Monthly Archives: May 2013

Mole intelligence: EPISODE 30

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3A Hyde Park Terrace
LONDON W2 5PH

May 27 1997

Dear Mum

I don’t know where to begin really. I feel dazed – dazed with nightmares about men holding mobile phones in parks – and they are nightmares which constantly repeat. If I see a man using a phone in Hyde Park (while out on my walks with Ferris) I feel driven to approach and make sure that it’s not really Austen. It has got to the point where I take the dog west, down the Bayswater Road, into Kensington Gardens. And there we do tours round the pond, the literal ‘Round Pond.’

I sent a brief note to both Karen and Ian who, as I may have said, both go to university just outside London. Karen is reading for a degree in Sociology and Ian – in a move towards becoming his own man – is reading Civil Engineering. This may actually be the right course for him, given the towns and cities he built, across carpet, from kits of Meccano and Lego given to him at birthdays and Christmas. The note, anyway, said that I’d like to come over for lunch last Saturday. Karen phoned up to say, yes, that was fine and to regale me with news about a recent cross-country-running (and drinking) event. And I received a rather laconic email from Ian to that, actually, he’d be away windsurfing that day. I decided to go anyway.

I sat at my dressing table on the morning of this trip, and gazed at myself in the mirror. The skin beneath both of my eyes was a shade of blue darker than that of my eyes. But my skin is still smooth and clear and I met my own eyes, with a straight look, in the mirror. There is something very comforting about washing on a layer of liquid foundation and dabbing on powder. And I chose a dark shade of gold to illumine my eyelids. Nowadays it is fashionable to use natural colours on one’s lips and so I chose a glistening pale brown, which was imbued – faintly – with pink. You know mum. I am so used to clothing myself in skirts and dresses which please Austen, that I sat there for quite a long while trying to think about what I myself would like to wear. I am not sure that I have a self any more or, indeed, that I ever had one. Most of my self has been dedicated to the art of satisfying my husband. In the end, I simply wore an ivory silk blouse (no curlicues) and a pair of straight-legged jeans which have been mouldering away in the cupboard. Black leather jackets are in vogue at the moment – and I like them – and so I wore that over the blouse, with a chiffon scarf loose-wound round my neck.

On my way out of the house, I encountered Mrs Macey, our cleaner. I have never liked this woman. She has radiated an air of superiority – not to mention territoriality – for nearly five years now. And I have been treated, many a time, to basilisk stares. By way of total and utter contrast, she has related to Austen with a little-girl style of speaking and coy feminine giggles, overheard on the stairs. For some time now, my nickname for her has been ‘Darth.’ (I’m sure you remember this character from the ‘Star Wars’ films mum? He is the very personification of evil and swishes about in a menacing black outfit, and a facial cover which resembles that of the black plastic front end of a car.) Passing her by on the stairs, I said, “Oh, Mrs Macey. I’m going to start cleaning the house myself from now on. I’ll leave you a cheque, for a month in lieu, down on the kitchen worktop.” And without waiting for a reply – she has barely deigned to acknowledge me, after all, for such a long time – I carried on down to the kitchen, where I picked up my handbag and the dog. I must say, mum, that I did momentarily wonder
if I was going to return to find the house torched, but one of the good things about Austen is that he has installed CCTV – everywhere. And the only room to which no-one has access is the one which he calls his ‘study’ and which contains our safe and the video recorder storing footage from all over (inside and out) the house.

I pressed the button which opens our double-fronted garage and, after the door rose overhead, I surveyed our two cars. Austen bought me a dark-grey Alfa Romeo ‘Spider’ a few years ago. It is a two-seated, open-topped, sports car with alloy wheels. And, apart from its rather distressing name, I do rather like it. I like the fact that its contours are convex and rounded. It is low-slung with a smooth tail. However, it is hard to fit both Ferris, and any shopping, into the passenger seat and, all-too-often, I have had to leave the dog behind. I know that most of our food is ordered on the computer, and delivered weekly, by Superior Fare. But I think, now, that I may go and get it myself. That left our dark-cherry-red Volvo estate, which has lain abandoned for several months now. Indeed, it was covered in dust. I gazed at it. I wondered if it would start. I wondered if, should it only emit a death rattle (or silence) it would ‘bump start’ on the very steep hilly exit to the garage. And I thought, ‘To hell with it.’ After all, if it didn’t, I would just have to leave it on the hill and pile into the Alfa. It was miraculous mum, when it just about coughed into life and we sailed forth down the slope.

