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Chapter 13. Dawning Of A New Era


The days between Boxing Day and New Years eve passed in a haze of afternoon party invites and then on New Year eve Flo, Zoe, Jackie and I met up for our traditional New Years Eve lunch.
As the master chef had been sacked we booked a table at Cosmos for midday. It's always been an important occasion for us, the New Year Lunch. A time to reflect, take stock of the year we are about to say goodbye to and discuss our hopes and expectations for the year ahead.
Zoe had had a mixed year. Romantically challenging perhaps and yet not without some memorable and amusing moments.
I said to Zoe. At least your out there getting on with life and giving it your best shot.
Who knows what's in store over the next twelve months. That's the excitement of being single. The man of your dreams could be just around the corner while for a number of women they know that they can only look forward to another year stuck in a dull marriage in which the true romance passed years ago, simply holding it together for the sake of the children.
At which point Zoe revealed that she had been out on a couple of dates over Christmas.
I met this fab looking guy in the household cleaning products aisle of Pound Paradise. He had just been about to chuck some fabric conditioner in his basket when I felt compelled to warn him against his decision to purchase this product.
I told him, waste of time and money that. I said, those fabric conditioners in actual fact make your towels harder rather than softer.
Then we struck up a conversation on the merits of biological over non-bio washing powder and before I knew it he was asking me over to his place. Said I could show him the best setting on his machine for whites while he cooked us dinner.
Our interest had certainly been piqued at this point and we lent in closer for the full story.
He had a lovely two bedroomed house on that nice terrace overlooking the Mount. Very fit, liked to play squash. Cooked her a lovely Thai curry and then on the second date took her to that expensive restaurant just up from the 'Save the Donkey's' charity shop.
Well, this sounds more like it! I thought.
Then Zoe elaborated.
All was going rather well and then he had to go and make a confession. He was a huge Madonna fan.
That in itself would not have been a problem.
Then insisted on taking me up to his spare room to showed me the massive shrine that he had erected in her honour.
All her albums were there and the walls were covered in pictures of her spanning the last three decades.
There was a central table covered in vast amounts of promotional tat from concerts.
A plate with Madonna's face on it. An 'I love Madonna' mug, some Madonna bunting,
a pair of boxer shorts with Madonna's face on the front, a Madonna doll, and then central to it all there was a copy of her book 'Sex'.
Worse still, he showed me a pair of knickers that had apparently belonged to Madonna that he had bought on eBay.
I mean, how gullible can you be?
There was also a large cardboard cut out of Madonna in her gold pointy bra standing in front of the window.
Just as I was trying to take all this in and somehow try to find reason behind what looked like madness, he suggested that we had sex there and then on the floor and perhaps try out a few of the fantasies depicted in her book.
Flo, Jackie and I all agreed that that was a pretty bad turn of events and she had been right to run straight out the door and into the nearest taxi home.
Jackie, of course, had had quite a tumultuous year.
The break up of a marriage that she had totally believed in and had devoted herself to. Months of pain and anguish caused by the erosion of all that she had known and loved. Then the unexpected joy of a getting together with Roy and realising that, in truth, she would actually be much happier with him.
Then Jackie really surprised us by announcing that she was pregnant.
Wow, this is big news! What does Roy feel about that? I inevitably asked.
Roy is as thrilled as I am, she said and then went on to tell us something that she had never revealed before.
She had always wanted children.
I know I said that I didn't, but it wasn't true, she confessed. It's just that Rick said that if I ever got pregnant he would have to leave me. Said he's already got three from his last two marriages, didn't want anymore and hadn't really wanted the ones he did have in the first place. Because I loved him I was prepared to make the sacrifice and tried to live with the idea that I would never have my own family.
So, you have certainly had one hell of a year, I said, and what a great end!
Flo, had had her own setbacks, such as the tragic death of poor Mr Dibbs, her lovely old ginger tom. However, she now had Nelson, who had now become a major player in her and Harvey's lives, and indeed, that of their whole neighbourhood.
Flo decided to entertain us with yet another tale of what Nelson had been up to recently.
A few weeks ago the neighbours three doors up from Flo had left their living room window open to air out the room while their little boy cleaned his hamster cage. The hamster was enjoying a brief moment of freedom in a cordoned off area in the living room, as Nelson had just jumped up on the windowsill.
