Divorced and Deadly

A light-hearted and comic romp from the nation’s favourite storyteller and author of The Loner.Footloose, fancy free and ready to get back in the game, newly divorced Ben is back home with mum which is just where she wants him. But best mate Dickie has other ideas, and soon they are sharing a flat, up to all sorts and plotting Ben's future romantic adventures.But being single isn't all it's cracked up to be.Ben staggers from one disaster to another – all under the beady gaze of his ex, who may not want him but doesn't want anyone else to have him either! And then there's Ben's co-worker Poppy, who seems very interested in his escapades too – could she have plans of her own?Laugh-out-loud funny and based on true stories that you just couldn't make up, Divorced and Deadly is the perfect feel-good read.
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Divorced and Deadly

   

Divorced and Deadly Finally Free! Josephine Cox


   Published by HarperCollinsPublishers Ltd 1 London Bridge Street London SE1 9GF

   

   Published by HarperCollinsPublishers 2009

   FIRST EDITION


   Copyright © Josephine Cox 2009


   Josephine Cox asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work


   A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library


   This novel is entirely a work of fiction. The names, characters and incidents portrayed in it are the work of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or localities is entirely coincidental.


   All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.


   EBook Edition © NOVEMBER 2009 ISBN: 9780007343706

   Version: 2017-08-10

   With much gratitude to everyone who has ever made me laugh out loud, or told me a funny story that would not go away.

   The original idea for this story came when I went to pick my sister up one day. As I turned into her cul-de-sac, I was amazed to see the corner house smothered from top to bottom in huge banners of every colour and description—complete with a massive photograph of a woman in the centre, her fist triumphantly in the air, and a caption saying:


   Newly Divorced And Up For Anything!

   It got me thinking about all the people I know who’ve been divorced, where there might be a stalker who can’t let go, or one of the party demands everything but the kitchen sink. When new relationships start and jealousy rears its ugly head, the ensuing bitterness can often create unforeseen circumstances, some tragic, some unbelievably funny. My own life, and my set of friends and family were a powerful inspiration for Ben’s uproarious account of life after divorce.

   I have drawn on the hilarious incidents that happen in real life, to real people, in real situations. At first I put snippets on the website as a temporary relief from life’s hardships, a laugh a day to keep the doctor away. But, people loved it! They were signing up in great numbers, and so the publishers in their wisdom decided it must be lengthened into a book, and here it is!

   In Divorced and Deadly, you’ll meet a bunch of characters; some you want to strangle, others you want as your best friend, and some will make you laugh out loud in a crowd, on a train, or just walking along the street.

   Divorced and Deadly comes straight out of life; mine included, because anyone who knows me will tell you, I’m a poor diva who causes chaos and destruction wherever I go! I’ve also got a wicked and vivid imagination, which produced my two crazy, hopeless characters: Ben Buskin, who writes the diary, and his hapless friend, Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants.

   Many thanks to my unsuspecting friends and my wonderful, crazy family; not forgetting all the poor innocents I’ve sat opposite on a train or a bus. I’ve been the fly on the wall, recording every hilarious minute.

   So enjoy! I’ve got files of laughter and details of amazing antics that will make you cry with frustration and laugh ‘til you ache. So never fear, because there’s more to come! And who knows you might even recognise yourself in there!

Table of Contents

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

   

BEN’S DIARY

   I’m 36 years old; handsome and fit, with a shock of rich, dark hair and a pair of kissing lips to die for. I’m not as tall as I’d like to be, nor am I rippling with chest muscles. But I reckon I’m a dead-ringer for Hugh Grant, (only I do believe I’m a far better actor than he is, on account of I played a hippo in All Creatures Great and Small in the school play. Anyone with brains knows how difficult it is to play a demanding role!).

   So, having explained what a real catch I am—will someone please tell me why it is that today my divorce became absolute and I’m out in the cold?

   The dreaded Laura doesn’t want me any more, but doesn’t want anyone else to have me, so now the women who are aching to make a play for me are all too nervous to make the first move, in case Laura rips out their eyes. The plain truth is (though it rankles me to say this) I have been well and truly dumped! And to be honest I don’t know whether to laugh, cry, or starve the cat for a day…actually no, scrub that last one. (Like all felines, she can be vicious. The last thing I need right now, is for her to leap on me claws out, from a great height.)

   I’m so humiliated. I feel that everybody’s laughing at me. You know when you walk past somebody and they pretend not to have seen you? Or you walk away and the sniggering starts? I’m feeling paranoid!

   Huh! Call themselves friends, I don’t think so!

   Somehow or other I have to regain my confidence. So, with that in mind, I made a list of things I had to do:


   1. I will not sign on at the gym. (Firstly, because I’m a bit short of the old readies, and secondly, I was told that too much exercise can ruin your love life.) Mind you, what does Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants know about anything?

   2. I will smoke cigars instead of cigarettes. I’ve seen that old film with Jimmy Cagney; smoke curling up and away, one eye half shut like he’s winking. (Truth is, I reckon he can’t see a damned thing through that smoke!) No matter, because does he look the cool dude or what?

   3. When the opposite sex look at me in that certain way… (you know, when they’re eyeing you up!) I shall cunningly avert my gaze and play hard to get. (The real reason being that I’m a bit short-sighted, so I need to look where I’m going.)

   4. I will take two vitamins a day: one evening primrose, because apparently it makes your skin smooth and your eyes bright. Oh, and one large ginko biloba tablet. (Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants said he sprouted hairs on his chest after only one course.) I’m not worried about a hairy chest, but if I’m lucky, who knows what else might pop up?

   5. I will avoid contact with Laura. It’s my right! After all, it wasn’t me who did the dumping!

   6. Oh, and because I’m not attending a gym, I will admire myself in the mirror every morning, and do a bit of flexing and puffing, and whatever else I might need to, in order to keep up my macho image. (Yes, that an’ all!)

   Right! That’s enough making lists. I have to concentrate my mind for the trauma ahead.

   I know for certain that Laura is laughing behind my back. I sneaked past the house earlier on today and judging by the massive placards and banners plastered all over the front of the house, on the gate and down the street—she’s having a ball, proclaiming to all and sundry in large, colourful letters that she is:


   Newly Divorced And Up For Anything

   ‘Up for anything’. What’s that supposed to mean, as if I didn’t know. This is her way of taking a snide jab at me, the spiteful cow! She’s never forgotten that one miserable time when I lost it…if you know what I mean? I tried to explain it to her, but she was having none of it…you know how women can whine when they want to…‘You just don’t love me any more, that’s the truth isn’t it?’

   And, no, that is not the truth! The truth is, I’d been out with the boys and drunk myself under the table…well it was Trevor’s stag-night after all, and besides, I reckon Wayne spiked my drinks because his wife fancies me. (If truth be told, it’s the same old story of jealousy and spite!)

   All the same, if I thought Laura still had lingering feelings for me, I might lie through my teeth and tell her I deserve everything she throws at me, and that I’ll never go anywhere without her again. The thing is, I still love her you see…or I think I do. Or maybe I don’t. God, she’s right! I’m just a hopeless mess.

