For Better, For Worse

The following story was shortlisted in the ‘Unhappy Ending’ competition in Writing Magazine

The open bedroom window was too tempting. She leant out and dropped the bottle. It bounced on the terrace below.


Then another one. It hit the garden table and rebounded on to the grass.

‘Damn, damn.’

She looked at the remaining bottles. They were all solid, sturdy pots. Unscrewing the lid off the next, she threw it with the energy of repressed anger. It still didn’t break, but it did splatter a vivid, scarlet scar over the terrace. That felt better! One after another, they made a mosaic of colours, an artist’s irregular palette. A death blow to her nail varnish.

She stretched out her hands, looking at her elegant fingers. Then she grabbed the nail scissors, hacking each nail down as far as it would go. She grimaced at each destruction. A year of care and nurturing; a year of manicures and treatment. All gone.

She opened the wardrobe where the dress hung and touched the faint red wine stain. Profuse apologies and much white wine had followed.  An aunt had announced that staining one’s wedding dress was a bad omen. She’d laughed and said she didn’t believe in old wives’ tales. Not a tactful response to an eighty-five year old widow. But high on compliments and envious looks, she didn’t care.


When Richard asked her to marry him, she couldn’t wait to start planning.  Her surge of enthusiasm was magnified by her mother who telephoned daily with suggestions and ideas. The house filled with wedding magazines and bridal shops became magnets. Her mother had several recommendations for venues. Was it to be a church wedding or not? Would she wear a veil?

Richard kept away from anything to do with the wedding.

‘You could show some interest. It’s your day, too, you know.’

‘I do know and on the day I’ll be enthusiastic.’

Andrea stood in front of the mirror, naked. She surveyed herself from every angle. Nothing escaped scrutiny as she planned how to get herself into perfect shape. Richard often told her she was beautiful, but then he loved her. Her standards were more rigorous. A schedule of gym visits with a personal trainer; a series of beauty treatments: manicures, pedicures, hair appointments.


The vivid, scarlet scar on the stones imprinted itself on her mind.


The timing had to be right so she created a calendar on her laptop, her life for the following year, and worked backwards to ensure every treatment was performed at the precise moment. She thought of showing Richard her clever schedule. After all, she was doing this for him. But even the mention of the beauty salon drove him away.


A jagged nail scratched her face as she brushed back her hair.


They were once so close. The physical contact was still there but a barely detectable barrier, a chiffon of resistance, now blocked their intimacy. Bound to happen, she thought. There’s always pressure in the lead-up to a wedding. Maybe it’s Richard’s way of coping.

‘The point is to get married, not to provide business for half of the town. Do you know what you’re spending on beauty treatments?’

‘Mum is paying for most of them. She wants me to look my best even if you don’t.’

Richard didn’t reply. He went upstairs, put on his running gear and left, closing the door loudly.

She took her shoes out of the cupboard. No point in showing them to him. The red soles said everything. Maybe he hadn’t heard of Louboutin. She stroked and kissed them. Never had she possessed shoes so chic or so costly. Her mother had contributed but nevertheless they hit her budget hard.

When he returned an hour later, he carried flowers in his sweaty hands.

‘Bit hard of me. Sorry.’

She knew he’d bought them at the garage. They had a look of yesterday about them, the leaves starting to go brown at the edges.

‘When you’ve had a shower, I’ll hug you for them.’

She lit candles at dinner that evening. The atmosphere felt lighter for a day or two. But the invisible obstacle in the house soon returned, the unsavoury, persistent visitor, unwilling to leave.

Richard announced he was planning his stag “do”.

Andrea smiled. At last, he was getting involved in something. Richard’s weekends filled up. Off to Brighton to see what it had to offer. Bath another weekend. Then Bristol. He came back tired, hung-over and flippant.

She barely knew him; she rarely saw him.

She had no interest in where he chose to go. Instead she focussed on her own hen weekend. It shouldn’t have been a competition. But the sense of outdoing each other got stronger as the events approached. Andrea commented her friends were buying new outfits; Richard dismissed the idea with a shrug. Quad bike racing just needed old clothes. The wedding became secondary, fading into the background. The celebrations of leaving single life dominated their lives.


The omen of the red wine on her dress – no, she didn’t believe in silly superstitions.


So he went to Bath and she went to Bristol on consecutive weekends. What fun the cocktail-making session was! And the burlesque dancing. After that it became a blur as the alcohol took over.

He returned with a bag of muddy clothes and several bruises.

They discussed their weekends in clipped sentences. She put her Minnie Mouse outfit away without Richard seeing it.


