Book · Fall

Sunday contemplation

Nell: Harriet and I have been enjoying a lovely chat with your sister. It is delightful that she was able to stay.

Me: Good.

Nell: The thing about Sundays is they encourage contemplation.

Me: Do they?

Nell: Yes. After a hearty breakfast it is time to rest by the fire with the Sunday papers and chat.

Me: I only had cereal upstairs.

Nell: You were too busy writing to join us. Poppy excelled herself. The eggs were a gift from Tony you know.

Me: How kind.

Nell: Yes. Fresh from his chickens.

Me: What were you talking about?

Nell: Life. Love. Lettuce.

Me: Lettuce?

Nell: We were discussing sandwiches. Poppy feels lettuce can make a sandwich go limp and I am inclined to agree.

Me: I like lettuce.

Nell: Yes, but finger sandwiches don’t have lettuce. They are more compact.

Me: Did you discuss anything else?

Nell: Yes. Raisins.

Me: Raisins?

Nell: In scones. We think not, but some people enjoy them. Poppy suggests we offer both.

Me: So the talk was mainly of food?

Nell: No. Harriet and your sister talked bookkeeping and accounting while David practised his dancing and Mutley played the piano. Poppy was in the kitchen and Kev and I just relaxed and listened.

Me: I seem to have missed out on quite a morning.

Nell: Someone has to write about it.

Me: Yes. Sorry.


Don’t mention Attila

Nell: I hope you are recording Strictly. Only I promised Anton I would give him feedback.

Me: Never mind that. How did it go with Mortimer? Did you secure the lease? Have we got the cafe?

Nell: If you could stop asking questions and allow me to answer I will tell you.

Me: I’m just excited.

Nell: It went extremely well. Mortimer is happy for us to take it on. As soon as Mutley’s lawyers have checked the contract he will sign and Tea on Tap can open for business.

Me: Do we need to do any decorating?

Nell: Yes. Ron Gilbert, the Great Dane from Torquay, has agreed to do the job. He has some Australian cattle dogs with time on their hands.

Me: Good on ya. You Beauty! There’s bound to be a barbie.

Nell: I’ve told you before that watching Neighbours and Masterchef Australia does not mean you can talk in that ridiculously bad Australian accent.

Me: Fair Dinkum.

Nell: Do stop. Poppy is working on menus. Traditional afternoon tea. Scones, cakes and finger sandwiches. A selection of teas and nice china.

Me: Yummy.

Nell: The Cat has come up with some interesting ideas for the interior design, most of which involve glitter and sequins, so we might ignore those.

Me: A little bit of glitter and sequins would be nice.

Nell: Harriet has a good eye so she will be working with The Cat and Jim has offered to help Ron in his spare time.

Me: What about Dave?

Nell: David is in charge of publicity. He is planning to tap dance through the streets with Gladys, Rita and those dancing chihuahuas. There may be maracas.

Me: That sounds entertaining.

Nell: Yes. Robert laughed and he never does.

Me: Who is Robert?

Nell: Mutley’s bodyguard. You must have met him. The quiet Rottweiler. Very softly spoken.

Me: I’ve never met a quiet Rottweiler.

Nell: Robert is very discreet.

Me: Attila was never discreet.

Nell: Please don’t mention Attila.

Me: Why does Mutley need a bodyguard?

Nell: It’s the Beefies. Issuing threats and behaving badly. The board felt Mutley needed more security.

Me: You must point Robert out to me.

Nell: Don’t be ridiculous. You don’t point out a bodyguard. They are supposed to melt into the background.

Me: Attila never melted into the background.

Nell: I asked you not to mention Attila.

Me: Yes. Sorry.


David is oversharing again

Nell: David is oversharing again.

Me: What do you mean?

Nell: He was telling Tony all about Sally and how much he misses her. He is lucky to have Tony as a friend.

Me: He really is.