   I’m no angel. She knew that when she married me. I’ve never claimed to be anything other than an absolute rogue, and I won’t apologise for that. In my book, women have a role to play in the home and bed, while every man on God’s earth has a God-given right to play the field if he wants to. I mean, where’s the harm, tell me that?

   Would you believe, she even went so far as to suggest I might be unhinged. Well, I’ve got news for her. It’s not me who’s unhinged, it’s her!

   Talk about over reacting. I mean, when she found me in our bed with another woman she threw me out! I suppose it was inevitable. Mind you, Laura didn’t even give me time to explain. Y’see, I didn’t know who the woman was. I couldn’t even recall whether I picked her up at the pub, or rescued her from the bus stop when her bus was late. Anyway, suffice to say we ended up in bed, and Laura found us. Worse luck!

   There was no way she would listen to reason. She just threw all my clothes out on the street and me with them. I don’t know what happened to the girl, but it wouldn’t surprise me if she wasn’t dead and buried under our garage floor.

   Honestly! Laura just went crazy. Totally and absolutely out of control, like frothing mad. It was really off-putting.

   And it was the coldest night imaginable, and there I was, stark-naked except for my odd-coloured socks (that’s another thing! How she manages to put four pairs of socks into the washing machine and lose one sock from each pair, I will never know).

   I kid you not! That night, I saw a side to her that I’d never seen before, and never want to see again. It was not a pleasant sight.

   I mean, what’s got into her? She didn’t flare up like that the time she caught me snogging her best friend, Shelley. Instead she gave Shelley a black eye before booting her out on her ear, yet she made me suffer for months before my penalty was served! (It goes without saying, Shelley is not her best friend any more.)

   In fact, Shelley is nobody’s best mate, especially now, when all the women in the street have it in for her. Mind you I’m not surprised, because they all fancied a tumble with me, and Shelley beat them to it. Lucky me, eh?

   Our marriage should have ended there and then, but Laura forgave me in the end. So what made her end it, just after half an hours’ harmless frolicking with a stranger I’d only just met?

   I can’t believe how Laura reacted. I mean! There was no need to go berserk. I kept telling her, it was all just a bit of fun, that’s all it was.

   Well, I mean to say, I can’t help it if I’m irresistible to women, can I? We all know some men have it and some don’t. I just happen to have it.

   I am no longer married. Sadly, I’ve had to move in with my parents, and yes, they did give me a hard time. ‘You’ve only yourself to blame,’ that was Dad. ‘When will you ever learn?’ that was Mum.

   And as if that wasn’t enough, they’d been gossiping with the dog about their disapproval of my nocturnal goings on. So he took it upon himself to sink his canines into my leg and draw blood. (I’ll get him for that when they’re not looking!)

   Mind you, I can’t really blame him, the poor sod had ’em chopped off last week, so now his days of impressing the pretty thing with his massive ego and other jangly bits are well and truly over.

   Hell’s bells, I’ve just had a frightening thought…were they planning to do the same to me? Like creep up on me while I was asleep, and nip my pride in the bud! (Dad won the neatest bush competition last year, so he really knows his way around the garden shears.)

   You probably think I’m paranoid, and you’d be right. I wouldn’t put it past them to rob me of my manhood. The thing is, they’re in their sixties now and have probably forgotten what joy it all is.

   Anyway, I don’t plan to stay there long; although I have to admit, it’s a good gaff: no rent, hot meals provided, bed changed regularly, with clean shirts and underpants on hand.

   I can’t help but wonder if Dad’s feeling put out, ‘You’ll be wiping his backside next!’ he snapped at Mum the other day, ‘And why is it he always bags the bathroom first?’

   Huh! I can answer that…it’s because Dad has a nasty habit of leaving his false teeth on the sink after he’s washed them; it’s unnerving, seeing his false teeth grinning at me when I’m on the throne.

   ‘C’mon our Ben.’ That’s Mum again. ‘You’d best get off or you’ll be late.’ I argued a bit and wolfed down my hot crumpets oozing with butter and jam, while she hovered over me with a bag of goodies. ‘I’ve packed you some nice ham sandwiches,’ she cooed. ‘Oh, and there’s a bottle of Lucozade in there, it’ll keep your pecker up.’ (Does she know something I don’t?)

   Well anyway, there I was, on my way up the street, swinging my goodies like a kid off to school. I wondered why she didn’t put me in short pants and get me a cap with a badge!

   Then, as if things weren’t bad enough, I saw that twerp from number fourteen—Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants. I have to say, I’ve never seen such an unholy mess—long and limp with a sprout of hair on top and short trousers at the bottom; he’d be a real attraction at Madame Tussauds.

   He ran as fast as he could to catch me up. ‘God! You walk fast, don’t you?’ he said, breathlessly running alongside, ‘I thought I’d never catch up!’

   All the way to the bus stop he asked questions, ‘Where’s your car?’

   ‘It went in for a service and they’ve discovered it needs new brake pads. Hopefully, I should have it back tomorrow.’

   ‘Ah, well, if you ask me, it’s all a con.’

   ‘Is that so?’ If he doesn’t clear off soon, I swear I’d smack him one! Either that or I’d tell my mum and she’d give him what for.

   ‘Think about it.’ Like a dog with a bone, he is. ‘You’ve never noticed anything wrong with your brakes at all, have you?’

   ‘Not that I can remember, no.’

   What the hell was I talking to him for? It only encouraged him.

   ‘There you are then!’

   ‘Where am I exactly?’

   ‘Well, like I say…you’ve been conned. There’s nothing wrong with your brakes at all.’

   ‘Isn’t there?’

   ‘No. You see, what they’ll do is whip ’em off. One of the blokes will have ’em away, and before you know it, there they are…’

   ‘Where are they?’ Talk about being a glutton for punishment.

   ‘On the stall at a car-boot sale o’ course!’

   ‘Really?’ No wonder he’s called Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants.

   His tongue was still rattling ten to the dozen when the bus arrived. Pushing me aside, he climbed on, while I pretended to tie my shoe. When the bus pulled away Dickie started waving and yelling and telling them to stop because they’d left me behind. (Thick as a plank or what!)

   The conductor was in no mood for his antics. I expect he was wondering why I was smiling after being left behind. Good man, that conductor! The thing is, I’d rather be late than sit next to Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants all the way to work.

   After I’d thrown what was left of my little-boy’s lunch, I started to wonder…what was going to happen to me now? How will I get over Laura, especially as Shelley won’t have anything to do with me after all the goings on.

   And how long will I have to stay at my parents’ house?

   A long time I reckon, because Laura fleeced me good and proper, my Ford Focus is about to give up the ghost, and all I’ve got is a fiver in my back pocket and exactly four pounds and sixty pence in my bank account.

   Still, I’ve got my magnetic looks, and I still know how to make a lady feel good.

   Then I noticed a woman looking at me. She was tall and blonde with legs all the way up to her chin.

