Omar’s Diary for 27th December 2016

Bank holiday Sunday


I am afraid that I have been somewhat absent from the pages of social media lately. This is due to circumstances beyond my control. Man Servant, who loyally takes my dictation for these publications, had to undergo some surgery the week before Christmas. Since then he has been somewhat preoccupied with other matters; primarily returning to full health.

When Man Servant returned home from hospital he did look a sorry sight. Ashen coloured, hardly able to walk and very very sleepy. So sleepy that I think he out slept me over his first few days home. In addition to these sufferings Man Servant had also come home with an extension to his body. He had a thin clear pipe leading out from his waist that was connected to a clear plastic bag. This was not very nice to look at as it contained blood of varying hues. At first Man Servant carried it like a handbag. After a few days he started to tuck the bag and as much of the pipework into his jogging bottoms. Anyone could see there was a contraption hidden in his clothes but at least we could not see its contents.

Following his return from hospital Man Servant had a daily visit from a lady servant in a blue uniform. This seems remarkably unfair as I have been in feline hospital, private of course, and when I have been discharged I have never had home visits.

Christmas Day was very quiet but that is alright as we like things quiet in Omar Towers. Lady and Man Servant stayed around home for the day. I was given a new toy full of drugs to play with. This one lasted just over an hour before I managed to break it open and eat the contents. The manufacturers just do not make things to last like they used to. On Boxing Day Lady Servant went out for lunch with trainer servant and another servant. Man Servant did not look too well and elected to stay at home. I think he was very wise as it would have been most off putting for other diners if his bag and pipe fell out of his clothes. I also think that he really did not look very well either. Instead we settled down to watch the racing from Kempton Park. Needless to say every horse I chose failed to oblige so I am much relieved I did not publish any racing selections that day.

One afternoon Man Servant was upstairs on the bed when lady servant in blue arrived. I also was lying on the bed. She opened a small package which was packed with scissors, bandages and various other bits that all looked very mysterious. As she put on her rubber gloves, which matched her uniform she looked down at me.

‘I’m afraid the cat will have to be moved before I can do anything. He is within the infection zone.’

How polite of her to suggest I was at risk of contracting an infection from her or Man Servant. I stretched out to my full draft extruder Bank holiday Sundaylength and tried to return to sleep. I could feel the penetrating stare of the lady servant in blue penetrating my eyelids.

At this point Lady Servant entered the room and I must say was most unceremonious about the way she picked me up and bundled me out of the room. It was then that I realised that I was the infection risk. How rude of the lady servant in blue to even suggest that I could be a risk! And an itinerant servant at that!

My revenge on the servant species came later that night. I crawled into the servants’ bedroom and pulled myself up on to the bed. Man Servant was fast asleep on his back. The dreaded tube hung from under the covers and his bag hung on a drawer handle on his bedside cabinet. With stealth like qualities the special services would die for I worked my way on to Man Servant’s stomach exactly where his wounds were and the tube was attached. I watched him wince, grit his teeth and try to sit up and remove me. He couldn’t. He flumped back on to his pillows and winced a bit more. At this point I thought I had won but alas no. Man Servant turned on his side and of course as I am rather big, breed standard I hasten to add before anyone thinks I am obese, there was actually no-where comfortable for me to rest that would cause discomfort to Man Servant and I had to retreat to another position on the bed.

Today, Tuesday 27th December, Man Servant was visited by two lady servants in blue. They went straight upstairs where he and I were stretched out on the bed. Not wanting to be accused of being a potential source of infection I vacated the room and went downstairs to sit with Lady Servant. A few minutes later the two lady servants in blue came downstairs carrying a white plastic bag full of something. Presumably while they were upstairs they took the time and trouble to empty the waste bin in the office. After all, that is what servants are supposed to do. They were followed by Man Servant looking full of life and colour. He was wearing a pair of jeans and there were no bulges or pipes that I could see under his clothes. It only took me a couple of seconds to work out what was in the bag the lady servants in blue had brought down. They could have at least used a Waitrose bag.