The scissors were lying on the table after the nail-hacking session. She picked them up and looked in the mirror.


‘Andrea, can you move your dress fitting to Wednesday? I can’t make Tuesday and I need to be there.’

‘That’s a pain, Mum. You’re always changing arrangements.’

She couldn’t refuse her mother who was paying for so much. But maternal involvement was verging on interference. There’d already been one row when Andrea screamed, ‘Whose day is it? Yours or mine?’ Her mother had left the house with a sour, screwed-up look, her shoulders taut and raised, her silence stubborn.


The red wine stain looked deeper now.


When Richard proposed, they both agreed the honeymoon had to be in Florida. They were like children where Disneyland was concerned. He had booked everything early to get a good price, an Economy ticket so they had money to spend when they were there. She said if they couldn’t fly Business Class on their honeymoon, when would they?

He said he’d think about it. But he didn’t tell her his decision.


The temptation to snip at her hair was enormous.


The day arrived. The morning suit looked good on Richard; he wore clothes well. Andrea’s plans had worked and as she took a final glance in her mirror, she sighed with pleasure. When she walked down the aisle, she saw Richard’s eyes fixed on her.  But she couldn’t read his face.


She cut a few centimetres from one side of her hair and threw the strands out of the window where the wind caught them. Some landed on the messy stones below. Like a collage.


Her mother wore a silver-grey suit that complimented her figure and a large pink hat that didn’t need a price tag to announce how much it cost. She was in ecstasy. She floated around the reception on a cloud of good wishes. It was certainly her day.


More strands of hair floated out of the window.


A week after the wedding, they set off for the airport. They had been difficult days. Richard spent much time staring at his i-pad; Andrea sorted out the wedding presents.  Their promises at the ceremony rang emptily round the house. She looked at her shoes daily to raise her spirits. They spoke when they needed to, civil but uninvolved.  It’ll be alright once we’re away, Andrea told herself.

Richard checked in on-line and printed off their boarding passes. He put them in his travel folder. While he was in the shower, Andrea looked. Seats 44A and B.


At the airline desk, Andrea asked about the possibility of an upgrade. Yes, there was space in Business Class. At a cost, of course.

‘We only need one ticket upgraded,’ she said. ‘Mine.’

Disneyland would have been wonderful if Andrea had not been with Richard.


She grabbed a handful of hair and chopped vigorously. Strands went everywhere, on the floor, on the bed, out of the window. Quickly, quickly, she muttered, before I change my mind.  She opened one of the remaining bottles and poured varnish on to a pile of hair on the window-sill, mixing it with her fingers.

‘Finger-painting, Mummy? Can Charlie play?’


They flew back Economy Class. She had made her point and money had run out.

‘Why did you ask me to marry you, Richard?’

‘Why do you think?’

‘Once, I thought it was because you loved me.’

‘Well, once I thought I did. But you changed. Everything about you changed once we’d decided to get married.’

‘You could have called it off.’

‘What? It would have been like standing in front of an express train. And, anyway, the real reason I married you was Charlie. I am his father, after all.’

‘You’re his father whether or not we’re married.’

A month after the honeymoon, Richard moved out.


Now her mother phones daily with updates as the bills come in. She speaks in a flat voice, emotion wrung out with weeping. She asks her confused daughter how she is and wonders what Andrea will do next. Fearing for the wedding dress, she plans to remove it. There is always a market for once-worn designer clothing.

Charlie sits by the window each evening, waiting for his father to come home. He lines up his toys so they can watch, too, and tells them it won’t be long.

The spectre of the most wonderful day of her life haunts Andrea. Soon there will not be much hair left on her head. She has thrown the last bottle of nail varnish out of the window.

She still has the shoes.






Wild, Wet, Windy, Wonderful Wiltshire

Four days walking in Wiltshire, three different B & B’s, six of us who frequently walk together, coordinated and organised by Carol, our ‘Leader’.

It rained on the first day, exactly as forecast. I had my waterproof over-trousers with me (they are the most hated item of clothing I possess) but I couldn’t be bothered to put them on. So my legs were soaked. As was my rucksack. My feet were dry (new boots) but Barbara and Dave had leakages. We were a pretty sodden sight. Still, it was only eight miles and the rain eventually stopped. We went to Barbury castle, an iron-age hill fort, and ate our homemade cake.

Trudging in the rain

There were a few navigational issues and when we realised we had gone round in a complete circle, revisiting the sights we’d seen a few hours earlier, eight miles turned into twelve. Neville blamed himself and insisted on buying the wine at dinner. We were well lubricated by bed-time.

