Chapter Twenty-Nine

Harriet is in her workshop holding a letter in her right hand, and a large black plastic box in her left hand. Monty Dog is watching with interest.


“Oh! What’s this crate?” Harriet said as she let Monty Dog out for his morning wee before breakfast. “Monty! Look, it is a recycling box, for all your paper food bags!” Harriet brought the black recycling box inside and read the leaflet that came with it. “Paper, card, glass, cans, plastic bottles. No food, plastic cartons, and other landfill rubbish. Same as Adam and Amanda’s recycling box, but for Thursday. You don’t know Adam and Amanda, do you, Monty. You’d like them, they are nice people.” Monty cocked his head and looked at Harriet. There were a lot of new words to learn and he wasn’t sure which were going to be important, but there was a new thing coming into the den to sniff at.
Harriet put the box down in the corner of the workshop by the door and put a few of the paper dog food bags into it. Monty had a sniff at the box and the bags in it and satisfied himself that it was only the bags, and not food, going in there.

The other new thing for Monty was that Mr Chow had arranged for some small trees to be planted in and around the garden railway. They were going in at the wrong time of the year but there was hope that with plenty of watering the trees would survive. Lockdown had really messed up the timing of so many jobs and sometimes things just had to be done as and when it was possible and not when it was ideal. Of course, Monty didn’t care as he now had trees to investigate, and help water! It also made the morning wee more interesting as there were more places to attend to.

With that Harriet and Monty Dog settled into a pandemic lockdown routine Harriet had time to think. Amanda was still struggling with caring for her Mum, Sybil, and though Harriet couldn’t help there it did make her think about her own Mum. She decided to try writing to her again.

<To: Mum
<Subject: Hello Mum.
Dear Mum,
I don’t know if you still access this email address but I don’t have any other way to contact you. This address isn’t bouncing back so I hope you are receiving my messages. I am well, and I am doing everything I can to not catch this Covid thing.
I wanted to check if you are ok, if you are safe. So many people have been hit hard with this Corona virus and I wanted to know if you are ok. I do still love you and miss you and want you to be well.
Things have changed a bit here for me. I’m not with Marie any more. I know you never liked me being with Marie, and I know you have your reasons for that and I didn’t, still don’t, agree with you about most of them, but you were right about one thing at least. She wasn’t good for me. You said she had me under a spell, well, it wasn’t quite a spell, she was just a complete control freak. I will spare you the details, but I finally had the strength to leave her last year. Adam (Do you remember Adam from school?) and his wife Amanda took me in for a while and helped me sort things out. I wanted to write then as I really needed you, and I needed to know that you would reply. And you hadn’t acknowledge any of my messages for years, so I didn’t write. I am sorry, I should have written anyway. Never mind that, I am not blaming you, and I understand why you are ignoring me, I just wish you wouldn’t, and could find a way to accept me as I am.
Anyway, I had gone back to college to study furniture making. I wrote to you about that when I started the course. I graduated just before Marie and I split up. I think that was the last straw for us. Since being on my own I have managed to rent a workshop and I have work coming in and a few projects on the go. I guess that means I am in business and self employed, though there isn’t much work at the moment. I have just finished a child sized laboratory bench and had it delivered to a client, that was a fun job, and I have some house doors to make for another client.
I also have a little sideline job, I am, well I was, cleaning the community centre for a couple hours each morning. A nice easy job that kept me afloat for a while before I got the workshop, but I am on furlough from that for now as they had to close for the pandemic. Hopefully I can get back to it when this pandemic has passed. It can’t be easy for Sarah, she manages the community centre, as there is no income to keep the place working for now. It was all rents for meeting space and conference rooms, and no one is able to book now.
Amanda’s Mum, Sybil, is very ill with cancer and had moved in with them before lockdown. Amanda was afraid that she wouldn’t be able to be with her Mum if lockdown was to go on for a long time. She was right, lockdown has been going on for ages now and if they didn’t move her in then Sybil would have been stuck on her own and at risk. You might have heard about all the problems in care homes and Amanda didn’t want to put her Mum in that position if she could help it. They need family time together now so I moved out into a bedsit over my workshop. So, now I have my own place and I have work. I can’t see any of my friends now but we do keep in touch.
I have also got a dog for company. Well, the dog got me to be honest. Monty Dog was an injured stray who found his way into my front garden. It looks like he was abused and abandoned, so I took him to the vets, and then adopted him. He is a lovely dog and I have no idea why someone would have treated him so badly. But he seems really happy here with me. And we can go for walks and he has the run of the gardens, front and back. Oh dear, I am making this place sound palatial! The workshop is a big square box with outbuildings attached at the side, and I live in a bedsit upstairs in what would have once been an office I think. There is a shower room, toilet, and a kitchenette. The front garden is a small courtyard with road access for deliveries, the back garden is the Landlord’s space where he has a small garden railway project. One of my work projects is building bits of the railway, buildings, scenery, that sort of thing. But it isn’t tied to renting the workshop as I get paid for that work if I do it, the landlord is just a client like anyone else. It keeps it simple.
It is nice here and I hope one day you will write back and maybe even visit, as I do miss you.
It isn’t all work either. I was able to hear the VaarkLife music festival from the balcony (fire escape) the other week, it was in a field just outside of town and I could almost see the stage from here. It made things seem a little more normal for a while, hearing people cheering and clapping, and enjoying the show. It was low numbers, tickets only thing, that’s why I stayed at home to watch it. It was also free online to discourage people from attending in person, I think it worked. Here’s the link if you want to check it out.
We also had a bit of an earthquake, well, more of a tremor really. I know Vaarklife was loud, but I don’t think it was ‘that’ loud to cause a tremor, haha. No major harm done here, a few slates fell off some houses, and the odd chimney pot. Some things fell off shelves here, and I found a crack in the back garden where the new patio seems to have settled away from the rest of the garden a bit. Nothing much at all and the landlord came and fixed it fairly quickly.
Anyway, Mum, I’m sorry this email is a bit all over the place, I wanted to try and tell you everything as I thought of it and remembered it. I really hope you are well, where ever you are at the moment. And I hope you are able to write back and let me know how you are doing and where you are now.
Love you,
Harriet xxx