That brings my diary up to date. Man Servant is recovering Lady Servant is coping and I am getting my three luxury meals a day plus random offerings of Dreamies so life is good. As Man Servant is making such good progress and as they say in some of the best circles when a person of class and distinction recovers from illness ‘There will be no further bulletins posted on the gates of Omar Towers.’

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Billy Connolly & Usain Bolt



For our Christmas entertainment in 2016 we bought two DVDs. One was ‘Billy Connolly Wild Horse Tour’ and the other one was ‘I Am Bolt’.

The first one we watched was the Billy Connolly one. He always makes me laugh and even though I was less than a week from having my gall bladder removed I was prepared to risk the integrity of the stitching and dressings during this ninety odd minutes. I don’t often take note of the critics’ comments that are bannered across the packaging of DVDs but there were two, in fact there were only two on the casing. The Guardian said ‘This show is not the work of a man with a diminished sense of humour – it’ classic Connolly culled from a 50-year career.’ That was a good omen. The Telegraph review said that ‘It’s no sentimental journey but business as usual, with the ease of a consummate story teller’. Another good omen that my stiches were at risk.

For those of who do not yet know, Billy Connolly has Parkinson’s and has been through treatment for prostate cancer.

It was brave of him to go on stage to perform and full marks to him for doing so. Yes, he still has an absolutely wicked sense of humour which illuminates his anecdotes from childhood in Glasgow through to his latest health issues. In fact, it is precisely those health issues and their associated anecdotes that are the best part of this stage show. He is candid about Parkinson’s and gets across a message about prostate cancer.

The show is definitely not the work of a man with ‘a diminished sense of humour’ and nor is he making a sentimental journey.

However, what I do feel is that the recording was just one performance too far. For those fans who wanted to see his usual energy, spontaneity with life and energy in his eyes I am afraid they have gone. If you want to remember Billy Connolly performing with all of those qualities summed up as ‘stagecraft’ then I would be very reluctant to recommend this DVD.

Billy Connolly now lives in New York and I can’t help feel for him as his progression through Parkinson’s continues. I have a favourite uncle, Colin, who has the disease and it is cruel beyond heart breaking the toll it extracts from both the sufferer and their families.

‘I Am Bolt’ is a documentary about the life of Usain Bolt. This film doesn’t just show his outstanding performances on the track but also thee blood, sweat and tears that lubricate the gears and engine of his success. This is excellent viewing for any one aspiring to be the best not only in sport but any other field of endeavour they choose. The path to brilliance is not linear.

There were two very telling moments in the build up to the 2016 Olympics in Rio. One of those moments came during a training session where the star of the film was pleading with his cach that he wanted a holiday. For almost two decades of his life he has been governed by training schedules, diet, competitions and the inevitable injuries that any athlete will suffer and have to recover from. Countless hours in airplanes and countless nights in lonely hotel rooms around the world. All he wanted was time to himself.

The other telling and insightful moment was a comment by one of his support team. They acknowledged that Usain Bolt had become the best. They also acknowledged that when you become that good your only competition is yourself and that is one of the loneliest places on earth anyone can suffer.

It was the confluence of having been at the top for three Olympiads knowing he had achieved everything he could meeting the primal cry for a holiday and the loneliness of being the best that lead Usain Bolt to announce his retirement after the 2016 Olympics.

‘There are two tragedies in life. One is to love your heart’s desire. The other is to gain it.’ (George Bernard Shaw.)

He could have trained punishingly for another four years, competed for another four years at the top and competed in the 2020 Olympics, run the risk of getting beaten and then only known as a former champion. Whereas by retiring when he did our memories of his greatness can never be tainted by defeat.

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Omar’s Diary – 26th November 2016


I think I made Man Servant go long on crude oil

I am not very sure what I have done wrong to deserve such rough and disrespectful handling as I have had this week.

The other evening I was sitting quietly minding my own business when suddenly Man Servant picked me up by the scruff of the neck, roughed up my coat and then sprayed with some awful smelling liquid. As I was being sprayed I definitely overheard the word ‘fleas’. This really cannot apply to me, a feline of such good breeding.

