Cats, Nanny used to say, should be kept in bags. I don't think she meant that literally, in fact I'm sure she didn't, but it's rather like making sure that your skeletons remain firmly hidden in cupboards. The events of the past few weeks have been umm ... well, interesting, and I felt that I should sit down and commit them to paper. Well, not paper, but you know what I mean, in order to give the photographs on the disc that'll go with this their proper context. Where to start though? Nanny always used to say begin at the beginning, work your way through filling in all the details until you reach the end. And when you reach the end, stop. All very well for nanny, but I wasn't much good at school, I mean, not exams, I can read and write well enough of course, but I preferred games and more physical things, hockey and riding, oh and other things, but that's where Toto comes in...
Still, concentrate girl, let's start at the beginning. My name is Felicity Hart-Rogers, I'm thirty eight years old, and I'm married to James Hart-Rogers. We have two children, Giles who is seventeen and Roisin who is sixteen. I would like to think that she is sweet sixteen and never been kissed, but I know better, and it would have been a forlorn hope anyway. Giles is a fairly normal sort of name, but about the time Roisin – it's pronounced Rosheen for those of you who are not familiar with it – was borne there was a vogue for Irish names, probably because people were watching Ballykiss-some-thing-or-other, a TV programme about a young vicar in Ireland who was celibate but in love with the landlady of the local pub. The number of Siobhans and Niamhs, although I have seen the latter spelt Neve, is amazing, quite supplanting the ubiquitous Emmas, Fionas and Sarahs of my day. Gaelic spellings are almost unique and I have never been able to make head or tail of them. I mean, if Sean is Shawn why don't they spell it like that? The name of that actor Sean Bean always looks odd to me, should it be Shawn Bawn I wonder? And Welsh! Our horse box is made by Ifor Williams, but it's pronounced Ivor, because they pronounce f as v. So why don't they spell it like that? Sheer perversity, that's why. I do wonder how people who speak these odd languages actually manage, I mean, how do they learn them in the first place? Now, I appreciate that the Americans have an odd take on spellings, and some of the words they use are distinctly eighteenth century, but at least you can understand them. The French on the other hand spell things alright, but then they don't pronounce them. Hearing a Frenchman trying to pronounce a simple thing like 'Heathrow' is good for a giggle in any language.
Oh dear! Nanny always said don't digress, and here I am telling you all sorts of things you probably don't want to know. Stick to the story Flick! But I must just tell you, because it is relevant to the last bit, not the main story, but I'll get back to that, about a tour we took early in our marriage.
It was not long after the fall of the Berlin Wall and German re-unification. We were touring Germany and ventured into the East, eventually ending up in a place called Gorlitz which is right on the border with Poland. We decided that we'd go into Poland and have a look at it. I have to say that it really is miles of bugger all, very flat country and as my father, who was a Brigadier always said, absolutely ideal for tanks or cavalry. Just not at the same time and on opposing sides. Now Polish spelling and pronunciation is the stuff of legend but we found a lot of English spoken so it wasn't too bad. We went as far as Kracow which is fascinating, by way of, and returning to Wroclaw, which is pronounced (roughly) Rotswoff, and you can see what I mean can't you? We picked the Novotel here, part of a French chain, and it was full of French people, tourists I suppose, I expect the French do that sort of thing. The receptionist was having a heated argument with one of them, and when she had finished James enquired as to whether she spoke English. 'I don't' she said with some vehemence, 'speak French.' And then smiled and asked us how she could help. In English. James was quite delighted to discover that they had satellite TV, and watched a late night German quiz programme in which the contestants, all perfect specimens of Teutonic man and womanhood, stripped to the buff for completely unknown reasons. Unknown that is, unless you spoke German. I didn't realise at the time just why James was watching, but let's just say that the girls weren't the only pretty ones and draw a veil over the rest. Suffice to say that he was very active that night. But there we are, the innocence of a new bride.
It was the next day when we were approaching the place where we thought we should turn off for Gorlitz that we had a bit of a surprise.
