Some years ago I read in the newspaper the story of a kindly old lady, a widow, living alone in the middle of nowhere. As was her want, she stood, at dusk one cloudless evening at her lead framed bedroom window looking out for bats, their roosts far behind them, now flitting across the stark white crescent of a waning moon. Bats were her very favourite things. The plot of land her cottage was set upon was, by any standards, a large one. At its far perimeter, near the lane, was her garden shed. In fairness, this shed was more the size of a small barn. The old lady used it for storage. She kept her ‘treasures’ there. For security, it was padlocked, and, besides nothing ever happened in these parts. However, this particular night the old lady spotted two burglars, dressed in black overalls, both wearing balaclava helmets, breaking into that shed. More than a little scared she dialled ‘999’ emergency services and advised that she lived alone, a good few miles from the nearest village and that there were intruders on her premises. The police advised that they would be unable to attend for at least two hours. The old lady pointed out that her interlopers would be long gone by then. She said she was fearful for her life, and surely, if the police could come out with haste they would catch the villains ‘in the act’. Her request for prompt action fell on deaf ears. After she had put down the telephone receiver and composed herself she determined to call again. The attitude of the police simply was not, in her considered opinion, good enough. Yet again her request for immediate assistance was in vain. She was on a ‘waiting list’ and the constabulary would arrive just as soon as they could.
Now this old lady was a clever one. She put in a third call. The gist of the conversation she had with the operator was, as I understand it from the press coverage, thus;
“I called a few minutes ago regarding the burglars raiding my property.”
“Yes. How can we help?”
“Well you can’t really; I just want to cancel my request for police assistance.”
“Why is that?”
“I don’t need that assistance now.”
“Well, as the police were going to take far too long to get here, I’ve shot them instead.”
“What, the intruders?”
“Let’s get this right. You say you’ve shot them?”
“That’s correct. I’ve shot them both.”
Of course, she hadn’t really shot them. She didn’t own a gun and certainly would never have known how to use one if she did. Within five minutes it was reported that two armed units, an ambulance and a police helicopter had turned up. The intruders were indeed caught in the act. Shame about the ambulance having to be called though!
The old lady got a bit of a dressing down, but being a sweet and very vulnerable old dear no charges were levelled. The thing is, despite her fear and fragility she had, bravely some would say, dealt with a potentially serious problem the best way she could. She had thought on her feet, and overcome the obstacle in her way that was police indifference to her plight. She had, unintentionally, turned a problem into a challenge, and that, my friends, is a good thing. I wonder whether she had always had this gift or if, in her dotage, it was one drawn from life’s experiences? If my experiences are anything to go by probably the latter!
So then – as this tale pretty much proves – sometimes in life you have to take things into your own hands. And with this in mind I now recount the short, yet nevertheless true story of the last night my first wife and I shared the same bed.
It is an atypical feeling that I experience returning home from work one autumnal evening a long, long time ago. I am in the back bedroom of the house I share with my then wife. Since the construction of the fitted wardrobes with the then fashionable ‘louvre’ doors this had been our master bedroom. The views from that bedroom out over the playing fields towards the river and beyond are handsome. However this day something is missing. Something important I sense. Never the quickest on the uptake, my eyes graze the room. ‘F**k me the (marital) bed is gone!’ At this juncture I stand a bewildered man! It is at about this time I pick up the scent of burning. I notice my wife at the far end of our very long garden, way past the greenhouse, down by the ancient elderflower, prodding something with a poker that she is burning on a bonfire. It certainly has the appearances of a very big fire – the sort you might build for Guy Fawkes Night, yet that is still a month away. I remain perplexed. Amidst the rampant flames, the bilious clouds of smoke and the earthy crackles I see the charred remains of a mattress. Perhaps a bed frame also. Blackened springs are poking out of the side of the bonfire. ‘F**k me she’s burnt the bed!’
I would be a liar if I said that I didn’t know things were getting pretty bad between us. Just the night before she had awoken me in the early hours thumping her fist hard between my shoulder blades and screaming, “That is the most disgusting thing you’ve ever done.” At first I had wondered just what she was talking about. I thought that, in my stupor, I may have, inadvertently attempted some debased act of bestiality. Not so. It seems that I had, whilst unconscious, off with the fairies in dreamland, emitted a fart so vile as to comprehensively repel another human. Coming to my senses I too would be hard pressed to disagree. The pong, even to me, was truly dire. Shamefully, the straw that had broken the camel’s back that was my marriage had been the less than fragrant emissions of my smelly bottom. The fact that I had been living on a diet of strong ale and curry over the previous few days, I am sure, played no small part as to the state of my innards. It is a pity indeed that the very last time she and I were to share a bed I had to turn it into a metaphorical sewer. Clutching her pillow to her chest, all emotional, urging and dribbling stomach bile my wife left the bedchamber seeking sanctuary elsewhere in the house, never to return.
And there, in a nutshell, is the reason my good wife was burning the bed we shared. To this day I don’t know how she managed to drag the double bed and mattress all that way, down a flight of stairs, along the narrow hallway, through the breakfast room, the kitchen and into the very depths of the long and cluttered garden. Certainly she was not known as a big, muscular woman. Still they say hell hath no fury as a woman scorned and all that! If there is such a thing as an n’th degree of being totally pissed off then she had clearly reached it. From there on in, until the day, nearly three years later when I finally split the marriage, already rocky, was well and truly over.
The cause of this ‘rockiness’? Simply a toxic mix of ongoing post natal blues on her part and a depression with the state of affairs that had turned me to choose to overwork and drink too much on mine.
My wife was not a bad person. I am not a bad person. Prior to marrying we were mates and I guess we should have kept it that way – but then, had that been so, we would have deprived our three offspring their lives. That would have been unforgivable.
So why then hang in there for another three years? To the credit of us both, we refrained from rowing in front of the kids and focused our attention at all times on making their upbringing as happy an experience as was possible. Neither of us had ever wanted our kids to come from a ‘broken home’ but the fact of the matter was that they were now in that category. It will pain me to the day I die that this was so. Over time we have been able to nurture and rekindle our friendship. We watch out for each other these days. We are ‘mates’ these days – not a bad way to be I think.
As I said at the outset, this happened a long, long time ago – yet it is, in hindsight, oddly comical that my gaseous emissions triggered my defeat!