SHORT STORIES BY LOUISE T W LUCAS
I really can't stand my neighbour.
She has the most appallingly loud parties outside on her patio nearly every weekend.
She shows absolutely no consideration for the residents of this street.
It's not a large patio, in truth, it's more of a backyard. Just a slab of concrete, really.
It amazes me how many people seem to gather out there of a Friday night. Or is it only a few very noisy individuals managing to create the impression Glastonbury Festival has just relocated?
Of course, they all get totally wasted, often drinking until the early hours of the morning. Then they hear the road sweeper driving past and somehow that, finally, alerts them to the fact that a new day has just dawned.
I doubt that any of them hold down regular jobs.
Admittedly, I am at present unemployed myself, or rather, between jobs.
What's the point though? Do I really want to be working seven hours a day, five days a week, just to pay my ex-wife child support and maintenance?
I'd end up with hardly enough money to cover my rent while she gets to live it up at my expense.
One thing's for sure, I shan't be declaring my part-time painting and decorating work to the Social Security Office. That extra income is all that's keeping me afloat.
Anyway, I digress.
Apart from forcing me to listen to her truly appalling music collection, which is always turned up to the highest possible volume.
She has recently purchased a bloody chiminea.
You know, one of those patio heaters, the sort you chuck coal or wood into. The result of this being, that once lit, large clouds of thick billowing smoke drift up into the night sky and in through my open window.
Why leave the window open? You may ask. Would it not be best to close it at such times? Well, no, it wouldn't be best. I need air in the room, some kind of ventilation. It's a good job I don't suffer from Asthma, although I did have a chest infection the other week and I hold her entirely responsible.
Not only that, her friends, apart from being a bunch of barely functioning alcoholics, are all heavy smokers. The toxic fumes from their cigarettes are poisoning the very air I breathe. Only the other day I read that cigarettes contain over four hundred chemicals, including forty-three which are carcinogenic. These include carbon monoxide, arsenic and formaldehyde. If I get cancer I shall know who to blame.
That woman will literally be the death of me.
There is no respite due to bad weather either.
They just go and erect a gazebo to shelter them from the rain. It's maddening!
I'm sure I've prematurely aged since I moved in here.
Without wishing to sound vain or egotistical, I would describe myself as your quintessential tall dark and handsome alpha-male.
Now when I look in the mirror all I can see is a man worn down by severe sleep deprivation.
There are dark circles under my eyes and for the first time ever I have noticed some grey hairs.
I mean, bloody hell, I'm only in my thirties. I won't be forty until next year.
On one occasion, someone turned up with a guitar, for goodness sake!
They all started singing along while he strummed 'Yellow Submarine'. I hate 'Yellow Submarine'. I hate 'House of the Rising Sun' too, which was another tune he knew how to play badly.
She has the most irritatingly high-pitched laugh.
I can only describe it as ear-piercing.
In fact, it's the endless laughter from the lot of them that really gets me down. Everything just isn't that funny. It's so insane!
One evening I was so frustrated I decided to call the police. My peace was being disturbed and the noise level was totally unacceptable.
Initially, I was delighted when two policemen turned up within half an hour of my call,
and, as my window was open, I could clearly hear most of the ensuing conversation.
What a jolly exchange of pleasantries that turned out to be.
It seemed that one of the policemen was on familiar terms with my neighbour. Not through previous misdemeanour's, oh no! He knew her because she happened to be great friends with his wife who, as then became apparent, was actually out there forming part of the merry throng. After a series of inaudible mutterings I just managed to catch the words, noise, and, keep it down. Then the police left.
For a whole ten minutes the atmosphere seemed slightly subdued and then the racket, just as loud as before, started up again.
You're not going to believe what happened next though!
As I went to get in my car the following morning for a quick shop for supplies, I found a man clamping one of the wheels.
The previous day I had been delighted when I drove past my flat and noticed that there was a free parking space right outside. Usually, I can't park anywhere near the building and end up streets away.
Anyway, there aren't any yellow lines or notices, so, I was pretty angry and confused
Apparently, this guy had been contracted by the police to clamp and impound my car!