"I think we should have turned back there," said James.
"No," I replied, "it didn't say Gorlitz."
We stopped to look at the map, and yes, I did have it the right way up.
It turned out that the Polish name for Gorlitz, the town is half in Germany and half in Poland, began with a 'Z', Zgorzelec, I think; totally incomprehensible.
We passed through the border checkpoint which is at the bottom of a steep sided river valley and drove up to the top of the hill on the German side at which point we made two unfortunate discoveries. Firstly, we were nearly out of petrol, and secondly, we didn't have any German marks. James said something rude indicating that he thought it was my fault although how on earth he worked that out is beyond me.
"And," he said, "we haven't got anything to eat."
It may have struck you that all we really had to do was find a hotel and the problem would be solved, but James was determined to press on to Dresden.
"Tell you what," I said, "there was someone changing money just the other side of the border. If I nip down there I could change some of these zlottys for marks."
"It'll be an extortionate rate though," James replied. "No one wants those things, not even the Poles, I can't think why you got stuck with so many."
We'd changed a fifty pound note and become zloty millionaires, but to be honest we hadn't reckoned on how cheap things were, so we'd been stuck with quite a few.
So off I went, down the hill and crossed over the bridge, persuaded the money changer to give me marks, actually not for the zlotties, he simply wouldn't take them, but I did have some sterling and he was very happy with that as you can imagine. So problem ended, all I had to do was walk back to the car. Unfortunately it wasn't that simple. As I went to pass the check point I was stopped and asked for my passport. Which I had, of course, left in the car.
Of course it simply hadn't occurred to me, what with James being shirty, and there I was stuck. It took all of an hour to get to someone senior enough to risk making a decision, and then it had to be agreed across an international border; you'll appreciate that up until quite recently it had been the border between two iron curtain countries, and as such perfectly friendly and of little consequence, but since the re-unification of the two Germanys it had assumed considerably more importance. Eventually it was agreed that a very smart young Polish soldier would escort me up the hill to the car and inspect my passport. Whether this counted as a military invasion I'm not sure, but he marched very smartly alongside me, looked at my passport when we reached the car, saluted and marched back down the hill. Invasion over the recriminations commenced.
Well, there now, I'd better get back to the main narrative or we'll never get finished. Nanny would have been making all sorts of dire threats.
We own a small estate in, well, let's just say the west country and hope not too much of this will ever get into the gutter press, which James inherited from his father. Before becoming what he laughingly refers to as a country gent, James had a career in the City, and although he does try to make the estate at least break even, it has enabled him to modernise some areas of the business that would not otherwise have been possible.
James is the local Master of Foxhounds and we have reasonably extensive stables which also cater for some livery which is part of making the estate at least break even, and in a good year we come close to paying tax.
Actually none of that is the beginning, but I suppose it sets the scene, well at least you know who you're talking to. The real beginning was...
I glanced at Toto as Beryl Higgins began the opening bars on the village hall piano, sadly in need of tuning, but then so are some of the ladies voices and it doesn't seem to make much difference. Toto caught my glance and smiled as if to say' here we go again, and with that I led the ladies into what has become the anthem of the Womens Institute...
"And did those feet, in ancient time..." and so on for the umpteenth time.
I've been chair of the local branch of the Women's Institute it seems almost for ever, so it falls to me to lead the singing. My son Giles insists on calling it the Women's Institution which isn't very nice, if occasionally quite accurate, and when I threatened to castrate him if he didn't stop he just laughed and said you'll want grandchildren one day mother, and if you do that you won't have any. Which is right I suppose, and since the estate goes by the rules of progenitor which means that it has to pass down the male line, the little bastard has me over a barrel.
