I really can't stand my neighbour.
She has the most appallingly loud parties outside on her patio nearly every weekend.
She shows absolutely no consideration for the residents of this street.
It's not a large patio, in truth, it's more of a backyard. Just a slab of concrete, really.
It amazes me how many people seem to gather out there of a Friday night. Or is it only a few very noisy individuals managing to create the impression Glastonbury Festival has just relocated?
Of course, they all get totally wasted, often drinking until the early hours of the morning. Then they hear the road sweeper driving past and somehow that, finally, alerts them to the fact that a new day has just dawned.
I doubt that any of them hold down regular jobs.
Admittedly, I am at present unemployed myself, or rather, between jobs.
What's the point though? Do I really want to be working seven hours a day, five days a week, just to pay my ex-wife child support and maintenance?
I'd end up with hardly enough money to cover my rent while she gets to live it up at my expense.
One thing's for sure, I shan't be declaring my part-time painting and decorating work to the Social Security Office. That extra income is all that's keeping me afloat.
Anyway, I digress.
Apart from forcing me to listen to her truly appalling music collection, which is always turned up to the highest possible volume.
She has recently purchased a bloody chiminea.
You know, one of those patio heaters, the sort you chuck coal or wood into. The result of this being, that once lit, large clouds of thick billowing smoke drift up into the night sky and in through my open window.
Why leave the window open? You may ask. Would it not be best to close it at such times? Well, no, it wouldn't be best. I need air in the room, some kind of ventilation. It's a good job I don't suffer from Asthma, although I did have a chest infection the other week and I hold her entirely responsible.
Not only that, her friends, apart from being a bunch of barely functioning alcoholics, are all heavy smokers. The toxic fumes from their cigarettes are poisoning the very air I breathe. Only the other day I read that cigarettes contain over four hundred chemicals, including forty-three which are carcinogenic. These include carbon monoxide, arsenic and formaldehyde. If I get cancer I shall know who to blame.
That woman will literally be the death of me.
There is no respite due to bad weather either.
They just go and erect a gazebo to shelter them from the rain. It's maddening!
I'm sure I've prematurely aged since I moved in here.
Without wishing to sound vain or egotistical, I would describe myself as your quintessential tall dark and handsome alpha-male.
Now when I look in the mirror all I can see is a man worn down by severe sleep deprivation.
There are dark circles under my eyes and for the first time ever I have noticed some grey hairs.
I mean, bloody hell, I'm only in my thirties. I won't be forty until next year.
On one occasion, someone turned up with a guitar, for goodness sake!
They all started singing along while he strummed 'Yellow Submarine'. I hate 'Yellow Submarine'. I hate 'House of the Rising Sun' too, which was another tune he knew how to play badly.
She has the most irritatingly high-pitched laugh.
I can only describe it as ear-piercing.
In fact, it's the endless laughter from the lot of them that really gets me down. Everything just isn't that funny. It's so insane!
One evening I was so frustrated I decided to call the police. My peace was being disturbed and the noise level was totally unacceptable.
Initially, I was delighted when two policemen turned up within half an hour of my call,
and, as my window was open, I could clearly hear most of the ensuing conversation.
What a jolly exchange of pleasantries that turned out to be.
It seemed that one of the policemen was on familiar terms with my neighbour. Not through previous misdemeanour's, oh no! He knew her because she happened to be great friends with his wife who, as then became apparent, was actually out there forming part of the merry throng. After a series of inaudible mutterings I just managed to catch the words, noise, and, keep it down. Then the police left.
For a whole ten minutes the atmosphere seemed slightly subdued and then the racket, just as loud as before, started up again.
You're not going to believe what happened next though!
As I went to get in my car the following morning for a quick shop for supplies, I found a man clamping one of the wheels.
The previous day I had been delighted when I drove past my flat and noticed that there was a free parking space right outside. Usually, I can't park anywhere near the building and end up streets away.