I mean, there's Nelson. He looks through this window and spies a big fat juicy hamster practically laid out on a platter for him. It all happened in seconds. The neighbour was ever so angry. Said that she had only left Ben on his own for a few minutes. Kept on about how devoted he was to the hamster and going on about how inconsolable he was. I said to her. It's hardly my fault or Nelson 's is it! Fancy leaving a window open, how thoughtless! I mean, Nelson's a cat and a hamster's practically a mouse, we've all seen Tom and Jerry.
Some people really aren't cut out to have pets, they don't exercise enough caution. Of course, I offered to buy another hamster for Ben, but Margery insisted that it just wouldn't be the same. Chewy was unique. I don't think so, looked the same as any other hamster if you ask me. If she had just thought more quickly she could have pretended that Chewy had alluded Nelson's attack and was most likely hiding under the sofa. Then she could have nipped down to the pet shop and, suddenly, hey presto, Chewy's been found! Lack of imagination that woman, bit dim if anything. Poor Nelson , I don't think the hamster snack agreed with him either, he had a terrible upset stomach afterwards.
I said to Harvey at the time. It's not Nelson's fault he threw up on your work overalls, he'd just had a very large meal. I mean literally, he'd bitten off more than he could chew!
Harvey keeps complaining about him, told me that the only reason he's recently taken up smoking again was because of Nelson. He said that he couldn't go out of the front door these days without one neighbour or another complaining about the cats exploits.
Gary from over the road was blaming Nelson for all the dead birds he kept finding in the kitchen, said he even found feathers floating on the top of a jug of milk the other day.
Janice four doors up is holding Nelson responsible for their budgie having gone missing and Pam from the bungalow opposite is even accusing him of being a jewel thief for goodness sake! Told Harvey that she had seen him leaving by the back window with her string of real pearls in his mouth.
I said to Harvey, what nonsense, I've not seen him wearing any pearls, have you? Harvey had to concede that he hadn't.
Flo then said that she reckons the neighbours are all just jealous of them, especially since they had the new water feature installed in the front garden. Once all the koi carp had been eaten the pond had become rather redundant.
You haven't seen it yet Dorie have you? It's really beautiful. It's got two angels with spilling urns all made of stone, three tiers of cascading water and LED lighting. Much better than the Thomases over the road. They've got a stupid cheap looking bronze effect cherub fountain with no tiers or lights at all. Basically, a glorified bird bath. I said to Harvey, if people are going to put bird baths on their lawns who can blame a cat for showing a quite natural interest.
Anyway, Flo reflected, as we ordered some more drinks and another bowl of nachos. Harvey is now back at home rooted to the sofa, leg up on a pouffe watching sports all day and yelling out endless demands. Another cup of tea! Can of larger! Sandwiches! Bowl of nuts! It's not easy I can tell you and he still won't stop going on about Nelson.
That b****y cat's just eaten the ham out of my sandwich. The cat's coughed up a fur ball on his nuts. The cat drank half his larger during the snooker, the cats' knocked over his tea. On and on, all day. I'm not sure the fall hasn't done some permanent mental damage, to be honest. I'm run off my feet! Not the ideal start to the new year. Still, my sisters coming over to babysit tonight so I can join you all in the 'Fowl and Feathers' later on. See in the new year with my friends.
After lunch, we temporarily parted ways so that we could all go home and rest up before heading out again in the evening.
Zoe had wanted us all to go out in fancy dress. We decided to be different characters from the old classic TV soap Dallas. I was going to be Sue Ellen and Spats was going to be JR Ewing. We had had a dress rehearsal the day before. Spats looked ever so good in his ten-gallon hat. I was going to wear a wig like Sue Ellen and apply loads of blusher.
A new day and a new year dawned. Soon daily life was back to normal, or rather, as normal as it was ever was going to be.
Then two weeks in, just as we were all going into hibernation for the next two months, I had the most shocking call from Flo. Harvey was dead!


Chapter 14. Angels Of Death


How could this be! I said. I thought he had a broken leg and a few bruises? Was it a blood clot or something? Were there undiagnosed internal injuries? Did he have an aneurysm?
No, none of those things, howled Flo down the phone. Please get over here Dorie, I don't know what to do! I'll tell you the whole awful story then.
Well, needless to say, within a quarter of an hour I was knocking on Flo's door.
As I was standing there waiting for Flo to let me in I couldn't help observing her monstrous new water feature.
I thought you said it had two angels, I questioned as she led me through into the kitchen.
Sorry, Dorie, what's got two angels?
