Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Home ~ at Last

Dear Diary, Like turning wheels I have come full circle.

Niece waited at the bus stop, tossed my small luggage into the back seat and after ensuring I was settled, drove home. For home it is Dear Diary.

Little was said on the journey, which after all only takes a short time, but the absolute pleasure we both felt at being reunited was evident. I felt light hearted. I noticed Hester smiling a silly Cheshire cat smile. It was obvious all was well with her.

But what of Karen and Jake? I dared not enquire.

We hastened indoors where, glory be, Phil had a cuppa ready and had carefully laid the table with sandwiches [ham and mustard on thick bread, which made it obvious this snack was of his design], and three thick slabs of fruit-cake. The moment we stepped over the thresh-hold Phil gently took me by the elbow and sat me at the table, before he deposited my luggage in my room. A smirk on his face left me wondering what exactly was going on, but, being of a gentle disposition, I decided to wait until I was informed.

We ate. We sipped. Soon the plates were empty. Dear Diary, there is nothing more refreshing and invigorating that a 'meal devised by a man'. There is something basic and strong about it. Even the tea was a hearty brew.

Phil leaned back in his chair, almost swinging on it. I peeked at Hester, half expecting her to chastise him for that juvenile action, but no, she simply smiled.

Well Dear Diary, my curiosity was aroused. It was evident they had no intention of telling me any news, or indeed where Karen and Jake were. There were absolutely no signs of their habitation.

Finally the suspense was too great.

"Hester?" I ventured. "Where are Karen and Jake?"

Phil looked at Hester. Hester looked at Phil. I looked at them both. What was going on?

"Aunt Alice," began Niece, " Karen and Jake have moved out. Jake found a little cottage, needing a little TLC, and without any dithering, they bought it. At the moment their main aim is to bring it up to a suitable standard for the expected arrival, and both are spending every moment painting and sewing curtains, and planning a garden."

I must have looked flabbergasted. I know I felt it.

"But ... but ..." I began.

"Oh Aunt!" spluttered Hester. "It is just so wonderful! They are only a ten-minute drive away. We will see them often. While the thought a having them living here, and a new baby sounded splendid in the beginning, I could see that perhaps the situation may become awkward. This is the best of both worlds!"

Dear Diary, this was a new slant on Niece, and Phil. I know I have spent many years living here, and perhaps had not been the most docile of aunts some of the time, but never had I felt so at home.

Phil stood up. "Alice," he said, "Come with me!"

This sounded remarkably like an order to me. I jumped to attention, saluted and replied, "Alice on guard Sir!"

Laughter from both Hester and Phil was so 'family'. Oh Dear Diary, my heart was full almost to burst.

However Phil had not finished. He tied the silk scarf I had carelessly thrown over the back of the chair around my eyes, causing a little consternation I must say. I stumbled along the passage and it seemed as though we were heading to my room. A door was opened, the scarf taken off my eyes.

During my absence a makeover of my quarters had been undertaken. The patio had been increased in size; a covered sunroom opened off the bedroom; and the bedroom had been painted.

"Now Aunt Alice," said Niece, " all that is left for you to do is choose your colours for drapes and furnishings."

I have a confession Dear Diary. At that moment my eyes filled with tears. These wonderful people had done this for me.

I hugged them in turn, and announced happily, "I am so glad to be home".

Dear Diary, now that life is something to look forward to, each day a new day in which to discover interesting things, there is little left for me to write about. The one sad moment is this ... Farewell Dear Diary.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Homeward Bound

Dear Diary, the last few days have had a profound effect on my thinking. It was somewhat disconcerting to discover that I had not made a good choice in packing up and running to Anne's from the confusion reigning at Niece and Phil's place. Any woman, indeed any person worthy of being a human being, should have stayed until the situation sorted itself out.

With that in mind, earlier in the day I telephoned Hester. Her voice was guarded. Oh, Dear Diary, I sincerely think my sudden departure was hurtful. However, once I asked if my old room was still my home she responded enthusiastically.

At the moment I am sitting in a coach, one that stops at every small town between here and there which in effect makes the journey twice as long as it would by car, and will be home within the hour.

Hester is meeting me at the bus depot, and has some news.

Dear Diary, I am looking forward to going home. Yes, it was fun at Anne's and yes, we did have a few adventures, and laughs, but at the end of the day, home is home.