   Now she’s started walking towards me! Keep calm, Ben. Play it cool…cool now. I said, ‘Hello…yes, did you want something?’ Realising I sounded like Dickie Manse, I gave her my best, whitest smile.

   ‘Look…’ she pointed downwards.

   I looked down and saw nothing untoward, except a slight stirring.

   ‘Hope you don’t mind me saying…I just thought I’d tell you that your shoelaces were undone.’ She walked straight into the open arms of a man who was running up to meet her. She gave me this bemused little smile as he walked her away.

   I could hear the pair of them sniggering all the way down the street. Not that I cared a toss. I didn’t fancy her anyway.

   I’ve decided to look on the positive side.

   What’s the worst that can happen? I mean, I can handle Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants, a sniggering blonde, a bad divorce, stolen brake pads, clean underpants and a bottle of Lucozade to ‘keep my pecker up’.

   It’ll take more than that to bring Ben Buskin to his knees.

   I was determined to come out on top. Yes! Just you see if I don’t.

   Hello diary, my old friend.

   Well, like I’ve always said, you never know what’s round the corner. I had a couple of surprises today; both involving women of course. One was a bit unnerving, and the other positively amazing. I still don’t quite know what to make of it all.

   I reckon I must have done something very wrong in a previous life, or I wouldn’t be punished the way I’m being punished now.

   I arrived at the station at nine a.m., right on time. Most times the damned train is late, and other times I find myself stranded on some scary platform in the middle of nowhere! Anyway, not this time; although the train driver must have had an argument with his wife, because he was whizzing over the rails like a demented hooligan.

   ‘I think I’m about to be sick, dear!’ The fat woman sitting next to me had already fallen asleep on my shoulder, but it wasn’t her fault, as she had a droopy neck; or so she told me when I shook her awake.

   ‘You’d best sit up,’ I told her encouragingly, ‘…I’ll see if I can find the conductor.’ The last thing I wanted was to turn up for work with a jacket coated in the remains of her breakfast!

   ‘Give her a sick bag!’ The conductor was none too pleased, and neither was I.

   ‘Give her one yourself!’ I mean…you can’t let the buggers get away with it, can you?

   Anyway, to cut a long story short, she got her sick bag, and I got as far away from her as I could; though she kept looking at me with a peculiar glint in her eye. ‘Sorry dear,’ I wanted to say, ‘but I’m not that desperate.’ At least, not yet! How dare she?

   What’s more, a muscled-up weirdo with a crew-cut on the next seat kept eyeing me up. I nearly asked her what her game was!

   Thank God I got to my station unmolested…life is a terrifying lottery, don’t you think?

   The van was waiting to collect me as I came out of the station. ‘Good morning, Ben, how was your journey today?’ Dressed in a long, white overall and smelling of dog-chuckles, Poppy is a real sweetie; though you wouldn’t want to kiss her after she’s been canoodling with the canines.

   Feeling sorry for myself, I climbed in. ‘It’s been one of them journeys from hell,’ I moaned. ‘The train driver was hell bent on breaking every speed limit in the book, and some woman was threatening to spew up all over me.’ I gave her all the gory details, ‘And would you believe the conductor had a go at me when I refused to take her the sick bag!’

   ‘Really? And what did you say to that?’ she asked. Poppy can be such a trial at times.

   ‘What do you think I said? I calmly reminded him that I was a mere passenger, and that it was his duty to “give her one”!’

   Poppy started laughing. Honestly! Is it me, or has the whole world gone completely mad?

   As we drove along, I took a sneaky look at her. Some people say Poppy is quite pretty, but I can’t quite make up my mind. I suppose with her wild, curly hair and those long, blonde lashes over sapphire-blue eyes, there might be something cute about her.

   But then, who am I to say? She’s so preoccupied with her dungarees and other people’s animals; I can’t imagine her being dressed to kill, or rolling about in bed playing catch me if you can with another human being. And she would never flaunt herself naked in a see-through negligee…or would she? I’d better watch out. There I go again with the daydreams!

   ‘What are you staring at?’ Poppy asked.

   ‘What d’you mean? I wasn’t staring at you!’ I can sound really wounded when I put my mind to it.

   ‘Well it certainly felt like it!’ She flew the car round the bend at a hundred miles an hour.

   Leave her alone, Ben, I told myself, before she kills the pair of us.

   ‘I’ve already said…I was not staring at you!’ I reacted with a cutting remark.

   ‘No need to be catty.’ She seemed hurt.

   ‘What do you mean…catty?’ I said. ‘I’m a man for heavens’ sake. I couldn’t be catty if I tried. The trouble is that’s all you’ve got on your mind…cats and dogs, and things that cock their leg over…other things.’

   ‘What other things?’ Poppy wanted to know.

   ‘I dunno…plant pots, trees, and things like that.’

   ‘Now you’re being ridiculous.’ Poppy obviously didn’t think so!

   ‘Leave me alone, I’ve had a bad enough morning already!’ I was not in a pleasant frame of mind.

   ‘Oh what! You mean you forgot to feed your Mum’s goldfish?’

   She was giving me that kind of grin she gives the animals when they want feeding, I half expected a meatychew thrust into my mouth, thank you very much!

   ‘You know what’s wrong with you, Ben?’ Poppy went on.

   ‘No, but I’m sure you’ll tell me.’ Why did I say that?

   ‘You need to chill out.’ Poppy said.

   ‘What’s that supposed to mean?’ I put on my most outraged voice.

   Putting the fear of God into me, she screeched the van to a halt in the middle of the street, ‘You listen to me…’ Yanking on the hand-brake she swung round and looked me in the eye, ‘You’re on edge all the time; it’s not good for you. People have heart attacks and everything, being on edge like that.’

   ‘I can’t help it. I’ve got a lot to contend with.’ My mum was right. I really can be sulky at times.

   ‘You might be surprised to know this, but you are not the only one!’ Poppy complained.

   ‘What?’ I didn’t know what she was on about.

   ‘I said, you are not the only one who has a lot to contend with.’ She was really ranting!

   ‘Is that so?’ Now I was fed up.

   ‘What about me?’ Poppy went on.

   ‘I don’t know. What about you?’ I really hadn’t a clue.

   ‘You know…’ Poppy said mournfully, ‘…my favourite dog passed away last week, and you never once said you were sorry.’

   ‘That’s because I wasn’t.’ It’s true! ‘That dog was not even yours. What’s more, he was mad as a march hare…eight times last week it escaped and I was the one who had to catch it and bring it back…plus I got bitten twice for my trouble and had to have a jab.’ I couldn’t believe we were arguing about a mad dog!

   ‘Don’t be soft! A jab won’t hurt you, will it? And besides, you were the only one available to go after the poor thing. Everyone else was busy hosing out the kennels after that bug epidemic.’ Poppy could be really verbal!

   ‘All right, but losing one dog in the universe does not give you as much to contend with as I have.’ I had to assert myself.

   ‘Oh no? Well, what about my mother?’ Poppy gave me a look.

   ‘What about her…and don’t you think we’d best get going or we’ll be late. Don’t forget the accountant is due in today.’ And guess who had to deal with him—yours truly!

