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THANK YOU WILTSHIRE

4 Dec

So, after five months, they tracked down Orlando – living wild and sleeping under a hedge – with a very kind gentleman feeding him snacks.     And they managed to catch him and bring him home!   He seems quite unfazed by his big adventure, has hardly stopped purring since he entered the house which is entirely new to him but in which he is very relaxed.    Amadeus took a couple of days to forgive him for his long absence but now they are back to being best pals and sleep in my bed again.   So now I can get on with my writing.

About time too!

 

DARTMOOR REVISITED

11 Jul

The architect said that I must move out because of the major structural work they were planning to do to my beautiful Kensington flat. They were knocking down walls and renewing the pipes, ripping up floorboards, opening up a skylight.   All I possessed had to go into store.   For six months minimum, possibly more, no-one could live in the place.   My immediate thought was a Tuscan villa for a lazy convivial summer with friends.   I had a book to complete and could use a break.  But the older cat was newly bereaved and the kitten had only just left its mother.   I couldn’t uproot them and take them abroad, nor would I dream of farming them out.    So instead I rented a house on Dartmoor where I hadn’t set foot and knew no-one at all, having never been even remotely attracted to rural life in the raw.   But it filled a gap and was worth a try.    Who knows, might even inspire another book.

Having always lived in the centre of towns I never needed to learn to drive.    Nor did I ever have kids to ferry around.  One thing learnt after six months there, Dartmoor without a car is a definite no-no.    The nearest shops were three miles away and local buses sporadic and rare.   My principal preoccupation was simply surviving.   In London I live in the centre of things with Marks & Spencer across the street, Waitrose close by and Tesco on the next block.  If I find, while cooking, there is something I lack, I simply turn down the gas and pop out.    Failing that, if it’s belting with rain or I’m halfway through Coronation Street, I have congenial neighbours on either side.

Not so on Dartmoor.   Acquiring food was a far more daunting manoeuvre.   It involved a rugged cross-country hike, wearing weatherproof jacket and sturdy shoes, down the overgrown path through the woods, across a field full of threatening cows, over a stream by means of a plank and into a farmyard defended by snarling dogs.  Then along the lane and over a stile and another plank bridge leading into more woods and from there a leisurely riverside stroll to a very steep hill leading finally up to the village.  All my shopping went into a backpack since I needed both hands to negotiate gates and thrash my way through waist-high nettles and bracken.    I made that round trip at least twice a week and again on Sundays to pick up the papers (which the friendly postman delivered the other six days.)    The entire expedition took over two hours though I pared down the time the fitter I got.   It also helped if I stopped for a drink before facing the mammoth trek home.

Wednesday was early closing day when the only shop open was the SPAR, a fact I found out the hard way in torrential rain.   Eventually, after I’d been there three months, news reached me of Tesco in Newton Abbot who would deliver the heavier stuff – cat food and litter, potatoes and booze – while I kept my faith with the market stalls for fresh produce.

My cats, who had only been indoor pets, adapted with ease to the outdoor life.   They bolted their food then scratched at the door and shot off into the wilderness, returning home for supper at six on the dot.   Though, being the pedigree creatures they are,  they still popped back to make use of the litter tray.

Time passed and I started to make new friends;   country people are, in the main, more convivial.    I visited local beauty spots and became quite a fixture in the pub.   I was also making progress with a new book.   A dribble of guests came down at weekends or met me in Exeter for extravagant lunches.   The journey there took almost an hour and the last bus home left at 5.15. When the clocks went back and the night closed in, I found myself too scared to venture outside. This wasn’t the city; there were no lights nor traffic clamour nor passersby.   Only the moor where the threatening gloom pulsated with sinister things.  Several times the power failed and once the phoneline was down for ten days.  When it rained the water seeped under the door and flooded the downstairs cloakroom.

Back home my flat was still full of builders, months after the promised completion date.   Two weeks off Christmas,  I finally put down my foot.   The romantic notions were long since fled.  The thought of a solitary winter down there appalled me.   I have lived alone most of my adult life, in solitary silence in order to write, but am still a social animal to the core.  My Kensington neighbours are a lively mix of international bankers and lawyers as well as the writers and publishing folk that are my more intimate friends.    We meet for drinks and occasional meals and generally socially inter-react.   The Albert Hall is just blocks away as well as Harrods and the major museums.   Buses stop right outside my front door;  the tube is across the street.

Dartmoor could not be more different.   The only sounds were the gale force winds, the rattle of hail on the windowpanes or the anguished screams that heralded sudden death.    I informed the builders I was moving back and a friend obligingly picked me up.   The flat was a tip but I didn’t care;  the only thing that mattered was that I was home.   It was warm and safe with its opened up rooms and panoramas across the roofs plus the heart-warming rumble of traffic from Kensington High Street.   The Christmas shoppers were out in force and the Barkers building  ablaze with light while a steel band belted out carols beneath my window.   Noisy but nice, a far cry from lonely Dartmoor.

I will never go back though they beg me to.   The cats may miss it but I do not.  Though I did get a another idea for a creepy book.

