Vanessa Wilde is Away.

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vanessa wilde away british holidays vw campervan isle of wight

Dear Readers,

I am taking three weeks off and will return with another nail-biting instalment on Sunday 2nd September 2018.

Tomorrow we are off to the Isle of Wight in our new VW campervan (tales of which I will regale in the fullness of time). Expecting a proper British holiday of rain, soggy socks and highs of 19ºC – none of this continental heatwave nonsense. Can’t believe I’m going for a week, especially as I am doing it ALONE; well, without Simon, I meeting Mandy there with her two tiny fiends.

Anyway, Mumbles here we come!

And there’s a Garlic Festival too, where I’ll be plaiting garlic and doing a ‘Boswell scale taste challenge’ for Country Matters. It’s going to be fun, fun, fun. And the campervan’s going to smell like a Frenchman’s jockstrap after that Day Out, lucky children. Still, on the plus side, it’ll keep the vampires and sandal-and-sock wearing GBWs (grey bearded w**kers) at bay.

Happy Holidays.
Love,

Vanessa Wilde x

 

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Absence​ of the Normal, Presence of the Abnormal.

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absence of the normal, presence of the abnormal vanessa wilde

We are in the sitting room.  I am on the sofa with my notebook as Simon briefs me on what’s ‘going on’ with Fiona and General Smith. “I can’t give you details on the nature of the investigation but it is serious.   I need you to keep an eye on them during the week.  What you’re looking for, as with any threat, is an absence of the normal, a presence of the abnormal.” Simon puffs his chest out as he lectures me. He just needs a pointing stick, overhead projector and he could be giving one of his signature PowerPoint presentations ‘on why men fight.’ (which are meant to be riveting, by the way).

Me: “Right.  So…”

Si: “I’ll take questions at the end.”

FFS.

Si: “We have eyes on them but any extra information you can give us may prove vitally important.”

And then I remember something. “Are you taking questions now?’

“Yes. Girl in the blue,” he laughs. We are the only ones in the room. He is such an arse but I can’t help giggle.

“We saw her – Fiona – on our Girls’ Night Out. She was at the bar on the Embankment, talking to a hot younger man, taking notes. We all decided she was moonlighting as a dominatrix. She didn’t look happy but then she never does. She sort of waved in our general direction and raised her glass. But then he was questioning her, he looked like the one in control.”

Simon is playing around on his iPhone. “Did you hear anything I just said?” He doesn’t reply, still absorbed by his phone. “Si?”

“What? Yes. Sorry, just trying to find the dictaphone app. Got it. Right, can you tell everything you just told me now? Just waiting for the app to download… And ready.”

***

I am peering around Sienna’s curtain, from where I have the best vantage point of the Smiths’ house.  Vita’s napping, Sienna’s at Nursery. Simon still won’t tell me what’s going on but I am beginning to put some fragments together. He almost told me something important in Italy and it’s driving me nuts.

So here’s what we know so far:

  • Simon started doing ‘some digging’ on General Smith after being made to rebuild his wall (which he didn’t knock down)
  • The General started causing trouble for Si after I stormed a live-firing exercise that Si was commanding on Salisbury Plain (to rescue Bunny, Tiggy and Taggy – the children’s favourite toys. A low moment for me.)
  • Si tries to tell me in Italy that, with help from an Mi5 contact, he’s uncovered something about General Smith (but we are interrupted by local musicians and waiters). He says it ‘goes all the way to the top’.
  • I try to question Si further when we are touring Amalfi in our Citroen 2CV but he won’t talk about it. All he says is The General “could go to jail”. Si is then ‘taken out’ by a wasp. (Or was it a tiny killer robot sent by the people who killed David Kelly, the Iraq sexed-up dossier guy? OMG. Go away thought. Shooo. And breathe, Nessa. Breathe. Oh my god. I can’t feel my face.)

I take a series of deep breaths and continue to jot things down in my journal. What else?

