Being a Beastly Sister

In my parents’ bungalow the door-handles were made of Bakelite. Indeed, in those far-off days almost everything was made of this hideous proto-plastic – radios, telephones, pipe-stems, toys…

Bakelite was always brown, at least in my experience, and there was something threatening about it. That was why my little sister believed me when I informed her in a scary kind of hiss that all the handles in the passage were actually radios, and if you touched one you would almost certainly be electrocuted, or else the handle/radio would send a signal to spies to come and get you. For a long time she would sit crying under one or other of the seven Bakelite door-handles in the passage, unable to let herself in, even to her own bedroom. Eventually, of course, she blabbed to Mum and I got punished – that time by Mum rather than Dad.

I was always getting punished by Dad. I got punished for things I had done to my three-year-old sister – like telling her the passage was also full of dragons. Ragonies, she would bleat, tearfully. Ragonies in the passage!

Yes, I would say, GREAT BIG RAGONIES. The red ones breathe fire and scorch you to bits, the blue ones just EAT you…

I was horrible to her. I hit her when no one was looking. I dragged her along the passage (the passage seemed to feature in most of our episodes) by her long hair. I laughed when she made a mess eating her food and had to have her face wiped with a flannel. That chubby, innocent little face irritated the bejesus out of me. I just wanted to… I just wanted to…

And yet I loved her, and she loved me, and she’s now all I have left in the way of family, emotionally if not in fact.

Later in life, having digested far too many self-help paperbacks and psychology manuals, I have come to understand why I was such a Beastly Big Sister – possibly.

I think it may have been the thing with Dad – unless I was just born spiteful, which is also a possibility. I was his first child and I was weird – long, sulky silences alternating with day-long howling tantrums. I would barricade myself in my bedroom – or the toilet, if he was chased me. This annoyed everyone, since there was only one toilet in the bungalow and I could be in there for a day at a time, huddled on the floor, hiccupping, drying my eyes, crying again, hiccupping… I remember thinking, I have no food and I have no water but I can spend a penny if I want to, and blow my nose on the loo-paper. Though it was Izal in those days. A sheet of Izal was akin to a sheet of glass as far as bottoms, or sensitive, swollen noses, were concerned.

He punished me with slaps – ferocious slaps around the face and legs and any other bit of me he could happen to reach – because his father had punished him that way, and probably the Army or Air Force or whatever it was he was forcibly conscripted into had also treated him that way, for years. He had a knack for backing me into small corners, against a wall or a door, say, thus combining the slaps with bangs to the head.

The wrong thing might be contradicting him (because he was wrong – I was a persistently, foolishly argumentative and logical child) or answering back (because he was wrong).

A bad thing might be elbows on the table at mealtimes, and reading (which he did all the time, but apparently this was a rule only for children – illogical).

A bad thing might be my sister spraying the living room wallpaper (every single wall) with ink from a fountain-pen but since I was the oldest I should have stopped her. She and I were both clumsy and disaster-prone.

A bad thing might be picking up a cactus and getting a palm-full of prickles or falling on a glass shelf and breaking it.

A bad thing might be throwing an apple through a window, in one of my rages.

A bad thing might be putting my own fist through the garage window, where he had locked me for some earlier misdemeanour, and cutting my wrist in the process.

Trouble was, I had a goldfish-like short term memory. By the time he had found out and worked up a head of steam to come after me, I had forgotten.

He also had a way with words. Anger seemed to release this gift in him and I would be on the receiving end of a stream of steaming vitriol. He knew me so well that he could take me to pieces. And he did take me to pieces. I swiftly forgot/forgave the slaps and the bangs on the head but I never did forgive the words.

And so I suppose, when you are a child you don’t know why you’re being Beastly. Nobody’s yet explained to you about Kicking the Cat. You only know you’re angry and you want to oppress someone. I inherited his height, his physical power, his intelligence and his verbal facility and I did what he did with those thing – I hurt a helpless child; I used words to make pretty lies, and monsters to scare her. Because I could.

In a drawer in my kitchen cabinet I have a treasured possession. It’s a dark green wooden coaster, a gift from my little sister, who now lives in Canada. She has probably forgotten it. A worn away label on the back says Cedar Mountain… something, Salt Spring Island, B.C., Canada. It says:


by chance


by choice


I have been pondering the safest answer to any possible remark, comment or question during the hyper-sensitive next six months in this Disunited Kingdom of ours. I have a few favourites. This one, from Rowan and Martin’s Laugh-In:

very interesting.jpgVerrrry interesting…

The only trouble, what with the fake German accent and all, is that you might be seen as taking the Michael. And you’d have to remember not to add the … but also shtupid .

