Sunday, 28 July 2013

Sample Sunday Excerpt from 'Bunny on a Bike'

Bev and Carol take a weekend away before starting work at the Playboy casino. 


    The Long Mynd

We had come to the end of our training and when Dad picked me up I had the same feeling that I’d had when I had driven through the gates of Keele University for the last time, having spent three glorious years enjoying myself, discovering English Literature and listening to Moli√®re’s plays on a long-playing record, in a small room, presided over by my somnolent French tutor. 
With my exquisitely educated brain I had two thoughts: I wish I’d done a degree in astro-physics and now the shit is really going to hit the fan!  I had delayed the inevitable moment when I would actually have to earn a living, but now the time had come when I would be put to the test.
Dad took me up to the Long Mynd for the weekend. I didn’t resist.  Carol went off to spend some time with Dave and wander round some fields talking to pigs and cows.  It would be a moment of calm, a chance to reflect and to look forward to putting what I had learned into practice. It would be a time to go for long walks and evoke fond memories of Rick and I hiding in the forest while glider pilots circled over us taking notes.  Dad didn’t want to talk much, so we listened to the Mike Sam Singers.  The least bad tune, as I remember, was ‘Trains and Boats and Planes’.  I watched my dad as he drove round the winding country roads lightly drumming the steering wheel with his fingers and smiling to himself.  He looked happy and kind of slow, as though he were contemplating something of very little importance or of great philosophical enlightenment.  Then he told me again to take care when I drove round narrow lanes that there were not walkers on a blind bend.  My father was a mystery to me all my life and now, when I say some of the same things to my own children, I wish he could hear me.

Gladys and Vera were in the kitchen, cackling away at some private joke.  They made sure I was welcome and dosed me with tea and homemade fruit cake, asking me whether I was still ‘chasing after that poor young boy’. 
‘It was nothing serious.  Just a bit of fun,’ I said.  ‘Anyway, I already have a boyfriend.’
This, apparently, was a hilarious thing to say.

Next morning the weather on the mountain was good, with a clear sky and a favourable wind direction, so that launches would be possible.  Everyone looked forward to a good day’s flying.  After lunch I went over to the airfield and Dad took me up in his two-seater.  The sound when you are inside a glider is eerie.  The wind makes a soft, whistling noise that seems to wrap around you, as though you are giving the air a shape and a voice.  I felt safe up in the sky in an aeroplane made of fibreglass, with no engine and only a few thermals to hold it up. I felt safe because I was with my dad and he was doing the thing he loved most in the world.  He told me that there had been an accident at one of the other clubs and that it had said in the newspaper that the plane had crashed and burst into flames.  Luckily I realised that this was impossible and could join in with the irony of it all. 
I liked being in the sky with my dad.  He was quiet most of the time, and when he spoke he did nothing to disturb the peace.  He taught me some of the things that I treasure most: about being consumed by an interest and, on dark nights out on the mountain, about the stars. He knew their names and showed me the constellations, just as I do now, when I can get my children to take any notice.
That night there was a phone call for me on the clubhouse payphone, which was in the draughty and very public entrance hall.  Dad said that it was Rick. He assumed, as I did, that it was Rick, and not Rick.
‘Hello,’ said a voice I didn’t recognise.
‘Hello,’ I answered.
‘It’s Rick,’ the voice continued.
And, just as I was about to say, ‘No, it’s not!’ I realised that it was in fact Rick.
‘Hello Rick.’  I had one of those moments where my brain lags slightly behind my mouth and I couldn’t think of what to say next.
‘How are you?’  he asked.  He was very young and very well educated.
‘Freezing, actually.  What are you up to?’  I was not curious, but I thought I should ask.
‘Thinking about you,’ he said.
‘How sweet,’ I replied.
I liked the boy, but there was no future in it.  Bugger and damnation I was cold.  Anyway, it turned out that Rick wanted to play something on the piano to me.  It was ‘A song for Guy’ or something like that.  Elton John, I think.  He was rather good, but the heartfelt notes resonated relentlessly and generally went on a bit.  By this time my extremities were turning blue and I was sniffing. 
‘That was lovely,’ I said.
‘Would you like me to play another?’  He offered, sweetly, obviously mistaking my snuffling for heart-broken emotion.
My mind raced. ‘I have to do some reading.’ It was a poor excuse.
‘Oh, okay.  Can I call again?’
‘Sure.  I mean, yes.’
He didn’t and I was disappointed.  Everyone likes to be adored, after all.