   ‘I haven’t forgotten.’ Poppy sounded smug.

   ‘Let’s get going then.’ The morning was definitely not getting any better!

   She didn’t get going until the driver in the car behind rammed his fist on his horn, and then a milk float and a bread van drew up behind us and soon there was a whole mob of vehicles all lined up and baying for blood.

   And even after we drove away, she had no intention of letting me off the hook.

   ‘I’ll have you know, my mother is the mother from hell!’ Poppy complained.

   ‘Really? In what way?’ I didn’t particularly want to pursue the conversation, but I couldn’t believe her mother was worse than mine.

   ‘She vets all my boyfriends.’ Poppy said.

   ‘I didn’t know you had any boyfriends.’ I almost laughed.

   I got the evil eye, ‘And why shouldn’t I have boyfriends. Am I ugly? Tell me the truth; do you think I’m ugly? You do, don’t you…think I’m ugly?’ Her voice was suspiciously shaky.

   ‘I never said that.’ Honest!

   ‘But you meant that,’ she sniffed.

   ‘I didn’t.’ What else could I say?

   ‘Liar!’ Poppy was almost in tears.

   When we arrived at the kennel gates I couldn’t get out of the van quick enough to open them. ‘It’s all right,’ I called as she prepared to stop and collect me again, ‘I’ll walk up…clear my head.’

   ‘Please yourself!’ With the same death wish as the train driver, she slammed her foot down on the accelerator and shot off up the lane, sending showers of gravel behind her.

   ‘DAMNED LUNATIC! YOU COULD HAVE BLINDED ME!’ I yelled.

   She didn’t hear me. Well, I knew that, or I wouldn’t have shouted, would I? I mean…I’m not harbouring a death wish, well, at least not yet.

   Oh yes, and what were the ‘surprises’ you might ask.

   Well, as you might have guessed, I manage a kennel for some rich guy who has a string of them all over the UK. He has a big white house on a cliff-top in Spain, a grand mansion in Milton Keynes and a boat in Newquay. Huh! alright for some!

   I’m learning the ropes so I can achieve fame and fortune; though so far it’s been an uphill struggle.

   While I was preparing the books for the accountant, I had a visitor. Imagine my astonishment when I looked up and saw her draped in the doorway, half-naked boobs peeping out like fat puppies from a sack, and her cheap, heady perfume blocking my common sense. ‘SHELLEY! What are you doing here?’ In the midst of chaos, I always managed to find a semblance of authority.

   ‘I came to see you,’ she purred, stepping closer.

   Backing away, I told her in no uncertain terms, ‘Haven’t you women done enough damage? I’ve lost my home and my marriage, and now I’m back with my parents who think I still need my nose wiping. Thanks to you lot, my life’s a mess and there’s no way out.’

   She didn’t answer. Neither did she show any remorse, the spiteful cow. Instead, she sauntered right up to me; thrusting her large, fleshy boobs into my chest and wrapping her snake-like arms round my neck. She kissed me full on the lips…right there, tongue out, tonsils quivering, with four kennel-girls and the dog-walkers staring in at the window.

   ‘GET OFF ME!’ Blushing to the roots of my hair, I shoved her away, masterfully taking hold of her arm to march her out the door.

   ‘You can throw me out of your office, but you will never be able to push me out of your life,’ she warned. ‘You’re a free man now. You and I belong together, and I won’t let you go, Ben. It’s no use you fighting me.’ With that she blew me a kiss and wiggled away down the lane and out of sight.

   ‘Clear off! Haven’t you lot got work to do?’ The kennel-girls and dog-walkers were still there, peering in the window and giggling crudely.

   ‘Cor, just think, Ben…’ That was Poppy with her nose pressed so hard to the window it was covered in a film of snot, ‘…that Shelley is head over heels in love with you. I reckon you could have asked her to turn somersaults and she would have done, right there on the spot.’

   ‘Huh!’ That was the new boy, Andy. ‘If you ask me, she’s anybody’s!’ He gave one of the idiot grins he’s getting known for. ‘I don’t think it’s you, Ben. I think she just wanted to play, and d’you know what? If I’d been brave enough to give her the nod, I bet you, she’d have been all over me…’

   Well, that was it! I just lost my rag, ‘What d’you think this is…a bloody peep-show…GET BACK TO YOUR WORK, THE LOT OF YOU!’

   Well, I never…they all shot off in different directions. So! I do have a masterful streak when I make my mind up.

   So, maybe from now on they’ll learn to respect me.

   Not so! Because that same afternoon, I was preparing to leave, when I had another visitor, unannounced and baying for blood, ‘YOU FILTHY TWO-TIMING NO GOOD BAGGAGE!’

   My ex-wife was never more attractive than when fighting mad, ‘Don’t think you and that slut have got one over on me, because you haven’t. She’s been bragging all over the place, about how she means to have you. Well, I’m telling you now, she’s welcome to you…and good luck to the pair of you!’

   With that she stormed off with me running after her, ‘What the hell business is it of yours anyway?’ I didn’t care that the kennel-girls were staring at us, ‘You were the one who asked for a divorce and never mind that I didn’t want it. So don’t come here with your high-faluting values, telling me what I can and can’t do. I shall do what I damn well like, and with whoever I please! And if you don’t like it, then tough tittie!’

   I swear I didn’t see it coming. She swung round, grabbed the hose from young Danny’s hand and turned it on me. There was a great whoosh, a blinding curtain of freezing cold rain, and my whole body was soaked to the skin. She then flung the hose back to Danny who ran about like a lunatic, trying to catch it, as it leaped up and down swilling everybody in sight.

   The girls were laughing and screaming, and poor Danny came off worse when with a look of triumph he deliberately trod on the hose, which then forced itself up his trouser leg and gave him the biggest surprise of his life.

   Humiliated and dripping, and wishing I was a million miles away, I watched Laura storm off with a sinister warning, ‘I know she was here, Ben Buskin. And I’ll be watching you!’

   Like one of the half-dead creatures from Michael Jackson’s Thriller, I hobbled after her, ‘How did you know she was here…are you spying on me?’

   ‘Yes! Same as you’re spying on me. Do you think I haven’t seen you hiding in the shrubs to see what I’m up to…DAMN PERVERT!’ She screamed.

   With the weight of my wet trousers pulling me down I sulked back to the office, where I slammed about like a sulky kid who’s lost the fight.

   ‘Here…let me help.’ Poppy had seen it all, and as always she was there to pick up the pieces. Before I could stop her, she’d stripped off my trousers (taking far too long if you ask me). Then she wrapped a fluffy dogblanket round my nether regions and was about to rub my chest with a flannel, when I thanked her kindly and sent her away…I mean, I’ve already got more trouble than I can handle.

   But all in all, it was a day to remember.

   What puzzles me is this…why would my ex-wife get herself in such a state when she’s already divorced me?

   Maybe she still loves me.

   Well, well. Whoever would have thought it?

   Mind you, tomorrow could tell another tale.