Why? How on earth can that be? You may well ask.
Well, it turns out that our local constabulary considers this to be a reasonable measure to take in response to unpaid road tax!
I just couldn't believe it, and all my protestations got me absolutely nowhere.
So, big deal, my tax is three months out of date! It was hardly crime of the century for Christ sake!
It took me days and a great deal of money, I can tell you, to get that bloody car back.
The first time I went to the pound, after enduring a long and tedious bus ride, I was told that I needed to show them my logbook.
As I am not inclined to carry my logbook around with me on a regular basis I had no choice but to return to the flat.
I looked just everywhere for it and eventually found it under a pile of unpaid bills.
Then I got back to the pound and this time the guy there tells me that I need to show identification. Proof of my name and address, a utility bill or something.
I mean, effing hell, why didn't they tell me that in the first instance!
So, then I had to go all the way back home again on the bus!
Honestly, my blood pressure was through the roof by the time I returned to the car pound brandishing my council tax demand to verify my name and address.
Then I'm hit with another bombshell. This bloke hands me some massive bill for the surety and impound fee!
At least I didn't have to go back on the bus and get my chequebook.
My credit card was in my wallet, and yes, American Express would do nicely thank you very much!
I knew that bloody neighbours policeman friend was bound to be behind this calculated and malicious persecution. He must have noticed my out of date tax disc the evening they turned up after my telephone call.
Now that I think back, I can recall some childish sniggering taking place between her and the officers.
After that, I decided to make any future complaint via the regular channels.
I started to keep a diary of the times and dates of these disturbances. Then I sent it to the Environmental Health Officer, along with a tape recording I had made.
I had spent months compiling the evidence and now, I've been informed, the council have mislaid the audio proof.
Really, I thought, or, could the Environmental Health Officers voice actually be one of those recorded on that very tape?
It's driven me to extremes, I can tell you. Behaviour I would not have thought I was capable of.
Once, in retaliation, I even turned my own stereo up so loud it must have reverberated from one end of the street to the other. Certainly, a lot more lights went on and the woman over the way started shouting, although I don't know if it was aimed at me or them.
Then I decided to just go crazy and chuck a large bucket of my own urine out of my bedroom window and over into her patio. I had built up quite a quantity over a matter of days, just peeing in the bucket rather than the toilet. I couldn't stop laughing thinking about how they would react to being soaked in my golden shower. Unfortunately, my fluids failed to reach their designated target.
Instead, it just fell into the garden of the flat below and all their nasturtiums have now died.
Luckily, the couple who live there were both away at the time. It would have been very difficult to explain my actions.
So, I constructed a rather cleverly designed trebuchet style devise. With this, I could lob things more accurately into her backyard, when she wasn't looking.
I know this might sound quite immature, and, thinking back, I'm not sure I wasn't on the verge of a mini-breakdown by that point.
It helped though, taking action, having a plan. It gave me a sense of control over the whole situation, and I found it quite therapeutic.
First, I found a rotting rat outside the restaurant opposite and used my new invention to catapult it over her wall.
In the park, the following day, I was lucky enough to stumble upon the maggot-infested carcass of a dead squirrel.
The trouble was, searching for dead rodents and birds was fairly time-consuming.
Also, people tend to give you some funny looks when they come across you bagging the remains of dead rodents and road-kill.
For this reason, I decided to start saving my leftovers instead. Pizza crusts, half-eaten yoghurts, chunks of Stilton cheese, that sort of thing. I would put them in a plastic bag under the sink and when they were rancid enough, over onto her patio they would go.
Ha! I thought, the rats will find their own way into your yard from now on.
I don't know what she made of this, or whether she was aware that I was responsible.
Then, one Friday night, I thought, to hell with the lot of them, I'm going out clubbing. Which was something I hadn't done in years.
When I was married I was happy to stay in with the wife and kids. We only really socialised when she invited her friends over for dinner.
My ex-wife, Alisha, was always popular. I first saw her at the secondary school Christmas party. There she was, laughing away with a group of what I used to call, 'the cool kids'. At that time I thought she was really something. Alisha was very petite, just like a beautiful delicate doll. She had fabulous long dark auburn hair, perfect skin and the most adorable big brown eyes.