All the way to the university, the sun shone down, and my hair flew back from my sunglasses in the wind coming on in through the windows. The dog’s ears also flew back and his long red tongue lolled out of his mouth on the passenger seat. He looked a bit funny with the seat belt wound round his chest, almost like he should be a person sitting by my side. But I think he was better than a person, in that he was not an awful person, and also he was not a person who wanted the radio on or to get out (at an inconvenient moment) to find a toilet. I thought also that, if I could think of a theme for myself on this day, it would be ‘Voyager’ – a voyager into a new kind of life, and hopefully one better and not so riven with excruciating pain.

The university of NewScape is a modern campus. The buildings looked box-like and, if any trees had been planted, they were nowhere in evidence now. There were certainly no mature trees of any kind on site. However, it was easy to find the vast car park in the university’s hinterland and, in the absence of any intervening high vegetation, it was also easy to find the bookshop where I’d said I’d meet Karen.

My daughter is a small woman with a body which looks perpetually wired for action. She has dark auburn hair, which is springy not flat, and a wide-set jaw. She has become, somehow, dynamic and spirited in a way which I have so far failed to be. There is a kind of purity to her, which maybe reflects the fact that nothing terrible has ever yet happened in her life. And she talks endlessly over coffee and cake, and then over lunch, but not in a way which is necessarily selfish – more in a way that recognizes that I do not have a life which is vivid with activity and concerns of its own.

I do, eventually, intervene. I tell her that Austen, her father, has left and how this has happened. And Karen’s freckles blench and her beautiful eyes – green and hazel-flecked – fill with injury and amazement. “Oh mum,” she says, for what, after all, is there to say.

With love from your daughter (in law)

Harriet

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Spice . . . (episode 29)

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401B Concrete Shacks
Walthamstow
LONDON E17 4VZ

May 17 1997

Hello Auntie

I have been a bit pre-occupied recently, what with one thing and another, and there have been one or two events since I last wrote. Kev and I went up to the city of Cottonopolis, on the Inter-Rail, last Friday evening to see a ‘Spice Girls’ gig at the opera house. We took a couple of six-packs with us and other, smaller, items of equipment in case of getting lucky afterwards! The gig itself – whose purpose was to raise money for the Prince’s Trust – was excellent, with the girls taking one or two interesting liberties with the person of the Prince of Wales afterwards. I don’t believe it is actually protocol to kiss the heir to the throne on the cheek or pinch him on the bum!

Anyway, afterwards, we went off to a local bar and there we met a couple of girls, got stuck into one or four pints of lager, and went on to ‘Snuggles’ night club . . . You know how it is auntie. The one I was with had hair done up in lots of little plaits, threaded with pink ribbon, and her eyelids shone with iridescent, sky-blue, glitter. She was also showing quite a bit of leg and tit and – during the slow numbers in the club – pressed everything she had up against me. It was all quite hypnotic actually, what with the booze, the American grunge, the closeness of her flesh, and the scintillas of light flickering all over us from the mosaic balls overhead.

She whispered in my ear that I could come back and stay at her place if I liked. And I was mad keen to ‘get some’ if I could, as it had been quite some while since I’d had it! Her place turned out to be a flat some ten minutes walk away, and she shared it with two other girls who were, luckily, out. We set to snogging on the sofa (which had something wet on it; I couldn’t see what, because it was too dark. Maybe it was someone’s dinner from earlier.) It was lovely, auntie, to get some ‘deep throat’ after such a long time! I know I’m being a bit frank, but we seem to have told each other some quite extreme things over the years, don’t we? But then, just as we were getting to it, I realized I’d left my ‘smaller items of equipment’ back in my jacket pocket in the night club cloakroom! And she didn’t have any. We did try using cling film, but I don’t think it stayed on long; in fact, I think I found it later – wound round her cervix – when I was lapping up juices from a lower arena.

The long-and-the-short of it auntie is that – since then (or maybe a day or so after) – I have had a sort of watery discharge dripping out of the end of my willy. And also it burns when I try to take a pee. It has taken me until today to brace myself to go along to the Sexually Transmitted Diseases clinic near the Tottenham Court Road. These places are not very discreet are they? Some woman behind the desk, who looked like she had been sucking on a lemon, actually asked me why I had come! And surely it’s none of her business! I told her I had symptoms I’d like to talk over with a doctor if that was at all possible!