After this traumatic experience and having been able to collect my dignified and aristocratic air I sat to thinking what on earth I had done to deserve such treatment as surely this was a disguise for some form of punishment? Then again, it is in neither of the Servant’s natures to punish me or the Chav. There might be the occasional raised voice but nothing quite as physical as the other evening.

Then I remembered. The other evening the Man Servant was looking at his IG Index account, left the screen on and went to make a hot drink. Overcome by curiosity I looked at the screen and was fascinated by the red and blue flickering lights on the screen. Due to my genetic heritage I could not help but look at the price of oil in advance of the big OPEC meeting in December to decide if production should be increased or decreased. I rested my paw on a key called ‘ENTER’ and all sorts of things started to happen on the screen. Red and blue flickering lights were all over the screen. Just then I heard Man Servant coming back up the stairs so I slammed the lid of the computer down as fast as I could. Just like he does when Lady Servant surprises him in his office. I wish both of them would wear some sort of bell so I could hear either of them coming.

‘I thought I left the computer on’ Man Servant said as he walked to his desk ‘Oh well, may as well call it a day anyway’.

That was the evening before I was ‘punished’. Perhaps I had bought some oil by mistake and Man Servant did not find out about this trade until he opened his computer the next evening, before the rough handling. After I had been mistreated I ran upstairs to my favourite chair in the office and there was his screen open again. I quickly looked down his list of trades and could not see anything to do with oil. I was so relieved for all our sakes as some well-known people such Alex Salmond in Scotland, who used to be an oil trader, was oh so confident he could predict the price was using $130 a barrel in the budgetary forecasts used in the SNP campaign for an independent Scotland weeks before the price fell to less than $50 and the electorate voted ‘No’ to independence.

This reminds me of the old joke about how does one become a millionaire through oil speculation? You have to start as an oil billionaire.

Perhaps I really do have fleas which is a lot better than losing a fortune on the oil market?

The household has been very upset recently following the American Presidential Elections. I understand a member of the servant species who has had absolutely no experience of public service let alone politics and international affairs of the geopolitical kind has won the election. I have heard that one of his election lies, sorry that should read ‘pledges’ but as I cannot find the backspace key that word will have to stand, was to build a big physically intolerant barrier to prevent Mexican servants from entering America. Why? All those members of the servant species want to do is improve their lives by working hard.

This is very much like my attitude to the Chav feline who has infiltrated our house through the cat flap seeking a better life. Although I was intolerant at first and made my feelings very plain to her being here I did change my attitude when I remembered back to when I had been made very uncomfortable and unwelcome in my previous home. I did the only thing I could and decided to leave to seek a better life. Most fortunately I was taken in by my present servants. Although the Chav came later, when I was hoping to be a solitary feline, we all manage to rub along together in an atmosphere of tolerance and respect.

Black Friday, whatever that is, has come and gone. I honestly believe it is some cynical marketing strategy developed by the media and retailers to stimulate spending ahead of Christmas. Fortunately neither of my Servants allow themselves to be swept up in this gross incarnation of consumer spending.

The serious countdown to Christmas begins now that American Thanksgiving has gone. I have noticed that there are several parcels arriving at other estates nearby that have tape on them saying ‘Amazon’. I wonder if that is the same ‘Amazon’ that was reported on the TV the other night? The report exposed how the servants driving the delivery vans are working extremely long hours for very little money that does not even afford them a living wage. It is so sad to hear this type of report as once again all the servant drivers are trying to do is earn a fair wage so that they can support themselves, their servant families and any felines they may have.

This now raises a very serious moral issue for me. When I do my Christmas shopping on line, which hopefully will not involve buying crude oil when I press ‘ENTER’, I will make a stand against the type of exploitation I have just mentioned and insist that all parcels for the Servants and the Chav are delivered by Her Majesty’s Royal Mail. However, this is where my moral dilemma infiltrates my conscience. If enough consumers made similar stands then the drivers working for Amazon would lose their jobs. What is worse? To be unemployed or to be employed and badly taken advantage of?

Perhaps the Chav has brought fleas into the house. Wouldn’t surprise me for a moment as she does mix with some rough felines from the street like Lager Boy from next door. I notice that she hasn’t been rough handled and sprayed which seems most unfair.