  • General Jeremy Smith and Fiona, his wife, are under covert investigation but we don’t know why.
  • They live opposite us on the Married Patch in Greater London.
  • They have one daughter, Fenella, aged 7 and an incontinent Dachshund, called Basil.
  • The General works in Whitehall as a Chief of Staff.
  • Fiona is a government PR manager, also working in Whitehall. (And how she got that job in the first place is a bloody mystery.)
  • Humphery, post heart attack, turns up to go for drinks at the A&E Club in Shepherd’s Market. (I googled it and there is no record of the club)
  • Fiona asks Humphery to sign papers giving her and The General alibis – one for last summer and one for December.
  • In return, she will do Humphery ‘a favour’. Undoubtedly sexual, although could be money?
  • He allegedly fakes a heart attack, doesn’t sign the papers and escapes in an ambulance.
  • She follows in her car with the papers. Does he sign them at the hospital?
  • They are involved in an elderly swinging-ring or circle.
  • Humphery has a frosted blue ‘glans’ or tip of penis. Fact.

I have a quick look through the curtains. 11.02am, no movement. I duck down with another jigsaw piece to note down.

  • Humphery has 100k in his safe from a Filipino polo ‘patron’. I write down, MONEY LAUNDERING??

“So, let’s look at the possible crimes,” I say out-loud. 1) Money laundering 2) Soliciting or prostitution 3) Fraud.

They’re not fiddling the school fees because they live here all the time – that’s a classic one for nice military families. In fact, Fiona’s causing problems most of the time, remember the nursery school teacher? I peek over the windowsill this time using Simon’ military issue binoculars I found in the cupboard. I scan the Close. Fuck, Fiona’s car’s gone!

I note down: 11.06 Smith’s BMW estate gone, didn’t see person leave.

***

The fact I missed Fiona’s car irks me for the rest of the day.  I need something to report back to Si.  I serve the kids’ lunch outside, even though it’s like an oven and one of the hottest summers on record. I repeat the exercise at tea time, ignoring Sienna’s pleas to ‘eat in the cool of the kitchen’ which is merely on plate warming temperature, instead of full broil mode outside. Dr Nick and his brood join us for our Death Valley style kids’ tea.

Dr Nick: “This is great acclimatisation training. East Africa, here I come!”

Me: “What?”

Dr Nick: “I deploy in two weeks.”

Me: “No. Poor you. Poor Anna.”

Dr Nick: “It’s only a four-monther.”

Me: “I guess, that’s not too bad.”

Dr Nick: “You don’t know where I’m going!”

When someone on the Patch deploys it brings it home that your husband or partner could be next. Si’s last tour (when we met) was in Afghanistan in 2010. He lost his best friend and 10 soldiers. I don’t want him going anywhere dangerous anytime soon.

Fiona returns in her car. Thankfully the children are still at the table and therefore safe.  She swings the car past the cherry tree and puts into reverse, backing up fast. She gets out. I try not to make eye contact but she’s walking over; she wants to talk. I try not to blush but my ‘rosacea’ or liver wind or whatever is making me beetroot with the guilt of spying weighing heavily on my conscience. I am a crap spy. Dr Nick – who doesn’t miss a trick – looks at me and then at Fiona, curiously.

Fiona: “Hi, hi. I need a favour.” I try not to nod but do it anyway. “Can you take Basil?”

Me: “Hmm.”

Fiona: “For a few days?”

Me: “A few days?”

Fiona: “Yes. I’ll pay you.”

Me: (lying) “I don’t need money.”

Dr Nick: “‘I’ll do it for money.”

Me: “You’re a doctor – you’ve got loads of wonga”.

Dr Nick: “That’s GPs”.

Fiona: “For god’s sake, will one of you do it?”

Dr Nick looks at me. I look at him. I can’t take her dog it will compromise my surveillance operation.

Dr Nick: “No can do, we’re off to ‘Shenter Parcks Amshterdam’ for a week before I deploy.”

I sigh and say as authentically as I can, “We’d love to have Basil, wouldn’t we kids? How’s Humphery?”

Fiona: “Not great thanks to you but he’ll live.”

Me: “He’s not answering my texts.”

Fiona: “You surprise me. He had to stay in for two extra days to get over the concussion.”

I put my hands over my eyes. “What did you do?” Asks the doctor.

Fiona: “She KO’ed Humphery just after his second heart attack.”

Fiona brings her poor dachshund over and plonks it on my lap. She walks off again returning with his cage, bowl and lead and barks instructions about feeding and walks. She then races off with a wave and a bang of her front door.

Dr Nick: “Lovely to see you too, Fiona. Always a pleasure. What a total and utter bitch.”

I raise my cup of tea to Nick. “I wish they were sending her to East Africa instead of you.” Basil pees on my lap. I grab a handful of wet wipes and clean my kaftan, unfazed.