The following day, it was Avebury and Silbury Hill. We walked to the Long Barrow and went inside.

Silbury Hill

The sun shone for the Autumn Equinox. This attracts interesting people. One girl played her guitar and sang beautifully. As we left, she blew us kisses and said we were angels. She wished us a good trip. I think she and her friends were already on theirs.


We passed a couple lying close and immobile on the grass and another girl cutting herbs outside her decrepit caravan. There was the sound of haunting music around the Avebury stones and peaceful people soaking up the energy. It was a good day.

Unfortunately, the landlord of our B & B for that night kept us waiting around an hour on his doorstep as he’d needed to shop for our dinner. This was worrying but the food was good even if the service was slow. Minor problem when Tony failed to notice the shower head in the bathroom filling his wash bag with water. Oh, well.

The following day was lovely. Good weather again, we walked to the white horse at Alton Barnes.

The Alton Barnes white horse

The dyke that separated the old counties of Mercia and Wessex centuries ago was still clearly visible. Rolling hills, easy going.

The dyke separating Mercia from Wessex

‘I wonder if we can see Stonehenge from here,’ Carol said, as we gazed at the view.

‘Not if you look in that direction,’ said Tony. ‘It’s north from here.’

‘No it isn’t, it’s south.’

‘Bottle of champagne on that.’

‘You’re on.’

I asked Tony if he was sure. ‘Would I bet a bottle of champagne if I wasn’t?’

It’s comforting to know my husband’s super sense of direction occasionally lets him down. I don’t feel so bad about mine. He’s off to buy the bubbles.

Final day, and a walk around the Chutes. It was the sloe walk. That isn’t a spelling mistake. There were loads, an additional weight in the rucksacks but we look forward to tasting Barbara’s sloe gin at Christmas. It was meant to be a short, easy walk. Something went wrong again, we missed the path and ended up plodding uphill through a rough field with holes to grab the unwary foot. This brought us to a road but no gate or stile. Fortunately the wire fence was neither electric nor barbed. We clambered over it inelegantly, only one of us falling. No damage apart from wounded pride.

We’re looking forward to our next walk. Carol insists we’ll take the champagne with us. That’s bound to help the navigation.


Peace and Love

A Tribute to the British Virgin Islands

Two years ago, some kind friends invited us to join them sailing in the Caribbean. I was expecting smart boats and cruise liners, friendly people, good seafood, clear turquoise sea and sunshine.  I got all this but what I wasn’t expecting to find was a throw-back to the late fifties/early sixties. Sydney’s Peace & Love Beach Bar and Restaurant was just that.

We moored our boat on a buoy in Little Harbour, Jost van Dyke, in the British Virgin Islands. Looking for somewhere interesting to have an evening drink, we took the dinghy to the nearby beach. Sydney’s was there – but, alas, not Sydney who died in 2010.

Memorial plaque to Sidney

His daughter, Strawberry, ran the place exactly as he did. When we asked for rum punches, she showed us the rum, the punch mixer, the ice and the plastic beakers. We served ourselves and simply told her how many we’d had before we left. Trust worked. The price was good – there were no bar staff to pay.

The pillars and rafters were painted white and covered with names, dates and messages from the hundreds of visitors over the years. Having no indelible pen, we had come unprepared to add ours, although finding space would have been a problem. The other decoration was T-shirts – all types and sizes, hanging everywhere.


There was liberal use of the ‘Ban the Bomb’ symbol and hearts – Peace and Love. I was back in my youth.  We sat at plastic tables on plastic chairs which were anything but luxurious. But we got the atmosphere we wanted as the sun went down.

I wonder if it survived Irma? It was a shack on the beach. Somehow I doubt it.

G is for…


‘They do everything together. Lovely to see friendship like that.’

My parents were delighted when Graham bought a house next door to David.

‘How lucky they were it came up for sale!’

Mum had a close affinity to David, an avid traveller who loved the mountains, just like her. David planned all the trips while Graham took the photos. Not photos, slides. Much better reproduction, they agreed. They had slide shows and Mum and David recommended places in Switzerland and Austria to each other. David and Graham went on holiday together every summer. It was the highlight of their year. Their journeys were legendary.

I liked David. He was chatty and sociable whereas Graham retired into the background. But he was okay. We invited them both to our wedding and they came.

I was upset when Mum said David wasn’t talking to his parents any more. She didn’t know why. She’d tried asking his Mum, Auntie Beryl – not a real aunt, but every older lady was an aunt in those days – but had got nowhere. ‘Don’t like to pry,’ she said, ‘so I didn’t press the matter.’ None of us could understand why such an easy-going, likeable character like David would cause a family rift.