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Environmental paradoxes in a local paper


One of our local papers in the New Forest area is the New Milton Advertiser and Lymington Times which has been published weekly without interruption since 1928 and is understood to be the last broadsheet local newspaper in the country.

Within the pages of the 18th November 2016 edition were a couple of articles that caught my attention and in a very local way highlighted the conflict between man and his environment on a very micro scale.

The first one was headlined ‘Wetlands plan sunk after evidence doubt’. For those not living in the immediate New Forest area this article is about how the plans of Natural England and the National Parks Authority to return an area back to its natural wetland state were thwarted, for the time being, by local pressure groups and the local council finally deciding by one vote to refuse planning permission for the project to go ahead.

The area in question is between Hythe and Fritham and concerns the flow of Latchmoor Brook through the valley between these two villages. Currently this area is well drained and is a popular site for walking or just sitting by a quintessentially babbling brook to have a picnic, for children to play safely in the shallow waters and for general enjoyment. The way this area looks today’s the result of, as the local MP stated, many men who years ago ‘with spades straightened some waterways’ to drain what once was natural wetland.


Reasons behind the objections were that any reversion back to its wetland state would involve huge volumes of heavy goods vehicles shipping earth in to raise five miles of river beds and recreate the meanders that fed the original wetlands, a local amenity would be destroyed and made unsafe amongst others.

One of the major problems in the New Forest and throughout most of Britain is the shortage of affordable housing to enable people to climb on to the housing ladder. On the opposite side of the forest there has been a plan submitted to build ninety new and affordable homes on exir=ting green belt land within the New Forest which through the letters page is being objected to.

Now, here is the paradox that this and many areas throughout Britain face. On one side of the paradox is the drive to return the landscape to how nature has created it which is being objected to. On the other side of the paradox is thee drive to prevent that same landscape from being interfered with the demands of man. I am not sure where the middle ground is on these two conflicting principled stands.

On page twenty is a small section for religious reflection. It caught my eye because it’s first sentence started ‘Five hundred years ago sailors feared the horizon’. As we live near the sea I first thought that this was going to be write up of something from the local history archives but alas no, the author worked seamlessly from that opening sentence to God showing the glories of heaven in Revelations 21:1 NKJV. In between the article mentioned that over five hundred years ago the Spaniards erected a plaque at the Straits of Gibraltar with the inscription ‘Ne plus ultra’ (No more beyond). That is what sailors in those days believed, go beyond the horizon and there was nothing. That was until Christopher Columbus went ‘beyond’ and discovered America in 1492.

This is how the people involved in all the decisions affecting our lives as individuals, as a societies and nations should be thinking be they individual voters where individuals are allowed to vote, the elected and the institutions they work through; they should be thinking ‘beyond’. Not for today, tomorrow, next week, next month, next year or the next election but further, much further ahead. In fact at least a generation ahead so that whatever legacy the next generation inherit they will not be looking at the results of our decisions and saying ‘What were they thinking of!?’ but instead will be saying ‘That was a good call’ or ‘They were really thinking of us’.

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Rockets or Whistles?

Every time I but petrol at a certain garage I get given a copy of the Sun. I guess this is one way the newspaper can inflate its circulation numbers. Normally on the rare occasions I did pick up the Sun it is for a quick flick through the racing pages while I am waiting to have my haircut or in a coffee shop.

On page 29 of the edition for Thursday 10th November tucked comfortably away below Mariah Carey’s crotch in a red spangled high cut swim suit is the following headline:

Shock, horror; that Johnny Foreigner and a European at that is telling us what we can and cannot do.


What this story is about is that Peterborough Council, because of EU regulations, can no longer use a maroon rocket to signal the start of the two minute silence during Remembrance Services. The reason for this ban is that it is not really a ban but is a regulation that for health and safety reasons all people using these “high hazard” fireworks, that cost £38 a pop, must be trained in their use by suppliers.

The question the Sun does not ask in this article is “what level of training have council staff had in prior years to use these “high hazard” fireworks which the lifeboat service no longer use to summon crews for emergencies? Is the council admitting that their staff been untrained in previous years and that members of the public have been at risk from injury as well? What would the Sun headline have been if anyone had been injured?

