Sunshine, Spring Cleaning and Sandcastles: 2013 365 Challenge #62

Spring Cleaning: that's the playhouse roof done

Spring Cleaning: that’s the playhouse roof done

The sun came out today. Hurrah! How much better we all feel for some warmth on our skin and an afternoon spent in the garden?

Today was all about Spring Cleaning. The kids love playing with sprays and cloths so they cleaned windows, their scooters and the playhouse roof.

We have a sandpit in our decking so that was cleaned, removing leaves and other detritus, so the kids could use it. It’s in the shade but they didn’t care.

And even though it was sunny they still wanted to jump in Muddy Puddles so Mummy made one!

I thought I’d just post photos for the ‘top section’ today as it was so lovely and sunny, and the ‘Claire’ section is a bit of a whopper.

Getting the Sand Pit ready for Spring

Getting the Sand Pit ready for Spring

The Sand Pit is Open. Hurrah

The Sand Pit is Open. Hurrah

Spring Cleaning: Scooter washing

Spring Cleaning: Scooter washing

Spring Cleaning: Scooter washing

Spring Cleaning: Scooter washing

Impromptu Muddy Puddle

Impromptu Muddy Puddle

The sun is shining and my kids want a muddy puddle

The sun is out but my kids want a muddy puddle


Claire squinted at the overly bright lights and cursed her stupidity for the twentieth time.

“Remind me again why we spent twelve hours drinking cocktails?”

Josh muttered through closed lips, “’Cos you were trying to cheer me up? Or help me forget or something?”

“Did it work?” Claire scanned the Arrivals board and tried to ignore how the room span as she tilted her head upwards.

“I’ve forgotten most of last night, if that’s any good.”

“Not exactly. Have you figured out what you’re going to say?”

Josh shook his head then clutched at Claire’s arm and groaned. “Dunno. Did we talk about it? You were going to help me.”

“We talked a load of bollocks, I remember that much. Until happy hour at The Liar’s Club. Then it all goes hazy.”

Josh emitted a wet gurgling sound and Claire wondered if he was being sick. Then she realised he was laughing through his teeth. “I can’t believe you took me somewhere called the Liar’s Club. You’re one mean chick.”

“At least you’re laughing, even if you do sound like a blocked drain. They serve the best cocktails, that’s all.”

“I remember buckets of rum. And that Sheila you said was a fella. Looked like a chick to me.”

“You were too pissed to notice more than a magnificent pair. I distinctly remember an adam’s apple bobbing where it shouldn’t have been. Besides, chatting up anyone, male or female, the night before your wife and kids arrive is not a great plan in anyone’s book.”

Josh threw Claire a look that was part reproach, part remorse. His already pale face turned a shade greyer and he looked around the crowded hall. “Think I’m gonna chunder. Where are the gents?”

Claire quickly scanned the room and spotted the sign. She dragged Josh towards it, urging him not to redecorate the polished white floor. She could feel Josh shaking as she tugged on his arm and his face was becoming so pale it was translucent.

I wonder how much is hangover and how much is nerves. Maybe getting drunk was a bad idea. After twenty-four hours of flying the last thing Fiona needs is a husband giving off Brewery-Fumes. At least he’s clean and shaven.

She’d insisted on Josh making himself presentable before they left for the airport. Claire felt guilty enough about the hangover, although she had to admit the marching band doing drill practice in her head was happily drowning out thoughts of the imminent reunion and her part in it.

Josh emerged from the toilet looking sweaty and drained, but his eyes appeared less wild. When he spoke his voice was clearer. “Can we swing by the duty free? I think a spritz of aftershave might not be a bad idea.” Claire nodded and handed him a pack of mints and a bottle of water.


Claire stared at the gates and willed her stomach to behave. The tightening knots seemed to be causing the blood to pulse round her body in rapid and panicked bursts. She could feel her hands trembling and wished she could sit down. They had positioned themselves in view of the gate but far enough away that Claire could remain unseen once Fiona came through. She glanced to her left to see how Josh was holding up. He had stopped pacing and was standing with his arms tightly wrapped around his midriff, staring without blinking at the exit.

As Claire watched, his eyes dilated and his face grew rigid. Claire turned to see a woman come through the gates with a baby on her hip, pushing a trolley with her free hand. Two small children gripped the trolley, one either side. The woman looked tired but still very beautiful, with her dark chestnut hair brushed and hanging round her face. She scanned the waiting crowd in a continuous sweep until she saw Josh. Her mouth opened as if in greeting, then she continued to push the trolley towards him, not rushing or showing any other emotion.

Claire watched the woman approach and felt as if she was gazing in a mirror. Oh God. That’s why he tried to kiss me. I’m the image of his bloody wife. Charming.

Josh took one step towards Fiona then paused, his arms dropping to his sides. Claire drew back into the café behind her and prayed for invisibility. The children both saw Josh at the same time and let go of the trolley.