Anyway, there aren't any yellow lines or notices, so, I was pretty angry and confused
Apparently, this guy had been contracted by the police to clamp and impound my car!
Why? How on earth can that be? You may well ask.
Well, it turns out that our local constabulary considers this to be a reasonable measure to take in response to unpaid road tax!
I just couldn't believe it, and all my protestations got me absolutely nowhere.
So, big deal, my tax is three months out of date! It was hardly crime of the century for Christ sake!
It took me days and a great deal of money, I can tell you, to get that bloody car back.
The first time I went to the pound, after enduring a long and tedious bus ride, I was told that I needed to show them my logbook.
As I am not inclined to carry my logbook around with me on a regular basis I had no choice but to return to the flat.
I looked just everywhere for it and eventually found it under a pile of unpaid bills.
Then I got back to the pound and this time the guy there tells me that I need to show identification. Proof of my name and address, a utility bill or something.
I mean, effing hell, why didn't they tell me that in the first instance!
So, then I had to go all the way back home again on the bus!
Honestly, my blood pressure was through the roof by the time I returned to the car pound brandishing my council tax demand to verify my name and address.
Then I'm hit with another bombshell. This bloke hands me some massive bill for the surety and impound fee!
At least I didn't have to go back on the bus and get my chequebook.
My credit card was in my wallet, and yes, American Express would do nicely thank you very much!
I knew that bloody neighbours policeman friend was bound to be behind this calculated and malicious persecution. He must have noticed my out of date tax disc the evening they turned up after my telephone call.
Now that I think back, I can recall some childish sniggering taking place between her and the officers.
After that, I decided to make any future complaint via the regular channels.
I started to keep a diary of the times and dates of these disturbances. Then I sent it to the Environmental Health Officer, along with a tape recording I had made.
I had spent months compiling the evidence and now, I've been informed, the council have mislaid the audio proof.
Really, I thought, or, could the Environmental Health Officers voice actually be one of those recorded on that very tape?
It's driven me to extremes, I can tell you. Behaviour I would not have thought I was capable of.
Once, in retaliation, I even turned my own stereo up so loud it must have reverberated from one end of the street to the other. Certainly, a lot more lights went on and the woman over the way started shouting, although I don't know if it was aimed at me or them.
Then I decided to just go crazy and chuck a large bucket of my own urine out of my bedroom window and over into her patio. I had built up quite a quantity over a matter of days, just peeing in the bucket rather than the toilet. I couldn't stop laughing thinking about how they would react to being soaked in my golden shower. Unfortunately, my fluids failed to reach their designated target.
Instead, it just fell into the garden of the flat below and all their nasturtiums have now died.
Luckily, the couple who live there were both away at the time. It would have been very difficult to explain my actions.
So, I constructed a rather cleverly designed trebuchet style devise. With this, I could lob things more accurately into her backyard, when she wasn't looking.
I know this might sound quite immature, and, thinking back, I'm not sure I wasn't on the verge of a mini-breakdown by that point.
It helped though, taking action, having a plan. It gave me a sense of control over the whole situation, and I found it quite therapeutic.
First, I found a rotting rat outside the restaurant opposite and used my new invention to catapult it over her wall.
In the park, the following day, I was lucky enough to stumble upon the maggot-infested carcass of a dead squirrel.
The trouble was, searching for dead rodents and birds was fairly time-consuming.
Also, people tend to give you some funny looks when they come across you bagging the remains of dead rodents and road-kill.
For this reason, I decided to start saving my leftovers instead. Pizza crusts, half-eaten yoghurts, chunks of Stilton cheese, that sort of thing. I would put them in a plastic bag under the sink and when they were rancid enough, over onto her patio they would go.
Ha! I thought, the rats will find their own way into your yard from now on.
I don't know what she made of this, or whether she was aware that I was responsible.