   ‘Ben!’ Mum’s voice screamed up the stairs, ‘Ben, it’s time for work.’

   ‘Go away.’ Covering my head with the sheet I did my best to ignore her.

   ‘Ben!’ Ignore her.

   ‘Ben, are you awake?’ Double ignore her.

   ‘BEN…it’s half past eight, you’ll miss your bus!’ Dammit!

   ‘ALL RIGHT, ALL RIGHT! I’M ONTO IT!’ I yelled.

   There was a long pause. I knew instinctively she was at the bottom of the stairs, coiled and hissing, ready for the kill.

   With a groan I leaned out of bed, fished my shoe out from under the chair and banged it three times on the floor. That usually got me another ten minutes.

   God, am I tired. Thank heavens it’s Friday. It’s my Saturday off this week, and I’m brimming with ideas. I plan to trawl the clubs and pubs and find a woman who will take care of me.

   I am not going to go to the cinema with Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants. He must think I’m stupid. Why would anyone in their right mind want to go to the cinema with a saddo like that?

   My weekend plans were interrupted by hideous yelling. ‘BEN! IF YOU ARE NOT OUT OF THAT BED AND DOWN HERE IN FIVE MINUTES FLAT, I SWEAR I’LL COME UP AND DRAG YOU OUT!’

   She won’t. She’s said that before. What’s more, my clock said quarter to eight…she’d played that trick on me before. Let her shout and rave, I knew I was good for at least another five minutes yet.

   I heard on the grapevine that Shelley has been putting it about to anyone who’ll listen, that me and her are an item. Brazen-faced liar! I can see I’ll have to pay her a call and put her in her place once and for all. If she thinks she can play me along and sort my life out without my permission, she’s got another thing coming!

   ‘I KNEW IT!’ The door was flung open and there she was…my mother in full war paint. ‘Your father’s gone to get a haircut, and I’m off shopping with Winnie Arriss…if you don’t mind I would like to get to the shops before they close.’ With a swoop she was on me…Grabbing the bedclothes, she flung them back with no thought whatsoever for my bared manhood, not to mention my red face.

   ‘OUT!’ God she was a frightening sight; standing there arms folded, face like a bulldog and frothing at the mouth.

   Covering my modesty, I gave her one of my fiercest stares, ‘I don’t know what all the fuss is about.’

   Casting her gaze down, she snorted, ‘Neither do I.’

   ‘Look! It’s not even eight o’clock!’ I pointed at my bedside clock, ‘See?’

   Grabbing the clock she gave it a shake and threw it at me, just missing my head. ‘You forgot to wind it up again. How many times have I told you, being as it was your Grandma’s…Lord rest her soul…it needs winding up every day…’ As she went out the room, she added snidely, ‘That clock and you belong together. Grown lazy with age, the pair of you.’


   It took me ten minutes to finish in the bathroom, though when I came out I looked like a refugee from a war zone. I had patches of blood and sticky paper all over my face and my hair stood up like it had been through a wind tunnel. ‘It’s your fault,’ I sulked as I came into the kitchen where my mother was waiting with another packed lunch.

   ‘You’ve got no time for breakfast now,’ she said lovingly. (One minute she’s going crazy, and the next she’s sweet as apple pie. I’m sure she’s an alien.)

   ‘Anyway, I’ve put you an extra apple in, and one of them choccy biscuits you seem to like so much.’ (She doesn’t know those revolting choccy biscuits are the first thing to go in the bin when I got to the bus stop.)

   I grabbed my coat and made for the door. I didn’t want to give her the idea that she can shout at me, and then just forget it, like it never happened.

   ‘Look, Ben, I’m sorry for shouting at you, but you really have got to pull yourself together.’ (She can read my mind!) You’ve lost your wife; you don’t seem to be making much headway at work…I mean, look at the state you came home in the other day.’

   ‘What state was that?’ I was in no mood to give in.

   ‘Your suit appeared to have shrunk and your best leather shoes were all wrinkly; not an image you want to present to the customers. And what’s more, you have no home, no ambition, and very few prospects for the future.’ She made that sad face, ‘What’s going to become of you, Ben?’

   By the time I got out the door, my self-confidence was shattered, my self-image had taken a real knocking, and my heart was in my boots.

   Walking down the street muttering to myself, I realised she was right. I was kidding myself. I was a joke at work, nobody respected what I had to say, and if the boss sold up tomorrow, I’d be out of a job. I was already broke. I had one woman spreading lies and chasing me at every turn, and another who said she doesn’t want me, but has threatened to kill me if another woman even looked in my direction. Then there’s Poppy, who’ll nag me to death, even though she fancies me rotten. But she’s just a kid, and besides I’ve heard her shamelessly rattling them off in the yard…how off-putting is that?’ Some lady she is, I must say!

   I wasn’t bothered if I missed the bus, or even got to work at all; I leaned against the wall, wondering if anyone would care if I ended things right here and now.

   ‘Hey!’ It was Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants.

   ‘What d’you think you’re doing lolling against the wall like you’ve all the time in the world? The bus is coming in…look!’ Grabbing my arm he ran me all the way down to the bus stop. I must have dropped my precious lunch box because when we scrambled on to the bus, there was no sign of it. Oh, God! No little-boy lunch box! The day was already brightening. Perhaps I won’t end it after all; well, not just yet anyway.

   ‘Hey!’ Giving me a dig in the ribs, Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants was going on about some girl he met at the cinema. ‘Sat next to me she did,’ any little thing pleased him. ‘I offered her some of my popcorn and she dug in like a little trooper.’

   I pretended to listen, but to tell the truth, I was a bit jealous. How does he do it? He’s long and thin, wiry as a whippet with a pineapple-top hairdo, yet there he was, sitting quietly in his seat at the cinema, when the girl next to him dipped into his goodies. No strings or conditions, just casual like.

   ‘Really?’ I wasn’t all that interested. ‘And did it go anywhere?’

   ‘What?’ Staring at me with fish eyes he looked evil.

   ‘I said…did it go anywhere? I mean, did you kiss her? Did you take her home afterwards?’

   ‘No.’ He looked embarrassed.

   ‘No…what?’ I wasn’t going to let this go!

   ‘No, I didn’t kiss her.’ He was looking shifty now.

   ‘Why not?’ I persisted.

   Just then the conductor came for the fare. (It’s high time this lame government did something about public transport. In any civilised country, public transport to work should be free.)

   Under protest, we paid the fare and when the conductor moved on, I prodded Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants, ‘Well?’

   ‘Well…what?’ I could see he was trying to avoid the subject.

   ‘Why didn’t you kiss her?’ I said.

   ‘Because I…didn’t, that’s all.’ He wouldn’t look at me.

   There was something strange going on here, I thought. ‘Ah, I see!’

   ‘No! It’s not what you think…she didn’t slap my face or anything like that. In fact we got on really well…until…’ He blushed deep scarlet.

   ‘Until what?’ I had noticed on other occasions that when he gulped, his Adam’s apple bobbed frantically up and down. Right now, it was going up and down so fast, it was like one of them balls in the Lotto draw.