I love Spock’s Fascinating! This is a good one because if you can only say it with a straight face no one can tell whether you are fascinated by what the other person has just said, fascinated that they should have been so shtupid  as to come out with it in the first place or fascinated by their weird human physiognomy.

You can’t really say Exactly or Absolutely because both imply an enthusiastic agreement with the speaker which you may be far from feeling. You might try the psychotherapist’s interrogative Uh-huh? But how long are you going to be able to fend them off with that?

I personally favour Teal’cs grave Indeed. Preferably with the head inclining slightly to the left. I think I might get away with Indeed.

One of the things that attracted my younger self to Ex was that he was strong. He always said exactly what he thought. Unlike me, he did not scrabble around desperately trying to fit in: he did not temporise, he did not simper and he did not squirm. He treated all alike – from the little autistic boy on the railway to the multi-millionaire client in his mansion by the Thames – all were addressed in exactly the same vague, lofty yet booming tone of voice. When he started speaking everyone else in the room stopped – not always instantly, but they stopped. I often felt Moses would have spoken thus, on coming down the mountain with the Ten Commandments. And he seemed to get away with it.

I remember we once went out to Canada to visit my sister, and almost immediately, whilst still exhausted from the journey, were inveigled into Trivial Pursuit evenings with dips and carrot croutons, crudités or whatever those little veggie stick things are. (Playing by American rules, we were at a loss most of the time, since most of the questions were about baseball stars and presidents we had never heard of.) We were overwhelmed with good-neighbourliness and extreme hospitality. We were asked how many children we had – oh dear – none? – and what church we belonged to – church? – and a whole lot of other stuff we didn’t have satisfactory answers for. We were confused, jet-lagged and culture-shocked.

I squirmed and simpered whilst praying to the God I had never been interrogated about before that I might please become invisible or fall through a trap-door – or that at least somebody could sneak me an easy-peasy instruction leaflet for this unfamiliar lifestyle/version of the English language. But Ex continued to be resolutely and monumentally Ex. Asked what he thought of Canadian houses, which in that part of Ontario at least seemed to be huge, luxurious and timber-built, he replied that they reminded him of Glorified Garden Sheds.

Ohhhhh no, I was thinking whilst trying not to catch the eye of anybody in particular… but the conversation went on, just as before, without so much as a sharp intake of breath or an infinitesimally awkward pause.

Ex was just Ex. Whether he bewildered or impressed people into not being offended I don’t know. No doubt right now he is uttering the most appallingly nuts-and-bolts tactless statements about the European Union, people who voted this way or that, foreigners, politicians…

And no doubt everyone is hanging on his every word. Fascinated. Indeed.


Featured Image: Teal’c from Stargate

The rain it raineth on the just

I was just wondering what the worst possible personality trait to have been born with. What would be a real curse? So, internet-says-this:

  • Arrogance
  • Rudeness
  • Dishonesty
  • Moodiness
  • Conceit
  • Unreliability
  • Condescension…

The trouble with all these nasty traits is that the person who possesses them is almost certainly not the person who suffers from them. That’s other people. If you’re conceited, arrogant or condescending you’re most probably unaware of the fact. Think of Lady Catherine de Bourgh in Pride and Prejudice; think of Mr Collins for that matter: Condescension and Conceit in league with one another and comfortable in their own skins.

Rather, it seems to me that the worst trait to be cursed with, from the point of view of the individual him- or herself, is a Sense of Justice. It’s the unshakeable conviction that the world must be fair – that things just have to work out right in the end. Most of us are afflicted with it and it’s so difficult to shake off.

The advice always seems to be: man up, get over it. The world isn’t fair; it never was and it never will be. Fairness/justice – that’s just something people invented so as to feel a little less scared. Who can bear to know that they are at mercy of an unfair, unjust world where just about anything could and might happen at any time?  Once again we are floating specks in a vast, impersonal universe.

I was talking to my sister yesterday – the Canadian one whose husband is gradually dying of cancer. She is tormented by this concept of fairness/unfairness as never before. They had planned their retirement together – time at last to drive off and discover the rest of Canada, time to travel the world; the new ‘retirement’ car that was already on order and now has to be cancelled; time to get stuck into all those much researched and looked-forward-to hobbies. How can all that not be going to happen now?