I was an innocent. We were then. I knew little about the world. I didn’t ever consider their friendship was more than just brotherly affection. Took decades before realisation hit me. Mum never knew. She wouldn’t have believed it if someone had spelled it out.

How sad they had to buy neighbouring houses! I never saw a single expression of intimacy, never a touch. A secret, fearful life. They were teachers; they couldn’t risk their jobs. It was illegal in the early sixties; they couldn’t endanger their freedom.

But they did do everything together.

A Donkey in the Drawing Room

Thirty years ago our son, Joe, had an exchange visit with a French lad, Paul. The boys kept in touch for around five years then communication lapsed, although I remained in Christmas card contact with Paul’s parents.

When Paul’s father died, I felt guilty we’d not been to see them for so long – there was a standing invitation to their family home near Grenoble. So we made the effort; there was a reunion this summer.

The large, almost-chateau they live in accommodated Joe, his wife, Vic, and their three boys, together with Tony and me with no problem. It has the dilapidated grandeur of a home that has been in the family for years, possibly centuries. Huge, elaborate pieces of furniture sit side-by-side with bits and pieces of the modern world.  It was a continual surprise to see if anything came out of the hot water tap. And the tangle of electrical wires would have sent Health and Safety into a panic. It all added to the charm.

Christine's home
Christine’s home
…in its grandeur

Christine, Paul’s mother, offered us aperitifs in the large drawing room before lunch. French windows were open on two sides of the room but it was too hot to sit outdoors. The nose of a donkey peeped in. They have many animals among which are two donkeys, gentle, friendly beasts who like human company. Normally they remain in their paddock but when there are children around, they are allowed to wander up to the house, as entertainment. The boys were thrilled.

The guilty donkey

After some delightful Sangria, we moved into the adjacent dining room. Christine was serving her homemade gazpacho when there was a horrendous crash. Paul went to investigate. He came back shrugging his shoulders as only the French can do and laughing. One of the donkeys had entered the drawing room, skidded on the polished wooden floor and fallen. Paul sorted out the problem. No-one seemed bothered. Vic could barely contain her hysterics. She whispered to me, ‘This is surreal!’

Much wine flowed with the main course, cheese and dessert (in that order, of course). There was no question of helping to clear up afterwards. The staff did that. We were expecting to wander around the estate after lunch – it is truly an estate, acres of it – but there was a surprise planned. Paul offered to take us up in his smaller plane (he has two). He gained his licence twenty-five years ago, the youngest pilot in France at the time, and has been flying ever since.

Paul’s plane

Tony and I went up with him first. My fears of air-sickness were happily unfounded as we did a twenty-minute tour of the area, passing low enough over the house to see the boys in the outdoor swimming pool. I saw one of them wave. Joe and Vic went up next, a trip to Alpe d’Huez where they stopped for a drink before returning. Both Tony and Joe had been allowed to take the controls for a while in the plane.

Such generosity! We’d all had a wonderful treat. Vic’s face was a picture of stunned amazement. She could not believe what was happening and the world she was in.

Paul invited us to aperitifs at the home he shares with his partner, Sandrine, before dinner back at Christine’s Domaine. It was another delightful place, an old family home and barn on land they owned, tastefully restored with a new swimming pool in a natural garden surrounded by mountains. It made the view from our garden in England pretty insignificant.

Eating dinner outside at a granite table in a perfect temperature finished the evening. We spoke in a mixture of French and English that worked well. My French started to disintegrate with the wine – champagne with the dessert finished it off. But we communicated and that was what mattered. Paul and Joe decided they must not lose touch again and were discussing Paul visiting later in the year. He would come by plane – his own, of course.

We left the following morning after breakfast, one of the dogs having stolen much of the brioche.  Christine said she hoped we would return again next year.

I expect we shall.

Ups and Downs

 Walking the northern part of the Cotswold Way.

Pam and Martyn; Tony and Linda.

June 2017.


We thought it would be relatively easy after the Coast-to-Coast walk. Around fifty miles on five days, no day longer than twelve or thirteen miles. Easy to be seduced by numbers.

None of the hills is as high as in the Lake District; there is no rocky clambering. But we went up and down a lot. All four of us noticed that.

We decided to travel to and from the walk by train and bus – it solved the parking problem – and ate a picnic lunch on the way there. Tony managed to lose a crown while munching. Not totally lose it – we wrapped it in cling film only slightly smeared with mayonnaise from the sandwiches to keep it safe. There must be a dentist somewhere along the Cotswold Way who could glue it back in.

