“I thought MI5 were all ex-public school wallahs, I suspect Bill, is more your comprehensive type—not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.”
“If you had someone doing your brickwork who spoke with a plum in his mouth, what would you think?” asked Simon, challenging my observation.
“Oh, I see what you mean.”
“Bill, Cathy is confused—she has this weird suspicion that you aren’t all you purport to be.”
He looked uncomfortable and shrugged a-what-do-you-expect-me-to-do-about-it expression. “Sorry, yer Lordship, Ma’am.”
“Drop the pleb accent old fruit, it’s making the missus uncomfortable,” Simon urged.
“This is me usual accent,” he looked horrified.
“Cobblers—I happen to know you went to Harrow.” Simon was beginning to get irked.
“ ‘oo told yer that?”
“Your senior officer.”
“Bill, please answer the question, we know you’re working for the secret service and in role, but I’d be grateful if you’d be honest with us.”
“Is this some sort of test, yer Ladyship?”
“Of course it isn’t. I’ve got a headache, I’m going to lie down for a bit, can you watch Meems, Simon?”
I didn’t have a headache any more than Bill was a builder. To start with, if he was a builder his name would be Bob. I know these things. Also, I suspected if I gave the boys a bit of space, they would probably talk more freely.
I took my laptop upstairs with me and processed a few more records, I was delighted to see some new records from Wales, just across the border from Bristol. Although I knew that dormice were threatened, hence their protection, I was also fairly sure they were more numerous than we thought, simply because of poor observation. I mean according to the records in the county before I came here, we had very few sightings—mainly because people were trying to find nests or see the actual critters, rather than look for signs such as the chewed nuts or acorns. In less than a year, I’d trebled the number of records, because I know what to look for. When I wrote about this in a journal, it encouraged others to go and look for the signs.
It isn’t rocket science—they’ve been counting otters by the number of spraints they leave—this is piles of poo, left on a very obvious place—mainly to advise other otters of the existence of the owner of said poo. I remember one fieldworker who told us that you pick them up and sniff them to see how fresh they are. He ended up in casualty with fish bones up his nose—the nurse found it very amusing to hear how they got there. Thankfully, I don’t have to sniff dormouse droppings.
Anyway, otters are more numerous than we originally thought which does two things—it shows that conservation can work—and they are the best way to keep feral mink at bay. Both are in competition for the same food and territories, otters are bigger and stronger and will kill mink if they see them. Natural control is by far the best way—unfortunately, the opposite is probably true for squirrels—the American Grey is driving the native Red squirrel into oblivion. I know it’s difficult to see it that way when you see the grey ones running about on the ground and scampering up trees or even doing acrobatics on overhead power lines. They spend much more time scavenging on the ground than reds do, although on one or two islands, like Brownsea or the Isle of Wight, where the greys haven’t colonised, it is possible to see reds. On Brownsea, they have feeding stations so it’s almost impossible to miss them during the spring and summer.
I did an hour of record processing—I didn’t challenge any today—I don’t know if I’m going soft or the records were better. Most of the stuff is chewed acorns or hazel nuts with occasional nest box records with exact numbers. My distribution map is looking better every year.
I went downstairs feeling so much better—until I got into the kitchen. Simon had gone outside with Bill and Meems had decided to make some bread ‘as a surprise for Mummy.’ It was too.
I had at least a pound of flour over the kitchen floor with footprints leading into the lounge, having walked through a wet patch. The bread machine was making all sorts of funny noises and I dreaded—rather than breaded—opening it when it peeped.
I had to take her up and bath her she was covered in flour and jam—she was trying to make a loaf which gave her jam sandwiches. I put the empty jar in the recycling box.
When Simon returned, I made him clear up the mess. It would mean I’d have to do it myself afterwards—Simon must have been brought up in circular rooms, because he never looks in the corners, let alone cleans in them. I suspect too, that all their furniture must either have been very heavy or screwed to the floor, because he never moves any when he cleans up. However, I wanted him to suffer just a bit for his negligence.
Tom was bringing the other two home when I brought Mima down from the bathroom. I did have to do the kitchen and I got Trish to push the vacuum cleaner over the lounge carpet—she does a better job than her Dad.
Livvie helped me mop the kitchen floor and while she was busy I quietly dumped Mima’s loaf—throwing it out for the birds would probably have killed off quite a few of them. I then got on with making the dinner which we had half an hour later.
Stella got very cross when she found she couldn’t take Puddin’ out in her pram. “That is disgraceful, I feel like a wretched prisoner—I had more freedom in that clinic.”
I managed to stop Simon suggesting she go back there by interrupting her with an agreement that I felt the same. It was a real nuisance.
“At least you got to go out on your stupid bike—that’s what probably started it all, you and that stupid bike.”
I rushed out to the kitchen in tears, well aware that Simon would wipe the floor with her—the two older girls followed me—“Don’t cry, Mummy” they said in unison. I felt so hurt by Stella’s thoughtlessness. The two girls comforted me and Simon came out shortly afterwards.
“You okay, Babes?”
I dried my eyes and blew my nose. “I’ll live,” I said.
“I read her the riot act, she said she’d apologise later.”
He hugged me. “Look, I know this is all very tiresome but hopefully they’ll find who is behind all this.”
“It isn’t the Browne-Cowards, is it?”
“No, they have them under surveillance, they haven’t moved.”
“So who is it? Not more Russians?”
“Why are they targeting me?”
“Partly because they find you the easiest to follow, back and fore to school, round the shops and then out on your bike. Loads of people know you like to cycle—so anyone coming out of here on a bike is likely to be you.”
“What do we do—back to the hotel?”
“Um no—there was an explosion there this afternoon. They think it was deliberate.”
“What? That is dreadful, Si.” I put my hands up to my face in shock. “Anyone hurt?”
“Two killed, three in hospital.”
“Oh my God! Were they after us?”
“I don’t know—but it’s a fair bet they were after the family.”
“I thought that was all over.”
“Not while the current regime is in power—it’s run by organised crime.”
“I thought they were tough guys and had pledged to eliminate the gangsters.”
“They are gangsters.”
“What do we do, Simon, we have four children here? We can’t let them hurt the children.”
“We’re in good hands, Babes.”
‘I hope they weren’t guarding the hotel’, I said to myself, still shocked by the news.
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