Having never really considered it before she finds herself tossed into that most basic of philosophical debates – the Problem of Suffering and Evil. She made the mistake of mentioning to a woman at her crafts group that she was feeling angry at God for what he had done to her and to her husband. How can he be a Loving God, she asked, and inflict such pain on the human beings he is supposed to have created?

She regretted this, rather. The woman didn’t say much at the time but went away looking troubled. Later that evening she telephoned my sister to deliver a long, long lecture on the necessity for Faith, for Prayer, and most especially for Hope. Her husband had also been quite ill in the past, she said, but she had prayed for him; she had put herself in the hands of the Lord. My sister said yes, but your husband wasn’t actually dying, was he? Dying’s different.

Why can’t we just say to someone who going through a terrible time, of course you’re angry? Anyone would be. What are you worth if you’re not even allowed to be angry and say so when life rears up drooling, like Alien, and bites you on the bum? My sister’s decided not to mention the God problem to anyone else, in case they turn out to be a tactless, deluded, insensitive do-gooder.

My only thought during this transatlantic telephone conversation was that if there is indeed a God he surely has far better things to do than torment the tiny people he created in his image and claims to love. Why would he put so much energy into creating Heaven and Earth, broad skies; towering mountain ranges; fathomless oceans – all the way out to the farthest, star-strewn reaches of the universe – only engage in such despicable, lily-livered, nit-picking tinkering and meddling? That’s the way humans behave, not gods.

It’s an age-old problem, not solvable by anyone else. Rather, it’s something each of us has to wrestle with alone, in the silence inside our heads. Life refines and changes us – we are tempered in the fire, like swords in the making; and maybe that’s the point.

stolen umbrella

The rain it raineth on the just

And also on the unjust fella:

But chiefly on the just, because

The unjust steals the just’s umbrella.

Lord Bowen (1835-1894)

NaPoWriMo 7/4/16: Kenny

Kenny was a funny kind of brother

Spent most of the time on his back

Watching sky go over

Or crouched in the dust with the ants

To hear them whisper.

 Kenny lives in Canada now

In a heated apartment block

But I always imagine him out in the snow

And walking off into the dark.

His songs come over the radio

Beautiful fractured lines

For women he’s seen in the subway

Or in glossy magazines

He sings them sweet and sad and low

For ladies who can’t insist

That he love in a foreign language, or give

What he never has possessed.


Thanks, Hindsight

How is the year shaping up for you so far? Have your predictions come true, or did you have to face a curve ball or two?

I didn’t expect my brother-in-law to be dying. That’s the curve ball.

He’s younger than me. When they came over from Canada after Labor Day (always after Labor Day, when air tickets are cheaper) he spent two days painting my bathroom green. Except to him it looked yellow, because he’s colour blind. He did a really good job – not sloppy, like I would have done. Two days of sanding, masking and painting while my sister and I sat downstairs catching up on old times. She said he was tired a lot nowadays, but neither of us thought. He was waiting for a test. The test took a whole year to come round, and by then it was too late. He’s got about a year; maybe longer, with treatment.

I never thought I’d miss him in advance. I mean – he’s not my husband. And I suppose that’s what’s always been the trouble – such similar men, such spookily similar personalities – he’s always reminded me. I wasn’t nice, sometimes; I was prickly; I just daren’t let him take me over, start telling me what to think and do. I’d had twenty-two years of it. Twenty-two years of looking for the strength to leave, and more than that since, of paying the price. I escaped. Except you drag it all along with you, trailing clouds of resentment; clouds of mistrust; all men to be tarred with the same brush.

I was distracted: bound up in Mum and her problems. Mum with her dementia – and even before the dementia, that genius she’s got for sucking everybody in, bending all the attention in her direction. Being deaf will do that, of course. Everybody needs to face you; everybody has to focus on you, mime to you, repeat for you. Nowadays, when you don’t want to listen you screw up your eyes: so everybody writes you notes. When you don’t want to read the notes you screw them up and throw them on the floor. We haven’t told you, and we won’t. By the next day you’d have forgotten.