   ‘Look, Ben, I know I like the girls, and sometimes they like me, and that’s fine. But sometimes it just doesn’t work out. So if I tell you the truth, you won’t laugh, will you…because if you laugh, I’ll feel worse than I feel now and frankly I feel terrible.’

   ‘Crikey, Dickie…you didn’t try it on did you…right there in the cinema? I mean, she didn’t raise the alarm did she, and get you thrown out?’ Already I was beginning to chuckle. Sometimes he can be a right prat.

   ‘No, that’s not what happened, and I’m not saying any more, because I knew you’d laugh. You always do!’

   There was a moment of silence between us. He didn’t stop biting his lip, while I was thinking how it served him right, because he thinks he’s God’s gift and at the end of the day he’s just a pathetic loser, like me.

   ‘Ben?’ Dickie said in a small voice.

   ‘Now what?’ Honestly!

   ‘You think I’m a loser, don’t you?’ he continued.

   ‘Course not, why ever would I think that?’ That’s twice today somebody’s read my mind. Ooh!

   Dickie seemed to think about it. ‘So, you won’t laugh if I tell you what happened, will you?’

   ‘I’ve already said, haven’t I?’ It was like talking to a brick wall!

   This time the heavy silence lasted until just as we were almost at our destiantion.

   He wasn’t comfortable with the idea of telling me, so I didn’t push it. Besides, I had other things on my mind: would Shelley turn up at the kennels? What if Laura showed her face? And as for Poppy…well, what should I do about Poppy? She has this silly crush on me. But like I said…I’m naturally popular; though if it goes on for long enough, it’s likely to get tiresome.

   Once we were on solid ground and rushing along, Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants slipped in the news, ‘I did try and go a bit further after we shared my popcorn.’

   ‘Yes, I gathered that. And she slapped your face, caused a riot and you got thrown out. You took it too far before she was ready…like you always do. Now, that’s the truth isn’t it?’

   ‘No, she was ready for anything.’ Dickie said. ‘She kissed me full on the mouth, I got excited, slid my hand up her skirt, and for a minute I thought she was wearing woolly knickers, but they weren’t knickers. It was frightening! Her name wasn’t Pam, it was Sam, and it was me who caused the riot thanks to her…him, it was me who got thrown out.’

   I managed to keep calm until he hurried off, and I was on my way up the drive to the kennels. Then my mind was alive with the image of Dickie with his hands up another man’s skirt. And God forgive me, I couldn’t help it. I was still laughing as I came into the yard; though laughter turned into a yell of horror when I skidded on some dog mess and ended up in the horse trough.

   ‘Oh, my! Are you all right?’ Poppy must have had her binoculars out. ‘Oh, Ben, you poor thing…let me help you.’

   Here we go again!

   Another day, another simple lesson to be learned.

   Do not laugh at Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants, because you could end up in the horse trough or worse!

   I feel uneasy.

   Laura did not show up at the kennels today. There has been no sign of rampant Shelley, and as always, Poppy is still on the prowl. (I don’t know why she doesn’t just buy herself a dog and walk off all that raw energy.)

   As for Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants, he’s a walking disaster! Remember how he accidentally on purpose put his groping hand up that girl’s skirt, and then discovered it wasn’t a girl at all? Well, according to him, he has now found himself a ‘proper girl’, and he’s absolutely besotted. ‘You’ve got to meet her,’ he came running down the street at me. ‘Her name is Leonora, and she’s so good looking, it’s unbelievable. And she really likes me!’ (I told him not to get too excited, because I know how easily excitement can turn to horror. But would he listen? Of course not.)

   ‘Good. I’m pleased for you.’ As always I did my best to humour him. ‘But don’t go rushing it or you’ll frighten her off.’

   He drooled and gabbled all the way down the street. ‘She’s got a friend,’ he said. ‘Her name’s Georgie and she’s looking for someone. We could all go out on a date. So? What d’you think?’

   I told him what I thought, in no uncertain terms. ‘You know what a frightening time I’ve been through…and am still going through,’ I reminded him, ‘so, what makes you think I need to mess my life up even more. I hope you’re not up to your old tricks again.’

   ‘What d’you mean?’ Dickie looked put out.

   ‘I mean…“she” is not a “he”…is she?’ I queried.

   Blushing bright crimson, he took the hump. ‘I knew you’d never let me live that down!’ he declared sulkily. ‘I’ll have to remember not to confide in you any more. Anyway you’re barking up the wrong tree as usual. Her name is really Georgina. They just call her Georgie for short.’

   We walked on in silence.

   Poppy was waiting for me as I got off the train. ‘Oh, Ben, I’m so excited. I’ve had a birth; six boys and a girl!’

   ‘Well done,’ I told her. ‘As you haven’t even got a boyfriend, that’s an amazing achievement.’

   She giggled in away that made me want to cuddle her. ‘No, silly! It’s Dizzy, the dog…she belongs to that old man who’s gone away for three weeks. He’s due back next Friday.’

   ‘Timed it well, didn’t he?’ It’s happened before. Some irresponsible owner lets the dog out; the local big boy cocks his leg over and before you know it, things are a stirring. The owner doesn’t want the mess and worry, so he dumps the pregnant bitch at the kennels and conveniently forgets to tell us there’s a happy event due any minute. Poppy protested, ‘we could see she was about to drop the puppies, but we couldn’t turn them away could we?’

   ‘Come on then.’ Spurring myself into a run, I went into the kennel and there, all curled up round their haggard mummy, was a clutch of the most darling little runts you can imagine. ‘I’m sorry, Poppy, but they’ll have to go!’ At times like this, I had to be hard.

   Poppy started wailing and crying. (A girl in floods of tears always turns me to jelly.)

   ‘All right, STOP THAT!’ That’s the way to treat them.

   ‘So, can we keep them then?’ She pleaded.

   ‘Absolutely not!’ I held firm.

   ‘Please?’

   ‘Oh, all right then. But only until the owner gets back. This is not a nursery. The old fox must have known she was about to drop a bundle, and he never said a word.’

   ‘He may not have known.’ Poppy can be so gullible at times.

   ‘Whether he knew or not, they’re here and we need him to collect them. Oh, and you can add another ten per cent onto the bill.’

   ‘But they’re not costing us anything!’ Poppy wailed.

   ‘Who’s the boss here?’ I demanded.

   There was a sniff. ‘You are.’

   ‘Too right. And I will not have these kennels being used as a nursery for randy animals. My answer is final, and that’s that.’

   ‘Don’t do it, Ben! He’s just an old pensioner, and that’s so cruel.’ I could see the tears welling again.

   ‘Oh, all right then…make it five per cent.’ What am I like?

   Something has got to change. It seems like I’m always painting myself into a corner.

   I have this theory that in order to assert my authority at work, I need to have a stable and worry free home life. And to do that, I need to start looking for a rented place. But because I can’t afford to do that on my own, I might need to find a flatmate.

   For one heart-stopping minute there, I thought of Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants.

   What a nightmare that would be!