The doctor – thankfully a man of similar years to myself – looked it over and asked a lot of questions. He asked me, naturally, if I’d had unprotected intercourse and so I had to tell him that I’d been an idiot and that I didn’t think, personally, that cling film was up to the job! He took a swab from the end of my willy, and a urine sample, but said that he thought it was probably some condition called Chlamydia. Chlamydia (I don’t know if you know this) is a bacterium who name is derived from the Greek phrase ‘to cloak.’ At least, if I do have it, it’s treatable!

Speaking of cloaks, auntie, I don’t know how I’ve missed it before, but your Christian name appears to be (very nearly) an anagram. Didn’t your first name use to be something else? I’ve only ever known you as ‘Evangeline,’ so maybe I’ve got the wrong end of the stick somehow?

With fond regards

Your nephew Ralph

The appetite of a slug . . . (episode 28)

mole

10 Forsythia Grove
Outer Hamlet
CORSETTSHIRE ZY6 4GT

May 12 1997

I’m so sorry Harriet. That sounds awful and, without wishing to sound trite, I really do know how you feel. It is, after all, a marriage which has lasted for nearly 20 years. And to my own son! I’m afraid it will take some time to recover.

In the meantime, I do think that your idea of travelling on a container ship to Cuba is a very good one – and should prove to be a perfect distraction. Do be careful though, about whom you invite over to stay in the UK. As you may, or may not, know Cuban citizens are presently only able to exit their own country if they receive a formal invitation to stay from someone resident overseas. And I don’t know how many indigenous Cubans you will be able to accommodate in Hyde Park Terrace! The other thought I have had (or, rather, an acquaintance of mine has had) is on the subject of language. Are you proposing to read out your poems to the ship’s crew in Spanish or English? If I recall correctly dear, I don’t believe you speak any Spanish? Perhaps you will be lucky and someone aboard will speak both languages and can act as your translator?

I, myself, have been engaged in the growing of sunflowers – Helianthus annuus – and tobacco plants – Nicotiana alata – from seed, for these are required in the borders, and kitchen garden, up at Colonel Mustang’s. Sunflowers, of the variety known as ‘Mexican Giant,’ are extremely easy to germinate but much harder to mature into the giant plant itself. Their main weakness lies in the fact that the foliage (and stems) appear to be extremely appetizing to the local slug population. And I have actually seen these molluscs cruising – in their hundreds – across the lawns at the Mustang’s after a bout of heavy rainfall. Slugs are equipped with razor-like dental apparati and, believe you me, are easily able to motor one meter up a sunflower stem and chomp through a diameter approaching two centimeters! It really is most depressing, after all that hard work sowing the seeds and potting up through a couple of pot sizes, when the actual plant is felled by a creature a million times smaller! So far, this year, flourishing upon my window ledge, I have about twelve sunflower seedlings. But how many of these are going to reach actual maturity – given the depredations described above – I couldn’t tell you. I really do feel quite glum about it.

And before you say anything darling, I really can’t bear the idea of polishing them off with those nasty blue pellets. I have seen dying slugs which have ingested these – and they seem to lie curled up in a rictus of pain, with their life’s mucus oozing from them. The only – even more sadistic – way of terminating the life of a slug is apparently by pouring salt all over them. Death by desiccation! In previous years (embarrassing as it is to relate) I have even gone out into the garden – at dawn and dusk – to load slugs into a bucket, loaded the bucket into the Banger 0.9L, and transported them to a field some kilometers distant!

Yours, with love

Mum

Medieval lament . . . (episode 27)

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3A Hyde Park Terrace
LONDON W2 5PH

May 8 1997

Dear Mum

Things have not been easy here. I have felt struck down by massive waves of rage, alternating with massive waves of grief, like nothing I have ever known in my life. Every time I stand up, I start to feel dizzy. It is unlike me to experience anger – either brief or sustained – and I simply don’t know what to do or how to handle it, short of buying a shotgun and disposing of Austen (who, apparently, has bought a flat with Ariel on the other side of Hyde Park, in Knightsbridge). He has moved in with her if what I hear is true.