Nell: David was fine when he was dancing. Did you see the way he threw Gladys in the air and caught her in his hat?

Me: Yes. So listen, I was talking to Poppy and Mutley and we think we might have come up with an interesting idea.

Nell: That’s always a worry.

Me: No, this is a good one. It keeps Dave busy and brings in revenue.

Nell: Revenue? Are you auditioning for The Apprentice?

Me: What do you think of tea and tap dancing?

Nell: I think there would be tea everywhere.

Me: No. People come to tea and they are also entertained by Dave and company tap dancing.

Nell: By David and company I presume you mean Gladys, Rita and The Cat.

Me: Yes. Poppy can provide sandwiches, cakes and scones.

Nell: It could work. But where?

Me: John the Doberman knows a friendly beagle with a cafe to rent on the high street and Mutley is willing to invest.

Nell: Mortimer Mountjoy? Yes, I know him from Bridge. Quite a skilled player.

Me: Mutley even came up with a name.

Nell: Go on.

Me: Tea on Tap.

Nell: Very apt. Who is going to run it?

Me: We thought Harriet would be perfect. She is sensible and very organised and she has winning ways.

Nell: She does and David and The Cat could wait on tables when they aren’t dancing. We might have to hire in staff at peak times but in my experience there are plenty of young animals looking for a holiday job.

Me: What do you think?

Nell: I think we should take Mortimer Mountjoy up on his offer.

Me: Actually we thought you would pay him a visit.

Nell: Me?

Me: Well, someone has to do the negotiating and you would be perfect.

Nell: Ask James to bring the car round and get Gladys out of my handbag. Don’t dawdle. I need to see a beagle about a cafe.

Me: Yes. Sorry.


Tap dancing is the answer

Me: Dave didn’t eat his breakfast.

Nell: Good grief. He needs to pull himself together. Sally will be back before he knows it.

Me: Yes. Harriet is comforting him and Mutley is playing something gentle on the piano.

Nell: A good walk on the beach in the fresh air will sort him out.

Me: Sally has only been gone a day though, so he might need time.

Nell: Charlie has gone too, you know. You don’t see me lying on the kitchen floor weeping into my toast and marmalade.

Me: That’s because Poppy made you smoked salmon and scrambled eggs.

Nell: That is not the point and you well know it.

Me: Dave will feel better soon. Sally has promised to keep in touch.

Nell: Yes, nowadays with iBones it’s easy.

Me: The Cat seems positively delighted to see her go.

Nell: Yes, it was here first thing this morning with a sequinned hat and a pair of tap shoes. I told it to go away as nobody should ever consider tap dancing before breakfast.

Me: Or even at all in my case.

Nell: I used to tap dance a lot in my youth. Anton du Bark and I often incorporated it into our routines. It was exhilarating.

Me: I can imagine Dave tap dancing.

Nell: Actually, that’s not a bad idea. Go and find The Cat and get Gladys out of my handbag. David needs to dance.

Me: Has he got tap shoes?

Nell: Of course. They are on the shoe rack with everyone else’s. Do keep up.

Me: Yes. Sorry.


No electricity

Me: What are Poppy and Dave doing?

Nell: They are waiting for the electricity to come back on.

Me: Why are they looking out of the window?

Nell: They think an electricity man is going to walk up to the house, flick a switch and then the electricity will come back on.

Me: Oh dear.

Nell: David is sure he will look like Tony but with a blue top, not a red one, and long trousers, not shorts.

Me: I’m not sure about that.

Nell: The Cat thinks he will have sequins on his shoes which is plainly ridiculous and Gladys thinks his name is Arthur.

Me: Poppy is planning a salad for lunch. It is not what she planned as she wanted to make bread.

Nell: A cold lunch. I haven’t even had a cup of Earl Grey and no prospect of one.

Me: You don’t realise how much you rely on electricity until it’s not there.

Nell: I feel the same way about Charlie.