The wheels are turning, the scenery is racing by ... I am almost home, I am almost home. It is moments like this I wish I were riding on a train. Then one could hear the wheels clacking, I am almost home, I am almost home!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Not Exactly an Apology

Dear Diary, While Anne and I laughed about the obvious embarrassment written across Richard's face, deep down, I, a most sensitive creature, felt a disquiet. Was it entirely fair that we set the poor man up? Not for one moment do I think that Richard had any idea he was the victim of a silly plot by two equally silly women, but I do wonder if he is now wondering how the whole scenario acted out.

With the passing of a day I have had time to dissect the luncheon production, for it was a carefully stage-managed meal. The main proponents of the play had no idea of their starring role. As I sit, knitting laying on my lap, and Anne, her foot propped up on a pouffe and flicking pages of a magazine, it is obvious neither of us feel proud of our bit roles. What were we? It could be rightly concurred we were nothing but two old woman enjoying an incident at the expense of two innocent parties. I do feel guilty.

"Anne?" It was a tentative query. "Do you consider we were very naughty inviting Richard when we knew Hazel was coming?"

She blushed. There was no need for a reply; her look told all.

Suddenly Anne pulled herself up, picked up the telephone directory, and made a call. I listened to the one-sided conversation.

"Hello. Richard." Anne crossed her fingers behind her back as she issued another invitation. "Would you like to come over for a cuppa" There is only Alice and I here, and we have a small confession to make."

There was a silence, though I could hear a muffled reply echoing through the lines.

Anne smiled, and hanging up the receiver commented that Richard was on his way over. Dear Diary, what would happen next? I for one didn't feel that any thing much could be said to alter what had happened. Sometimes it is best to let a situation disappear with time, without further reference to it. It seems that Anne is made of different stuff than I.

There was a tap at the door; Anne made to get up, but Richard with his usual charm waltzed in, smiling a greeting and rubbing his hands together.

"I say," he said, "that was a jolly luncheon yesterday. I thoroughly enjoyed it!"

Dear Diary, here was this man, the one who we considered we owed an apology to admitting that what we considered a bad joke, had so enjoyed his day! I looked in surprise at Anne, who I will admit, had the grace to look dumbfounded. As Anne bustled around gathering food and drink for this little visit I was left to entertain Richard. Not quite sure what to say I began on the one safe topic we all rely on ... the weather. Richard, however, had other ideas.

"Alice, how long have you known Hazel?" he queried. "Fancy her being here yesterday! You know, I had thought her name was Hope! However could I have made such a mistake?"

At least I had a topic of conversation to speak about, and launched into a long story of how Hazel and I had known each other while schoolgirls, but hadn't kept in touch. And how it was such a surprise to meet her in a coffee shop. I almost gave the show away Dear Diary! I almost let it slip that Anne had only invited Richard and Hazel here for the same lunch as she wanted to see his reaction. I pulled myself up just in time!

Richard gushed on and on about Hazel. Surely the man realised she was spoken for?!

"Richard!" I spoke sternly. "Hazel is getting married early in the New Year. She is just waiting for a respectable time to pass since the death of her husband."

Richard stared at me. Oh no! That little snippet of information had not sunk into his consciousness at lunch. Obviously he was so wrapped up in his fantasy he had heard little of Hazel's comments. His colour heightened; he began to shake. For a moment I thought the man was going to burst into tears! As Anne handed around cups of tea and invited us to help ourselves to scones or cake, he pulled himself together.

"I have been a fool," he murmured. "I thought that a newly widowed woman would welcome the advances of an eligible man. It seems as though I read the situation entirely wrong."

Anne smiled, placed her hand on Richard's arm and replied, "We all make a fool of ourselves at some stage in life Richard. Please do not think your tiny mistake is serious. No harm was done, and no doubt you will get over what was little more than a schoolboy infatuation."

Dear Diary, I was proud of Anne. With a few short words she had made Richard feel better. What better time to begin a game of Scrabble than now? Engaging the brain in a constructive way righted what could have become an embarrassing moment.

Monday, September 6, 2010

A Luncheon Date

Dear Diary, If I hadn't been there I would never have believed it!

Moments before noon a gentle knock on the door announced Hazel's arrival. Anne had dusted and polished until the dining area and lounge sparkled. Those gorgeous perfumed stocks in shades of purple, deep pink, and dark red arranged in a cut crystal vase created a glorious scene on the side table. Anne had contemplated placing them on the dining table; their perfume permeated the room and she felt that their perfume might detract from the luncheon. Cushions were plumped, ornaments readjusted to their best advantage, and I rubbed all wooden surfaces with furniture polish until the room was simply perfect.

