your hip moves,” said Elsa.
Karin looked at her pal.
“She wanted to know why you didn’t come back to her class. Had plans for you.”
Elsa caught Karin’s eye. “Imagine that thing—with those shimmies you love to do.”
“Oh all right then,” snapped Karin.
Elsa flicked on the kettle as Karin slid into the changing room.
Elsa’s phone pinged a text.
“It’s her from the Guild,” shouted Elsa. “She’s wanting something for the next bottle stall!”
“Should I take off my jumper?” said Karin.
“No, seriously, she does,” said Elsa. She scrolled down the Queen’s Speech of a message, skimming quickly through the “how to improve things” sermon.
Her from the Guild managed from a distance, occasionally calling in to rubbish Karin’s latest color-coordinated clothes rack or Elsa’s innovative window display; she even Skyped once, until Elsa switched her off mid rant.
“What about my shoes?” shouted Karin. “Should I take ’em off too?”
Elsa stopped. “Jesus.”
“What was that?” yelled Karin. “Shoes too much?”
“She’s coming here this afternoon,” shouted Elsa.
“Who?” said Karin.
“Guess,” yelled Elsa.
“I thought she was on holiday, taking in the ballet somewhere hot,” said Karin.
Elsa sighed. “Not anymore.”
“Jesus,” muttered Karin.
“Apparently, there’s an issue with our ‘so-called window display.’ Something to do with our out-of-date . . .” Elsa stopped.
“Out-of-date what?” said Karin.
“Err . . . mannequin,” muttered Elsa.
“There nothing out of date about my mannequin,” snapped Karin. “I used it for years before I brought it here.”
Elsa waited; she knew there was more.
“It’s retro, evocative, quiche.”
“Don’t you mean niche?” said Elsa.
“That window would be nothing without my mannequin,” said Karin, “and if that’s the thanks I get—”
“I know, she can shove it,” muttered Elsa to herself.
“—we should give her something to choke on,” said Karin.
“Exactly,” said Elsa. “Something as outrageous as her stupid demands.”
“I know,” shouted Elsa.
“Something to . . . you know . . . stop her in tracks—shut her up.”
“Something to put her right in her place,” said Elsa.
“How about this?” Karin swished the curtains open.
Elsa stared at Karin’s pelvis decorated like a joker’s hat as the kettle, bubbling unattended, filled the shop with steam.
“Jesus!” she muttered.
The codpiece jumped to life, making Elsa feel a bit funny.
Childhood memories flashed back to a ballet concert in Glasgow where Elsa, sitting painfully on a hard seat, wondered (between bouts of boredom) what all that Rudolf Nureyev fuss was about. To a sporty ten-year-old, men in tights were as stupid as her mother’s hairstyle, and a bulge between the legs was as intriguing as a pickled egg recipe. Karin twirled a few times, the codpiece swaying like a jewelled palm tree, expanding and contracting.
Perhaps I should revisit Rudolf Nureyev? thought Elsa.
Karin finished with a robust pelvic thrust.
Or even some younger dancer? thought Elsa.
Neither saw Harry, an elderly gentleman, pass by.
He, in the middle of pondering the butcher’s latest leek-and-mushroom sausages, stopped as he caught the pulsating burble shoot past his side vision.
Harry turned to catch Karin mid pelvis thrust.
Harry, like a stunned Labrador, was mesmerised, sausages as far from his thoughts as last night’s toenail trimmings.
Karin, who according to many was still a catch, had the sort of pelvic thrust that could set a man’s heart thumping. Especially a man whose only contact with a woman was having his blood pressure checked.
Karin wiggled with a giggle.
“I saw one in the war,” he shouted.
“Aye right,” she shouted.
“I did,” he shouted back. “There’s a lot to Hitler folk don’t know about.”
Elsa’s phone lit up, and a Dolly Parton ringtone echoed through the shop; the codpiece bounced into action.
Harry chuckled, setting off a round of coughing, as Karin twirled with her best I’m looking for a shag look.
Elsa’s phoned stopped, the codpiece flopped, and Karin, mid pose, tried not to look silly.
Elsa fumbled to find more music. “
Hurry up,” muttered Karin as Harry tapped on the window and pulled out his phone.
“Do it again, they’ll never believe me at the butcher’s.”
Elsa found a Status Quo song and, mid cursing her husband’s lousy taste in music, flicked it on.
Down, down, deeper and down . . .
The codpiece went mental.
A couple of hours and several Status Quo albums later, the codpiece was swinging from the window like a pornographic wind chime just shy of a seventies mannequin dressed like something out a sex shop, and Her from the Guild was livid.
Elsa and Karin had spent all morning redoing the window with Harry videoing (or “helping,” as he called it). They figured if Her from the Guild was coming for her usual get-rid-of-the-volunteers lecture, then they may as well get their money’s worth . . .
They were going out in style.
The girls threw everything they could at the window: leather belts disguised as whips, boots, bras, underpants, aprons—they went to town, relying on Harry’s knowledge of all things pornographic, as the only dubious things they had seen were Barbara Windsor’s breast in a Carry On film and the odd nude in the local art show.
Karin and Elsa learnt many things: mainly that when it came to sex, Harry’s memory was as clear as Highland Spring water, while theirs was as muddy as a cappuccino.
Finally finished and satisfied and Status Quo switched to a Seventies Greatest Hits album, the three stopped to admire their handywork with a coffee.
“It’s a work of art,” muttered Harry, tucking into a scone just as Her from the Guild flounced through the door.