In the midst of all this it was spreading, this thing you have, and none of us knew. As always you flew over, and as always you did stuff for people. You keep a set of overalls in a cupboard at your Mum’s house. You bring your own drill and all the bits to go with it in a heavy-duty plastic case. A place for everything. You painted my bathroom green and thought it was yellow. Then you drove up North and did stuff for your Mum and your sister. You sorted us all out, like you always do. You did that stuff, flew home, and found out you were dying.

So that’s the curve ball.

My sister phones me most nights. She doesn’t know what to do. I just looked it up – we’re precisely 6,793 kilometres apart. What can I do? Only sit in that uncomfortable chair and listen. Only refer back to my own life, only repeat half-remembered stories from books I half-remember reading. What good is that?

I shall be glad to get out of this house.

Glad not to see those newly-painted walls.

Glad to be somewhere else entirely.

In the kitchen at parties

I never did like parties. Parties don’t suit my miserable, self-conscious, unsociable personality – but sometimes you can’t get out of them. I’ve noticed they get less frequent and more dire in direct proportion to one’s age. I’ve also noticed that my very presence at a party seems to guarantee dismalness…dismality…dismalaciousness…

So, the last party I went to was New Year’s Eve 2014. It was at my new neighbour’s house. Her ex-husband was there and between them they had cooked, or maybe bought (difficult to tell once out of the cardboard box and displayed on a reindeer plate left over from Christmas) a mountain of vol-au-vents, little quichey things, sausages on sticks and whatever. She said come over at nine. That seemed quite a late start but at least it cut down the amount of hours I could possibly be expected to be there. As I stepped over the wonky little brick wall that divides her house from mine I rehearsed my escape story. My sister had mentioned phoning from Canada at midnight our time. I just had to be next to the phone in case she did. So difficult to get a line from places like Canada and the States on a public holiday. All the ex-pats calling home at once. Etc.

I left it till ten past nine. That’s what you’re supposed to do, isn’t it? And I figured it would be packed in there by that time and there would be less conspicuity involved. I tend to like to edge in sideways, find a seat and slither into it, and never leave that seat again unless forced to do so for a bathroom visit, throughout which I worry that ‘my’ seat won’t be there when I get back and I might have to stand.

So I knocked on the door and there was no one there, except neighbour and ex-husband in a rather startling red-walled living room; she had obviously been redecorating in the current local style – feature walls – visual indigestion. I loathe red. And there we sat. The ex-husband was conscientious about small talk. I did my best. None of us mentioned the fact that… well, that was the elephant in the room. All that food. No one to eat it. Then one other neighbour arrived with his girlfriend. He isn’t very keen on me, I think. He talked about long-distance lorry-driving a lot, and the correct way of loading a long-distance lorry, and the correct way of fastening a tarpaulin to a long-distance lorry. And eventually I remembered my sister’s imminent call, collected my coat from the knob on the end of the bannister, and went home. I felt this would be exactly the night for drinking half, if not three quarters of a bottle of Blue Nun all alone whilst watching TV till 2 in the morning and falling asleep on the sofa, but of course I had no Blue Nun so I microwaved myself some milk and put a teaspoon of honey in it.

The one before that was the Christmas before the Christmas before that. That was a lively one. Oh yes. I didn’t escape from that till one a.m. It was at another neighbour’s – the one down the end next the giant field that they seem to plough all year round, even in the middle of the night with floodlights on the tractor, when not spraying it with dung or pesticide.

The house is eccentric, being full of every sort of light imaginable. Everything lights up and moves all at once – pictures (waterfalls, etc) , fairy lights, a multitude of lava-lamps, the blue winking Christmas tree in the window, put there specially to annoy the neighbours over the road (‘Her and her Illegal Scotsman’) who were loathed and never invited; an enormous flat-screen TV with the volume up to 92 or thereabouts, which somebody kept flicking at with the remote control. I never knew a television could have so many channels and so many menus to find those channels on, or that you could watch five or six channels at once, whilst smoking packet after packet of cigarettes, dancing with children, drinking, telling jokes, and experimenting with a home karaoke kit. Forgive me, Delilah, I just couldn’t take any moooooore…

Once again, I found my chair – or rather half a small sofa – and stuck to it. The springs were wrecked and I suspected my bottom might actually be on the floor. It felt like it. People kept coming and sitting next to me, which was nice, if stressful. I wasn’t sure what they were talking about as I’m slightly deaf. Normally I don’t notice it but in any loud environment all I can hear is multi-directional loudness. I am reduced to lip-reading. Although I have become quite good at this over the years, it’s difficult when people are talking about tragic events that happened in the neighbourhood long before you arrived. At twelve-fifty a.m. mine host started to tell me for the second time that evening the tale of the old lady who had once lived next to the Illegal Scotsman.