Me: Are you missing him a lot, Nell?

Nell: I am. It seems to get harder each time he leaves.

Me: He might be your one.

Nell: Yes, he might.

Me: Where are Harriet and Mutley, by the way?

Nell: Harriet is reading Dickens to Mutley in the garden. His eyes are failing and he does enjoy a good book. “Great Expectations” is his favourite.

Me: It sounds rather lovely. Maybe we should join them and suggest Dave and Poppy do the same?

Nell: Yes, listening to a good book in the sunshine surrounded by family. Just what we need.

Me: Yes. Sorry Charlie had to leave, Nell.


The price of fish

Me: Poppy and Harriet are having some kind of serious discussion in the living room.

Nell: Yes, it’s to do with the price of fish.

Me: No. What’s it really about?

Nell: I just told you. Since the Beefies started stealing fish the price has gone up. Poppy wants to cook her foil wrapped sea bass with baby potatoes and green beans for Charlie and Sally’s farewell dinner but Harriet thinks it’s too expensive and suggested mackerel.

Me: Why is Harriet involved? Doesn’t Sally prefer meat?

Nell: I put her in charge of the housekeeping budget and she takes it very seriously.

Me: Surely nothing is too expensive for Charlie and Sally.

Nell: We must fill our bowls according to the biscuits available.

Me: What’s that got to do with the price of fish?

Nell: Do stop. Did you know the Beefies have also moved into food delivery with their fish and chips? They are calling it Just Beak and it is proving to be extremely successful.

Me: I did, actually. They are offering 24 hour delivery, fast and to anywhere including out at sea, or on a cliff top.

Nell: I can see that would appeal to walkers and the sailing crowd.

Me: They must be fast because when I tried one of The Cat’s chips it was still piping hot.

Nell: Excuse me?

Me: It was only for research. The Cat wanted to test the quality and I happened to be there when the order arrived.

Nell: As I told you before I am not supporting those ruffian seagulls and neither should you.

Me: Know thy enemy.

Nell: That does not mean eat thy enemy’s fish and chips.

Me: No. Sorry.


Oh Davey

Nell: Why is David upstairs on the bed rolling around with a smile on his face?

Me: Sally liked his poem. She texted him on WoofsApp. She called him Davey.

Nell: Good grief.

Me: I think it’s adorable.

Nell: It’s just a crush. There’s no future in it. Sally has to go back to London.

Me: So does Charlie and I don’t see you giving up on him.

Nell: Charlie and I are adults. Anyway, let me see the poem.

Me: No. It’s private.

Nell: You’ve seen it.

Me: He wanted me to check it for spelling.

Nell: Go on read it to me.

Me: Alright, but don’t be critical.

“Sally is pretty

Sally is sweet.

Sally likes rainbows

Sally likes meat.

Sally wears glasses

Sally drinks tea

And maybe, just maybe

Sweet Sally likes me.”

Nell: “Sally likes meat.” That’s not very romantic.

Me: It made her laugh. She wrote him a poem back.

Nell: Well, go on. I know he’s shown it to you from the silly look on your face.

Me: Alright.

“Your poem was lovely,

And funny like you.

There’s no maybe, dear Davey

Because I like you too.”

Nell: You know he is going to be unbearable when she leaves.

Me: I know. You can both mope away together.

Nell: I never mope. I may feel a little low but I remain dignified. David, however, is quite another box of biscuits.

Me: Don’t you mean kettle of fish?

Nell: No. Please don’t mention fish.

Me: Yes. Sorry.


Sunday morning

Nell: I’m not discussing Strictly again. It’s Sunday morning. David and I are resting. We had a late night as you well know.

Me: I just couldn’t settle after all those wonderful messages.

Nell: I am aware.

Me: Actually, I am still on a high. People were so kind and said some wonderful things.

Nell: They were very kind indeed and it was most gratifying.

Me: I hope they know how much their support means to us.