Dr Nick: “Why did you K.O the old guy? I thought you liked him.”

Mandy walks over with Arthur and Mia who’s she’s picked up from Nursery.  “Prosecco?” Nick and I nod.  As Mandy pours the fizz, Fiona gets in her car and I speedily round up our feral children on all manner of scooters and bikes before she can run them over. She disappears around the corner in fifth. I covertly note down the time she leaves, clink glasses with my friends and that’s when we notice a strong smell of smoke.

Five minutes later we can see the smoke too, coming from Fiona’s back garden. This is a presence of the abnormal. I take the decision to enter Fiona’s garden for safety reasons, by scaling the fence using strong Mummy arms and know-how from a misspent youth. Dr Nick opens the gate by reaching over and unbolting it – he raises an eyebrow at me. There is a small bonfire blazing – a combination of garden waste and documents. I grab a bean pole and start flushing out the papers. Dr Nick turns on the hosepipe and douses the flames.

I fetch a bin bag from my house and shove as many papers into it as I can, I take it to our garage throw it to the back, behind the dusty boogie-boards and diving equipment. I wander back to the scene and there, standing with Dr Nick, is General Smith, wanting to know why the doctor’s in his garden. Nick casually explains that the bonfire is too close to the fence and, given the hot weather has made everything tinder-dry, he decided to put it out. The General is unimpressed. The doctor calmly suggests The General might like to Google the local authority’s guidelines on bonfires and smoke control. Nick looks at his phone and reads: “Avoid burning at weekends, public holidays and on sunny days when people are outside enjoying their gardens.”  He points at the sun without a cloud in the sky and over to The Close, where children are playing like a 1950s suburban idyll.

The General mutters something, marches inside and I sit at my picnic bench, coolly sipping prosecco with Mandy, texting Si. <<Have an important update on ‘Operation Pampas Grass’ and evidence in our garage.>>

Swings and Roundabouts

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“What was he doing on The Patch?” Simon asks again as we do another loop of the Kingston Hospital car park, still unable to find a space after 20 minutes.

Me: “I don’t know!”

Si: “But how does he know General Smith and the pitbull?”

Me: “He’s a neighbour in Monkton Deverill.”

Si: “Of course, he is.”

Me: “Stop saying he like that.”

Si: “Like what?”

Me: “Like he. (Beating the driving wheel) Come on, we need a space!”

Si: “Because this toilet of a man deserves my respect?”

Me: “You asked to come. You could have looked after the kids so I could come on my own but no, you wanted to hang out with my ex, too.” I wave at a man getting into his car. “Are you coming out?”

Man: “No, I’m eating my lunch.”

Si: “Why can’t he eat his lunch a table like a normal human being?”

Sienna: “Is it lunchtime?”

Si: “No.”

Sienna: “I’m hungry.”

Si: “No, you’re not.”

Sienna: “I am.”

Si: “You only had breakfast an hour ago.”

Sienna: “My tummy hurts.” Vita starts to cry. “See, she’s hungry too.” Adds Sienna.

Si: “Why are there no f**king spaces!”

Simon gets out. He’s probably going to go and punch someone in the face so we can get a space that way.  Ok, this looks promising – he’s found a Granny and is helping her into her car, mind your head dear, he shuts the car door and is now directing her out of the space. The old bat drives off waving at Simon and I park up, the children still howling. Humphery will have to wait, we need to hit Costa for cheese sandwiches, NOW.

***

I tap on the door of a private room. Humphery is sitting up in bed, look distinctly perky.

“How are you?” I say, still mortified I shouted ‘I love you’ in the throes of cardiac arrest.  I want to backtrack and say, what I meant was love in a nostalgic, vintage way, like savouring a time that has passed and can never be again. But I have Simon standing right behind me touching my heels with the tips of his ageing Hush Puppies. He has a child in both of his arms – they are his props.

“You went in the ambulance!” Says Sienna.

Humphery: “Yes. I’m fine now. It was nothing, just a blip.”

Me: “Well, it didn’t look like a ‘blip’.” Simon purposely treads on the back of my heels. I gesture to the men to do the introductions, too awkward to make them myself.

Humphery: “Simon. Humphery Hurtwood. So you inherited a handful.”

“Hi,” says Simon shaking Humphery’s hand. “I fell on that particular sword.”

Humphery: “Interesting way of putting it. It takes a real man to handle a filly like Vanessa. Totally cooked.”