Old lady, she was, and we didn’t realise she had died. It was them little dogs, you see. When her son found her a week later she was scratched to ribbons – scratched to ribbons, she was. It were them little dogs. He thought she’d been murdered.

Just what you want to hear when you have a vivid imagination and live alone with a multitude of cats. And for the second time in one evening. I couldn’t bear it. My head was spinning, my eyes were watering with all the smoke and I was full of chocolate mini-rolls and mince-pies. I made my polite excuses. No one else was leaving. It all went a bit silent. But we’re only just getting going…

At one o’clock in the morning! Had I been expected to stay the night?

And then there were all those other parties, stretching back into my depressing, lonely past like the white plastic poppers of a necklace I had as a child. I wore it to the Methodist Sunday School party, which was in fact not too bad. The poppers got pulled apart and scattered all over the floor by some idiot boy when we were playing spin-the-collection-plate (oh yes, we Methodists knew how to party) but there were sandwiches, and jelly with dobs of ersatz cream; there were balloons, and crackers with mottoes in them and adult-sized purple paper hats that ended up resting on our shoulders, and little dangly ‘skellingtons’. And best of all we didn’t have to wash up. The grown-ups crammed themselves into the kitchen – a corrugated iron shed attached to the Sunday School room – to do that.

And then there was the one when we were supposed to go in fancy dress. That was soon after I got married. We made our own costumes, thinking that was what you did. I went as a tree because I happened to have some brown cloth and some green cloth. I think I had an apple or two attached. I can’t remember what my husband went as. Everyone else had hired proper costumes and stared at us. It was in an expensive cottage, half way down a steep hill. The sort where everything gleams.

And there were the ones where we suddenly realised dancing had changed since we were single, and that imperceptibly we had become a couple, and dull. And the earlier one where I met my husband – and I would only drink orange juice, which was rather acidic – and somebody was smoking pot, which worried me and I wondered if I ought to inform someone – and I was wearing this long flowery dress which somehow seemed now too long, and not thick enough. And my future husband (I already knew) danced, and that was both embarrassing and endearing because he looked like a scarecrow come to life, all angles and elbows and self-conscious jiggling about. And afterwards we had to stay the night, but there was only the living room so we spent the night together on folding camp beds of different heights, him with his long, long curly hair and his grey gypsy eyes and the trousers his mother had lengthened for him with strips of appalling curtain material, I in my long flowery dress which didn’t look right, securely tucked around my ankles. Horizontally but chastely we conversed – I from aloft and he from below – and played the same three Leonard Cohen singles over and over – and I supposed we must have slept because eventually light came streaming in through the kitchen window, and it was a new day.


So I’ve woken up in the middle of the night again, probably because Old Rufus and Young Rufus are competing to see which can be the biggest nuisance. Young Rufus is winning, on the mega-purr front and in the violent-chin-butting contest. My mouth is full of that floaty fur you get when cats decide to demonstrate affection. After an abortive attempt to ignore all this and go back to sleep, I get up. It is four o’clock in the morning.

Sideways down the stairs, one step at a time, clinging to the rail. The right knee is playing up.

Vertical human equals food, and the Whiskas-lust is upon them. I’m not feeding you yet; you’ve got twelve half-bowls of Felix to be going on with. Anyway, most of you are too fat. I make a cup of coffee. While the kettle is boiling I play a quick game of football with George. The knee is still playing up but this is a tiny football, with a bell in the middle. George is much better at football than I. Sometimes I tell people he was called that after footballer George Best, but in fact he was named after several King Georges of England. The only King George I can usually remember is the mad one, with the purple wee. All the boys are named after Kings of one sort or another. I don’t switch on the living room light in case the neighbours might see I am about in the middle of the night and conclude that I am wandering in an elderly, Alzheimer’s kind of way, or just weird. Somehow their opinions, even their putative, probably non-existent opinions, constitute an invasion of my privacy. Flicking on the News Channel, I attempt to lift the mug around Arthur without it spilling. He sits on my knee, nose to nose, bolt upright. He is staring me out. Whiskas!

No Whiskas! No till six.