   I think my mother has finally flipped.

   All day she couldn’t do enough for me. ‘Would you like another cup of tea, Ben darling?’

   ‘No, thanks all the same, Mother.’

   ‘Well, I made us a Madeira cake last night, how about a slice of that?’

   ‘I’m not hungry, Mother. That stew you made filled me up to the eyes. But thanks all the same.’

   ‘Right, well, I’m off to the shops now. I’ve seen a lovely blue shirt in Jackson’s window. I’ll buy it for you, shall I?’

   ‘I don’t need a shirt, Mother.’

   ‘Why not?’

   ‘Because I bought two new ones last week, don’t you remember? It was you who told me where to find the best bargains.’

   ‘Did I?’ She’s got this irritating habit of frantically scratching her head until her hair stands on end. She did it then, ‘I think you must be mistaken, dear.’

   ‘No, I’m not. Why don’t you ask Dad? He’ll tell you.’

   ‘Dad?’ Isn’t it strange how parents call each other Mum and Dad when they’ve got children? It’s like the kids have stolen their identity.

   That settles it! I am never going to have kids!

   My name is Ben. Not husband, or father or Dad. It’s Ben, and that’s that!

   Dad looked up from his beloved newspaper. ‘Yes, Mother, what is it?’ (Why does he call her his mother…she’s not his mother, she’s his wife. Has he forgotten her name, or what?)

   ‘Did I send our Ben to Jackson’s shop last week to buy two shirts?’ She demanded.

   ‘You did, yes.’ Dad sounded resigned.

   ‘Are you sure?’ Mum wasn’t about to let it go.

   ‘Positive.’ Came the reply.

   ‘I see!’ She gave me one of her looks. ‘All right! Well, if your father says it’s so, then I suppose it must be right. But I’ll buy you another shirt anyway. You can never have enough shirts.’ She punched father’s newspaper. ‘Isn’t that right?’

   ‘For pity’s sake!’ Dad complained. ‘Can’t a man read a paper in peace?’

   ‘I said…a man can never have enough shirts.’ What is wrong with the woman?

   ‘If you say so, dear.’ Dad knew when to give in.

   ‘I do.’ Mother smiled triumphantly.

   Dad settled himself in his chair. ‘Then that’s settled. Now, can I please read my paper?’

   ‘If you must!’

   At times like this, sharing a flat with Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants looks very tempting.

   I thought I deserved a lie in as I’d had a hard week at work. On Thursday, two cats almost tore each other to shreds when Poppy accidentally shut them in together. That same afternoon, young Simon took the Great Dane for a walk and it ran off with him. Simon ended up in the duck pond; the dog leaped into the baker’s back garden, flattened a hutch and sent the four rabbits into the undergrowth. He chased them down a hole, and it took three men two hours to retrieve them.

   And there’s more! By late afternoon, I’d actually finished extending the puppy run. When Agnes Dovecote arrived with her snappy Dachsund, she somehow managed to fall into the hole, which I’d dug in the wrong place and forgotten to cover. I always believed she was some kind of lady, but I must tell you, I have never heard such shocking language in all my life. After twisting her ankle and laddering her tights (more like flight-path balloons), the old biddy cunningly blackmailed me into letting her ‘darling toots’ have a fortnight’s stay at my expense (I didn’t know who to throttle first…the snappy Dachsund or the old cow!).

   And now, what with all that digging, there’s not one inch of my poor body that doesn’t ache.

   My Granny’s old alarm clock has taken on a life of its own. Mum should have binned it, but in her great wisdom she gave it to me instead! I’m sure it’s a form of torture.

   It’s now seven a.m. on Sunday morning. The damned thing is ringing and ringing and I can’t turn it off. I grabbed it, wrapped it in my shirt and stuffed it under the bedclothes. It was still ringing its head off, but you know what? The vibration was surprisingly pleasant.

   Just when I was getting ready to enjoy it, the damned thing stopped. Utter silence! But oh, what bliss! There I was, stretched out like some big, lazy dog with a belly full of best tripe. The curtains were shut; there was no one about. I could dream and laze, and there was not a soul in the whole wide world to disturb me.

   ‘BEN!’ It was my darling mother. ‘BEN, CAN YOU HEAR ME? GET YOUR LAZY ASS OUT OF THAT BED! IT’S NINE O’ CLOCK. TIME FOR SUNDAY MASS!’

   ‘I’M NOT GOING!’

   ‘WHY NOT?’

   ‘I’M SICK!’

   ‘DON’T GIVE ME THAT! I KNOW YOUR LITTLE GAME. YOU’VE NEVER LIKED GOING TO CHURCH, EVEN WHEN YOU WERE A LITTLE BOY!’

   ‘YOU DON’T UNDERSTAND!’ I was not going to let her win this time. ‘I REALLY AM ILL. I’VE BEEN UP HALF THE NIGHT, BRINGING UP MY DINNER.’

   The bedroom door was flung open and there she was, in all her glory: black hat, long black coat and looking for all the world like Darth Vader. ‘So, you’re ill are you?’ Gawd! She’s in my bedroom! Was there no peace in this crazy world?

   ‘Oh, Mam, leave me alone…I need my sleep.’ I groaned.

   ‘Is that so?’ She walked across the room and stood by my bed. It’s Hammer Horror all over again.

   ‘So you need your sleep, do you?’ She said quietly.

   ‘Yes, please.’ Am I pathetic or what?

   ‘So, you’ve been throwing up, have you?’ Even quieter.

   ‘Honestly, Mum, it was awful. Look, it might be best if you go without me. Let me get my rest, eh?’ Groaning, I slid under the covers. ‘I hurt all over, I really do.’

   ‘Do you now?’ Oh, God! I thought, She’s folded her arms. When my mother folds her arms, it’s war.

   ‘Please, Mum. I’ll make up for it next Sunday.’ I’m a past master at grovelling. ‘Next week, I promise to be up and dressed before you even come down for breakfast.’

   ‘So, you’ve had no sleep, you’ve been sick, and you hurt all over?’ She drew back the covers and looked me in the eye (it felt like my last moment on earth). ‘Is that the honest truth, Ben?’

   ‘Well of course it is! Do you think I’m making it all up?’ (One Christmas, I played Joseph at school; the drama teacher swore I had a future in acting.) ‘Ooh, Mum, I feel terrible.’

   I gave a rending groan and made a face like a stripped kipper. Shameful I know, but when confronted by the enemy, what can a man do?

   ‘Now, I’m not calling you a liar, son, but I can’t understand it.’ Mum had a look in her eye I didn’t like.

   ‘Why not?’

   ‘Because your poor father was ill most of the night with shocking wind. I had to get out of the room or faint from the smell. Anyway, I thought he might have woken you, what with all the noise and such. But you were so deep asleep, I didn’t have the heart to wake you.’

   ‘Shh, well…you see…’ (She was on to me.) ‘I must have just got back into bed…’ Give it up, Ben, I told myself. It’s too late; you’ve been well and truly rumbled.