Several innocent people injured by rogue high hazard firework at remembrance service used to mark the two minute silence.

Instead, “The November 11 silence in Peterborough will now be signalled by a simple whistle”.

Wasn’t it the simple whistle that was blown as a signal to the troops in the trenches to clamber out of the mud holes and advance in enemy fire across no man’s land to an almost certain death face down in the mud and barbed wire a century ago? Isn’t this signal from the past a more fitting way to mark remembrance than a £38 rocket?

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One place to keep your clothes on while enjoying coffee

Nearly 1,000 years ago a lonely goatherd, no this is not an introduction to The Sound of Music, in Ethiopia noticed that his goats would sometimes go a bit wild, a bit crazy and dance and jump around.  This lonely goat herd, Kaldi, also noticed that the goats behaved this way after eating the berries off of nearby bushes.  He experimented and made a beverage out of the berries and as the sign says:

The rest is history


That very history comes to life in Southampton’s newest, brightest and warmest welcoming coffee shop ‘NAKED’; ‘the health conscious coffee shop’.

Located less than 500 metres from the Central Railway station in one direction and less than 500 metres from The Mayflower Theatre in the opposite direction, NAKED’ is perfectly located for meeting friends or just having a break away from the busy streets of Southampton.


Instead of looking at your iPhone while having your coffee take a look at this for a ceiling:


On the set menu there are thirteen coffees to choose from plus ‘Chilli Coffees’ and when ‘NAKED’ has an alcohol licence there will be an Espresso Martini, Cafésoft drinks and daily specials Shakerato and Bailey’s Latte on offer.  The 11 standard coffee choices such as Latte, Mocha, and Espresso all come with a twist.  Customers can choose which beans or combination of beans they would like their drink to be blended from.  The beans on offer are The Brazilian, The Virgin and The Smooth Operator which is described as ‘rich and fruity a great all rounder’.  That is me down to a T.

Speaking of which there is a wide range of large loose leaf teas and chais available as well.

In addition to the beverages ‘NAKED’ also offer toasted ciabattas, toasted sandwiches, patisserie and daily specials.  So there is something to cater for everyone from children of all ages including gluten free and vegan choices.

The customer area is split on to three floors in modern white surroundings with minimalist furniture.  Most of the tables have power points so while you are recharging over a coffee your iPad. iPhone or laptop can recharge as well.  I didn’t have a chance to use the WIFI but I have every confidence that the owners have made sure this is working.


Officially ‘NAKED’ is not open until 23rd November so between now and then this smart new venue is going through a shakedown to ensure all of the equipment is working properly and the colleagues can cope with any situation; including the flood of customers this new, bright and vibrant place deserves.


Naked – The Health Conscious Coffee Shop
66 Commercial Road

Open 7 days a week
Mon – Fri 0800 to 1800
Sat 0900 to 1700
Sun 0900 to 1600

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Studland – missing fingers, a rabid dog and a privy

When we first arrived from Canada in the early 1960’s my parents would take us, that is my two elder brothers and me to a farm on the road from Studland to Swanage called ‘Brook Farm’.  The reason we went there was that my mother was born in Bournemouth in the 1920’s, was one of seven children and her parents would take the whole family to this very farm for their annual summer vacation.

We arrived in the family car on a very hot August afternoon in 1964 after a long drive down from Maidenhead in the days before motorways and dual carriageways threaded across the country.  Dad drove the car through the gap in hedge leading to the farm.  In front of us was a run-down ramshackle single story wooden building that looked like a part of it was going to disappear into Middle Earth.  Before we even got out of the car my mum declared:

‘It hasn’t changed a bit’.

That short phrase gave me some comfort that this place would be alright for a holiday as if Mum was happy here then that would make the holiday fine.  That crumb of comfort was destroyed instantly when what appeared to me to be a huge black and white dog came salivating and growling from the house.  It completely ignored my two brothers, my parents and seemed to barrelling towards me.  Just before he was going to make contact with me and after his saliva had a voice shouted from Middle Earth.