Then, one Friday night, I thought, to hell with the lot of them, I'm going out clubbing. Which was something I hadn't done in years.
When I was married I was happy to stay in with the wife and kids. We only really socialised when she invited her friends over for dinner.
My ex-wife, Alisha, was always popular. I first saw her at the secondary school Christmas party. There she was, laughing away with a group of what I used to call, 'the cool kids'. At that time I thought she was really something. Alisha was very petite, just like a beautiful delicate doll. She had fabulous long dark auburn hair, perfect skin and the most adorable big brown eyes.
I really don't know why I had that affair with her friend Helen. She was a right bitch really. Mucked up my marriage and then went back to her boyfriend.
Not that I'm sorry. It's great to be free and single, playing the field again. Who wants to be stuck with one woman all their life?
So, anyway, I swaggered into the club, and although I say it myself, I think I looking pretty sharp in my Kurt Geiger shades, black skinny jeans and Che Guevara T-shirt. The first thing I do is, I go over to the bar and hit on this really sassy hot young blonde.
It wasn't long before we were heading back to mine for a nightcap.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten about the pile of rotting foodstuffs that I had been nurturing in the cupboard for the benefit of the neighbour.
The kitchen now had the odour of the inside of an unwashed dustbin and just as I was pouring her a large glass of Chardonnay, this bloody great cockroach scurries across the floor, right in front of her.
Then I turn around to pick up my wine and there's another one floating around in it!
Talk about hysterical! You would think she had just caught sight of a tarantula or something.
Needless to say, sassy blonde exited tout suite!
Over the following weeks, I noticed that these two cockroaches had not been lone invaders. There were now quite a few of them and they had taken up residence in my flat.
This was a worrying development.
My landlord was due to turn up for the six monthly flat check and this infestation was unlikely to impress.
I purchased a variety of products that promised to eliminate my ever increasing cockroach community.
Absolute waste of money, nothing worked.
I did some online research to identify this particular breed of cockroaches so that I could find out the best way to kill them off. Turns out that they were German, not the Asian, or American variety, no, I had been invaded by the Germans!
When the landlord turned up. I tried to shift the blame. I told him that they must be coming in from next door, said my neighbour was a real slut and mentioned the fact that she had recently had a problem with rats. I suggested he went next door and insist on inspecting her patio.
So, he goes around there to see her.
Then, after about half an hour he comes back here in a real mood.
He tells me her house is extremely clean, tidy, and cockroach free.
He says she was a very charming woman and that now he feels he has made a complete fool of himself by going in there ranting on about rats and German cockroaches.
Anyway, the upshot is, I have to find somewhere else to live because the landlord now needs to bring in a pest control company to tackle the infestation.
Then he plans to re-decorate and put the rent up.
I won't be able to afford a higher rent, that's for sure.
I'm going to have to move back in with my mother for a while. I really can't think of anywhere else to go.
I thought it might be amusing to collect some of the cockroaches before I left, and then put them in a box ready to release through her letterbox, as the perfect parting gesture.
However, during my online research, I discovered that these grubby little insects can be the cause of salmonella, dysentery and gastroenteritis.
Now, as much as I despise my neighbour, who also happens to be Alisha, my bloody ex-wife (I don't know if I mentioned that), and would happily see her suffer from any, or preferably, all three of these infections. Our two young sons live next door with her, and I'm not going to risk making them really ill just because she doesn't know how to behave!
I suppose it's ironic really. I only moved in next door to aggravate her.
THE CHEF'S SPECIAL
The overwhelming sensation of joy and excitement that swept through me as I entered the grand foyer of The Bodringham Park Estate Hotel and Spa, was immense.
What a weekend this was going to be.
The online description had promised, a magnificent Country house with both heritage and luxury effortlessly combined. The opportunity to fine dine in a contemporary and stylish restaurant on cuisine prepared, dans la maison, by it's internationally renowned Michelin star Chef. Guests could enjoy the indoor heated pool and pamper themselves with a range of spa and well-being treatments.