However, I have now written my own version – in plain English – of the anonymous medieval poem, ‘The Wife’s Lament,’ This poem, mum, appears in the Exeter Book, which is a tenth century collection of old English poetry. And the poem itself has been translated from the original Anglo Saxon by someone called Richard Hamer. There weren’t any sheep in the primary version I must admit – and nor are there any in Hyde Park – but somehow I just felt like putting some in! Perhaps this is because it is Spring and we keep seeing lambs on TV – dotted about like cotton wool balls – in the fields. That is, we are seeing them now, before they are sent off for (invisible) slaughter.

Well here it is, the poem I mean.

MEDIEVAL LAMENT

I sing to myself of the days of my sorrow
since the loss of my faith and confidence
in him. It as been a long life, of much pain and many breaks
of my heart. Alone now, in the cave
of my house, the cave of my life, I suffer
the anguish of treachery, the dry dirt
of my path – a path which goes nowhere
lacks source and arrival, and winds on and on.

First my lord went off with another
and hid amongst sheep. I worried at dawn
and at dusk where on earth my horseman might be?
When I set out myself, in the pale light of sun
to follow his hoofbeats, his leather and fur
the whole world out hunting may have guessed
at my search. And thought to divide us
so that we would live far apart in this land
most downcast and sad. Longing seized hold
of me and I padded the earth.

My lord commanded me to take a far path
away from him. I had few loved ones and friends
to protect me, so I did as he bid me. Then
I found that my most fitting man had hid his real mind
and was plotting untruth, behind the smile
on his face. We had sworn in the past that only death
could divide us. But all that is changed now
and is as if it had never been. I feel the black looks
of the one who is dearest to me.

I have been forced to dwell in a burrow of earth.
It is dark except for the lightness of hair
and the ringing of bells and the sheep we all follow.
Only sometimes at dawn, in the sun, is there
some sign of green on the hills and blue in the lake
where geese flash in the sky and hiss in their death.
There are those who lie quiet and close in their beds
hands touching, skin upon skin. I am not
one of these and never shall be. I am an exile from this.

Let my lord have also lost thoughts at dusk
when blackness grows deep and dew forms
on the grass. Let him also have days under cliffs
chilled by north winds, and weary of mind.
There is no escape from cold stone and limitless water.
My beloved will suffer the cares
of a sorrowful mind; he will remember sometimes
the warmth of a hearth, the flame of heart wood.

Woe to the one who must pine for the loss
of the one that they love!

Anonymous

What do you think mum? Do you ‘like’ it? There was just something about it that struck me, somehow, as being the utterly perfect distillation of human grief.

Meanwhile, in the interests of getting away from it all, I have booked a berth on a cargo ship returning to Cuba. It’s one which is used to transport granulated sugar into the UK and agricultural machinery back to Havana. Ralph will certainly approve of the Socialist political regime there, won’t he? And I hear now that tourists are no longer kept segregated from the indigenous Cubans upon arrival!

I have negotiated a reduction on the price of my passage, on the understanding that I will perform evening readings from my poems. I don’t think they would normally have been too keen on this idea, but I convinced them in the end, by sending in a batch of my poems – with exciting content – in an attachment by email!

With love from your daughter (in law)

Harriet

Twinkly light settings . . . (episode 26)

mole

10 Forsythia Grove
Outer Hamlet
CORSETTSHIRE ZY6 4GT

May 5 1997

I’d like to take issue with you pet, concerning your usage of the descriptor, ‘lady.’ To a woman of my years, and experience, this word is suggestive of someone decked out in pink and frilly attire, and who may also be defective in general intellect and competence. A ‘lady’ is someone men can put on to a pedestal, someone they can – at one and the same time – both idealize and despise. I am, of course, thinking of men of the ilk of Sir Charmer Tankful OBE and the Rt. Hon. Austen Tankful MP – my own (late) husband and son. So, dear, try to think instead of the term ‘young woman’ because this phrase does at least endow us with the status of actual human being and individual. Consign your ‘lady’ to the bin!

