Friday Flash Fiction – Geckos

Cassie sat admiring the vivarium, glad she had chosen the largest most elegant home for her two geckos. It was an anniversary of sorts, a year since they had arrived to complete her new home. They made a soothing break from the computer screen, from work, from the whole Covid business, living their simple lives unaware of the pandemic. Four months since life had changed for everyone, some more than others. Cassie really had little to complain about, life was changing in little ways for her. Doris next door’s family were back in the country, about to come out of quarantine. Cassie had ordered a much larger supermarket delivery for her yesterday, now she would relax and let Doris’ son take some responsibility, not that Doris was any trouble. Cassie was glad of someone to chat to outside of work.

Work, Zoom, MPJ, company policies, James’ plan… she stretched her back, rotated her shoulders… now the school holidays were underway tensions were high. She did not envy James’ task organising ‘the new norm’; some to continue working at home, others to alternate weeks, some to come in just one day a week. The trouble was, no one was sure which of the options they would be doing or when it would start.

Despite promising each other they would not talk about work, when James at last persuaded her to come for the ferry ride and lunch at the waterside pub, they had and what else was there to talk about? She didn’t want to hear any more about his mother or sister and certainly not about his ex wife, but she had enjoyed the outing, well the twenty minute ferry ride at least. Seeing those cruise liners moored up, going nowhere, James claimed to have inside knowledge of the cruise industry, but made her laugh. ‘Who would want to go on holiday in a floating petri dish, even in peacetime they always have that norovirus going round. Pay all that money to see nothing but your cabin and not be able to eat.’ When they discussed what type of holidays they enjoyed they both agreed Cassie’s sounded much more fun. James’ ex would only stay in decent hotels that did not allow children, decent seemed to mean hotels they could not afford.

After lunch James had walked her round to his mother’s house for a little socially distanced chat in her lovely garden. Cassie liked Vivienne, as she suspected, the woman looked younger and was livelier than one would believe when James was talking about her. They stuck to gardening topics, Cassie determined to keep the conversation light, however curious his mother might be about their relationship.

And still Cassie had her little castle all to herself, had not told James where she lived, implied there was some dark reason in her past, rather than not wanting to risk letting another boring chap get his feet under her table. But life was not bad at the moment. This afternoon she would go for a walk with Sam, accompanying him on his dog walking business. It had become a regular feature of their lives, good for her mental health as much as it was for Sam’s. The aim of MPJ’s helping the homeless project, now called Moving On, was to keep people like Sam feeling connected. Cassie was the first to admit he was the easiest of the group to have a connection with and they worked as a team. She had somehow found herself in charge of the project, James had thought her insane to allow herself to be put upon and she certainly would have been out of her depth without Sam’s support and help. But it worked both ways; he was managing to stay on at the hotel, paying his own way, with the grant quietly passed on by MPJ.

She hadn’t exactly told James about Sam and the time she spent with him, after all they were just a couple of friends in their forties enjoying a walk in the park, a walk and a chat about all sorts of things, he was probably the cleverest man she had ever met. How he came to be homeless was a mystery and none of her business, nor did it seem to matter. Everything was different in 2020.

Enjoy pre Covid short stories.

A second anthology from the author of ‘Dark and Milk,’ including recent prize winning short stories. As you would expect, some tales are light, others very dark and you will not know which are which until it is too late! Visit places you may or may not find on a map, discover the Hambourne Chronicles and meet people who may not be what they seem.

The Good The Bad and The Ugly

What if the biggest computer ever designed was switched off, could it be rebooted? Earlier this year the human world was switched off for a short time and ever since, people have been trying to reboot it, while others think we should just leave it switched off.

Can we talk about Covid 19 or pandemics without mentioning countries or politics? Yes. Good things, bad things and ugly scenes have happened this year all over the world, but we might not all agree on what is good or bad, right or wrong.

Good things happened for Gaia and for a lot of people. With everything at a standstill the air was fresher, the skies bluer, people in cities could breathe and see mountains on the horizon for the first time. Wildlife thrived and found new playgrounds. If any proof was needed, this was what climate change protestors had been pleading for; why was it okay to switch everything off to save a few people, but not to save the whole planet? The harsh truth is that Covid 19 may be terrible, but it is not a threat to the human race or the planet, while accelerated climate change affects us all, including our unborn descendants. Those of us whose lives and homes remain unscathed by fire, flood and famine cannot be complacent. Covid 19 won’t destroy the human race, but it is another symptom of the way we treat the planet and other creatures and we have all been affected by it.

Can we halt rebooting and unplug our giant computer at the mains? The beginning of pandemic panic is already taking on a rosy hue in our memories. Silent roads and empty skies, no road carnage or plane crashes. Spending more time with your family, discovering you can work from home, no commuter traffic, empty office buildings with the potential to house the homeless and key workers. The Pope calls for ceasefires and peace all over the world, people are nice to each other and appreciate the forgotten workforce, the cleaners, delivers and carers. Volunteers make an unprecedented effort to help their local communities. Governments and councils, in days, bring all homeless people off the streets. There is a splurge of on line creativity, people across the globe connected.

There was also a catastrophic loss of jobs and businesses, the world of live arts and entertainment devastated. Hunger, loneliness, domestic violence and mental health problems for those isolated in cramped places. We weren’t all in it together, those who had the least had even less. Big cracks appeared to divide people over long standing issues, people started arguing over new issues such as facemasks and there were vitriolic on line comments by those certain they alone knew how to deal with a pandemic.  And nobody took any notice of the Pope’s plea.