While enjoying the fruits (or rather the cakes) of a coffee shop in Chipping Camden, we investigated dentists. After some googling, Tony booked an appointment in Winchcombe for two days hence.

While sorting out our rucksacks ready for the start of the walk, we had a major triumph. Our spare car keys, missing since April, turned up in a deep, zipped pocket. As they would have cost around £400 to replace, I announced at dinner we were now £400 better off! We didn’t, however, buy a bottle of best Bordeaux.

The start of the walk in Chipping Camden
The start of the walk in Chipping Camden

The pattern of the days established itself. Was there anywhere we could stop for morning coffee, lunch or afternoon tea? Pam was on the case and found us somewhere every day.  The walk started on June 8th – the election – and we saw folks going to the polls. The result gave us plenty to talk about the following day. When we had enough breath, that is. Martyn had been complaining about his balls. The balls of his feet, I should add. Changing to a different pair of boots did the trick and he was fine.

It was a shorter day and we felt good.  Luckily we got to the B & B in Winchcombe just before the torrential rain arrived. Our son, Tim, who lives near, picked us up and we had a lovely evening and dinner with him and Jessi. Idris, their one-year-old, had been sick that day but we said we’d risk it.

We were now a further £90 better off. The dentist’s receptionist had phoned to say the cost of replacing the crown would be £90. Tony was not in pain so he cancelled. His own dentist, who fixed the crown in the first place, would do the job for nothing. The money was mounting up!

We needed to order the following morning’s breakfast. I asked for a bacon sandwich.

‘What’s that?’ The landlady replied. ‘I’ve never made one.’

Not sure if this makes her posh or deprived. She made an attempt for me but I suggest she doesn’t try again.

The view from Cleeve Hill

It was Cleeve Hill the next day. Windy but what views over Cheltenham! There was a double marathon coming towards us – some runners doing it in one day, some in two. Had a coffee and chips at the Cleeve Hill Golf Club – very naughty! Felt we shouldn’t complain about tiredness after seeing marathon runners. Puts distances into perspective. Lovely stop overnight at Detmore House in Charlton Kings. It wins our award for the best B & B of the walk.

Encouragement – for the marathon runners!

Day four and a lot of ups and downs. A group of Charity walkers came towards us, totally shattered, having started at midnight and still with miles to go. Such admiration! The final climb up to Birdlip seemed to go on forever and I wasn’t feeling great. No details, but Idris’s bug got me. However, missing a meal always has its positive side if I lose a pound or two.

Final walking day – and I felt well enough to do it. It was the day of the mud. Rain, which we’d mostly missed, and the pounding of marathon runners’ feet had churned up the path making it hard going. We plodded on, the end in sight. We passed both the bottom and the top of Cooper’s Hill where the famous cheese rolling takes place. It’s steep!

Cooper’s Hill Notice

Finally, pretty Painswick with its churchyard with ninety-nine yew trees. Legend says the hundredth will never grow.

Yew trees in Painswick churchyard

We thanked Martyn for carrying the unused trowel the whole way (if you’re caught short, you have to bury it…) Celebrated our achievement with a bottle of bubbles – only Prosecco, in spite of the financial gains of the last few days!

A super walk – now planning the southern part …



F is for (Un)Fair

The school trip – a fairground. So exciting! Mum had a chat with me about what rides I could go on.

‘Roundabouts are fine. Even the grand ones with the horses that go up and down. But not the big wheel, the bumper cars or anything dangerous. If you do, I’ll find out.’

‘But all the others will go on them.’

‘I don’t care what the others do.’

She gave me one of her looks.

‘Those rides are dangerous. We didn’t have you by accident and don’t want to lose you by accident.’


I didn’t dare go on the big wheel; I was the only one who didn’t. Even Mr Green, our teacher, went on it. I didn’t go on the bumper cars either. Fortunately my friend, Christine, watched with me. I bought her a candy floss. For my mother, I bought an embroidered handkerchief in a box with a cellophane lid. It cost one and sixpence; it was beautiful.

Mum questioned me when I got home, looking intently to detect signs of lying.

‘Are you sure you didn’t go on the bomber or anything that spins you round? And no big wheel?’

‘No, really I didn’t.’

I gave her the present and she beamed.

‘You’re a good girl. I’m proud of you.’

The righteous feeling was a poor substitute for the fun of the fair. I didn’t mention they’d all called me a baby. Mr Green told them not to but I could tell he thought it silly to go to the fair and just watch. I got this sick feeling inside whenever the memory came back to me.

Years later, as a teenager, I made up for lost time and resolutely rode on everything. All of the exciting rides made me feel sick. Funny how things turn out.