Snow. Again. 2013 365 Challenge #83

Snowman needed a friend

Snowman and friend

I’m beginning to wonder when winter is going to sod off. We’re two days into spring and in the middle of an arctic blizzard. I really hoped the kids wouldn’t want to go out in it this morning – hubbie isn’t well and I knew it would fall to me to don the snow trousers. Even my initial inability to find the kids’ snow-gear (I’d put it away for the spring, that was hopeful) didn’t dampen their enthusiasm.

Actually once I got out and settled into it I enjoyed our hour in the snow. I built my first proper snowman, by rolling the snow across the garden. Well, I’m sure I must have made one like that when I was a child but I don’t remember doing it as an adult.

Unfortunately our snowmen picked up dirt from the bare patches in the lawn so they look like they’ve been jumping in muddy puddles. We couldn’t get the carrots or eyes to stay in either, as the snow was melting as quickly as it fell. Bloomin British weather. Still, I think they look quite cute.

We coaxed the kids out to my parents’ after lunch in a need to escape the house. We were only going for an hour but Aaron fell asleep and Kung Fu Panda was on the TV. All it took was the offer of Fish & Chips for tea and we ended up staying until the kids’ bedtime. Now that’s what Saturdays are about. I just have to think of something interesting to happen to Claire (maybe it will snow again!) and I can go to bed. It’s been a long day.

This is how Saturdays should be spent

This is how Saturdays should be spent

First proper snowman

First proper snowman


“Checking out please.”

The man behind the desk looked up from his paper and smiled. “I wouldn’t love. Have yer looked outside this morning?”

“I’m sorry?”

“Heavy snow overnight. Roads are going to be murder. Best stay put for a night or two, wait fer it to clear. Happen it’ll be gone by Friday.”

“Friday? I have to be in Cambridgeshire by Thursday afternoon.” Claire felt fear twist in her gut. Ruth will kill me if I’m not there to pick Sky up after school finishes.

The man laughed, not unkindly but with genuine humour. “You’ll be lucky lass, unless that’s a flying car you’re holding the keys to.”

Claire thought about the Skoda parked out on the street. “Not flying, no, but it is Eastern European. It’s pretty handy at starting in bad weather.”

“Skoda is it? The little brown one? Starting’s not your problem. You’ll dance your rear-end into a hedge driving that, even with bricks under the bonnet. You got ballast?”

Not wanting to admit she had no idea what he was talking about, Claire pulled out her iPad and did a quick online search.

“Would I make it to Hartington Hall do you think?”

The man frowned, as if questioning why she wanted to leave.

“Oh, no,” Claire interjected swiftly. “Don’t take it personally. I’ve loved staying here. It’s just I only have a year to stay in all the YHA hostels and so far I’ve only managed twenty. I’m about to spend two weeks in just four or five hostels and it will put me way behind. I might get fired.” The words spilled out unstoppable and Claire felt the heat rise to her cheeks.

“Weeeell,” the man drew out the sound as he considered the barrage of words. “It’s nobbut eight miles from here but I couldn’t say if she’ll be passable. Gritter’s not been through, not that she’d have been much use. And they ’aint going to plough the back roads.” He stopped, seeming to register Claire’s disappointment. “Though the five-one-five will be clear. Shall I ring t’Hall, see what they think?”

Claire nodded and tried not to care about the look on the man’s face that suggested he feared for her sanity. Never mind that, I fear for my sanity. But I can’t be holed up in this tiny hostel for days. If I must be stuck I may as well tick another off the list. And Hartington Hall sounds like it might be less cabin-fever-inducing.

The man hung up the phone and faced Claire, his brows contracted. “Well, they’ve room and their roads ’aint too bad, but I still reckon you’re crazy to drive that tiny tub of yours in this muck.”

Claire remembered the last time she’d battled through the snow, on her way to Byrness, and wondered if she should just go back to bed. Her book called from deep in the rucksack and she could almost taste hot Earl Grey. As if sensing her wavering the man behind the desk shone a kindly smile. “Shall I just check you in for another night? We have room.”