Nell: I’m sure they do. It doesn’t mean that you all have to dance until gone 1am.

Me: We were inspired by Strictly. I have to say Cat impressed me. He’s always been my favourite.

Nell: His name is Danny. He hasn’t been Cat for years. His outfit was very pink.

Me: I loved that little doctor with the big smile too.

Nell: You would. The toy kitten danced gracefully.

Me: Do you mean the Pussycat Doll?

Nell: Same thing.

Me: David loved Anton’s outfit.

Nell: Of course he did. If I catch him wearing tangerine bell bottoms and carrying maracas there will be trouble.

Me: It was a fun evening.

Nell: Now, please let me relax with the Sunday papers and my cup of Earl Grey.

Me: Ok.

Nell: Kev is going to light the fire and Poppy is busy preparing our Sunday roast. Charlie and Sally are joining us for lunch.

Me: Lovely.

Nell: Everything is just as it should be.

Me: Yes. Even your handbag.

Nell: I am going to start charging Gladys rent if she continues to sleep in my handbag. I know Rita is in there too because I heard her snoring.

Me: Yes. Sorry.


This is just the beginning

Nell: So when were you going to tell me?

Me: What?

Nell: That you have been having meetings with an American publisher?

Me: Oh.

Nell: To discuss a publishing contract?

Me: Yes.

Nell: For your book?

Me: Yes.

Nell: Called “Conversations with Nell”?

Me: Yes.

Nell: May I point out that I am Nell.

Me: I know.

Nell: The Conversations are with me.

Me: Yes, they are.

Nell: I am the one who talks sense.

Me: Well, that’s a bit harsh.

Nell: I should have been at the meetings.

Me: Well, you sort of always are.

Nell: You cannot be trusted to do this alone.

Me: Well, the thing is Nell, I just signed the contract.

Nell: I beg your pardon. Without going through it with me?

Me: Yes.

Nell: So Conversations with Nell is being published?

Me: Yes. In the United States and over here in the United Kingdom.

Nell: Why stop there? What about our fans across the world? As I always say: There is more in a Kong than a couple of biscuits.

Me: I agree. We want to publish in as many countries as we can. This is just the beginning.

Nell: I think we may need a glass of champagne.

Me: I think you are right. I couldn’t have done it without you, Nell.

Nell: You certainly couldn’t. My name is in the title for a start.

Me: You know what I mean.

Nell: Of course I do. You without me, or me without you. Impossible.

Me: Yes. Sorry.


Everyone loves Sally

Me: Isn’t Sally lovely?

Nell: Yes. Charlie was right. She is a sweet natured retriever. A little shy perhaps but I prefer that in a young animal.

Me: Did you see Dave’s face when Charlie introduced her?

Nell: I did. David was transfixed.

Me: He fell over his bowl and then Sally fell over The Cat. What was The Cat doing there, by the way?

Nell: Collecting for a raffle. A pitiful excuse to snoop if you ask me. Anyway, I’m not sure The Cat likes Sally. It was giving her one of its hard stares.

Me: I think Sally is a little too quiet for The Cat. Talking of quiet. I’ve never seen Dave so tongue tied. It was sweet.

Nell: Putting four sugars in Sally’s tea was certainly far too sweet. He just didn’t stop spooning them in.

Me: She didn’t mind.

Nell: I don’t know how she drank it.

Me: I expect she was being polite.

Nell: Well, thank goodness Gladys and Rita were at their Zumba class.

Me: Yes. They can be a bit loud.

Nell: It’s all the singing and dancing I struggle with. Some of us don’t want to be Bouncy, or whatever her name is.

Me: Do you mean Beyoncé?

Nell: Probably. Why are you smiling?

Me: It’s just the thought of you being Beyoncé.

Nell: Shirley Bassett says I have an exceptional voice and she should know. Have you heard her sing “Diamonds are for Ever”?

Me: Yes. Sorry.