The water feature, you said it had two angels. I can only see one and the other seems to have been broken off. Has a jealous neighbour or someone vandalised it? I know it's hardly important right now, I'm just curious that's all.
I mean, if they have that's pretty disgusting after all you have recently been through!
It was Harvey, Dorie, that's the thing, he fell head first onto the angels.
You sit down there Flo, I instructed, motioning to the dining room table, and then tell me everything, I will pour us both a nice brandy, goodness knows we need it! This is all so awful! I'm very confused. How did Harvey end up falling head first onto the angels?
Flo then went on the explain the whole series of tragic events.
You know I told you that Harvey had taken up smoking again. Well, I just won't have smoking in the house, disgusting habit, and those plug-ins don't mask that horrible stale smell. Anyway, if Harvey needed a smoke he would hobble out into the garden on his crutches for a quick roll up every now and then. I said to him when he grumbled about being turfed out into the cold, stop moaning, a breath of fresh air will do you good. Oh, Dorie, It was just dreadful. I saw the whole thing from the window. There was Harvey, he had just about made it over to the water feature where he liked to have his cigarette, when Nelson shot in front of him. He'd obviously seen a bird or a mouse or something. Anyway, Harvey lost his balance, both of the crutches and then he just collapsed forward with nothing to break his fall except the hard stone of the angel carvings. I ran out to the garden to find Harvey face down in the bottom tier of the fountain and at this point, I'm just worried that he might drown. Never could I have believed that the fall would prove fatal! When I tuned Harvey over, I at first assumed that he was simply unconscious. After a few minutes trying to bring him around I realised that something was very wrong, I suddenly realised that the fall had killed him. Harvey was dead!
Flo started sobbing uncontrollably and it took nearly half an hour before she could coherently continue to explain the series of events.
Then Nelson came rushing back over with a bird in his mouth and dropped it on Harvey's chest, no doubt expecting praise for his hunting prowess. I ran back into the house and telephoned for an ambulance. They were here within ten minutes, although it felt like hours. I was in such a state of shock. The paramedics told me he would have died instantly, as if that's any conciliation.
That night I stayed at Flo's.
My main duty was to hold her hand while she cried until dehydration set in and she could cry no more.
Then Flo started to reminisce for a while about various endearing habits of Harvey's.
How he always had a boiled egg every morning for breakfast without fail and how it had to be cooked medium soft.
His various strange superstitions. One being, that if you drop a fork you should never pick it up and would have to ask someone else to do it for you or it's very bad luck.
I thought, Spats does that anyway, but not out of superstitions. Was Harvey actually smarter than I thought? Maybe I should adopt some superstitions myself.
Tell Spats that I believe it's bad luck to pick men's socks up off the floor, allow there to be more than two correspondent shoes kicked off under the dining room table at any one time, and that three days without a person emptying their ashtray is very unlucky because they might just get the cigarette stubs tossed on top of their evening meal as a garnish.
Another of Harvey's superstitions was that if you saw two robins at the same time then that was particularly lucky.
Unfortunately, Flo said that Harvey had never reported such a sighting so maybe there was something in it and I wondered whether he had accidentally picked up his own fork recently while Flo was out at work. If so, maybe that was the beginning of the end.
Many further tales of this ilk were told until Flo was finally all talked out. The brandy had done its work and she was face down on the table. She was too heavy to be carried upstairs so I dragged her onto the sofa in the conservatory where she slept until nearly noon of the next day.
Flo's spare room was always ready and made up for visitors so I crashed out in there. curled up with me and for a while, I slept. woke me at five clawing at my hair, obviously in need of his breakfast. After opening a can of tuna ( Flo had told me it was his favourite ), I was up and roaming the dining-room wondering what to do with myself. Flo's house was always so immaculate, depressingly so, I didn't know what to do with myself. There was a flat screen television attached to the wall in the dining-room so I turned that on.
The first channel to spring to luminescent life was showing a children's programme which I hurriedly had to turn down for fear of waking Flo. The noise was deafening. What a fluorescent coloured nightmare that was!
Honestly, the screaming shouting and absolute mania of the whole show was unbelievable. I couldn't help wondering how mentally healthy all this was for children. No wonder they all behaved so appallingly these days. They were being brought up to believe that acting like chimpanzee's on crack cocaine was the norm. Worse was to come as I flicked channels.
There was some dodgy looking spiv quite remarkably managing to convince an unbelievably gullible audience that he was somehow in touch with their dead relatives. Poor Harvey I thought, what If all you have to look forward to now is being harassed from the other side by some awful physic you wouldn't normally give the time of day to pestering you with inane questions. Could this actually be the
definition of hell?