Harriet clicked ‘send’ and hoped that there might get a reply this time. She used to email more frequently but over the years with no response it became less and less frequent. But Harriet persevered. Her Mum may have decided to ignore her daughter, but Harriet wasn’t going to ignore her Mum.


Fran was sitting in the kitchen, still in pyjamas and dressing gown, and was pouring milk into her cereal. She heard the familiar thump thump thump as Daisy came back down the stairs readying for work. “Morning Daisy!” Fran called out.

“Morning Fran, off to work in a mo…” Daisy had come down the stairs to sort out her work boots and was pulling on a second pair of socks in the hallway.

“How are you? You’ve been a bit quiet recently. You oh kay?

Daisy came into the kitchen carrying her boots. “Yeah, fine. No, not fine, I just don’t want to think about it. Work is a good distraction, for now.” Daisy sat down to pull her boots on and lace them up.

“Oh kay, as long as you know you can talk to me if you need to, no pressure. Have you got your lunch? Flask? Keys? Mask?”

“Flask! Nearly forgot, cheers.” Daisy picked up her flask of tea from the worktop and slipped it into the side pocket of her rucksack. “Right, I’ve got everything now.”

“Good. Have a good day at work, play nice, don’t do anything I wouldn’t do!” Fran joked.

“Ha! Half my job is stuff that you probably wouldn’t do!”

“I know! Well, I don’t, and I don’t know that I’d want to find out.” Fran grimaced at the thought of some of the stories Daisy had come home with about the ‘things’ found in the recycling boxes. “Anyway, I meant what I said before. If you want to talk I am here, locked down and not allowed out anywhere, but you know what I mean.”

“Thanks Fran,” Daisy’s shoulders sagged as she sighed. “No offence but I’m not ready to talk about it again yet, I just want to forget, if anything. But thanks, thank you for caring.”

“That’s oh kay. Come on, give us a hug and go to work” Fran held her arms out and the two women hugged. “Is this what it’s like being an old married couple? Or is that just American day time TV?”

“Don’t you go there!” Daisy put on a shocked face and pulled back.

“Oh, sorry, I just….”

“I mean, you’re nice and all, but you are just way too young for me!” Daisy, unable to keep a straight face, burst out laughing!

“You sod, Daisy! Now go to work and have a good time!” Fran pouted and then laughed as Daisy went out and closed the door.
Fran let the laugh linger for a while before returning to her cereal at the kitchen table. The flakes were soggy, and the milk warm. It didn’t look particularly appetising any more. Fran pushed the bowl to one side and put her hands around the gentle warmth of her mug of tea and sighed. Apart from the few days when she went out for a walk in the afternoons Fran hadn’t left the house. She knew that was as much her fault as it was lockdown rules, but with Daisy being out at work four days of the week, and busy with her research when she was at home, Fran was feeling very isolated and miserable. She really wanted to run down the street yelling and screaming and hugging people, and maybe even having sex once in a while. Fran had ended things with Stu when lock down started, Ingrid was right, it wasn’t going anywhere and there was no point hanging onto it. But, nevertheless, Fran missed company, any company. She was trying not to admit that she was just plain lonely. Daisy had been really good about it. She had even put her house hunting on hold so as not to leave Fran on her own completely. Ingrid was living with Jon, and they seemed really happy together. If things carried on as they were, Fran thought, Ingrid might not move back, why would she if she and Jon were happy together at his place. And at some point Daisy would be house hunting again and then she would move out too. Fran could only just afford the third of the rent she was paying when she was still working, but now things were really tight. Thankfully both Daisy and Ingrid were still paying their share of the rent, and Daisy was buying food for the two of them. Being on benefits sucked big time, but Fran had no choice. She couldn’t go out to work, she couldn’t work from home, the agencies had nothing she could do, or rather nothing she would want to do pandemic or not. Being idle was no fun, being idle and lonely was even worse. Being idle, lonely, and watching daytime TV was the absolute pits! She really began to empathise with people who were house bound and had no option for years, or decades, not just for a few months.

Fran really needed to do something, preferably free, that would keep her mind occupied. Daisy had her local history research, that now seemed like a good move to have something to get passionate about doing. Fran felt she needed a ‘passion’ to get lost in to pass the time. Maybe she should take another leaf from Daisy’s book and find a new career too, one that was less likely to leave her in the lurch, one she could do from home while Covid was still around, and one that she could expand outside as soon as she would be allowed.
Fran reached for her laptop to have a look at what other people were doing.

Some people have more talent and imagination in their little finger then I have in my whole body she thought as she passed the time watching videos online of a family singing songs with lyrics altered to be topical, a woman playing the characters in musicals in carefully edited videos, people making models and altering clothes. There also seemed to be a lot of people just showing off their hobbies.
“I wish I had a hobby worth showing off!” Fran sighed.

(Chapter 28 here)
(Chapter 30 here)

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