Something about his face set Claire’s hackles rising. “No. I will not be defeated by the weather. Book me in to Hartington Hall. I’ll get there if I have to walk.”


Birthdays and (dare I say it) boredom… and 2013 365 Challenge #29

Card painting: the first painting I've done in over a year

Card painting: the first abstract painting I’ve done in over a year

As you read this it is (finally) my daughter’s fourth birthday. I’m writing the night before, as usual, and I have no words again. It’s been a long week.

Granddad came over for dinner this evening, so Amber had more gifts to open.She was overwhelmed after a long day at nursery and my poor son was bereft, even though I wrapped a few toys so he also had something to open. He didn’t even register what was under the wrapping so, after he went to bed, I wrapped a few more things from the playroom. Hopefully that will help tomorrow when Amber opens her final gifts. This birthday has lasted longer than Christmas! Although, as her labour lasted 32 hours, I guess that’s fairly appropriate.

I’ve also been painting today, for the first time since my solo exhibition over a year ago. It felt odd. It also reminded me why I haven’t painted in more than twelve months: I was cooking lunch for hubbie and it went cold while I tried to fix something that had gone wrong in the first painting. That’s the thing with the style of work I do – once you start you have to keep going until it’s finished or the acrylic dries funny. In the end hubbie had to tear the brush from my hand because I’d used some old paint which was full of dry bits and the painting was never going to come good. I finally managed to complete a batch ready to be cut up and stuck to card stock tomorrow. I have until Friday to get some Valentines Day cards to the Gallery. Nothing like a deadline!

I suspect Claire will have another quiet day today. This is the first time since the beginning of January that I’ve sat down at my laptop and thought bugger Claire I want to go watch TV. I have a fairly short attention span and I am finding it hard to think up a new situation for Claire every single day. Normally (for me) a first draft of a novel propels itself forward by its own momentum once I’ve got past the first ten or fifteen thousand words. Even though I have written 25,00 words about Claire so far this month, the challenge is starting to feel like writing a short story everyday. I loathe writing short stories.  If it only takes 30 days to build a habit this should be second nature by now. Some people say it take 60 days in which case I’m half way there. Just keep typing, just keep typing…

I did manage to get some research done this morning but not enough for a detailed post so I think it’s time Claire met someone to talk to. I am enjoying travelling around the North East via my laptop (even if I’m not enjoying thinking what to write about every twenty-four hours) but it’s almost as time-consuming as going there in person! Whose crazy idea was this postaday lark?


“G’day, you need a hand?”

Claire ducked out from under the bonnet to find a tanned face full of teeth grinning at her.

“Car bust?”

“What?” Claire looked bewildered for a moment before realisation dawned. “Oh, no, I haven’t broken down. The engine’s at the other end. I’m just getting my boots out. They were wet so I put them in here instead of in the car. The carpets might be old and mouldy but I don’t want them stinking of damp or getting my bag soggy.”

She stopped speaking as she realised the words were rushing out in a torrent. As it was only half an hour’s drive from Byrness to Kielder Claire had decided to take a detour to the nearest town in search of coffee. She had arrived in Hawick in time for lunch and had lost a pleasant hour or two in Turnbulls. As she knew the Kielder Hostel reception wouldn’t open until 5pm she went on to another café bookshop and happily immersed herself in other people’s lives until it was late enough to head to Kielder. As a result she hadn’t spoken to anyone since her phone-call to Julia that morning. It seemed words built up like water behind a fallen tree if you didn’t use them.

Claire looked at the man to judge his reaction to her verbal diarrhoea. He didn’t seem fazed by it. He wandered closer and peered under the bonnet as if to confirm that there was, in fact, no engine there.

“I might be a girl but I do know what an engine looks like.” Claire’s voice came out sharper than intended. The man looked up and smiled again, and Claire was struck by how attractive he was. Something throbbed inside her and she looked down at her boots as if hoping they would fill the awkward gap in conversation. Brushing her hair behind her ears Claire reached in and retrieved the still-wet snow-boots. She tied the laces together and threw them over her shoulder where her rucksack was already in place.