   Her tight little face stretched into a sly, knowing smile that would frighten elephants. ‘You must be feeling better now,’ she said, ‘I’ll see you downstairs in ten minutes.’

   ‘I’M NOT GOING!’ That told her.

   ‘TEN MINUTES, BEN!’ That told me!

   ‘I’VE ALREADY SAID…I AM NOT GOING, AND THAT’S FINAL.’ End of! Not up for negotiation! Last word on the subject.

   With her good and told, and out of my hair, I sighed, and cuddled up with my Big Ted.

   I’ve done it! At long last I’ve put my foot down; both at home and at work, and not before time neither.

   What’s more, although I might live to regret it, I have definitely decided to broach the matter of sharing a flat with Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants. Though it will mean I’ll have to take on his hairy mongrel, whose wind problem is almost as frightening as my father’s.

   The day seemed to have ended as well as expected.

   The church was cold as usual. I warbled through two hymns I’d never even heard of, but when the organ struck up All Things Bright and Beautiful, I sang my heart out with the best of them.

   The collection box got me on the way out. I only had two pence, which I threw in with a grand gesture. ‘Thank you, sir,’ the verger tucked the coin back into my hand, ‘I think you need it more than we do.’ I was miffed. What real man wears a skirt anyway!

   As I slunk out, I felt a sharp pinch on the back of my leg. ‘You’re a mean bugger, you are!’

   If he wasn’t just three feet high, and sucking a sticky dummy, I might have smacked him one. (Though I did manage to stamp craftily on his foot. It did my heart good to see the shock on his little pink face.)

   Ah well, happy days. Tomorrow has to be an improvement. Doesn’t it?

   Well here we are, diary. After all the doubts and aggravation, today’s the day, and I really hope I’m not about to make the biggest mistake of my entire life (though, Lord knows, I’ve made enough mistakes already to sink a battleship!).

   I’m sitting on the edge of my bed, with my head in hands and all my pitiful worldly possessions lying round me, consisting of: four pairs of plain brown socks, two ties—one formal for unexpected events, and one bright green with a motif of Donald Duck in the corner. Then there are seven pairs of yellow and blue spotted underpants from Marks and Sparks (Laura bought me those two weeks before she threw me out—is it any wonder our sex life took a nosedive!).

   Fraying at the elbow, my black Travolta bomber jacket was lying crumpled on the floor; beside it was a blue windjammer depicting a skier in action; there are my favourite baggy jeans; two pairs of serviceable trousers for work, and my one and only suit for unexpected formal events (which so far number two in total—one was for an aunt’s funeral, and the other ever ready for when the virtual owner of the kennels pays a flying visit, to check that his business is not being run into the ground).

   Then there are the usual man’s things, like a baseball cap, an unused cricket bat, a pair of dodgy sunglasses from House of Fraser, oh and a packet of extra-size condoms for unexpected emergencies (also never used how pitiful is that?).

   ‘How can you be so ungrateful?’ The door was flung open and there she was—every sane man’s worst nightmare! ‘I hope you know you’re breaking my heart.’

   ‘Oh, Mam! Don’t start all that again!’ Her eyes were redraw from crying, and she was wringing her hands together like she had my neck between them. ‘It’s no use, Mum.’ Oh yes, I can be heartless when tried, ‘I’m leaving and that’s that!’ Before she could persuade me to stay, I began throwing my things into a bag like the ship was going down!

   ‘Oh, Ben, after what I’ve done for you, I honestly don’t know how you can up and away like this.’ She was so close I could feel the fire of her breath down the back of my shirt collar. ‘I took you in when that witch of a wife threw you out. I’ve loved you and cherished you. I’ve washed your dirty socks and made sure you never go to work without your lunch pack, and when you had the flu, I sat by you day and night and held your hand. I’m your mother, for heaven’s sake. You can’t leave me here with your dad!’

   A huge surge of compassion made me forget all the bad things, ‘Aw, Mum, I’m sorry, I really am. I know you sat with me when I was ill, and I know you washed my dirty socks, and I’ll always be grateful to you for taking me back when I had nowhere else to go. And you will never know what it meant to me when you lovingly packed my lunch.’

   I tried not to let her see how badly my life had been affected by these things, ‘I promise you this, Mum…if I live to be a hundred I will never forget what you did.’

   ‘There you are, y’see!’ (She was so puffed with pride I hadn’t the heart to burst her bubble.) ‘Nobody can say I haven’t been a model mother.’

   Drawing myself up to my full height, I placed my hands tenderly on her lardy shoulders, and smiling into her pea-like eyes, I tried to soften the blow of my imminent departure. ‘Look, Mum, I know it’s hard for you…oh, and me of course. But I’m not a little boy any more. It’s time I moved on…don’t you think?’

   I swear to God I didn’t see it coming. She smiled at me, then before I could scream for help, she had me against the wall, her hands at my throat, ‘YOU’RE NOT GOING ANYWHERE!’ I could have yelled for my father, but something told me he was probably lying downstairs with his head caved in.

   ‘Let go of me!’ I gurgled, (though it wasn’t easy with her shovel-like hands flattening my windpipe). ‘I promise…I’ll come back and visit!’

   ‘Oh, no you don’t! I’m not falling for that old lie! (When she smiled that smile, I knew I had to escape or die.) ‘You’re a liar, just like your useless father. You say you’ll come back and visit, but I know you won’t! I’m sorry, Ben. I did not want it to come to this, but you have to understand. Y’see you are my one and only child, and I can never allow you to leave this house.’

   She waggled a key in front of my face, ‘I would not be doing my duty as a mother, if I let you leave! You’re too vulnerable. People take advantage of you. Look at the way Laura treated you! And look at that slip of a girl…what’s her name…Poppy? One of these fine days she’ll have the pants off you and there’ll be a child on the way, you see if I’m not right. Then she’ll leave you and I’ll have to pick up the pieces as usual. Oh, and what about this new idiot you seem to be hanging around with…what’s his name…oh, yes, Dickie Manse brains-in-his-pants. And why would a man get a nickname like that, eh?’ (When she winked one eye like that, she had a distinct look of Captain Pugwash.)

   Suddenly the sound of Dad’s voice calling her made her lose her grip and that was my chance, which I took like a true hero. ‘You come back here!’ she yelled as I grabbed my bag and ran. ‘I haven’t finished with you yet.’ As I half ran half fell down the stairs she was right behind me; it was like being trapped at the foot of an avalanche, like any minute she would fall on top of me and I’d never be seen again.

   ‘Leave me alone, Mum!’ The terror must have been etched on my face, because when I got to the bottom of the stairs my father leaped aside, shouting, ‘KEEP GOING, SON…IF YOU DON’T GET OUT NOW, YOU NEVER WILL!’

   As I ran out the door, my bag fell open and all my underpants fell out on to the pavement. ‘Somebody’s got a colourful ass, that’s for sure!’ That was grumpy old Bob from the corner house. Judging from his long, straggly beard and dirty overcoat, I wouldn’t be surprised if his underpants have never seen the light of day. (That’s if he wears any. Ooh! What a frightful image!)

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