Hazel is a charming woman; had I not known her from childhood days when she often arrived at school not wearing shoes as the family had suffered some form of economic crisis, I would have been completely overwhelmed with her graciousness. Conversation flowed. Anne offered sherry, but Hazel declined. I was pleased. We needed to keep our heads if this afternoon was to go the way we hoped.

Lunch was simple. A quiche Lorraine and a salad served with fresh bread rolls. Anne somehow found time earlier in the morning to bake a carrot cake that took pride of place in the centre of the table, walnuts decorating the cream cheese icing looking delectable.

Another knock at the door; Dear Diary, Anne played her role so well. She had threatened me with banishment back to Niece's if I dared laugh, or even let on this lunch had ulterior motives.

Anne hurried to the door not giving Richard time to waltz in as normal. Chatting to Hazel about the paths our lives had meandered since schooldays I could hear Anne welcoming Richard.

"Richard," she gushed, how lovely to see you."

No mention Dear Diary, about his presence being prearranged. I am positive Hazel had no clue his arrival was by invitation.

Anne, chatting to Richard in an animated manner entered the dining room. Very cunningly, I thought, she hastily introduced Richard and Hazel, stressing 'Hazel', and hurried out to the kitchen, to check on the food, she said, when I was well aware all the food had been prepared and ready for the past half hour!

Such a shame she escaped! Richard's face was a picture. His complexion changed from a shocked white, to an embarrassed red, as he stuttered and stammered his greeting. Hazel had never met Richard, as we suspected, and had no idea that he admired her. However conversation didn't flag as Hazel was indeed a woman of the world and knew how to make anyone at ease.

As the meal got underway Anne, so innocently, enquired from Hazel what time of year she had planned to hold her wedding. At that query poor Richard, and by now I was beginning to feel rather sad about his obvious distress, swung around to face Hazel.

"You are planning marriage?" Richard enquired.

"Oh yes Richard, I have a lovely man friend and plan settling down with him. Of course there has to be a hiatus for decencies sake you know."

Richard didn't know where to look. I was watching Anne who clearly was enjoying his embarrassment. But Dear Diary, I am not one to allow a joke to go too far, and offered a salve to him.

"Richard," I began, Hazel's marriage was in name only. She has had a male companion for many years. Now that Mr Hardcastle, Garfield, has passed away, they are free to marry."

Much to my relief Anne obviously decided the joke had gone far enough, and steered the conversation in other directions. As Hazel had no idea that Richard fancied her, and Richard had no idea I knew of those fancies. All in all, Dear Diary, the afternoon concluded with no ill feelings on anyone's part, though I must confess Anne and I had a giggle in the kitchen once Hazel and Richard had departed, both going their separate ways, and both declaring the lunch very tasty and pleasurable.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Spring Clothes

Dear Diary, Anne and I have had many conversations re Hazel. Her announcement about having a man friend and considering marriage threw our minds out of kilter. We failed to ask enough questions! How many years had she lived in this town? When did she marry ... in fact Dear Diary we forgot to ask her married name! And what is even stranger, she never volunteered it. That of course means we have no method of contacting her, though Anne knows which street she lives in. Just imagine if we staked out the street! Neighbours would wonder what was going on. Still we are curious.

Later Anne came up with an idea! Dear Diary, Anne is a very resourceful woman when it comes to detective work. Her plan was that we go to the shops, and hope to 'run into' Hazel. After an early lunch we called a taxi as while Anne has made a good recovery after her fall, it was too much to expect her to drive as her confidence took a dent. The sun was shining, but the wind chill factor brought the temperatures down.

In all truth we had little essential shopping, but with spring arriving, and the shop racks filling with new seasons clothing a little window shopping seemed an excellent idea. Wandering along Main Street a window dressed in stunning colours of lime green and a contrasting blue, which should have clashed terribly, but instead caught the eye; a glance inside was enough to entice us in. As I hadn't brought all that many clothes with me, and as the weather was improving, I could see no harm in a small indulgence. A blue skirt and contrasting lime green with blue flowers, the same shade as the skirt fitted perfectly. Anne browsed. It was no surprise she didn't buy as she had a wardrobe of clothes at home, unlike me who was living out of a suitcase.