I really don't know why I had that affair with her friend Helen. She was a right bitch really. Mucked up my marriage and then went back to her boyfriend.
Not that I'm sorry. It's great to be free and single, playing the field again. Who wants to be stuck with one woman all their life?
So, anyway, I swaggered into the club, and although I say it myself, I think I look pretty sharp in my Kurt Geiger shades, black skinny jeans and Che Guevara T-shirt. The first thing I do is, I go over to the bar and hit on this really sassy hot young blonde.
It wasn't long before we were heading back to mine for a nightcap.
Unfortunately, I had forgotten about the pile of rotting foodstuffs that I had been nurturing in the cupboard for the benefit of the neighbour.
The kitchen now had the odour of the inside of an unwashed dustbin and just as I was pouring her a large glass of Chardonnay, this bloody great cockroach scurries across the floor, right in front of her.
Then I turn around to pick up my wine and there's another one floating around in it!
Talk about hysterical! You would think she had just caught sight of a tarantula or something.
Needless to say, sassy blonde exited tout suite!
Over the following weeks, I noticed that these two cockroaches had not been lone invaders. There were now quite a few of them and they had taken up residence in my flat.
This was a worrying development.
My landlord was due to turn up for the six-monthly flat check and this infestation was unlikely to impress.
I purchased a variety of products that promised to eliminate my ever-increasing cockroach community.
Absolute waste of money, nothing worked.
I did some online research to identify this particular breed of cockroaches so that I could find out the best way to kill them off. Turns out that they were German, not the Asian, or American variety, no, I had been invaded by the Germans!
When the landlord turned up. I tried to shift the blame. I told him that they must be coming in from next door, said my neighbour was a real slut and mentioned the fact that she had recently had a problem with rats. I suggested he went next door and insist on inspecting her patio.
So, he goes around there to see her.
Then, after about half an hour he comes back here in a real mood.
He tells me her house is extremely clean, tidy, and cockroach free.
He says she was a very charming woman and that now he feels he has made a complete fool of himself by going in there ranting on about rats and German cockroaches.
Anyway, the upshot is, I have to find somewhere else to live because the landlord now needs to bring in a pest control company to tackle the infestation.
Then he plans to re-decorate and put the rent up.
I won't be able to afford a higher rent, that's for sure.
I'm going to have to move back in with my mother for a while. I really can't think of anywhere else to go.
I thought it might be amusing to collect some of the cockroaches before I left, and then put them in a box ready to release through her letterbox, as the perfect parting gesture.
However, during my online research, I discovered that these grubby little insects can be the cause of salmonella, dysentery and gastroenteritis.
Now, as much as I despise my neighbour, who also happens to be Alisha, my bloody ex-wife (I don't know if I mentioned that), and would happily see her suffer from any, or preferably, all three of these infections. Our two young sons live next door with her, and I'm not going to risk making them really ill just because she doesn't know how to behave!
I suppose it's ironic really. I only moved in next door to aggravate her.
The Chef's Special.
The overwhelming sensation of joy and excitement that swept through me as I entered the grand foyer of The Bodringham Park Estate Hotel and Spa was immense.
What a weekend this was going to be!
The online description had promised, a magnificent Country house with both heritage and luxury effortlessly combined. The opportunity to fine-dine in a contemporary and stylish restaurant on locally sourced cuisine prepared, Dans la Maison, by its internationally renowned Michelin star Chef. Guests would be able to enjoy exclusive use of the indoor heated pool and pamper themselves with a range of spa and well-being treatments.
Not only that.
If the mood took me, I could ride through the four hundred acres of parkland on horseback, with the wind in my hair, or get lost in the famous Bodringham maze.
This all sounded wonderful. However, wind in my hair and getting lost was not what I had signed up for.
I was here to perfect my skills and master new techniques by partaking in the intensive, two days, Seafood cookery course.
As well as creating the perfect seasonal seafood dishes and learning how to rustle up a delicious fish starter, my culinary creation would then be paired with a complimentary glass of wine.
