Strictly Friends: 2013 365 Challenge #321

Our Strictly Friends

Our Strictly Friends

It’s been a laissez faire parenting Saturday today. The littlest Martin didn’t even make it out of his pyjamas. We had plans to go to the zoo, but the children were playing together beautifully. All it needed was for Mummy and Daddy to turn a blind eye to the trashing of the playroom, the teddies on the trampoline and the craft scattered all over the floor, and happiness was complete.

My brain was still fuzzy today, after a week of raging against my status as housewife, so I stumbled through making sure everyone was fed and the dog got a walk.

We had some stuff finishing on ebay, so the day was also about waiting for people to come and collect pieces of furniture (and me feeling gutted at the bargains they got!). A day of waiting is always restless and I was glad to get to bedtime.

Fab Paso Doble this evening (including Bon Jovi!)

Fab Paso Doble this evening (including Bon Jovi!)

And now the takeaway pizza is on its way (okay, I ran out of housewifeliness around 7.30pm) and Strictly is on the TV. It’s like a night in with friends.

Hubbie and I are big Strictly Come Dancing fans. Although I usually fall asleep during the Saturday show (hence why I’m writing this – to keep me awake, as they’re in Blackpool tonight) I still look forward to it all week. We also watch It Takes Two every evening during the week, when they catch up on the backstage gossip and training progress, and chat to famous Strictly fans.

Sometimes I read my book while the programme is on, happy to just have it on in the background. It’s like sitting quietly and listening to the family chatter (with the knowledge that the TV can be muted, unlike the children!) We have our favourites, hubbie and I, and we become armchair judges, despite both having two left feet.

Brilliant American Smooth

Brilliant American Smooth

The thing we love the most is watching the characters and couples grow on their dancing journey. The people we think we’ll love we come to hate, and the ones who don’t have the Strictly bug in the beginning start to blossom. And of course the judges and professional dancers are part of the family, as is Zoe Ball on It Takes Two, and the other presenters.

it probably says a lot about hubbie and I and our lack of a social life that a bunch of strangers on the TV feel like close friends.

It doesn’t matter. It’s the same as the books I read time and again because the characters have become part of my extended network of people that make me smile and feel happy. If friends are the family we choose for ourselves, then fictional (or TV) characters are the friends who can’t hurt us or let us down. It was all summed up nicely in a tweet I read this evening about one of mine and hubbie’s favourite television programmes, by decaffeiNATed nubbin: “SG1 has given me more than a tv show with amazing role models. It’s given me a family.”

Well said.


Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:


Claire clicked on the last slide and turned to face Conor, trying to gauge his reaction. He’d remained silent during her impromptu presentation, his attention on the screen rather than her. Her early confidence evaporated and she could feel the hot flush rising up her neck as it did when she felt out of her depth.

“Very good,” he said at last. “I like the angle. The Board won’t take it well, you understand. I can see you’ve tried to be diplomatic, but the pictures tell their own story. I guess just having a great place to visit isn’t enough anymore; it’s all in the window dressing.” He took a long gulp of his water and turned his head to stare out the window.

“People live their lives online these days. If there isn’t a website, or an app, or a gallery of pictures, it doesn’t really exist.” Claire closed the laptop with a gentle click and slid it back into her bag. The empty space on the table stretched between them.

Conor sighed. “You’re right, for sure. We don’t really do social media, as you call it. I’m not sure we have the budget for it. The same goes for glossy photographs and the like.”

“That’s where I come in,” Claire said brightly, glad to have something positive to offer. “I have contacts, and I’ve learned a significant amount myself, through doing the blog. As you say, it’s all window dressing, so it isn’t hard to change. It will take time. I can start straight away, if you like, rather than waiting to the end of the three months. I’m sure there are some quick wins. You could run a photography competition, for a start: people love showing off.”

There was gratitude in Conor’s eyes when he turned to face her, and it struck Claire anew how personally he took it. She couldn’t imagine loving a place that much.

Conor opened his mouth as if to add something more, then shut it abruptly as the waiter arrived with their food.


Scraping the last drop of sauce off her plate with a chunk of bread, Claire gave a contented sigh and smiled at Conor. “You were right, it was delicious. I think if I was based near here I’d be fat or broke within a fortnight.”

He laughed. Placing his own knife and fork neatly on the plate, he leant back in the chair and looked out the window. “There are definitely worst places to be. It reminds me of Dorset, although there are definite differences.”

He let the sun rest on his face, briefly closing his eyes against the light. When he opened them again, the change in their expression caused Claire to catch her breath. He sat forward, pushing his plate aside so he could rest his arms on the table.

“Claire, I–” he began, but his words were interrupted as Claire’s phone vibrated across the scrubbed pine surface.

With her heart in her mouth, Claire glared down at the black rectangle and silently cursed the terrible timing of the call. The flashing screen informed her it was Robert, and she stared unblinking at it, trying to work out what to do.

“Answer it,” Conor said with a shrug, sitting back in his chair again. When Claire looked up, she got the impression he was glad for the intervention.

“Yes?” Her voice cut like a whip as she connected the call.

“Claire, it’s Robert. I’m at the hostel. Bloody hell it’s in the middle of nowhere. I’m not staying the night; I need you to get here so I can catch my flight home. I can’t just leave the boys.”

Claire inhaled through her nose, controlling her temper with effort. “Robert, I thought you weren’t going to arrive for another hour. And what harm would it be to stay one night, get the boys settled in? I barely know them.” She glared out the window, watching a couple wandering arm in arm down the beach.

“I, er, well, I have to be back in Geneva. Sorry.”

The hesitation in his voice set Claire’s teeth on edge. “You’ve got a date, haven’t you? Admit it. You bastard.” Claire realised her voice was rising, and she turned her shoulder away from the staring customers.

“Is that why Francesca left?” she hissed. “Were you cheating on her? No, don’t tell me. We can talk when I get there. I’ll leave now.” She disconnected the call and turned to face Conor, her lip caught between her teeth. She tried to think of sufficient words of apology but none came.

“It’s okay, you have to go. Don’t sweat it.” His face had closed down again, and Claire felt tears of frustration building behind her eyes.

She gathered her things together, unsure whether the trembling in her knees was a result of anger at her brother or something else. As she hoisted her bag on her shoulder, Conor stood up and came round the table. He stood for a moment, arms hanging loosely at his sides. Emotions flickered across his face as if he was running through different things he might say.

“Don’t let your nephews run you ragged,” he said at last. “Remember you’re in charge.” He raised his mouth in a half smile, and his green eyes regained some of their sparkle.

She gave a nod and turned to go.

“And Claire?” he added, the words stopping her heart. She turned back, an eyebrow raised in question, trying to remain cool despite the staccato beat in her chest. The sun lit blonde highlights in his hair, and he had buried his hands in his pockets.

“I am sorry. About last weekend. I misread the signals and I was drunk, not that it’s any excuse.” He smiled a cheeky boy smile and extended his hand for Claire to shake.


She nodded and took his hand. His grip was firm and his skin felt warm and smooth. Tears pooled in the back of her throat. With a wave goodbye she ran from the room.