Taking my clothes to the counter I spied Hazel looking at cardigans. This was the opportunity we had wanted! Anne noticed almost the same moment as I, and taking the bull by the horns she left me to pay for my purchases and made her way purposefully towards Hazel who expressed pleased surprise when she saw Anne bearing down on her. I paid for the skirt and blouse before heading over to Anne and Hazel who were engaged in enthusiastic conversation. By the time I reached them arrangements had been made. Dear Diary, I have already said Anne is a very resourceful woman! Hazel cheerfully greeted me, and expressed her thanks to Anne for inviting her to lunch the following day. Aha, Dear Diary, tomorrow we may find out more!

Anne and I accepted Hazel's kind offer of a lift home, which allowed Hazel to find out where she would be travelling for lunch the following day. She did decline an offer to come inside for a coffee, insisting she had chores to attend to. We bade her farewell, agreeing we were looking forward immensely to lunch.

The moment Hazel drove out of sight Anne did a small jig, which surprised me, as I thought her ankle was still a little poorly.

"Alice," Anne said, " Hazel is Mrs Hardcastle. Her late husband was a well-known entrepreneur in the music world."

I nodded. I had heard of a Garfield Hardcastle, never connecting him with Hazel Bottomly of my childhood and schooldays.

Anne continued innocently, "I think I might pop over to Richard and invite him to lunch tomorrow." She winked in a conspiratoral way.

Suddenly I remembered that Richard had spoken of a widow named Hope.

"Anne, who is Hope?" I enquired.

Anne looked puzzled. She laughed. She thought that Richard was in fact unaware of Hazel's correct name. In fact the more we thought about it, we wondered just how much Richard did know about Hazel! Tomorrow can't come fast enough, Dear Diary!

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

A Revelation

Dear Diary, Anne is feeling much better and able to walk easier. As a small treat for ourselves, after our almost housebound few days, we decided to go on a shopping trip to town. Not that we need to purchase any particular item, other than a few essentials for our survival ... slippers were high on that list.

I forgot to bring slippers with me; one of the drawbacks of hasty packing! Tomorrow is the first of spring and wouldn't you know it! The shops are full of spring clothes; no slippers worth their name. Oh there was a pair of towelling slip-ons, eminently suitable for the short trip from bathroom to bedroom; but barely comfortable for wearing around the house during the day. A trip out the back door to the garden for a few flowers would see them reduced to a messy blob. While I was not rude or nasty to the shop assistant I did query why shops filled their shelves and racks with summery garments when it was raining outdoors. Evidently this practice is common place. I did express my disapproval, and walked out empty handed.

As we wandered along the street a craft shop caught my attention. An idea slipped into mind. Purposely we walked into the interior of this Aladdin's Cave of crafty wonders; I found a pattern for knitted slippers, purchased needles and wool. Dear Diary, there are more than one way to skin a cat! I will make a pair of slippers, and while they too will not stand the outdoors, at least they will be all my own effort.

Anne's ankle began to throb. Lunchtime was nigh. The heady aroma of coffee poured out of a busy cafe, and as the lunch crowd had not yet left offices and work places, an early lunch made a lot of sense. A seat in the corner beckoned; after seating Anne and ascertaining what she fancied I headed up to the counter to order toasted sandwiches and flat whites. While Anne hadn't mentioned sweets my roving eye noticed a cabinet of cakes. Not for many years have I bitten into Neenish tarts; we deserved a small treat; Neenish tarts fitted into the treat category. A lovely waitress offered to carry the tray to the table once the sandwiches were ready. Dear Diary while I was thankful as balancing a tray laden with food and full coffee cups can be a scary exercise, I did wonder if she thought I may be a little dottery and unable to carry the load. In such circumstances it is best to offer effusive thanks and allow the service be carried out.

By the time I rejoined Anne the cafe was filling up. Working folk from nearby businesses and factories pushed through the open door and lined up for coffees and teas. Hot food in the bain-marie appeared extremely popular. Anne whispered that a busy cafe is a good cafe; a statement I wholeheartedly agreed with.

A well-dressed woman stood gazing around the room looking for a suitable place to sit. I stared. Surely this elegant tall slender woman dressed in a trim dress and matching coat, clothes that were seldom seen in this day and age, was Hazel Bottomly? As I leaned to ask Anne, she nudged me. When I looked questioningly Anne nudged me and in a quiet voice said the lady was none other than the widow Richard was interested in. Dear Diary, my thoughts raced!