The stranger stood up and dug his hands into his pockets. “You staying here?”

Claire swallowed a giggle and looked around the emptiness that surrounded them. “Oh have I missed the five-star spa resort?”

The man grinned as if to acknowledge his obvious question. “Name’s Josh. I’ve been here a while, you want me to show you around?”

Is he hitting on me? Claire couldn’t tell. It had been a long time since anyone had chatted her up. Apart from Mike from Accounts and that didn’t really count as she had initiated that particular conversation, more fool her. Deciding it didn’t really matter if Josh was interested or not Claire slammed the bonnet down and followed her new Aussie friend into the hostel.

Claire had been prepared for the remoteness of the hostel, after reading the information on the website. She knew, for example, that the nearest shop was 17 miles away. What she hadn’t noticed was that, all covered in snow, the place resembled a ski resort. It was comforting even though they weren’t in the mountains. Maybe I can pretend it is a five-star hotel, especially if it looks as smart on the inside as Byrness did.

After she had been shown to her dorm and had a chance to take in the wooden bunks and multi-coloured duvets Claire dismissed the similarities to a ski chalet. Never mind. Josh has promised to take care of me. She took out her least-creased top and her make-up bag. A dab of mascara, a spritz of perfume and she was ready.

Back in the lobby she looked at Josh askance. He was wrapped up in winter woollies including a giant hand-knitted bobble hat and scarf set that looked like it was a Christmas gift from his Gran.

“Um, are we going out? I thought there was nothing to do round here?”

“Have you looked out at the night’s sky? It’s a beaut. Be criminal not to get ourselves to the observatory on a night like this. Skedaddle back to your room for your coat or you’ll freeze.”

“What observatory?” Claire’s mind struggled to catch up. She was tired and hungry and wanted dinner and maybe a gin and tonic if that was possible.

“It’s about a mile away. Come on. Public viewing is from 8pm and it’ll take a while to walk there.”

Claire weighed up the merits of eating dinner alone or accompanying her handsome new friend to look at dots of burning gas in the sky. She looked at her watch. “It’s only 7pm. Why don’t we eat first then I’ll drive us up to your observatory thing if it’s so important. It’s too bloody cold to walk.”

“You beaut, that’s a bonza idea!” He pulled off his hat and beckoned Claire to follow him to the dining room.

Claire felt like a leaf that had just been blown by a gust of wind into a swollen river.


P.S. Apologies to any Australians – it’s a terrible mimicry of an Aussie speaking. What can I say, I’m tired!

Post Party Blues and 2013 365 Challenge Day #28

The Jungle Party was a success

The Jungle Party was a success

Everyone is sad and jaded this morning. Husband has a second-interview tomorrow and no energy to spend on learning his competency-based answers. I’m behind on my post and can’t keep my eyes open, and I left two crying children at nursery which always breaks my heart a little bit.

I phoned ten minutes later to check they’re okay and Amber had been let into her brother’s room to give him a cuddle. I love that they look out for each other and are a comfort to each other. I must work hard today to make up for their sadness. I do wonder how my daughter will cope with going to school every day in September. She does so love being at home, particularly since Daddy has been home too. Let’s hope his interview goes well.

Party Girl in the Zebra mask she made as part of the craft activity

Party Girl in the Zebra mask she made as part of the craft activity

The party was amazing but we were all exhausted afterwards. The only problem with having it in the morning was surviving until bedtime. And my daughter’s birthday isn’t actually until tomorrow so there are still visits from grandparents and more gifts to come. It’s overwhelming for children even though we’ve tried to keep it as calm as possible. It’s tough on the little one, too, as he doesn’t really understand the gifts aren’t for him. Especially so close to Christmas when they both got presents. So I’m going to get him a little something today so he has a toy to play with tomorrow.

The tightrope walk of parenthood!

My daughter told me this morning (after I lost my temper at their constant whining about not wanting to go to nursery) that she wanted a different Mummy rather than me. Husband was horrified:

“Mummy gave you an amazing party this weekend, aren’t you grateful for that?”

