Short Story: Textual Awareness

Her fingers tapped away at the keyboard on her screen, a combination of concentration and amusement on her face. There was so much to do and so little time. The party was meant to be starting soon, and the invite had mentioned costumes, so that was another layer of concern. Concern, that was a good name, better than worry.

At least they had the car. They were meant to be gathering in a pub, so at least if it was a washout they could get some drinks and slip away. She wasn’t going to drink anyway, so at least her husband, friend to the birthday boy, could let his hair down for the evening if he wanted.

She looked around the hotel room and checked her reflection before heading down to the bar. Her husband was still bringing his case up from the car so he’d need some time to change. He’d decided to go as that character from Hitchhiker’s Guide, Arthur somebody, so a dressing gown and towel featured heavily in his near future – but she hoped there would be more than that. If nothing else it was cold out there, it was the end of February after all.

Her phone buzzed while she stood in the elevator, one of several conversations under way at the moment. There was one with hubby, another with the birthday boy’s wife, a work discussion, and of course her mother.

“We’ll be there in about an hour I think.” She wrote to their hostess. “Gav’s got to change, he got held up at work, but we’re both at the hotel now.” There was a quick response of a smiling emoji.

“I’ve headed to the bar. I’ve picked up something to wear under your costume and put it on the bed for you.” She sent to Gavin. She got a question mark response. She frowned and made her way to the bar.

“Go look on the bed. I’ve picked out something to wear tonight so you don’t freeze. You can’t come down to the pub just wearing a dressing gown.”

“Are you sure?”

“Absolutely, I’m in the bar, go put it on, get ready and meet me down here so we can head out for the night.” She put the phone down on the bar while she ordered an orange and soda, and saw the phone vibrate again.

“I’ve just got in, these things on the bed for me? Great, see you soon.” She read. A quick smile spread across her face, and then she frowned. The chat icon was different.

Her phone buzzed again, her work colleague Delia this time, with the icon of the person she’d just been texting. “Uh, I know we joke about me being your work wife, but I didn’t think we were moving to this level? Hope you haven’t broken into my house to leave nightwear out for me?”

Oh boy, this was going to make for an awkward first coffee in Monday…

So, Awesomeness Happened

It was my birthday on Friday, and it was a good excuse to let our hair down and party like the proverbial madmen. We’ve needed it. I’ve needed it. You may have noticed a distinct lack of writing the last few weeks, and that has been entirely down to finding it incredibly difficult to bring myself to do any blogging at all because of the ongoing stresses and deep anger of what this year has thrown at me and the people around me this year.

image

I could have used this blog to rage and rant, but I think you would all have found it getting rather boring pretty quickly. I don’t like airing dirty laundry in public either, taking the approach that anything posted here could be news front page copy at any time and biting my tongue accordingly. The discipline and honesty that comes with posting under my own name is both a challenge and headache sometimes.

So Lady M and I took this week off to do some decorating in the flat, have some downtime that didn’t involve solving other people’s crises, and do things that made us smile.

My birthday was on Friday, so after a sedate morning of gifts and wall painting, we headed up to central London and a real ale session in a pub not far from Euston station. We were later joined by Lady G for a few drinks, a wander across town to get food and then back to Maidment Towers for more gossip, a single malt or two and a binge watch of Netflix until about 3.30 in the morning.

Gloriously unaffected by any kind of hangover (I know, sickening), we dropped Lady G home, decorated some more, and then went to The Plough in the evening for a meal and a Wessex Pistols gig. In a sort of surprise move, Lady M had invited a motley crew to join us  including the Charleesi, the ex-Lady M, Lord Danger, Lady P, and friends old and new. The band sang Happy Birthday to me, we shouted abuse back, we all had a glorious time, and hats got stolen.

We also came up with some ideas for this year’s cosplays at MCM. Should be interesting…

So, all in all, an epic weekend that also included taking the Charleesi to see Deadpool, many new books, and finding something positive to write about for the first time in several weeks.

Now to keep the momentum going.

Back to The Smoke

We sheltered in a number of motorway services...
We sheltered in a number of motorway services…

So, we survived the downpour of Storm Desmond by basically being on high ground on the Cumbrian borders. It’s only really been today that I’ve looked at news sites and seen the havoc wreaked on places that I’d been planning to take the Ladies during the day.Our duvet day was therefore confirmed as the best possible solution to horrendous weather – nice to have that decision upheld even in hindsight. Still, it wasn’t all sitting and reading quietly. In the middle of the afternoon, we heard noises outside and had to investigate, if only by peering out the window.