‘Bob!  Leave!’.

At which ‘Bob’ stopped coming towards me and started to circle me as if trying to separate me from the protection of my family.

From the door in the house where the voice had come from came a very elderly lady wearing a floral house coat tied around her waist to meet us.

She greeted my Mum with a hug and the usual pleasantries of how much she had grown up since her last holiday there in the 1940’s.  Then she gave my Dad a warm hug followed by the same for my two brothers who towered over her.  I was at the end of the reception line, as usual, and as she stood in front of me I was horrified.  Not by her elderliness, or by the rollup cigarette attached magically to her top lip but by her left hand.  It only had a thumb and forefinger.  Perhaps the salivating and growling mongrel ‘Bob’ had tried human flesh already and was now lining me up as some sort of main course.

She pinched my cheek with her left thumb and forefinger and said something complimentary which I probably didn’t hear as by now I was traumatised by her hand and the dog.

‘Say something to Mrs Marshall’ my Mum urged me.

A shaky ‘hello’ was the best I could manage which under the circumstances I thought was a pretty good effort.  That hand, that left hand; that left hand was so disturbing.

My brothers and I helped Mum and Dad move our holiday bags from the car into where our home would be for the next week. The section we were in sloped away from the main part of the building.  Inside part of the floor sloped away in the room where my brothers and I would be sleeping.  As a result our beds were wedged against the downside wall.  This wasn’t just a slight slope.  It was a huge slope that we used to race toy cars down in the evenings.  It sloped so much so that when we went to bed we would be stretched out to our full length and in the morning we would all be crumpled into a semi foetal position wedged against the headboards.  The beds were made up with soft thick quilts which swallowed the sleeper into valleys of down and comfort.  At the end of a day in the fresh air on the beach they enveloped you in a cool cocoon that took the sun burn away.

‘Mum, I need the toilet.  Where is it?’ I asked.

‘It’s the shed near the car, go on off you go before you have an accident, you’ll be fine’ Mum answered.

The ‘you’ll be fine’ echoed in my head as I started to make my way back towards the car and its neighbouring shed.  Every step I took my senses heightened as I could hear ‘Bob’ stalking me.  He might be under the building hiding in its damp shadows ready to leap at me.  Or, there’s a noise from the hedge as a branch moves.  It’s got to be Bob lining me up for a  death lunge.  I was in such a state that I nearly didn’t have to go to the privy. I arrived at the wooden door uneaten by the rabid and savage canine.  At this point I thought that things could not get much worse but, oh how wrong I was.

I arrived at the wooden shed uneaten by the rabid salivating dog.  I opened the door and was nearly knocked off my feet by a swarm of flies and the stench emanating from the darkness.  My eyes adjusted to the semi darkness and before me was a wooden type bench with a hole.  I had to look into the hole and down there it was dark. A couple of flies came out of the darkness and hit me in the face.  Unfortunately the bench was too high for me to stand and complete my mission so I had to sit over the hole which I had just looked into.  The hole felt too big for me so I pressed my hands hard on to the rim to stop myself slipping through.  What if I fell through it? How would I escape?  Would be drowned before anyone back at the house heard my screams? Oh come on hurry up.  I was desperate to go when I got to the door and now nothing.  Come on hurry up.  I can’t keep this hold on the sides much longer.  Phew, job done. Jump off the bench, up with the shorts and out.

Having completed my mission’s objective without being sucked through the hole into the festering pit below I felt both relieved and pleased with myself I then felt totally confident to face the walk back to the part of the house where the rest of my family were.  Life was good again as I opened the door into the bright sunlight and started my walk.  Less than three strides from that door and Bob came up behind entirely unannounced barking and spraying his warm saliva around my legs.  If at the tender age of ten I had been aware of the word ‘bastard’ and its contextual setting I would have shouted if not screamed it at Bob.

‘BOB! DOWN! LEAVE!’ Mrs Marshall shouted from her kitchen door.

Bob backed off with his teeth still bared and emitting a guttural growl that his owner probably could not hear.