“Daddy, Daddy!” the eldest cried out as he ran towards Josh. He threw his arms around Josh’s legs. The younger child ran to her mother and hid behind her skirt. Claire could hear the grief-drenched cries of a distressed toddler.

Poor Josh. Claire saw tears streaming down his face. Please let his wife give him a better welcome.

Fiona came to stand in front of Josh and there was a pause as their eyes met. Then Josh leapt forwards and wrapped his arms around her, burying his face in her hair. Claire could see his shoulders heaving with sobs. The child on Fiona’s hip started to mew like an injured cat and Claire realised that the baby probably had no idea this man was her Daddy.

Claire was about to leave when Fiona looked over Josh’s shoulder and saw her watching. Her eyes widened with shock and what could only be anger. Claire could almost read her thoughts as she tried to work out who Claire was and what role she had played in her husband’s disappearance. Claire tried to communicate the truth: that she and Josh barely knew each other but would count themselves friends for life. That Josh needed his wife. That Claire felt a cavernous hole widening in her chest at the sight of their love.

She looked around for something to write on and spotted a napkin. Borrowing a pen off a man doing the crossword, Claire scribbled some words on the white square.

Josh loves you. Nothing happened between us or with any other woman. He’s hurting: he blames himself for the child’s death. Forgive him, help him forgive himself.


Looking at the swirling crowd of people, Claire tried to decide if she was brave enough to take the note over herself. What else to do with it? If this were a Victorian Novel I could give an urchin a shiny coin to deliver it for me. Her searching gaze caught sight of a familiar face and, with a jolt, the answer came to her. She hurried over, thanking the Universe for offering her a random event on this awful day.

“Charlie? Are you waiting for someone?”

“Why hello Miss Carleton. You here on business?”

Claire glanced down at her crumpled shirt and jeans and laughed. “Thankfully not. Just here to pick up a friend, only I’ve received an urgent call and I need to leave. Are you heading back into the city when you’ve collected your client?”

“I’ll be heading back on me tod, Miss; they haven’t turned up. I didn’t get no call but it seems they missed their flight.”

Claire beamed and thought the Universe really did come good sometimes.

“If I was to offer you beer money, could you take some good friends of mine anywhere they need to go?” She shone her widest smile at the driver.

He laughed. “For you? Of course.”

Claire fished in her purse for some money and handed it to Charlie. She gave him the note, praying he wouldn’t comment on the napkin it was written on. He merely took it, folded it once, and smiled a toothy smile. She pointed out Josh and Fiona, then thought of something.

“Damn. I don’t suppose you have car seats, do you?”

“As it happens I do, Miss. Two, at least. The lad’ll have to sit on a bag.”

“Charlie, you’re an angel.” She pecked him on the cheek, took one last look at the family tightly hugged together, then turned and strode away.


Burnt Mash: 2013 365 Challenge Day #30

Amber's 'paint your own tea set' gift. Spot the ones controlling mummy did

Amber’s ‘paint your own tea set’ gift. Spot the ones controlling mummy did

At 11.57 a.m. today my daughter was exactly 4 years old. She was also sick of birthday celebrations and even sobbed “I don’t know if I’m actually four or not” because we’ve been celebrating her 4th birthday since Sunday.

I have learned an important lesson about managing the amount of birthday stuff that happens. Although what the alternative is when a birthday falls on a week day I don’t know. I do have friends who manipulate when their child’s birthday is to suit them but, even though I’m not at all adverse to lying to my children, that is one lie I feel I would struggle to maintain.

(I heard a great story about a mother coming a cropper when her child started school and the teachers gave her a card and sang happy birthday when she didn’t know it was on that day.)

Indoor scootering... they want to go outside but I'm scared!

Indoor scootering… they want to go outside but I’m scared!

Anyway, the birthday is done. We spent the afternoon painting her ‘paint your own tea set’ and scootering around the kitchen. The last present has been given (and it was a great one – a doll that actually swims in water – thank you grandma and grandpa!). Tomorrow begins a new day.

As I write this post I am inhaling the scent of caramelised potatoes and carrots. Not because of some fancy dinner but because I burned the mash while my parents were here. I’m now trying to decide what to cook as well as what on earth I’m going to have happen to Claire this evening as I haven’t done any research today. I think it’s going to have to be something with her new Aussie friend.

Indoor scootering - a great way to burn off excess energy...

Indoor scootering – a great way to burn off excess energy…

I asked my husband last week what should happen to Claire next and he said “surely someone will hit on her?”

He said it with such confidence but I don’t remember anyone ever chatting me up when I travelled around New Zealand. Mind you I was suffering from panic attacks after coming off antidepressants so I probably didn’t give off a come-chat-me-up sort of vibe. I did have an incident with a hitchhiker but I’m saving that story for later on in Claire’s adventures!