I just shrugged and said, “But that’s my job.”

The Jungle Party Room

The Jungle Party Room

If she doesn’t hate me from time to time I’m probably not doing my job properly. I love her, I want her to be happy but I also want her to grow up knowing the balance between times when she is the centre of everything and times when the world gets on and she must fit in.

I want to be her friend but first and foremost I’m her Mum. The two are not always the same thing.

Anyway, I’m late with the post because I had no words by bedtime last night. I have twelve minutes to post pictures and write something about Claire. Might be a bit of 200-word flash fiction today. I’ve been reading some great Flash Fiction over on the Apprentice, Never Master blog and it’s a skill I don’t currently have.

And then I have to make a dozen Valentines Day cards for the Gallery, buy Amber a gift from her brother, wrap all the presents and make dinner for Grandad’s arrival this evening. I might not earn a wage but it still feels like work to me!


“Julia? It’s Claire. Don’t bother: I know Carl’s in an end-of-the-world summit in Timbuktu and can’t be reached. I don’t want to talk to him, I just want to pass on a message, seeing as that’s his preferred method of communication. You tell him it will take more than his sister’s friend’s stupid husband to make me quit my assignment. If Carl wants to fire me he’ll have to do it in person. Until he grows a pair and tells me to my face that I’m no longer required I will do the job he is paying me to do. That’s all.”

Claire hung up the phone and grinned. An unfamiliar surge of liberation flooded through her, starting in her chest and spreading out down to her fingertips. She pictured Julia’s face as she listened to the diatribe pouring down the phone, imagining the perfect cherry-red O in the middle of her flawlessly made-up face. Glancing in the mirror on the back of her phone Claire realised with a start that she hadn’t put make up on for two days. And she didn’t care. Who is there to impress out her in the sticks? She stroked her face. It felt clean and smooth, like it could breathe. I don’t remember the last time I went out in public without slap.

The sun shone on the while walls of the Byrness hostel as Claire loaded her things into the car ready to drive to Kielder. She looked at the building with more fondness than she could have imagined two days earlier. Settling into the icy seat Claire pulled on her gloves before touching the freezing steering wheel. She tugged the choke, gave the car a pat of encouragement and checked the Sat Nav instructions. Her heart felt buoyant as she poked around for a gear and drove away.


Jungle-Party-Eve and 2013 Challenge #27

This was me around four years ago, before this parenting adventure really began

This was me around four years ago, before this parenting adventure really began

It’s the night before the Jungle Party and right now I’m hoping my little girl feels better, as she’s been pale and poorly all day. Are you sick of hearing about the party? I’m a bit tired of it if I’m honest. It’s definitely been worth it though. My daughter is thrilled with her helium zebras and the room is going to look amazing – pictures tomorrow when everything is up and in place.

Understandably there wasn’t any research today. I have done about eight hours’ cleaning just to get my house ready for strangers. I’m not someone who does cleaning on a regular basis. I prefer to do a major blitz every few weeks, usually when we have visitors coming. Sometimes we invite the father-in-law over just to force us to clean and de-clutter.

The clock says it’s about an hour to bedtime. We still have wall hangings to put up, the kitchen work-tops and floor to clean and I should probably be making egg mayonnaise too but I think that will have to wait until the morning.

I had a moment of terror today when a friend of mine turned up with her daughter just after eleven. Poor lady had the wrong day for the party. She’d done her daughter’s hair and everything. My heart bled for her, after I’d recovered from the horror that it was me who had the wrong day. It wouldn’t be the first time. I make a habit of getting the wrong time or day for everything from doctors appointments to kids parties. My phone is my friend, and if it’s not in there as a meeting chances are I won’t make it.

At the end of the month I’ll be pulling all of January’s instalments into an e-book or pdf for anyone who wants to catch up without reading all the daily family chit-chat. I just have to decide whether to charge for it or have it on the site as a free download. I’m not out to make money (not off this book anyway!) but it might be interesting to see if anyone actually buys it. Anyway, on to Claire’s exploits.