Si: “A gentle hand on the reins and a bit of stick from time to time.” They both laugh in a forced way which makes me want to puke.

Me: “Can you stop comparing me to a bloody horse. Hashtag MeToo, hashtag TimesUp.”

Humphery: “Hashtag Yawn.”

Si: “Hashtag WhoStoleMySpear.”

Sienna: “Hashtag CanWeGoHomeNow.”

***

Simon and Humphery are getting on too well for my liking, but it dawns on me why, they are cut from the same cloth: chest- beating warrior types with traditional views and tastes. I run through my other former flames,  even my younger Australian man-bag, The Party Guy, is a modern version of a macho chest-beater.  Hard-bodied cave men make my fanny twitch; pasty computer nerds do not.

There’s a sudden and foul stench in the room. Si and I automatically look at each other in silent accusation but it’s not us, we both look at Humphery – is it him? Of course not, Humphery never did a single ‘Donald Trump’ in the time I knew him and I’d had four years of tummy ache unable to let my wind blow free. The culprit, of course, is Vita, which is excellent timing because now Simon has to go and change her nappy. He ums and ahs and says it’s my turn. I flash him a ‘pillar of salt’ look and encourage him to take Sienna as well but he refuses.

He looks at Humphery holding the ripe baby at arm’s length and shakes his head, “Who stole my spear?”

Humphery: “You shouldn’t be making him do that. It’s women’s work.”

Me: “And now I remember why I left you. As well as the fact you’re 105 and the tip of your penis was beginning to turn blue.”

Humphery: “No, it wasn’t. Isn’t!” He looks at Sienna who is now watching Cebeebies on my phone to see if she’s listening. “Not in front of the child.”

“Potential girlfriend?” I add, knowing he has a 20-year-old now under his spell.

He whispers conspiratorially, “I didn’t have a heart attack.”

“Yes, you did Humphery.”  I sigh, thinking he’s in denial.

Humphrey: “I faked the whole thing.”

Me: “What?!” I get up to go.

Humphery: “Wait. Hear me out. Fiona got me there under false pretences. I thought we were all going to this new club in Shepherd’s Market…”

Me: “Are you’re swinging with them?! And you tried to get me to have that ‘dark evening’ in Reading…”

Humphery: “No, it’s a members’ club, interestingly enough called A&E.”

Me: “Total Swingers Club.”

Sienna: “I like swinging. Granny’s got a swing in Wiltshire.”

Me: “That’s right, darling.”

Humphery: “I’m reformed, Doctor says only one woman at a time since my heart attack; the real one.”

Me: “Get to the point.”

Humphery: “Fi-fi said, we’re not going into town because I had to sign some papers and in return she’d give me a…”

Simon re-enters with Vita and a coffee. I want him to go away again but I decide Humphery can bloody well tell Simon too. I bring him up to speed with the fake heart attack and Fiona.

“What papers did she want you to sign?” says Simon eyeballing Humphery steadily.

“Legal papers claiming she was with me in Deauville last summer and they were both skiing with me in December.  Alibis. I said no and she threatened to expose our relationship.”

Me: “What relationship?”

Humphery: “We used to swing from time to time.”

Simon chokes on his coffee.

Sienna: “Daddy, I told him Granny has a swing.”

Me: “See.”

Si: “Fuck.”

Humphery: “She had me over a barrel, and not for the first time, so I faked a heart attack.”

Si: “You did the right thing, Humphery.”

Me: “What? The NHS is in crisis, it’s a waste of money.”

Si: “You’re now a witness in a covert investigation. I have to make some calls. I need you to tell the Military Police everything.”

Me: “F**k. What have the Smiths done?”

Humphery throws his head back on his pillow and closes his eyes. “This is exactly what I wanted to avoid.” Si exits, talking on the phone. “I’ve got over 100 grand in my safe from a bent polo sponsor who uses the Filipino national bank like his personal account, the last thing I need is the police wading in.” He starts disconnecting himself from various machines.  I know the old fox is going to make a run for it.

I open the door and shout down the corridor to Simon “Quick, he’s escaping!”  Humphery’s out of his bed, I can’t let him go, he’s Si’s key witness.  I stand in his way. He dances with me to get past. “No, you can’t leave.” He picks me up and places me to one side. And that’s when I shove him in the chest to stop him leaving. He stumbles backwards, misses the bed and crack…