It had been a warm spring evening, very pleasant and with the portent of better things to come, unlike the meeting which had been difficult because everyone wanted to have an input on the subject of fund raising, and in particular the overweight and unpleasant woman who was determined to challenge my position as chair. I often wonder why our American friends get so upset when someone describes a woman as a bitch. It seems little more than an endearment to an English ear, but I wonder what they make of cow. Certainly the latter rather than the former applied to Mrs Grace Winterton, nee Cone and heiress to the Grasco supermarket fortune. Grace indeed! No name could have been more inappropriate for such a graceless creature. I had vetoed her suggestion to do a calendar, I mean, it's all very well, but it has been done before, and she took that in very poor spirit and ended up muttering with her two cronies, Hilda Smith and Annie Quickly, who are indeed a couple of crones whose allegiance she has clearly purchased. Hilda is a native of the village and heaven knows there are few enough of those, and Annie always considers herself to be better than she really is. Her husband owns one of the farms adjoining our estate, and her son is a bit of a prat, means well but his brain is, well, where most men's brains are but a bit more so. He took his younger sister off to London last year to find accommodation for her whilst she was at college and the silly boy turned down several rooms because he thought that the women there were lesbians and might corrupt his sister! As if. The funny thing is that his other sister was nanny to a woman who was, shall we say, no better than she should be, but because the woman was attractive the poor lad thought that that was alright. Until his sister turned up with an illegitimate bun in her oven. Seems it was alright for sister number two to be corrupted by a whore, but not for sister number one to be exposed to Sapphitic delights. But there we are, these yokels do have some funny ideas.
Oh dear, I've been off again, do keep to the point Flick. We had the usual competition but for the life of me I cannot remember what it was, but I think Mrs Barratt won something, and the lecture on preserving has been given so many times that it really is getting old, and I refuse to make jam anyway. So I was delighted and relieved to put the meeting to bed, as it were, and looking forward to a large G&T at Toto's; there's no peace and quiet at the manor at present, the damned place is infested with Roisin's little friends. God, young girls are so noisy, I'm sure we weren't as bad. My friendship with Toto goes back to our school days of course. I first befriended her after her first crush had left the school under a bit of a cloud, well, not her exactly, but her father had been a government minister, defence I think, who had been caught out in the wrong bed. Nothing wrong with having a mistress of course, but sharing her with the military attaché of a foreign power isn't the ideal situation. So Toto, her real name is Isabella by the way, but I didn't find that out until later, was left on her own and much in need of a shoulder to cry on, and I've always been a soft touch for sad eyed puppies, which is quite appropriate because the nick-name 'Toto' had been bestowed on her because her amour's name was Dorothea, and Isabella had followed her about like a rather limp terrier. So it was only natural that she was called Toto and it just stuck.
After we left school we were quite close until we both married, me of course to James, and she to a Vicar called Anthony something or other, I really can't remember what. Oh, silly me it was Morgan, because she didn't change her name when she got divorced. Anyway, they went off to live in the next county in a very pretty village where he had his living. Of course she divorced him when he was defrocked, but we really don't want to go into the sordid details of that, but you could look up his case in the Sunday tabloids if you really like that sort of thing. Needless to say the dog had to be put down, a pity because it had a very good pedigree, and Toto was quite distraught. She'd been very fond of the animal. We found her a cottage on the estate and she has been there ever since, swearing that she'll have nothing more to do with men. She saw me off at about eleven, very much dishabille, whereas I had to do the full warpaint job so that I didn't look out of the norm when I arrived back at the manor.
"Oh, oh, oh, oh, yes, yes, that's it, oohhhh."
And indeed that is it. As you may imagine from that sequence, I'm flat on my back and the rather unimaginative lover I've just faked an orgasm for is smiling the sweet smile of self satisfaction, and in this case self delusion, as he believes he has just given me a wonderful gift. As if! He is a good looking self made and self obsessed young man who will probably go far. He is also our local member of parliament who could well one day become prime minister. If no one discovers that he'll shag anything in a skirt, the public don't seem to approve of that and the press will ferret it out sooner or later, so I won't put his name here, just in case he does get away with it. That may not be very complimentary to me, but the real reason I am doing this, apart from the fact that I'd hoped it would be better, is to spite his awful little wife.