Claire tried to roll over to see what time it was and let out a wail of pain. She felt as if she had been slam-dunked by a twenty-stone bruiser. Time check could wait: still was best. If she stayed completely motionless only certain parts of her hurt. Her feet, covered in blisters that had only revealed themselves when she had peeled off her snow boots. Her cheeks, wind-chapped and raw. Everything else was a dull ache until she used any one of the hundreds of screaming muscles, when agony shot through her like a five-year-old trying out acupuncture.

The evening before replayed in Claire’s mind. There had been a sense of camaraderie when they got back to the hostel. The host prepared hot drinks, took their clothes away to dry them and then served up a delicious meal. The five of them sat together discussing the day, with Fi showing photographs she had taken on her iPhone. Claire was amazed at her ability to use the camera in sub-zero temperatures but Fi explained, with a strange look in her eye, that she thought they might be important.

They’d all gone to bed early. The two couples were leaving in the morning to return to their day jobs and there wasn’t a television for them to veg in front of anyway. Claire thought she’d never get to sleep before nine o’clock and surprised herself by sinking into the bed and closing her eyes with no palpable effort. It felt good, as if her body had been doing what it was built to do. Maybe this hiking lark isn’t so bad after all.

That was then. Now, as the sun came up, Claire happily cursed every deity that deigned to come within earshot. She had never experienced so much pain, not even after a brutal spinning session or an all-night-rave.

There was a scrape at the door and Claire turned her head to face it. She couldn’t find the energy to speak, never mind get up and answer it. Go away, she thought silently. I have no desire to see any of my torturers this morning. Go back to your happy, healthy, over-fulfilled lives and leave me to die in peace.

The scratching sound came again. Cursing her visitor’s inability to understand the silent command, Claire opened her paper-dry lips and croaked, “yes?”

“It’s Fi, can I come in?”

Fi. What the hell does she want? Come to gloat? Curiosity overcame ire and Claire called out, “Come in.” She flushed as she heard the weakness of her voice.

Fi’s head peered round the door and her brows contracted in concern at the sight of Claire in bed. “I’m so sorry, did I wake you? We’re off early I’m afraid.”

“No. I was awake. Just unable to move.”

Fi moved closer to the bed, her frown deepening. “Does it hurt? A hot shower and a gentle walk will help loosen off the muscles.” She smiled in sympathy. “I remember my first major hike. Jason dragged me over Scarfell in new boots. I had blisters on my blisters and my body felt like it had been filled with molten lead.”

“Yes.” Claire tried to nod and thought better of it. “That sounds about right.”

There was silence as the two girls watched each other warily. “I wanted to get your email address, so I could send you photos from yesterday.” Fi hesitated. “…for your blog.”

Claire sat up, then cried out as a dozen muscles protested the sudden movement. Her mouth opened but no words came. Her shock must have been obvious though because Fi blushed.

“I’m sorry. We should have come clean yesterday. I’m friends with your boss Carl’s sister on Facebook. When we put in our status update that we were staying in Byrness he said to look out for you. He asked us to goad you into hiking, as your blog was about healthy lifestyle but you weren’t leaving the hostels. I didn’t like it but Jason wanted to see if he could. You did really well especially if that was your first hike?”

The words all came out in a rush and, when she had finished, Fi stood and twisted her hands, staring out the window. Claire didn’t know where to start. She hadn’t heard from Carl once since her arrival in Berwick, despite calling several times and leaving messages with Julia. It made her skin itch to think of that snake discussing her with strangers. As for Jason dragging me on that infernal hike at Carl’s bidding. How dare he? Claire wanted to stalk out the room and find Jason so she could smack him in the face. Except it would hurt too much and Jason didn’t seem worth the extra pain.

“What will you do?”

Claire had forgotten Fi in her rage at Carl and Jason. Aside from being weak and silly and doing what her husband wanted, she hadn’t really done anything wrong. It was a good question. What should I do? Claire’s brain began to ache more than her thigh muscles as she tried to pick through her options.