On a totally different note, my chum Flamingo kindly invited me to attend the Carlton Country Hotel’s health spa last week. It is so long since I engaged in a svelte experience of this kind, that I could barely remember what such facilities could offer! The drive there was vertically challenging and, indeed, I had forgotten that the adjacent county of Littonshire features such mountainous terrain. It did not help, I must admit, that the Banger 0.9L has an exhaust pipe which will keep bouncing up and down on the tarmac. It is also a slight worry that corrosion may have advanced to the point where I fear that the seats may altogether drop through the floor on to the road!

Eventually, however, I did arrive at the hotel’s (rather difficult) access point, which was on a distinct camber in relation to the hill upon which it is situated. The first thing that struck me about these premises was the very long, dripping, drive that passed through any number of cherry laurels and sawn-off tree stumps. If I was purchasing these premises, I think I might have to invest a capital sum in both hard- and soft-landscaping. Patrons will surely desire both a sighting of the valley view beneath and one of the actual hotel – complete, possibly, with the twining stems of a Virginia Creeper wending its way up the walls. I felt inclined to volunteer my (invaluable) services I can tell you! And this inclination was furthered by the sight of a team of gardeners on the hillside, toiling with what appeared to be a fallen log. Do you know dear, I think I may give them a ring . . . With my experience at multiple venues over the years, I do believe I might be snapped up!

Flamingo was, as usual, most punctual and attired – very snappily – in a brown cashmere cardigan and leggings which had a most fetching blank panel running up the back of both legs. I could only wish that I myself was more consistent in this arena and not attired (that day) in a pair of khaki dungarees and a scarlet head band! We repaired, anyway, to the foyer of the hotel – albeit somewhat held back by Flamingo’s insistence on transporting a voluminous suitcase on wheels along with her.

“What’s that for?” I hissed.

“There might be some towels left lying around,” she said.

“Towels?” I said.

“Yes. You know.”

“Oh,” I replied.

Sometimes it’s just best not to go into things too deeply with Flamingo and, certainly, we were equipped, ourselves, with some very plush towelling garments over at the health spa reception desk. We then proceeded to the changing rooms and divested ourselves of our outer garments. Flamingo, I must say, has kept the most ideal of feminine forms and, by comparison, I did feel a trifle portly. (Nowadays pet, I find it best not to engage in any lingering examination of self in the mirrors at public venues. The light tends to be altogether too honest.) I enjoyed the steam room in particular. I liked the twinkly light settings in the ceiling and the way the steam warmed us through to the marrow. It was a rare privilege, and a pleasure, to have an experience only usually enjoyed by those equipped with some actual funds! And then there was the pool – full of clean blue water – with an atrium at one end which afforded a view across sky and the sunlit valley below. One unfamiliar feature was the Aluminium ‘stretchers,’ arranged beneath water, which, upon pressing a button, bubbled wildly around the users. But I think the facility providers saved the best experience to last, for the corridors led to a whirlpool with a considerable vortex at its centre. ‘Just jump in,’ read the notice.

I gazed at Flamingo and said, “Good God. Are they serious?”

“Oh yes,” she affirmed. “It leads back to the changing rooms.”

Society has certainly advanced since my days in the Service dear. Hotels were much plainer establishment, even in the 1980’s.

Well we did emerge – intact – on the lower floors (the chute was a little fast for my taste) and re-assembled our garb, admiring our newly-rosy faces in the mirrors. It was a bit of a job getting Flamingo back to the car park, because she would insist on toiling along with her heavily-laden suitcase. However, she had at least parked behind a large Viburnum tinus and I don’t think even CCTV could pass through that!

Yours (steam-pressed)

Auntie

Mole intelligence: EPISODE 25

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401B Concrete Shacks
Walthamstow
LONDON E17 4VZ

May 4 1997

What ho! Auntie

I hope the dust has settled somewhat over at Harriet’s now?

Things on the domestic front here at Concrete Shacks continue to be a little fraught. Jayne’s cat is now exiting the house – for long jaunts of exploration round the neighbourhood – and after dusk, every evening, I can hear her bawling, “My Cat . . . My Cat . . . ” up and down the alley beneath my bedroom window. Personally, I think he may be trying to find more fragrant toilet facilities than the ones on offer here, because about a week’s worth of shit piles up in the tray before she gets around to emptying it! She has also, sadly, produced a boyfriend who frequently turns up in order to avail himself of my hot water. I hear him bounding along the passage from her room into the bathroom, and then he appears to jump into a full bath, shouting, “Bath time for Brucey!” And, frankly Auntie, I’m not sure that they are ‘doing it’ much because I keep finding the bathroom bin brimming over with sticky-looking tissues!