"Anne," I said, "is that Hazel Bottomly?"

Anne looked dubious. She wasn't sure, in fact didn't know Hazel Bottomly lived in the area.

No sooner had this little exchange taken place, than the lady in question looked our way, a frown crossing her forehead. A sudden recognition registered. As she reached our table she enquired if she could sit with us. Anne and I nodded. By then Dear Diary I was agog with curiosity.

Offering my hand I introduced myself, and Anne. A small laugh escaped the newcomer's lips.

"Alice! It is you!"

"Hazel Bottomly!" I exclaimed, and introduced Anne.

We chatted and caught up with the past decades until our sandwiches arrived. Hazel had ordered, her meal arriving shortly afterwards.

Dear Diary, I was most discreet. Not once did I mention Richard, though I was eager to know how her life was.

Anne broached the subject.

"Hazel," she said, "I am sorry to hear of the death of your husband. Please accept my condolences."

Adding my sympathies I was surprised to see a smile cross Hazel's features. This was the first newly widowed lady I had seen who didn't appear sad.

"Thank you both," Hazel replied. "While my husband and I lived under the same roof, we led separate lives for the last ten years. I actually have a man friend, and once a suitable time has elapsed Derek and I will marry."

Dear Diary, Anne and I stared at each other. Thank goodness neither of us had mentioned Richard. Now we have a lot of questions for that gentleman!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

A Sighting

Dear Diary, What promised to be a day of indoors and finding ways of enticing excitement to enter into the theme of the day had a strange twist.

I find it hard to believe that Richard, who is purported to be chasing a widow, is truly enamoured with this lady, whom I have not yet had the pleasure of even setting eyes upon. Anne assures me she is a quiet lady known for keeping to herself. It seems rather unusual that Richard, who is fancy free, and as they say, carries little baggage, doesn't just telephone the woman and invite her out. Rather he comes along to Anne and prattles on and on and on. Quite frankly I find the man a trifle boring, though today Dear Diary he broke that boring mould.

Anne and I were sitting relaxing with a second coffee, accompanied by a chocolate mint biscuit, which I will confess as being one of my favourite biscuits, if biscuits are not home made. There is a rather delicious slice, chocolate with cornflakes to add a crunch, iced firstly with a peppermint icing, and topped with a thick chocolate icing; very decadent! The packet biscuits run a close second in flavour, and far excel the slice in the battle to maintain the waistline.

Richard knocked and walked in. I am still surprised that he has the temerity to waltz in and out as he sees fit. In my day it was considered manners, and manners maketh a man Dear Diary, to knock and wait, patiently, until the door was opened and one was invited in. I am not sure if I altogether like the casualness of today, but I digress. His excitement showed! Anne graciously offered him a coffee and thrust the biscuit plate towards him. He seemed oblivious to her courtesy; ordered the pair of us to put on shoes and come with him.

With a quizzical glance at Anne I wondered if he had perhaps lost the plot. After all full moon had just passed. However as we had nothing planned we could hardly make excuses. I helped Anne out to Richard's up-market, pale blue, convertible Volvo quietly wondering the total accumulation of Richard's assets. Did his arrogance stem from wealth? However as we sped along the street heading to the outskirts of town it was a matter of holding onto one's hair. The wind whistling past was exhilarating. Soon we were travelling along a quiet country lane. Richard stopped, opened the doors for us to disembark, and whispering to us to walk quietly and not talk, ushered us to the edge of a small coppice. He pointed upwards. There in a straggly gum tree sat an owl, wide-awake observing our every movement.

Anne and I were awestruck. Such a beautiful bird! We were not certain as to which species of owl it belonged, but did consider this owl to be a youngster. Maybe it had not long been sent out to explore new territory and make its own way in the world? Thankfully, and I must retract some of my comments about him, Richard had brought a camera with him. Not exactly brought it with him he confessed. He always carried a camera in the car, as he never knew when an opportunity would arise for a masterpiece.

We stayed for some moments, staring upwards, enthralled with this sighting. Not only had Anne and I never seen an owl at night, apart from a glimpse of a ghostly apparition and a whirr of wings many years ago when camping out, we had certainly never been close enough to notice its bright eyes inquisitively following our every move.

Impulsively I hugged Richard for showing us the owl; this sighting is a memory neither Anne nor I will ever forget.