“What would you do?” Claire looked up at Fi who was still standing by the bed. She thought about her situation, stuck in bed talking about her boss with a total stranger. She looked around at the sparse bedroom, the still-damp rucksack, the worried-looking lady, and began to laugh. It hurt her tummy muscles but she laughed anyway. It felt good. Fi looked shocked at first, as if Claire had snapped and had some sort of breakdown. Then she too began to giggle.

“I’d probably smack Jason in the face if he played a trick like that on me. Except I wouldn’t because I’m a wuss. I bet you could though. And that boss of yours. He sounds nothing like his sister, she’s a darling.”

Claire laughed harder and wiped at her streaming eyes. Eventually she had no more mirth left and she sank back into the pillows like a punctured balloon.

What should I do?

“Can you send me those pictures? If Carl wants outdoor pursuits, I’ll give him outdoors.”

Fi grinned and started tapping details into her phone. As she was leaving she turned back to face Claire.

“Piece of advice?”

“Of course, fire away.”

“Buy some hiking trousers.”

Claire grinned and nodded before sinking back into the protective hug of the bed.


My Wedding Dress and 2013 Challenge Day #24

Me and my bargain husband on our wedding day in Stamford, Lincs

Me and my bargain husband on our wedding day in Stamford, Lincs

In my Versatile Blogger post yesterday I mentioned my bargain husband and my red wedding dress. There was a request to see the dress and, as I need little excuse to show it off, I have included pictures in today’s post.

The dress deserves showcasing at any opportunity as it cost me some time and many pennies! I should never have tried it on in the dress agency in the first place because I knew I couldn’t afford it.

I spent months and months attempting to find a cheaper alternative (mostly on ebay) until, only weeks before the wedding, I decided it had to be this one (I wasn’t a precious bride, I promise you, it was just the thing that mattered to me. Only I didn’t have £1100). I contacted all the dress sellers that stocked it until I found someone who would offer me a significant discount, even with the extra cost to have it made express.

When I finally tried it on, I sobbed (much to the irritation of the snotty dress woman), because it wasn’t how I remembered it the last time I wore it, nearly a year before.

My gorgeous red silk wedding dress. I was a princess for a day

My gorgeous red silk wedding dress. I was a princess for a day

The original sample I tried on was huge and I thought it had a ballroom skirt. Actually it’s A-line. My mother saved the day by putting rucks into it so I could fit a huge net underneath. We had to fight with the dress lady to stop her hemming it, so there would be enough material to cover the white underskirt. I also sewed straps onto the boddice because I’m not a strapless sort of girl. My ‘wedding shoes’ were tatty, clumpy black mules because a) there was no money left and b) you couldn’t see them under the dress, so why not be comfortable?

Anyway, apologies, that’s probably really boring unless you’re about to get married (Anushka, I hope your dress is proving less stressful!). I still have the dress in the cupboard although I never paid to have it cleaned so it’s probably rotting from the goose poo that covered the meadow where we had our pictures taken. I’m too scared to look. I tried the top on a few years ago and it fits better round a leg than my tum these days. But who knows, one day my daughter may wear it to her own fairy princess ball…

Back to Claire. I’m sorry if the story has lost some of its drive. I’ve reached the dreaded 20k-word dip. I need to sit and have a think about where my plot is going, but right now I’m immersed in Jungle party props, jungle cakes and party games. I’m also still waiting for my YHA membership to turn up in the post so I can get a guide-book. Maybe they know I’m writing about them and don’t want to send it to me…


“Really? A single room is cheaper than the dorm? … Yes! I mean, yes please can I book the single room. … Is there snow where you are? Sat Nav has me driving over some hills by the look of it. … Oh, okay. Thanks. I’ll see you soon.”

Claire hung up the phone and smiled. Her eyes felt heavy after a broken night and her ears still buzzed with the sound of drunken snoring that had droned on from the time the girls got in until she finally fled the room at 6am. But a quick search on the YHA website had revealed Byrness. The hostel wasn’t the nearest, but as the nearest was either Wooler – closed – or Mounthooley Bunkhouse – a remote shepherd’s cottage – the choice was simple. It helped that Byrness was more a B&B than a hostel, offering breakfast and dinner. And now, like an end-of-year bonus, they had a single room available that was cheaper than the dorm.