Not only that.
If the mood took me, I could ride through the four hundred acres of parkland on horseback with the wind in my hair, or get lost in the famous Bodringham maze.
This all sounded wonderful. However, wind in my hair and getting lost was not what I had signed up for.
I was here to perfect my skills and master new techniques by partaking in the intensive two day Seafood cookery course.
As well as creating the perfect seasonal seafood dishes and learning how to rustle up a delicious fish starter, my meal would then be paired with a complementary glass of wine.
For two whole days I would reside in this world. A world of elegance and exclusivity.
Bring it on! I thought.
The children have grown up and left, and my husband had swiftly followed, lured to pastures new by the charms of his young secretary.
I know, how cliché!
“Don't worry Ruby.” My mother had said. “You're a very attractive woman with much to look forward to. Get out there now and enjoy your new found freedom.”
So here I am, free, single, and in search of self improvement.
My hotel room did not disappoint, fabulously furnished and inclusive of everything one might expect from a five star establishment such as this.
By the time I had unpacked, it was about half past three in the afternoon. As the course didn't start until the following day I decided to go for a quick dip in the pool and possibly book a facial.
I was delighted to find that only one other person had ventured into the pool and spa area to take the plunge.
My companion swimmer was a woman called Jean. About my age I would guess, maybe slightly younger, mid forties perhaps. She had a soft featured pretty face, shoulder length hair dyed blonde, and a plump, though shapely, figure.
Jean and I hit it off immediately.
Jean, like me, had recently waved goodbye to a long and tired marriage.
After exchanging life stories, we agreed to meet up again, at six thirty, in the hotels lounge bar to celebrated our arrival with a shared bottle of champagne.
It then seemed only proper to try out some of the great Franchot Bouchard's cuisine, and we made for the restaurant.
I met the other four guests taking part on the seafood course the following morning at breakfast.
There were two other women.
One in her thirties called Felicity, who wanted to learn new cooking skills in order to impress her boss when he next came to dinner, and Sophia, a French teacher in her late forties, who confessed to an addiction for life skill enhancing mini breaks (Last weekend she had been on a hat making course somewhere in Kent).
There were two men.
A retired tax man called Harvey, probably in his mid sixties. Harvey was obviously a man who enjoyed food, a fact made apparent by his extraordinarily large frame, which must have been carrying a surplus of a least seven stone.
Peter, on the other hand, was a thirty year old estate agent with ambitions to open his own restaurant .
We were all handed crisp white aprons bearing the Bodringham logo and stood awaiting the entrance of our hallowed teacher.
Chef, as we were asked to call him, strode through the kitchen with all the confidence of man fully aware of his God like status in the culinary world.
Tall, imposing and truly handsome, we were all in awe.
As Franchot scanned the room to assess his subjects I felt my hands start to shake, and experienced a sudden increase in heart rate as his gaze met mine.
What beautiful deep brown eyes he had, their intensity only further enhanced by his majestic head of silvery hair.
We were asked to pair up at one of the tables, and Jean and I hastily secured our pitch.
My hands were still unsteady as Jean and I watched this master Chef in action. It was enthralling to observe such swift ability as he extracted the internals of a trout, skinned a lemon sole, and filleted a large halibut. Truly mesmerising was how Jean described his performance.
After showing Felicity and Peter how to prepare their prawns, Franchot drifted over to our area to demonstrate, once again, how to fillet a fish. Brandishing a suitably sharp knife, Chef confidently plunged it into the stomach of our trout and swiftly sliced it open from tail to gills. He then ripped out the intestines with a flourish, before boning it, chopping off its tail, decapitating its head, and finally, skinning it.
“You make it look so easy Chef.”
Purred Jean gazing up into his face with an expression I can only describe as childlike hero worship.
Chef's features seemed to soften as he looked down into Jeans large adoring blue eyes.