I did eventually go to a local meeting of the British All-White Party, which was held in a rather seedy-looking room in the Feathered Hen. It was attended by a small, but fervently nationalist, group of individuals who were very aggrieved that non-whites (and, increasingly, Europeans) were ‘taking over’ ‘our jobs,’ ‘our schools,’ and ‘our housing.’ One could almost imagine the UK as an island whose coastline was bristling with a six-deep row of spears. The main plan expounded was to ‘send them back’ (at least no mention of ethnic cleansing or genocide) and it does seem that members of the British All-White Party feel safest – and most protected – living amongst all-English white faces. Of course, it was Napoleon Bonaparte who tried to unite Europe by dint of main force and, nowadays, things are more civilized – it being realized that a united global community is likely to be a more pacific one (albeit at the price, perhaps, of having an individual national identity diluted somewhat).

The main highlight of the evening is that I did see a rather tasty-looking young lady waiting outside the pub on my way out. However, it transpired (as I heard her greeting him) that she was waiting for her Dad, who is a member of the British All-White Party! And, as alluring as her charms may be, I don’t think I could suffer any loyalty which she may have to her father’s ‘get ’em out of here’ views!

Toodle pip!

Your nephew Ralph

In flagrante delicto . . . (episode 24)

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3A Hyde Park Terrace
LONDON W2 5PH

May 1 1997

Dear Mum

I waited up on Saturday night for Austen to return. I sat by our black marble kitchen table, sipping espressos, and wearing a pink candlewick dressing gown which I know Austen hates (but which I like). I waited until after it had gotten dark and, even then, I didn’t turn on the light.

When he came into the room, and turned the light on, he didn’t expect me to be sitting there, still, in what had been dark. He went into hearty male mode: “Hello darling. Are you still up?”

I said, “I know about Ariel. I want you out of here by tomorrow.”

He said, “Don’t be so ridiculous. I hardly know her.”

I said, “I’ve got proof” – and slapped the videotape you sent me down on to the table. It clattered on the top.

It was funny – as in odd – then because his face took on a creepy sort of look, the sick look of someone who’d been caught in the act of committing a murder. The phrase in flagrante delicto comes to mind – perhaps because, actually, it rhymes with ‘sick’ and is, in all ways. But also it means: ‘caught in the act of a blazing wrong.’

He said, “What proof? How?”

I said, “We taped you at your mother’s.” (I hope you don’t mind mum – because it’s true)! His face took on a purple hue at this point and a stream of invective followed which I find both hard to remember and you wouldn’t wish me to repeat.

“It’s not as if we’re still running about doing it all over the place,” he shouted – as if that was some kind of justification for God knows how many months (or years) of lying.

I said, “I mean it Austen. I want you gone.”

“I’m going to bed,” he said. “We can discuss it in the morning.”

“If you don’t go,” I said, “I’ll contact the press. You’ll be on the the news. And if your side wins the election, don’t even think of the Cabinet!”

He went quiet then and tried a more conciliatory, and oozing, tone. “You know I care about you,” he said. “There’s no need for anything drastic.”

“It’s too late,” I said. “It’s been too late since I don’t know when. I should have trusted my instincts. This isn’t the first time. I’ve had enough. You thought you wouldn’t bother to treat me with kindness – or honesty – or respect. And that’s done for you now. I’m going to bed.”

And I just left him there, standing with his briefcase by the table, looking like the cockroach he is. That’s the thing with Austen. All the while you want affection (or love) or sex, he’s got the whip hand. It’s only when you can give all that up – and want nothing more from him – that you’ve got any hope of holding your own. I’ve had to do it, even though I still love him, because there’s just no other way. If I run after him wanting affection, he’ll run rings around me – he always has. And if I try to oppose him, he’ll just take away warmth. It’s true what that film – ‘War Games’ is it? – says, ‘Sometimes the only winning move is not to play.’ Well that’s what’s happened here and I’m glad of it.

He went anyway, the next day, and now I’m here all alone. I don’t know what to make of it. I don’t suppose I will know for a very long time.

With gratitude for all your help mum. I couldn’t have done any of this without you.

Love from Harriet (your daughter – in law – but not for much longer).