For two whole days, I would reside in this world. A world of elegance and exclusivity.
Bring it on! I thought.
The children have grown up and flown the coop, then my husband had swiftly followed, lured to pastures new by the charms of his much young secretary.
I know, how cliché!
“Don't worry Ruby.” My mother had said. “You're a very attractive woman with much to look forward to. Get out there now and enjoy your new-found freedom.”
So here I am, free, single, and in search of self-improvement.
My hotel room did not disappoint, fabulously furnished and inclusive of everything one might expect from a five-star establishment such as this.
By the time I had unpacked, it was about half-past three in the afternoon. As the course didn't start until the following day, I decided to go for a quick dip in the pool and possibly book a facial.
Oh, the glorious decadence of it all!
There was only one other person enjoying the pool. A woman called Jean, about my age I would guess, or maybe slightly younger, mid-forties perhaps.
Jean was the open chatty kind, keen to mingle and make friends.
She had a big round face and very large blue eyes. Her figure had been kept in check and her mid-length blonde hair, though wet from the water, was still fastened at the back with a slide.
Jean and I hit it off immediately.
She had also recently waved goodbye to a long-lived and tired marriage.
After our brief exchange of life stories, we agreed to meet up again at six-thirty in the hotel's lounge bar and celebrated our arrival with a shared bottle of champagne.
Even the cheapest bottle was horrendously expensive and we downed it while debating whether to try out some of the famed cuisine, of the great Franchot Bouchard, in the lavishly decorated glazed dinning-room overlooking the gardens.
We thought better of it and settled for some foie gras and toast from les petites collations offered at the bar
Then, feeling slightly tipsy, we made our way back up to our respective rooms for the big day ahead of us.
I met the other four guests taking part in the seafood course the following morning, at breakfast.
There were two other women.
One in her thirties, called Felicity, who wanted to learn new cooking skills in order to impress her boss when he next came to dinner, and Sophia, a French teacher in her late forties who confessed to an addiction to life-skill enhancing mini-breaks (the previous weekend she had been on a hat-making course somewhere in Kent).
The two men consisted of a retired taxman called Harvey who must have been in his mid-sixties. Harvey was, undoubtedly, a man who enjoyed his food, a fact made apparent by his extraordinarily large frame, which must have been carrying a surplus of a least seven stone.
Peter, on the other hand, was a tall, lean and handsome man in his early thirties with plans for a major career change (he was the son of an undertaker, currently serving as a funeral assistant in the family business). Peter's big ambition was to open his own restaurant.
On arrival, an assistant to Franchot, handed us all crisp white aprons bearing the Bodringham logo. Then we stood amongst the large gleaming chrome kitchen awaiting the entrance of our hallowed teacher.
Chef, as we were asked to call him, strode into the room with all the confidence of man fully aware of his God-like status in his Michelin star-studded world.
Tall, imposing and truly handsome, we were all in awe.
As Franchot scanned the room to assess his subjects, I felt my hands start to shake as his gaze met mine.
What beautiful deep brown eyes he had, their intensity only further enhanced by his majestic head of silvery hair.
The expression 'weak at the knees' sprung to mind, as I felt my own threaten to buckle beneath me.
We were asked to pair up and Jean and I hastily secured our pitch.
My hands were still unsteady as Jean and I watched the Master Chef in action.
It was enthralling to observe how speedily the internals of a trout could be dealt with, how dexterously the skin could be sliced from a lemon sole, and the ease with which this man could fillet a large halibut.
Truly mesmerising, was how Jean described Franchot's performance, as she looked on, dazed and mesmerised.
After showing Felicity and Peter how to prepare their prawns, Franchot sifted over to our area to demonstrate again how to fillet a fish.
Brandishing a suitably sharp knife, Chef confidently plunged it into the stomach of our trout and swiftly sliced it open from tail to gills. He then ripped out the intestines with a flourish, before boning, decapitating, removing the tail and skinning it.
“You make it look so easy Chef.”
Purred Jean, gazing up into his face with an expression I can only describe as soppy.