Image

ME AT WORK

20 Jun

ME AT WORK

NIGHT BUS

12 Apr

NIGHT BUS

Carol Smith

Late last night I saw Reggie again or glimpsed him from the side of my eye.  After what had  gone on, I was far too nervous to stare.   I was thoroughly shocked because of what happened before.  I had been into town for the theatre and he was already on the bus when I changed to the number 9 at Hyde Park Corner at ten past eleven.   He was in the place where he always sat, in the window seat on the right hand side, two seats back from where the rear doors open.   He looked very much as he always had, florid, still handsome and formally dressed with a starched white shirt and a hat balanced rakishly at a dashing angle.    I glanced at him quickly then ran up the stairs, too shaken to know what on earth I could say.   It has been a good few years since that night I have tried so hard to block out.

Reggie and Margot lived close to me, one street away from my mansion block, and although we could not be described as friends, over the years we developed an easy acquaintance.   She was always a bit of a feminist, a journalist with a questing mind, who must have been, at the top of her game, quite a beauty.  Reggie was something to do with wine of which he’d become quite a connoisseur.   A family business, I understood.  He always gave the impression of having old money. There were two daughters, now both grown up, and Margot worked on a magazine.   It was there, I believe, that she met her second husband

Raoul was Spanish and younger than her, about ten years if I’ve got it right.   Snake-hipped and dashing with smouldering eyes like a Flamenco dancer.   He was something creative in design and painted a bit on the side as well.  Nobody thought it could possibly last but, to their surprise, it apparently did.

Reggie was fairly annihilated when Margot suddenly upped and left;  just packed her bags and away she sped without a second thought for the man with whom she had spent her formative years, the father of her children.    They had always appeared such a well-matched pair, both bon viveurs with considerable style who shared a passion for entertaining their friends. They partied a lot in their spacious duplex, all part and parcel of Reggie’s career.   Wine importers have numerous perks on the side.

Perhaps too many.   He put on weight and his rosy glow deepened into a flush.   The lovebirds decamped to a town near Seville where they opened a bijou hotel to which their arty friends soon started  to trek like ants.   Margot continued her magazine job, just added “at large” to her masthead role, while Raoul became a hotelier, knocking off bullfighting sketches on the side.  Both of them faded from my life.   She was never much more than a social friend and couples divide their Christmas card lists when marriages hit the rocks.

Reggie stayed on in the neighbourhood though I heard he moved to a smaller flat.   It was also rumoured his business was in trouble.     He drank too much;  that had long been a fact.   The bon viveur had become a lush without his vigilant wife to rein him in.    Together they’d made an impressive pair but without her restraining influence he rapidly slid downhill.

I have often wondered what the daughters thought on the rare occasions they visited him.    Perhaps they considered he was no longer their problem.   Both married, I’ve heard, and moved away leaving their father to manage alone, able to do as he wished without being nagged.    In theory he should have been gratified to regain the lost freedom of his youth.   He was still, in his middle fifties, a handsome man.  On the rare times we met he would smile and nod, searching his mind as to who I could be.  No-one of any significance he assumed.

And then I ran into Margot again, outside the dress shop beneath my flat.   She had put on weight, it had been several years, but time had treated her kindly.  She had that sheen that goes with fulfilment as well as an excellent sex-life.   We waved, air-kissed and stopped for a chat though, goodness knows, we have little enough in common.   She was back, she explained, on a flying trip to cover the London Fashion Week. On impulse, I asked her up for a drink and she checked her watch and said:  “Why not?”   She was staying in Knightsbridge at that snobby hotel.   I sensed she was lonely.

Two hours later she checked again and expressed surprise, it had grown so late.

Eleven thirty;  she had to be up at the crack for a breakfast meeting.

“I’ll come down and see you into a cab.”   They are usually frequent but you never know and I didn’t want her waiting outside alone at that time of night.

One came quickly.  I helped her in with promises that she would come back soon and that I, should I ever set foot in Spain, would certainly be in touch.

“What fun!” we cried,  air-kissing again. Then, from across the street, came a stupefied cry.

A number 9 bus had just pulled in and out of it stepped, on unsteady feet, a familiar figure dressed in a shabby tuxedo and wearing a hat.

“Margot, my darling.   I knew you’d come back.”   He stretched out his arms like a drowning man, lurched forward towards her and stumbled in front of the bus.

I have seen him several times since then, at precisely that time stepping off the bus.    Close to, his dress shirt collar is frayed and the cheap tuxedo threadbare. The hat, which he always wears, conceals thinning hair.

“Margot,” he calls but she’ll never return, has fled the city as she did before.   The shock was so great it shattered her second marriage.

Last night, when the bus arrived at my stop, I hurried downstairs in a frantic attempt to be out of there before he could recognise me.    As the doors slid back and he rose to his feet I saw the pale stare of his unseeing eyes gazing into eternity, searching for his lost love.

I managed the crossing in record time and had reached my door when I heard the cry.

“Margot, my darling…”

After which, again, that appalling blood-curdling scream.

© Carol Smith 2008

WHOOPEEE!

30 Jan

At last my 13th Carol Smith title is on my site under my real name.    It was published pseudonymously (as  Alex Crowe) so that not even Waterstones knew it was me.   Corrected now, fans, so please scurry out there and read it.   And if you think it is not up to scratch, I wrote it in just 4 months.

DONE IT!

21 Jan

Well, it’s not quite finished yet but you get the picture.    And I am racing along with the new book which is set in Kensington again and kicks off with the Diamond Jubilee.    How patriotic is that!

NEW BEGINNINGS

9 Jan

New year, new prospects, new book almost done.    So time to update my website.    WATCH THIS SPACE.