“Shall I show you again?” He offered obligingly.
This time he sidled up close to Jean, took hold of her right hand and made a careful insertion. Together they sliced the trout from one end to the other.
After completion Jean became rather flustered and giggly and I begun to wonder if my initial feelings of comradeship with this woman had been misguided.
Chef then turned to me and asked me to pull out the innards.
I did, what I thought, was a decent job of this unsavoury task.
Chef was not happy, he became quite irritable and started muttering something in French.
Merde, I understood, the rest I didn't.
Then Jean started conversing with him in his native tongue, and gave me a translation of exactly what he had said during their verbal exchange.
Chef says he is not happy, you have left some entrails behind, even though he has already demonstrated the procedure twice. He says he is wondering whether you have attention deficit disorder or something, though I suspect he was just being sarcastic.
Chef then leant over Jean and once again took her hand. Together they sliced off her trout's head and then it's tail.
Skinning the fish was my task.
This really is quite tricky. However, once again, I felt I had achieved what was required.
With renewed confidence I looked into Franchot's face for signs of approval, and possibly, a flicker of admiration.
Neither expression was apparent.
A further exchange between Chef and Jean ensued .
She then informed me, that according to Chef, I had taken off too much of the fish meat, and that I was an extremely sloppy worker who lacked quite basic cookery skills.
Mr Bouchard then abandoned us and wandered over to the tax man, who had partnered up with Sophia.
They were busily hacking away at a lobster.
As the day progressed Franchot wandered from table to table offering his advise and expressing his dissatisfaction with our efforts, particularly mine.
I'm ashamed to admit that by the time we had had our lunch and complimentary glass of wine, I was beginning to feel slightly teary, and twice made a dash to the wash room for some deep breathing exercises.
I had so wanted to shine, to impress, and make this incredibly gorgeous and charismatic French man look at me in the same way as he did Jean, who it seemed, by the end of the day, owned the title, teachers pet.
Sensing my rather subdued spirits, Jean told me that I really shouldn't take Chef's derogatory comments to heart.
“He's a perfectionist,” She insisted, “nothing will ever match up to his high standards.”
Well, I thought begrudgingly, you seem to be matching up to his exacting requirements.
By the time Chef returned to taste my smoked salmon, crab, and watercress tureen, I was a woman on the edge.
When he then paused, looked theatrically around the room and declared it a triumph, I nearly fainted.
Instead, a flood of tears cascaded from my eyes with unbridled joy and relief.
Franchot then announced the days lessons over.
Jean suggested we immediately made our way to the bar to enjoy a large gin and tonic.
“Isn't he amazing!” Exclaimed Jean.”Just ludicrously handsome”
“I can't say I noticed,” I lied,”I found him something of a bully if truth be told.”
Jean insisted that he was perhaps more masterful than bullying.
Sophia and Harvey were already deep in conversation at the far end of the bar,
whereas Felicity and Peter were nowhere to be seen.
Jean and I sat down with our double gins and Jean divulged that she was absolutely head over heels with Franchot, and that if he was to make a play for her, she would simply not be able to resist his advances.
I too suspected that Franchot might have expectations of some boudoir action with Jean prior to her departure on Sunday. A possibility that rather miffed me, and only increased the hollow empty feeling I now harboured in the pit of my stomach
Franchot arrived unexpectedly half an hour later and, after greeting Sophia and Harvey, came over to us and sat down.
“Bonsior madame's may I enjoy your company for a short while, the sous Chef is busy with 'is preparations and I 'ave a few precious minutes to spare.”
This was the point where Jean began to lose control of her senses and started to behave like a love struck, overly flirtatious teenager.
Franchot ordered a bottle of something called Pessac Leognan to be sent over from the bar, informing us that it was the best white wine of the Bordeaux region and we really should try it.