Chef's features also seemed to soften as he looked down into Jeans large adoring eyes.
Shall I show you again? He offered, obligingly.
This time he sidled up close to Jean, took hold of her right hand and made a careful insertion. Together they sliced the trout from one end to the other.
After completion, Jean became rather flustered and giggly and I began to wonder if my initial feelings of comradeship had been misguided.
Chef then turned to me and asked if I could pull out its innards.
I did, what I thought, was a decent job of this unsavoury task.
Though Chef was not happy and looked at my efforts with contempt before muttering something in French.
Merde, I understood, the rest I didn't.
Then Jean started conversing with him in his native tongue and offered a translation of exactly what he had said during their verbal exchange.
Chef says he is not pleased, you have left some entrails behind, even though he has already demonstrated the procedure twice. He says he is wondering whether you have attention deficit disorder or something, though I suspect he was just being sarcastic.
Chef then leant over Jean and once again took her hand. Together they swiftly sliced off the trout's head and then its tail.
Skinning the fish was my task.
This really is quite tricky for a total novice. However, once again, I did all I could to excel and show some natural ability.
The skinless fish looked good to me and, with renewed confidence, I waited to hear some words of approval and encouragement.
They were not forthcoming.
A further exchange between Chef and Jean ensued.
She then informed me that, according to Chef, I had taken off too much of the fish meat and that I was an extremely sloppy worker who lacked quite basic cookery skills.
Mr Bouchard then abandoned us and wandered over to the taxman, who had partnered up with Sophia.
They were busily hacking away at a lobster.
As the day progressed Franchot wandered from table to table offering advice and expressing his general dissatisfaction with our efforts, particularly mine.
I'm ashamed to admit that by the time we had had our lunch and complimentary glass of wine I was beginning to feel rather teary, and twice made a dash to the wash-room for some deep breathing exercises.
I had so wanted to shine, to impress and make this incredibly gorgeous and charismatic French man look at me in the same way as he did Jean, who it seemed, towards the end of the day, had acquired the status of teacher's pet.
Sensing my rather subdued spirits Jean told me that I really shouldn't take Chef's derogatory comments to heart.
He's a perfectionist, she insisted. Nothing will ever match up to his high standards, don't let it upset you.
Well, I thought, begrudgingly, you seem to be matching up to his exacting requirements.
By the time Chef returned to taste my smoked salmon, crab, and watercress tureen, I was a woman on the edge.
When he then paused, looked theatrically around the room and declared it a triumph, I nearly fainted.
Instead, a flood of tears cascaded from my eyes and I made a dash, once again, for the salle de bains.
Franchot then announced the day's lessons over.
Jean suggested we head immediately for the bar to enjoy a large gin and tonic.
Isn't he amazing! Exclaimed Jean. Just so ludicrously handsome!
I can't say I noticed, I lied. I personally found him something of a bully, if truth be told.
Jean insisted that he was more masterful than bullying.
Sophia the French teacher and Harvey, the taxman, were already deep in conversation at the far end of the bar, whereas, Felicity and Peter were nowhere to be seen.
Jean and I sat down with our double gins and Jean confessed that she was absolutely head-over-heels, in lust with Franchot, and that if he was to make a play for her, she would simply not be able to resist his advances.
I suspected that Franchot might also have designs on enjoying some boudoir action with Jean, prior to her departure on Sunday.
A possibility that rather miffed me and only increased the hollow, empty, feeling I now harboured in the pit of my stomach
Franchot made an entrance, unexpectedly, half an hour later and, after greeting Sophia and Harvey, swaggered over towards our table and sat down.
“Bonsoir madame's, may I be delighted by your company for a short while? The Sous Chef is busy with 'is preparations and I 'ave a few precious minutes to spare.
This was the point where Jean began to lose control of her senses and adopt the behaviour of a love-struck, overtly flirtatious, teenager.
With a click of his fingers, Franchot summoned the waiter and ordered a bottle of something called Pessac Leognan, informing us that it was the best white wine of the Bordeaux region and we really should try it.