It turned out that there had been a car rally planned in the truck park next to the hotel, but that was almost a complete washout too – with tricked out small cars trying to speed up and down an access road. We had heard one of them – a little Ford Fiesta with an out-sized exhaust that was definitely trying too hard. The driving instructor in his sticker-emblazoned car was more alarming for his inability to steer or to pick up any speed despite being in a Mondeo, and to be honest I can’t remember much of the other vehicles. As you can tell, it wasn’t quite a classic car rally.

joivy
Lady M as a Posh Poison Ivy

As for the party, well we might have been a bit more dressed up than some of the other guests, but I like to think we made up for it by being generally more glamourous than many people.

The general theme had been put forward as being generally around the 80s, and so there were a large number of UK editions of Thundercats comics spread on the tables, classic penny sweets on vinyl records, our Hostess (the Lady Pixie) dressed as She-Ra, and the Inimitable Hugh as Ripley from Aliens.

I have to say that his jumpsuit was fantastic, with all the right patches and loving attention to detail throughout the whole costume. We really must get him to a convention at some point. It’s just a shame that with his goatee and the massive curly wig he looked rather like a Fast Show incarnation from a Scouser remake of the film, and we kept expecting him to start telling everyone to “Calm down, Calm down!”

Lady P went to the Ball after all as Cinderella
Lady P went to the Ball after all as Cinderella

We had people dressed up as Pac-man and a couple of Ghosts (by the application of painted cardboard), a number of Beetlejuices, a Robert Smith (he, of The Cure), a Suggs, and a Ghostbuster complete with inflatable Proton Pack. My particular favourite was Lady Pixie’s younger sister, who wore a red hoodie, and a pair of handlebars and a basket with a miniature ET sitting in it hanging from a strap in front of her.

There was a degree of good-natured ribbing of us Southerners*, which was a good excuse for every anti-Yorkshire joke to then be pulled out by the Lancastrians. I apparently got a pass for having a Welsh background, even if it was still perilously close to France.

Knowing the weather was getting worse and we had a long drive in the morning, we didn’t stay until the bitter end – plus our assorted anxieties around not knowing many people there nagged at our heels a bit – and so we disappeared again into the night with the sounds of Men Without Hats’ Safety Dance ringing in our ears. It was that kind of night…

Good evening, I shall be your Death tonight...
Good evening, I shall be your Death tonight…

And the journey home was… well, motorways and more service stations and sudden cries of “I need the loo!” before we got home safe and sound, ready to do battle with the new week. Lady M continues to do battle with companies and bring them to their knees. Lady P has started a new job at Game, and I am a beacon of calm and serenity in the face of the public and new staff movements.**

At least the weather has calmed down back in the South, and is now merely freezing cold. Extra layers are becoming more than an option as I walk to work each day… Must be why I’ve applied for a couple of new jobs this week.

* well, of Lady P and I, Lady M is rather more Northern than they were.

**this statement may in fact be partially or wholly untrue and should be taken as at least an intention, no matter what wailing or gnashing of teeth may be detected.

 

Road Trip

And away…we…go…

I’m really glad we stuck to our guns and drove up to Darwen last night because the weather as we look out of our hotel room is awful. The big advantage for us is that the Travelodge, a Costa, several eating places, and a supermarket are all under the same roof, so we’ve unanimously decided to have a day of staying wrapped up in the warm: reading, writing and colouring books.

As Lady P said, all the essentials are here in one place, and with Lady M staving off the beginning of a migraine its as good an excuse as any 🙂

The Big Party

image

Lady M’s Saturday party was a huge success, thanks to the kindness and dedication of several people, and a willingness to really go for it on the costume side of things. For example, the Charleesi composed a Spotify playlist that the landlord agreed to play through his PA system. Between this list and a later one used by the pub, there was a huge amount of singing. Some of this has made its way onto social media.

Two of our guests (Lord and Lady H) arranged for a birthday cake and cupcakes to be made, based on Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy. The gasp from Lady M when we revealed them made all the subterfuge worth it. Lady P helped source decorations and stepped in to provide last minute transport for a couple of guests who might otherwise not have made it. My younger brother, Lord Demonic, entertained and kept the spirits and wine and beer flowing, and the pub served up a great buffet that both fed the troops and didn’t bankrupt me!

As for the costumes, well pretty much everyone threw themselves into the fray. We had an R2D2 and C3P0 couple, The Doctor, Merida, Ursula, Caitlin Snow (from The Flash), Arthur Dent (complete with towel), Jane Bond and her glamorous toyboy, Captain Jack Sparrow, a gangster, a couple of Bollywood stars, Clark Kent, and a survivor of the zombie apocalypse with more than a little bit of red on him.

The landlord and bar staff took it very much in their stride. Many of the regulars were extremely bemused. We all had a great time, and then went our separate ways.