Even this show wasn't the ultimate of horrors presented under the guise of entertainment.
There was an audience (who I can only assume must have been bribed or injected with stimulants ), watching three selected victims yell about their hatred and suspicions of each other while at the same time being harangued and shouted out by a man who seemed satanically possessed.
On this particular mornings show a young man called Ron was insisting that his girlfriend Charlene (who was sitting between him and his mother, on stage), should take a paternity test. He wasn't convinced that he hadn't been made a total chump out of and that the infant he was now paying a percentage of his benefits for was actually his responsibility.
Was her newborn boy the result of an affair between his girlfriend and his mate Gary? That was the question!
Of course, their vocabulary was far more colourful than the scene I am painting here and I'm surprised that anyone felt up to listening to such vulgar slang quite so early in the morning.
What's more, Gary was going to be thrown into the lion's ring as well. He would be making an appearance after the advertising break! As if that wasn't enough, in the last five minutes of the show someone was going to come out on the set and reveal the real paternity of baby Raspberry.
Where's the ambulance and the straight jackets I thought, this is bonkers?
It turned out that it was Ron's baby after all.
You would think that his mother might have been relieved to hear this but she seemed even angrier than before and stormed off the set yelling words such as slag and hussy in Charlene's direction.
Actually, Ron didn't look that relieved either and the only one with a smile on his face was Gary.
At this point, I gave up on my foray into early morning TV and decided to make myself a brandy coffee. I needed to calm my nerves after this visual and mental assault.
Wandering into the living room, I took my drink over to the window where Flo had so recently been witness to the final series of events that had felled Harvey.
I realised that although I had known Harvey via Flo for many years now, I hadn't really known him all that well.
He had seemed like a good sort, solid, dependable, worked hard boiling up crab and lobster down at the fish market. Apart from that, he was the kind of man who kept very much to himself. According to Flo his only real male friend was Sid who he would meet up with at the 'Yacht and Sails' once or twice a week.
Sid kept chickens and used to give him eggs over a pint of Hobgoblin Ale.
Flo and Harvey had been together forever it seemed. Flo and I had been friends since junior school. In fact, Flo, Zoe, Jackie and I had all been firm friends most of our lives. We had fallen out on the odd occasion, especially in our teens and usually over boys. However, Flo had met Harvey at the school dance when she was just sixteen and they had been together ever since. Engaged by eighteen, married by twenty, no children. I did ask on one occasion whether this was by choice or was it a matter of some sorrow. Flo said that they had just never felt the urge. They were happy in their own space, didn't want the aggravation and never longed to hear the patter of tiny feet, or listen to demanding screams and inevitable tantrums that came with having children.
When Flo eventually woke up she said that for a minute she thought that she had just had an awful nightmare and then the tragic reality came crashing in.
Later that day, once her sister from Bristol had arrived I decided it was time to go back home.
Flo had no end of arrangements to make, certificates had to be signed, an undertaker needed to be appointed and Harvey's parents and her own were all coming down to help. Family were stepping in so I would step away until she needed me again.
Somehow I couldn't wait to get home and see Spats. The boutique, however, would remain closed out of respect.
Flo rang a few days later to tell me when the funeral was to be held and to ask me to let Zoe and Jackie know.
All relevant family and a few friends attended. Workmates from the fish market and Sid, of course, who unconventionally, yet rather sweetly, placed a few cockerel feathers and a carton of eggs on his casket.
As funerals go it was a funeral and it's fair to say that no one had a good time. Afterwards, we all went to the 'Yacht and Sails' to toast Harvey's memory.
Flo had arranged for some mini pasties to be placed on the bar. She hadn't wanted anyone to go back to her house as she knew she would need to be alone at this point.
I gave Flo a hug as Spats and I left and told her to ring me anytime, day or night, should she feel the need to do so.
Zoe, Jackie and I all agreed to meet up for lunch the next day so we could mull over this most recent and shocking event. We all agreed that when we hailed in the New Year at the Fowl and Feathers we could never have predicted this outcome for Harvey and Flo.
Then, about four days later Flo telephoned.
Could you come over Dorie? There's something I need you to help me with. Sorry if you are busy in the shop, I just don't know who else to ask really.


To read the excellent PRESS ATTENTION

"One of the most entertaining books I've read in a long time, lovely, very very funny"
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