Same old, same old. City centre shootings, back-street stabbings and endless migrants; border after border closing in Europe, razor-wire being rolled out; crying children, babes in arms; exhausted adults swathed in blankets against the night rain, trapped between one barbed wire fence and another all day and all night; desperate faces. I could weep for the world.

For some reason this reminds me of that 1997 song by Cornershop, an East/West fusion band.

Brimful of Asha on the forty-five…

The song was catchy and also included the excellent line Everybody needs a bosom for a pillow, everybody needs a bosom… It is a song with many layers of meaning. Asha means Hope, and Indian films are all about hope, relentless and sometimes rather syrupy. Asha was also the name of a one of the popular singing sisters Asha Bhonsle and Lata Mangeshkar, who recorded background tracks for Bollywood films. Cornershop’s lead singer is of Punjabi heritage, yet he sings Asher. In the Punjab Asha would have been pronounced Aaasha, so he is indicating that he grew up in a different culture speaking English. The forty-five was a forty-five rpm record player… the sort of thing parents still had, when their children were moving over to CD players.

The house adjoining mine is empty, oppressively so. I don’t notice it during the day but at night a chill, a kind of dankness seems to come through the walls. Apparently they are in the South of France for several months, engaged in a Grand Design project, their dream villa; or staying in the caravan of a friend of a friend, it depends which neighbour you talk to. Presumably doggy is with them. The labradoodle. I wonder what the French would call a labradoodle. Le doodle probably, since they have a tendency to leave out bits of the words and phrases they borrow from us. Le scotch for Scotch tape but Le Scotch for the whisky. Le parking for the car-park. Le living for living-room. Le brushing for blow-drying. Interestingly, le fashion-victim is a compliment rather than an insult if you are called it by a Frenchman.

Things keep reminding me of things at this time of the night – sorry, morning. There was this play. They were all in a cottage, having a dinner party. It all seemed quite normal to start with and then someone peered out of the window – never a wise thing to do in a TV play – and there was nothing there. Nothing at all. Blackness. It was as if they were flying through space, trapped together for all eternity in this one cottage, in this dreadful dinner party, with this same little group of dreadful people. The play must have thoroughly creeped me out since I am now recalling it thirty years later. I keep thinking Rocket Cottage but no, that was the name of an album by Steeleye Span. It had a rocket on the front.

So what is keeping me awake? Many things.

Mum, deep in dementia yet refusing all help. My sister emailed me yesterday: ‘I think of Mum all the time, even in the middle of the night.’ Do we just have to wait for disaster to happen? Is there no safety net – no contingency plan in a situation like this? Surely we can’t be the only ones in this situation?

And catalogues, of course. Catalogue-delivering and income supplementation strategies generally eat into my precious time – time reserved for blogging, reading and thinking. I can’t think. No time to. The house is filling up with shiny home-shopping catalogues in shiny plastic snap-bags. Drowning under the weight of them. Glug. Glug, glug… I find I have written strange notes to myself: Bag up cats – Deliver cats – Wipe and recycle cats. It’s a good thing the actual cats can’t read.

There’s a pebble-man propped up against the poetry in my bookcase. My sister made him for me and posted him from Canada. Pebbles glued on to white board, with additional art-work. I can’t help wondering how those pebbles felt, one minute nestling in brotherly companionship on some Canadian lake shore, say, the next glued to a board and painted round then whizzed into first one then another postal system and ending up for no obvious reason in an English bookcase. Are they homesick?

My neighbour arrives in from his night shift, killing the headlights early so as not to wake the neighbours – those that are not already awake. I hear him attempting to drive quietly on our unmade road, but the potholes, gravel and broken lumps of concrete of which it is composed announced his arrival from the minute he turned into the road. If the Council were to adopt the road it would be surfaced, smooth and luxurious, but our Council Tax would shoot up so we don’t make too much of a fuss.

I lift the corner of the curtain to see if there are any other lighted living-room windows, indicating that other people are about. There are one or two, up the hill and down, but you can never be sure there are actually people in those rooms. They could just have left the lights on to discourage burglars. At one time I worked an evening shift and came in at ten. Sometimes our one and only streetlight was out when I got home and it was a case of groping round the side of the house and through the night garden, trying to find the keyhole with a tiny torch, the key unwilling to fit because I was rushing to get indoors. I was imagining escaped prisoners lying in wait just beyond the bird-feeders, or lurking in the lavender.

And suddenly it is 6.30. Time to feed the cats.