The rest of the weekend was pleasant, apart from when I found an enormous spider in the shower and had to listen to spider stories for the rest of the evening, sitting round the clubhouse bar.  I played billiards and lost some money to the one-armed bandit before walking out to my caravan in the dark, windswept night.  I looked up at the sky and suddenly felt that I belonged on the mountain and not behind a blackjack table on Edgware Road.  My bed was ever so slightly damp, which was normal, and I snuggled into my duvet and thought about the next day.  Carol would be there and she would have the keys to our new flat in Willesden Green.  It would be fun and, after all, it would not be forever.  As I closed my eyes and smiled to myself at the thought of the night sky above me and all around, and pictured the glowing lights of the scattered houses in the valley below, I thought of Rick playing his piano.

Playing it for me.

Find out about Bev and Carol at Playboy - click on the link above and download 'Bunny on a Bike' for a fun read.

Saturday, 20 July 2013

On the beach with Bev and Carol

      (Bev and Carol are characters from my two novels: 'One Summer in France' and its sequel 'Bunny on a Bike'.)

 A French lesson

I looked about me.  It was difficult to see the world as a bright and shiny place, when Jean-Paul Sartre had wheedled his way inside my brain.  ‘Huis Clos’, on the beach.  I looked around at some of the people, trying to decide which of them I would mind being locked up with for eternity. 
‘What rubbish are you reading now?’  asked Carol, sleepily.
‘It’s a play about three people who are locked in a room together.’
‘It doesn’t say.’  It was a good question.
‘Tell me what happens.’  Carol wriggled a little and readied herself for some entertainment.
‘Okay.  It’s supposed to be about hell.  The title means ‘No Exit’.  Have you heard of existentialism?’
‘Just get on with it!’
This meant she hadn’t, or like me, didn’t really get it.  ‘There are two women and one man and they hate each other.  The idea is that putting them together will create a personalised hell.’
‘Christ!  I can think of a couple of people I wouldn’t want to be locked up with!’
‘Anyway, the upshot is that we are supposed to consider the fact that we are all free and responsible for our own lives, but that we rely on other people or even a little voice inside our own head to spoil our freedom by defining us and everything we do.  Oh, and existence itself is meaningless.’
‘Is it French?’
She nodded.  ‘Right!  So, what you’re saying is that, if I pick my nose, I only feel bad about it if someone sees me and I see that they see me?’
I thought for a moment. ‘Yeah, I think so.  Or, you could be self-conscious and see yourself.’ 
‘Sounds as though Jean-Paul had too much time on his hands,’ said Carol, having lost interest.
I re-opened my book, exercising my freedom to do as I pleased, with my friend’s comments niggling somewhere at the back of my otherwise pure and unencumbered mind.  I was soon back in hell and appalled at Estelle’s blatant sexual advances towards Garcin in front of Inez (a lesbian, and, admittedly, a bit of a tart herself).  They seemed to be making it all much worse for themselves.’