Maybe I won’t ring Carl and quit just yet.

Claire had stuffed all her things in her rucksack when she’d stalked from the room while the girls were still comatose. She’d had to wait in the chilly lounge for nearly two hours until she could hand back her key. By the time reception opened Claire had composed seven different resignation letters and was trying to decide on her favourite.

She had narrowed the choice down to three, one of which was a career-ending two-word sentence, when she heard movement behind reception and went to check out. She hoped there was someone new on the desk instead of the cheery man who had checked her in the day before. The gods, it seemed, were on their coffee break.

“Ah, good morning Ms Carleton. I hope you slept well.”

Claire wondered if his head tipped back like a puppet when he smiled that widely. The thought made her shudder.

“You can hope, if you like. It won’t make it true.”

“Oh? Nothing wrong I trust?” The man behind reception frowned much as someone might to a small child who had dropped their lollypop in a puddle.

“Nothing that a curfew wouldn’t fix.”

The man tilted his head and looked at Claire with innocent puzzlement. She found she didn’t have the energy to explain.

“I’m driving to Byrness today, will the snow affect me?”

“Depends what you’re driving. The roads don’t climb too high but they won’t be cleared except by traffic. Might be a bit hairy in places.”

Claire thought about the Skoda parked in the local car park. How it lost its rear end on a tiny patch of ice if she so much as touched the accelerator.

I want my all-wheel-drive Audi back. Maybe my luck will return and someone will have stolen the heap of junk in the night, though goodness knows why they would.

Weighing up the options of another night with the party girls and a tricky drive of forty miles through the snow Claire knew there was no decision to be made. How bad can it be?

“Thank you for the information. I’m sure I’ll be fine. I’m not in any hurry; their reception is open until 10am.”

“There isn’t much to do in Byrness, I wouldn’t rush.”

Claire sniggered internally, not wanting to offend the jolly man in front of her. Inside her mind the words Like there’s so much going on in this provincial hole fought to be heard.

“I have a good book, I’ll be fine.”

An hour later Claire cursed her blasé attitude to snow. The route might not climb but it had no shelter either. It marched across open land, without so much as a low hedge to prevent the snow icing the road like a wedding cake. Claire peered through the windscreen at the road ahead. All was white. The bonnet of the car, the road in front, the fields to either side. The only things telling her she was still on the road at all were the twin-tracks in front of her and the red line of the sat nav.

Please let them not be leading me to some random farm.

Ten o’clock had come and gone by the time Claire steered her skating car to the chequered flag of her Final Destination. She guided her four-wheeled sled into a side road and came gratefully to a stop. Her hands were shaking and her eyes itched with the strain of concentration. She barely noticed the cold or the numbness of her fingers but she could practically taste Earl Grey tea in the back of her throat.

Still everything was white. Claire forced her aching body to unbend and climb out of the car, cursing as her Helly Hansens sank into deep snow. It was only then that she took in her surroundings.

“What the…? That bastard!” Claire wasn’t sure if she meant Carl or the jolly receptionist. “There isn’t much to do in Byrness.” He could have told me it’s a ff-frigging string of ff-frigging cottages in the arse-end of n-nowhere.” She shivered and pulled her coat tighter around her. Wind whistled through the trees and swirled eddies in the snow.

Claire walked round to the front of the car and looked again, hoping to see a town or even a village hidden behind the row of houses in front of her. As she span a slow 360 all she could see were white houses, white snow-laden trees and the slow-moving traffic on the A68.

“Well, all I can say is they had better let me in. Ten o’clock reception or not, I am not sitting out in the car until 4pm.”

She glared at the row of houses and tried to distinguish which was the B&B. “Thank god I’ve got my own room. Surely only hikers, hippies and weirdoes choose to stay here in the middle of frigging winter.”

Claire clomped up the path to the front door and hammered on it with her glove-encased fist.