Unfortunately, Jean's nerves were getting the better of her and she gulped down the first glass of Pessac before Franchot, or I had hardly had a chance to savour its rich bouquet.
It was not long before she was grabbing the bottle and proclaiming it a really lovely crisp and refreshing wine with saucily fruity undertones.
At this point, I began to suspect that my new found friend had possibly watched the film 'Basic Instincts' rather too many times, as she started crossing and uncrossing her legs in a fashion that was in no way reminiscent of the famous scene starring Sharon Stone.
Then, she leant so far in towards Franchot, two buttons of her blouse burst under the strain of her heaving bosom, thus revealing her lacy red bra.
Seemingly unaware of her overexposed cleavage and underwear, Jean yelled over to the barman to demand another bottle of, what she was now calling, Pesky Lognan.
Franchot looked horrified.
A second bottle arrived.
Jean poured herself a full glass, drained it in minutes and then stood up, insisting she needed the powder-room.
Those were the last words she spoke that evening.
Franchot hailed for the hotel staff to assist and five minutes later she was being carried up the stairs to her chamber by three reluctant volunteers.
I made sure Jean was safely placed on her bed in the recovery position, before retiring to my own room.
As I looked out over the charming view of the great estate, prior to plunging into my hot, inviting, whirlpool spa bath, I caught sight of Peter and Felicity galloping across the grounds, their hair, most certainly, ruffled and windswept.
Day two was something of a disaster all round.
Peter and Felicity were a no-show. It seemed that boiling up fish heads had obviously lost its lustre. Either that or they had actually got lost in the famed Bodringham maze.
As I had peered out of my window at the lush dewy lawn that very morning, I'm sure I had seen them both running and laughing, with great gaiety, in that direction.
On the other hand, by this point, a certain distance and frostiness had developed between Sophia and Harvey. Sophie had been given a room only two doors up from my own and I had overheard an angry exchange between herself and a man, probably Harvey, late in the evening.
I caught only a few words, lecherous, being one, and creep, being the other.
Jean arrived last, looking extremely pale and generally out of sorts.
Surveying the depleted crew before him, Chef's mood darkened and he delivered the mornings teachings with what can only be described as ill-concealed contempt, shouting clipped instructions at us, while randomly waving his fish knife in a quite threatening manner.
With dampened enthusiasm, I set about skinning a Haddock.
Jean wasn't up to filleting, so I allocated her the task of taking the fish offal over to the waste disposal on the other side of the kitchen.
By midday, Franchot's incessant shouting proved too much for poor Jean to tolerate.
Tearing off her apron, she informed Franchot of her intention to return to her hotel room, where, she would no longer have to listen to the incessant rantings of a mad megalomaniacal cook.
Reached the exit, she threw one final insult in Chefs direction, declaring that she had overheard guests complaining about the lack of seasoning in the restaurants Pate De Maison and that the chocolate souffle had been on the dry side.
Then she slammed the door.
We stood mute and frozen as we waited to see how the great Chef would react.
The haughty look of superiority Franchot generally chose to adopt, suddenly crumbled and you could see the storm clouds gathering as his eyes widened and body stiffened.
Suddenly, bristling with anger, he strode towards the exit, intent, we assumed, on pursuit.
Unfortunately, it seemed that walking as far as the waste disposal without slopping half the fish skin on the floor had proved too challenging a task for Jean.
Franchot went down backwards and his head hit the tiles with a disturbingly loud crack.
Sophia, Harvey and I ran to his assistance and then ascertained that, in his unconscious state, the best plan of action would be to call an ambulance.
The last time I saw Franchot was as he was fed into the back of an ambulance.
Of course, we all demanded a refund and that evening, over a 'hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-her', Jean and I decided that we should use the money on another weekend away. Sophia had told us about a really good creative writing course she had been on at a hotel in Berkshire.
Our first task was to compose a short story of no more than two thousand words.
Write about something you have actual knowledge and experience, suggested our tutor.
So I have, and here it is.
Should anyone be interested, I'm sorry to inform you that the Bodringham Park Estate Hotel and Spa no longer offer all-inclusive cookery course weekends.