‘Come on, then.  Teach me something useful.’
Carol lay with her hands behind her head and not a stitch on.  She was irresistible. It was another late afternoon at the naturist beach we had found by accident, in a bid to outrun a hoard of Japanese tourists and, much as I enjoyed the intellectual challenge of my French literature reading list, I really hadn’t the heart to ignore her.  I decided to have some fun. 
‘Okay. Let me see.  Something useful.  Right!  Did you know that you can remove hair dye from your forehead with plain old milk?  Works like a dream.’ 
Carol didn’t speak.
‘It’s really useful, actually -’
‘Stop!  I meant, you incredible numbskull, teach me some useful phrases in French!’
‘Ha!  Got you!’
Carol sat up.  ‘What?’
‘I got you!  This time, I got you!’  I was beside my new and very childish self.
‘What are you talking about?’  she said, but I knew that she knew she had been got.  It was a rare victory.  Sweet, and to be savoured.
Carol examined the white marks under her two silver rings, not looking up.  
In an effort to remain blasé I picked up my book and pretended to read, snickering quietly.
‘Aren’t you going to teach me any French, then?  You always say I should learn some and now, when I ask, you just muck about!’
I put down my book.  ‘All right.  Let’s start with something easy...  J’ai faim.  I’m hungry.’
‘J’ai faim.’
‘J’ai soif.  I’m thirsty.’
‘J’ai soif.’
‘Good.  J’ai chaud.  I’m hot.’
‘Now you’re talking!  J’ai chaud!’  Carol licked her lips in a rather sluttish fashion, if I’m being totally honest.
‘It doesn’t mean that kind of hot!’  I laughed and then I saw Carol smiling.  It was the easy, mocking smile of revenge.
‘Got you back!’
‘I do really hate you!’ I said, categorically.
‘I know you do, you lovely tart.’

The sun was still delicious, even though it was past 9.00pm.   Time to put on some pants, go back to the campsite and cook up some soup and rice, followed by Pop Tarts.   A perfect end to another perfect day.
‘Bring Jean-Paul,’ she said.  ‘Don’t want any other poor bugger to have to read his deadly book.’
I shoved ‘Huis Clos’ in my bag for later and thanked God (now that I had thought of him) that there were people like Carol in the world.

You can download more of Bev and Carol, young and carefree in the South of France, by clicking on the direct link to ONE SUMMER IN FRANCE, at the top right of this blog.

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Carol and Bev and an egg.

‘How much did you pay for this pan?’
I knew that any price I mentioned would be too much.  ‘Found it in one of the bins,’ I said in an excellent stroke of one-upmanship.
‘Choose a different bin next time!  This one’s crap.  What else was in it?’
‘The bin!’
‘I don’t know.  I wasn’t looking for anything else.’
‘You should have checked.  Brand names on packaging.  Stuff like that.  Tells you what kind of pan you’ll get.’
Carol tried to get the plastic spatula under the ruined egg.
‘Do you mind a broken one?’  she asked, charmingly.
The egg looked as though it had been run over.  A number of times.  Roadkill egg.  ‘That’s fine for me,’ I lied.
‘Good!’ said Carol, implying that I somehow deserved to have my breakfast spoiled.  Pan payback. 
She noticed that I’d noticed that she hadn’t used any oil.
‘Why didn’t you-‘
‘-don’t say anything!’
She finished cleaning up the burnt-on egg and poured in half the bottle of olive oil.  I said nothing.
Two minutes later, spattled yet philosophical, Carol slid the perfectly cooked egg off the now severely deformed spatula and tore off a hunk of bread. 

The other happy campers were waking up.  Some of them passed by, bleary eyed, ignoring the two blond English girls, who were generally rumoured to be either prostitutes, lesbians or home-wreckers. 
‘Bonjour!’  I said, cheerily.
Ugly looks came in many forms.
‘Why are you so miserable?’ asked Carol, as a miserable-looking woman passed by.
I did not understand her reply.  My knowledge of French was limited to words found in my Robert unabridged dictionary and various works of great literature.  I was also thwarted by her slick, venom infused pronunciation.
I smiled sweetly and Carol said, ‘Same to you with knobs on, you ugly old cow!’

I shouldn’t have laughed so loudly.  But Carol always took my breath away with her candid comments.
‘Not eating your egg?’

This was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Did we roar?  I should say so!

The woman looked back again, mistaken and furious.  The egg winked in the sunshine.  We sighed as our spasms subsided and dozed in the morning heat, young, unloved and lovely.

Click on a link above to download more of Carol and Bev.  'One Summer in France' and 'Bunny on a Bike'.