It probably comes as no surprise that Sunday was very, very quiet…

The Morning After

Its hard to stay angry when your partner is hurting, even when its self inflicted. If i’m honest, there’s an element of schadenfreude this morning so I’ll leave it at that.

I’ve slept maybe three and a half hours and am in that quiet early morning haze that will probably resolve into fatigue just as I open the library doors to the public.

After work we’re heading over to a Mad Hatter’s tea party hosted by one of my brothers, and we’re taking along a mutual friend who I think will enjoy the whimsy and fit in with the dry humour of the occasion.

image

I shall be going as a somewhat disreputable and rakish take on the White Rabbit, arriving with a lady on each arm and prepared to drink my own body weight in caffeine, topped off with home made cakes.

And why not?

A Grand Weekend

So in between the pain and disruption caused by that small hospitalisation last week, we also had the weekend event that we were planning for my parents. My father is 70 this year, and my mother is 65 – so we had a bit of a think among ourselves about how we’d like to mark this year. The answer was to have a weekend where we could all gather together.

The venue that we picked was the Barton Grange Hotel, which is just outside Preston. The decision was mostly fuelled by my mum having mentioned that they had eaten at the Walled Garden (it’s restaurant) before, and that they had greatly enjoyed it. After a bit of back and forth, we got it all sorted, so I was looking forward to it immensely, despite the discomfort.

A sword hilted umbrella in an umbrella stand
One of the ways you can tell there’s a Maidment family gathering

Our journey had to start later than most while we waited for my daughter to come back from a holiday with her mum on the Isle of Wight, but we were fortunate with the traffic and made good time, punctuated by reports from those who had already arrived that they were enjoying themselves. As it was, we got there a little after ten pm and this was where the arrangement to book us all in to a small converted cottage on their grounds paid off. We were able to stay and chatter away with convivial drinks and snacks without worrying over much about disturbing anyone else. It really helped reproduce the long nights of, well just plain wittering to be honest, that is often a hallmark of when we all get together.

The breakfast in the morning was excellent – and this really allowed everyone to both fuel up and appreciate the quality of the hotel. As with every other aspect of the planning and execution of our stay, the staff were helpful without ever making us feel crowded. T’other half made use of the gym facilities while we all pootled around and then went our separate ways for a while.

half a pint of lager on a mahogany table
All very convivial

The big discovery of the day for us was the simple games room with a pool table. Lined with dark wood panels and split into smaller discrete areas, we basically had a very lazy day with drinks and endless games. My daughter and her cousin took the opportunity to squirrel themselves away back at her room so that they could do some writing and spend some girly time away from all the boring adults, so no one felt constrained to be in any one area. I think that’s part of what was so enjoyable. Despite it being a busy area, and with a wedding party arriving and starting to set up next door, we never felt under any rush or that anything was too much trouble.

By the time we came to the evening meal, I think it’s safe to say that we were all relaxed and looking forward to a grand experience. Although the bar’s lounge area was busy (full of people waiting for the wedding that was due to start at the same time as our meal), that soon emptied and we were invited to the large table set aside for us. One particularly nice feature was how they dealt with any superstition around the number of us seated that evening. There were thirteen of us booked in, so they also put on the table a small plush teddy bear called Igor – complete with a name badge naming him as our fourteenth guest. He was much admired and several people wanted to take him home.

Tim holding a teddy bear
Me with Igor, our 14th guest

The menu – wow, not only was the food perfectly executed and delivered with speed and charm, but the portions were good as well. I had some very spicy spring rolls for a starter, followed by an amazing grilled bacon steak, for lack of a better description. Pudding was one of the finest creme brulees I’ve tasted in a long time. A birthday cake provided through the hotel provided us with the opportunity to amaze, bemuse and even slightly embarrass both parents with an excuse to sing happy birthday at high volume at them.

A simple but very high quality cheeseboard allowed us to round off the evening gently and we all gradually drifted back to the cottage for post-prandial drinks and chatter.

It was a fantastic meal and we were all waddling slightly towards the end of it. I can’t praise the staff highly enough for the levels of service they gave us. They worked with me all the way from the first enquiry to allow the evening to go as smoothly as possible so that we didn’t even have any need to linger awkwardly and sort out the bills. This was because we’d already arranged to split the bills per room and prepaid much of it in advance. All that was left to do on checkout therefore was to sort out any drinks that had been charged to rooms – all very civilised…

I had to be somewhat abstemious – mainly because I was still needing to take strong painkillers. Even though I passed the stone quite soon after arrival, my body was definitely feeling aftershocks and pangs that were extremely uncomfortable – so I ended up drinking a lot of water and any other soft drinks I could get my hands on across the weekend. Even so – a great success and we’ll be going back at some point if only to eat next time we’re up there.