My other task for this week is to pull together an electronic version of all the posts for January so I can have it available for people who want to catch up on the story. I’m struggling for a title, if anyone has any ideas. I’m toying with “Two-hundred steps home” because of the 200 YHA hostels and Claire’s journey but it’s a bit vague. I’ve never been any good at coming up with good titles. Any ideas gratefully received!


“Look, there’s Orion, although it’s upside-down of course. His sword’s pointing skyward, if you know what I mean?” Josh chuckled, the sound spilling out from somewhere deep in his throat. Claire didn’t understand his words but the swell of his laughter washed over her, resonating deep in her midriff.

They stood shoulder to shoulder gazing up at the glitter-strewn sky. It reminded Claire of something Sky might produce at school that would turn up in the post to Aunty Claire, dropping blue sparkles all over her cream carpet.

Standing in the freezing night beneath the myriad of stars Claire realised she had never truly seen the night sky before. In Manchester it was barely possible to distinguish the Big Dipper above the persistent glow of streetlights. Here, deep in the Kielder Forest, it was hard to see the dark of Space in between the sparkling specks of light. She felt like a child in awe of the sight above her.

Claire became aware of the gushing words filling her head and gave a mental shake. All this sky is making me poetic. Time for another G&T I think.

She turned to Josh, to tell him that it was time to go. His silence spread to fill the space around him as he gazed, rapt, at the display above his head. Claire shrugged and turned to stand alongside him again. There’s no real hurry I guess. He’s having fun and it took some effort to get here.

She thought about the skidding, spinning Skoda ride up the snow-strewn path and sighed. Halfway up the track she had stopped the car and made Josh drive, as much to stop his constant stream of advice as to soothe her tattered nerves. When they arrived at the Observatory it was to find that Public Viewing was cancelled due to the weather. Thankfully they were still able to access the decked areas and see the stars with the naked eye.

The word naked caught in Claire’s mind and she became aware, as if for the first time, of the man standing slightly too near her for comfort. She could feel Josh’s coat brushing hers, his woollen clad hands near hers on the railings. Her nostrils filled with the scent of cheap deodorant and cigarette smoke. Not smells that would normally have the kind of effect on her knees that they seemed to be having at that moment.

Josh was pointing out the constellations he knew, explaining which ones could be seen in Australia, upside-down of course, and which ones couldn’t.

“Did you know you can’t see the Pole Star if you’re as much as one degree over the equator? Amazing. We don’t have anything that fixed in the Southern Hemisphere although our stars are brighter, especially the Southern Cross.”

Claire turned so she could hear what Josh was saying without taking down her hood. It was freezing up on the observation deck. Josh glanced round at the movement and his words fell from his mouth and lay dead in the snow. He leaned forwards and raised a mitten-clad hand to Claire’s face.

Claire’s heart beat loudly but not as loud as the clamour filling her brain. What the hell? Oh God is he going to kiss me? I barely know him and he reeks of fags and oh crap it’s just too corny to snog the first Australian guy I meet. Isn’t that what all backpackers do?

Josh’s face came nearer, his breath steaming in the cold air, brushing warmth across Claire’s frozen face. Her eyes widened as the monologue shrilled loudly in her head. She was immobile with indecision. It would be awkward to turn away and avoid the kiss, but not as awkward as what might happen after they came together. The thoughts raced on, wondering if they would sleep together, wondering how that happened exactly if you were both staying in dorm rooms.

They don’t shag in dorms do they? With people trying to sleep all around them? Surely they get a double room? She wondered who ‘they’ were. Some alien species of traveling people? That’s me now, I’m a backpacker too.

Josh’s lips were almost at hers and still no plan of action had presented itself in her jumbled mind. His eyes were closed, a fact Claire found slightly disappointing. She couldn’t remember her first kiss with Michael – they were both too drunk – but she had some idea that first kisses were meant to happen with each of the people gazing longingly at the other until the moment when lips touched and fire exploded.

She felt the first brush of Josh’s lips against hers. They were rough and chapped, and his unshaven cheeks scratched her cold skin. His eyes flew open when she didn’t respond and he looked into her face then, his expression rueful but unabashed.

“Ah well, can’t blame a bloke for trying. You are very hot. Taken?”

He pulled away.

Claire remained still for a moment more as she processed events, unsure why she hadn’t responded. She had wanted to. Every part of her body was throbbing with the need to lose herself in someone’s kisses. Her traitorous brain, not for the first time, seemed to have taken over at the crucial moment.

“Um, no, not taken. Er, you just caught me by surprise that’s all.”

Josh grinned. “Ah, so I I’m free to try again at a better moment? Sweet.”

He turned back to face the stars as if they’d been discussing where to meet for lunch. Claire swallowed, her throat dry, and tried to detangle her jumbled thoughts.

Great, that’s all I need, another bloody complication. Oh Michael, where are you?

She turned and faced the night, seeking answers amongst the stars.