By the time George passed by the shop, Her from the Guild had been inside long enough to not only throw a wobbly but also destroy much of the window ambience by covering the mannequin with a crochet blanket, causing a coughing fit from Harry.
As Harry recovered with a glass of water, George stared at the codpiece. The crochet blanket slung over the mannequin gave it a more avant-garde look, and his Beatrice could be very avant-garde.
He had known Beatrice since the black-and-white TV days, and she was a woman easily pissed off. This piece just might tip her over the edge from platonic to . . . well . . .
He stared at the bloodred knob.
It’ll make her weak at the knees, he thought. It’s making me weak just now.
He spotted the elderly gentleman by the shop counter recovering. Then he heard Her from the Guild, a woman as pious as the Pope and as sober as the temperance movement. In fact, if there were a local temperance group, she’d be running it; she was so against alcohol she had even refused George’s offer of a malt whisky for her latest bottle stall.
And that would have made a bucket of money, but then again, thought George, maybe it was because she recognised me . . . from another time.
George eyed the codpiece.
It had as much chance of surviving under her clutches as her bottle stall did of making money. He had to do something. He knew the Guild had nearly sacked her, given her one last chance to run the bottle stall . . . and he also knew of a time, years ago, when Her from the Guild was anything but pious.
He smiled to himself. That codpiece was all but his.
With a friendly tap on the door and his best casual saunter, George entered.
No one noticed.
Her from the Guild was in full throttle, claiming that the so-called art in the window had as much to do with art as a bottle stall had with alcohol.
“There’s a bonfire with that thing’s name on it,” she yelled.
The others tried to argue, but she, dismissing all arguments of it being “one of a kind,” ploughed through her speech like a minister preaching fire and brimstone to the masses.
“This is a charity shop, not an Ann Summers shop,” she yelled.
“Ann Summers?” mouthed Elsa to Karin and Harry. “How would she know?”
“I know about Ann Summers,” said Her from the Guild. “I know about all these things. I was once like you—a heathen, a lost soul . . .”
“Hello, Carisa,” said George.
She stopped. No one had called her that for years.
The two girls looked at each other with a that’s her name? look.
“I see you moved on from coat hangers and tea sets.” He paused. “Carisa.”
“Well, not exactly,” she muttered.
They looked at each other like they had a past . . . a past that hadn’t ended well.
“The last time I saw you, you were trying to sell raffle tickets for the bottle stall with jars of jam and a bottle of Sarson’s vinegar.”
“Don’t call me Carisa,” sniffed Her from the Guild.
“You made enough to what,” said George, “pay for the rent of stall?” He paused for effect. “Carisa.”
“I said don’t call me that,” said Her from the Guild.
They looked at each other.
George knew that he could say more, he could tell all; he waited.
Her from the Guild fumbled with the till and muttered something about the shop being closed.
George didn’t move. “I hear you’re doing another bottle stall, for the Gala Day,” he said.
The room was silent, the girls and Harry poised.
What’s next? mouthed Karin.
“And?” she said, attempting to hold her own.
“We’ve been here before, haven’t we?” said George.
“Another time, another place?” She blushed.
“Jesus,” Elsa mouthed to Karin.
Harry chuckled, setting off a round of coughing. George patted his back, making the coughing worse. Harry waved him to stop.
“I’ve a few tricks up my sleeve this time,” said Her from the Guild.
“Tricks? It’s a bottle stall. Throw in a few bottles of wine and malt whisky and you’re laughing,” said Karin.
“Yes, well . . . there’s more to it than that,” said Her from the Guild.
“But is there?” said George.
“Well, I . . .” She caught George’s eye and stopped.
A few days later, as George surprised, seduced, and entertained Beatrice into bed with his codpiece, Elsa and Karin were celebrating in the Argyll Hotel. They had left the charity shop. Harry had assured them that he had seen plenty, knew what he was talking about, and was happy to help in an advisory capacity. George had been generous.
“You’re welcome to the codpiece any time for a template,” he said. “Anything to spread the joy of a codpiece.”
Elsa and Karin had a plan that not only would make great use of Karin’s retro mannequin but would lead the two of them into a world far more entertaining than selling under that pain in the arse from the Guild.
They were going to make and sell codpieces on the internet, starting with designs inspired by George’s codpiece. George offered to make a donation to the bottle stall in exchange for the codpiece. It was large enough to impress those in the Guild, and Her from the Guild had no choice but to accept.
She had a past, a past that she wanted kept there. A time when she drank too much; she got so drunk at a Gala Day she drank the whisky from the bottle stall and danced on the table, hurling the pickled egg jars into the crowd. Some would call it a turning point. It was a lifetime ago, and George had promised never to tell, but as she handed in his donation to the Guild, Her from the Guild realised that perhaps bottle stalls were best left to someone comfortable with a bottle of whisky inches from their hand.
A few months later, at the Gala Day, Her from the Guild stood behind the burger stand, frying onions. At first, she didn’t see Karin and Elsa set up their stand—until the mannequin was erected. Mid peeling an onion, Her from the Guild stopped as a crochet codpiece was wrapped around the mannequin’s pelvis. Elsa and Karin had gone for a more subtle, comic element for the family day out. Not subtle enough, thought Her from the Guild, until she spied George with Beatrice heading for her stall.
He caught her eye.
But then again, crochet is not so bad, she told herself. It has a certain restrained charm about it. And she pulled out another onion to peel.
Boudicca and Mavis is part of a book of short stories, called A Dress For A Queen And Other Short Stories. If you would like to read more please click on the link below.