A few paces further on and Bob was still in menacing attendance.  As I got closer to Mrs Marshall I could not help thinking about her damaged hand and I couldn’t avoid seeing it as somehow she managed to hold a rolled cigarette near her mouth between its remaining two digits.

‘Want to earn threepence young man?’ she asked.

I thought about the offer for a couple of seconds. Threepence would buy a bag of crisps with a blue bag of salt at the beach kiosk tomorrow but what would I have to do?

‘I need some help with your dinner….can’t carry as much as I used to since I lost my fingers in the harvester’ Mrs Marshall said.

That did alleviate some of my anxiety about Bob.  He was not a flesh eating canine and by now he was lying down beside me.  And Mrs Marshall must have known that seeing what was left of her hand was disturbing for me.

‘Bob won’t hurt you…….he barks a lot……need that when I am here by myself……won’t bite….here Bob’.

Bob got up and went to her side.  Mrs Marshall found a tennis ball in the pocket of her housecoat.

‘Fetch’ as she threw the ball.

Bob went off chasing the bouncing ball across the lawn and returned.

‘Drop it’.

Bob dropped the ball and Mrs Marshall asked if I could play with Bob while she finished getting the dinner ready.  I wasn’t too sure about Bob at this stage of our relationship until after a few throws I had to wrestle the ball from his mouth in a grunting tug of war which I eventually won.

‘He likes you now he knows you’ Mrs Marshall said from her kitchen doorway ‘Dinner’s ready so you can carry thee plates and knives and forks.  There’s your threepence’.

I went into the kitchen with the coin in my pocket to pick up the plates and cutlery.

‘We’ll need some water’ Mrs Marshall said.

I looked at the sink but there were no taps just a black cylindrical thing with a handle and spout over the sink.

‘That’s a pump….don’t have running water here’.

I pumped as best I could as the handle probably weighed more than me until there was a flow of crystal clear water going into the glass pitcher.  The water was so cold the jug was soon covered with condensation.

The crockery, cutlery and water jug fitted only just on the tray Mrs Marshall gave me and it weighed so much I could hardly carry it but I did.  Mrs Marshall then produced one of those huge willow pattern meat platters with the most enormous piece of beef on it that I had ever seen surrounded by roast potatoes and vegetables.

We walked around to where we were staying and there my parents and brothers were already seated ready for dinner.  Mum watched us walk in.

‘I hope he hasn’t been a nuisance Mrs Marshall?’ my Mum said looking at me with my huge laden tray which I managed to place on the table just before my shaking arms gave way.

‘No, Alan has been a great help getting dinner ready.  He kept Bob from under my feet, sorted out the cutlery and plates and filled the water jug all by himself.  I could do with him around helping if he doesn’t mind’.

The beef was not like Mum cooked.  It was pink in the middle instead of a uniform grey.  The roast potatoes were crisp, the vegetables sharp green for the runner beans and vibrant orange carrots and the gravy washing over the willow pattern on the dinner plates. While my brothers and parents talked I looked for stories in the pattern on the plate with the bridge, the temple and the birds all in blue shining through Mrs Marshall’s sepia gravy.

This was going to be a good holiday.

What was even better was that I did not have to go the privy again that first night as anxiety had aided retention.  Over the next few days I worked out a schedule of what to do when and where to minimise exposure to that gaping hole over the festering pit and by day three had a routine of using the public toilets on the beach at Studland, the ocean while swimming which was not so much swimming as preventing myself from drowning and a strategically timed call of nature near a thick hedge just outside Studland village.  Every afternoon when we came home from the beach Bob would be waiting for me in the drive with his ball.  My brothers tried to pick up the ball to throw for him but got the bare teeth and salivating growl every day.  Every evening when Bob and I finished playing I would carry the tray laden with the cutlery, crockery and water jug while Mrs Marshall carried a platter with lamb one night, roast pork the next and chicken.

Every day on that holiday was sunny.  Every day was hot.  Every day I would get back to Brook Farm with that fresh air sun burnt tingle.  Every dinner was a banquet. Every night I went to sleep stretched out under the enveloping down quilt and every morning I would wake up crumpled against the wall of the sloping bedroom.

Yes, it was a good holiday.

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