Unfortunately, Jeans nerves were getting the better of her, and she gulped down the first glass before Franchot or I had hardly had a chance to savour it's rich bouquet.
It was not long before she was helping herself to the Pessac and proclaiming it a really lovely full bodied wine with, grapey undertones and a hint of musk.
I then began to suspect that my new found friend had possibly watched the film 'Basic Instincts' rather too many times, as she started to cross and uncross her legs in a fashion that was in no way reminiscent of the famous scene staring Sharon Stone.
Whilst she was theatrically waving her arms around, two buttons of her blouse burst under the strain, revealing her lacy red bra.
Seemingly unaware, Jean demanded another bottle of the white stuff.
Franchot looked horrified, but obliged.
A second bottle arrived, Jean poured herself another glass, drained it in minutes and then stood up, insisting she needed the powder room, before passing out.
Franchot hailed for a member of the hotel staff to assist. With their help, I made sure Jean was safely ensconced in her hotel room and carefully placed on the bed in the recovery position.
Rather than return to the bar I retired to my own room. As I looked out on the charming view of the estate I caught sight of Peter and Felicity galloping passed, their hair most certainly ruffled and windswept.
Day two was something of a disaster all round.
Peter and Felicity were a no show. Boiling up fish heads to make stock had obviously lost it's lustre. Either that, or they had actually got lost.
As I had peered out of my window at the lush dewy lawn that morning I'm sure I had seen Peter and Felicity running and laughing with gaiety towards the maze.
On the other hand, a certain distance and frostiness had developed between Sophia and Harvey. Sophie had been given the room only two doors up from my own and I had overheard an angry exchange between herself and a man, probably Harvey, late that evening.
I caught only a few words, lecherous, being one, and creep, being the other.
Jean arrived last, looking extremely pale and generally out of sorts.
The attraction Franchot had displayed towards her the previous day was no longer in evidence.
Surveying the depleted and unenthusiastic crew before him, Chef's mood darkened and he delivered the mornings teachings with what can only be described as ill concealed contempt, shouting clipped instructions at us while waving his fish knife around in a quite threatening manner.
With dampened enthusiasm I set about prepping a haddock. Jean wasn't up to filleting so I allocated her the task of taking the fish offal over to the waste disposal bin on the other side of the kitchen.
By midday Franchot's incessant shouting proved too much for a rather jaded Jean, and she could take no more.
Tearing off her apron, she then informed Franchot that she intended to return to her hotel room, where she wouldn't have to listen to the incessant rantings of a mad, megalomaniacal cook. As she reached the exit she threw one final insult in Chefs direction, declaring that the, Pate De Maison, we had eaten in the restaurant on our first night, was seriously lacking in seasoning. Then she slammed the door.
There was nothing but silence in the kitchen for a few minutes post departure.
Franchot, suddenly blind with furry, stormed off In pursuit, no doubt with the intention of exchanging a few choice words of his own.
Unfortunately, it seemed that the simple task of walking as far as the waste disposal, without slopping half the fish innards on the floor, had proved too challenging for Jean in her delicate condition.
Franchot slipped on some haddock scraps and lost his footing.
Sophia, Harvey, and I, at the sound of Chefs head hitting the slate floor with a resounding thud, ran to assist.
The last time I saw Franchot was as the paramedics were piling him into the back of an ambulance.
Of course, we all demanded a refund, and that evening over a, 'hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-her', Jean and I decided that we would spend our reclaimed money on another weekend away. Sophia had told us about a really good creative writing course she had been on at a hotel in Berkshire.
Our first task, at the creative writing course in Berkishire, was to compose a short story of no more than two to three thousand words.
Write about something you have actual knowledge and experienced of, suggested our tutor.
So I have, this is it.
Should anyone be interested, I feel obliged to inform you that the Bodringham Park Estate Hotel and Spa no longer offer all inclusive cookery course weekends.
If you enjoyed these two stories, then you will love these two books by the same author.