Is there any chance our world leaders know what to do next, how to organise societies that must live with a virus that will not go away, create a new fair normal. Perhaps someone will come up with new software to change how the Big Computer runs everything. The newly unemployed will be trained to build solar powered airships and homes, grow environmentally friendly food for the whole world and boost the care sector into a respected well paid profession. Maybe this software will conveniently delete any powers that threaten the new compassionate, sustainable world norm…

Silly Saturday – Followers and Following

I don’t often check my statistics and always end up missing vital ones such as latest number of followers. Well I missed 900, but haven’t reached 1000 – perhaps I would have done if I didn’t delete a few along the way. There are bloggers who don’t appear to write any blogs or even exist at all, the many vitamin pill sites, which return over and over again, the odd American realtor, a reviewer of lawn mowers, a site recommending dentists – in the USA, so a bit far for me… but my latest follower is a real treasure, definitely one to keep.

  Great posts worth seeing from Dr_mirror_ogigiwu:

I apparently follow 811 bloggers – at least eleven of these are worth following – only joking. I don’t get 811 Likes for every blog, certainly not 811 comments, but some of them may have been on holiday, or having an off day…

But do we really know anything about who is following and who we follow? Is anybody who they say they are? I am really a world famous actor and best selling novelist who got sick of the fame and adulation and retreated behind a mock blog – Blockery!

Friday Flash Fiction 555 – Phone Call

Doris danced round the kitchen, her mood lifted. What was this music, that composer who died young, they played it at that concert they went to… Thank goodness for the radio to ease the monotony of kitchen chores. She was having a big tidy up, making space. It was just as well her son and his family were not coming straight to her after flying in from the USA. Their delayed annual holiday was starting with a further two week delay in quarantine at an air bed or b&b; for the best really, she had managed to avoid getting English Covid, she didn’t want to get American Covid. Cassie next door would help her order a big shop next week, though goodness knows what the children’s likes and dislikes would be this year. The top cupboards would have to stay untouched, Doris had not used her stepping stool since lockdown, the last thing she wanted was a fall and end up in hospital on a ventilator. She just needed everything to look orderly so her son would see she was still coping fine.

Doris was startled out of her conducting with the wooden spoon by the phone ringing.

‘Hello.’

‘Good morning, my name’s Natasha and I am calling from…’

‘Hold on a moment, I’ll just turn the radio off, I can’t hear you.’

‘Noo… Wait, what’s that music, I love it, I’ve heard it before, but I can never find out what it is… ’

‘Lovely isn’t it, I know the composer…’

‘Who is it?’

‘…but his name won’t come to mind.’

‘Do you know what the piece is called?’

‘Some rhapsody I think, don’t go away, let’s hope they tell us what it was before the news comes on.’

Doris held the phone near the radio and strummed the counter top with her other hand, it was that time they went with Mary and her husband, narrow seats, no leg room for the men, concerts like that were off the agenda now with social distancing.

‘Oh that was lovely, thank you so much, I’ve tapped it into my phone, I’ll download it later.’

Just as well Natasha caught the presenter’s voice, Doris had been so wrapped up in the gorgeous music she hadn’t heard what he said.

‘You are very welcome Natasha, one of my favourites. I don’t do downloading, I still have CDs. By the way, why were you calling?’

‘Oh er um I understand you were involved in an accident recently and may be eligible for compensation.’

‘No, no I’m fine, I have been very careful, apart from that time with the secateurs, where are you calling from, council covid welfare ?’

‘So you have not been involved in a motor vehicle accident lately?’

‘No dear, I haven’t driven for years and Cassie next door doesn’t have a car. I usually get the bus, but we’re not supposed to use those now. Cassie orders on line for me, I’ll have to get a lot more next week. My son and his family are over from the USA, I think we’ll have a good old English roast and I’ll make him his favourite chocolate cake, even if his wife is on one of her diets and I never know what her children are going to eat… ’

Strange, the young woman had hung up.

What’s On?

What’s on the telly tonight? Good news, you can avoid Covid Crisis and indulge in Covid Comfort. Whether you need relaxation or intellectual stimulation, television can help.

University Challenge is back and I managed to answer quite a few questions, perhaps they are going easy on us in the first round, usually I can’t understand half the questions let alone answer more than three. It is obviously pre-recorded; nobody in a post Covid world is going to sit cosily in teams of four putting their heads together to decide on the answer.

There are many programmes we must enjoy before the pre-recorded stock runs out. Great British Sewing Bee is fabric fantasy, whether you like making clothes or wearing them. The winner, Clare Bradley, turned out to not only be brilliant at sewing, but is also a hospital respiratory consultant and since her win has been helping to save Covid patients. Could there be a post Covid sewing bee? No one allowed to touch the material or each other’s sewing machines, no hugging and congratulating. But perhaps they could do a glamourous slant on making facemasks and scrubs, as long as they only have one contestant at a time…https://metro.co.uk/2020/06/24/great-british-sewing-bee-2020-declares-winner-intense-finale-

All the cookery programmes will have the same problem in future, no one allowed to taste the food, no one will know what the food smells like with their masks on, no presenters hanging over the cook’s shoulders asking how they are getting on. I have never followed cookery shows as it’s too painful to see all that lovely food that we can’t eat. But in lockdown Cyberspouse has been watching them all. There are two main types of shows. Master chefs compete against each other to create beautiful banquets or delicious deserts that are works of art; pudding porn, perfect creations that are then mercilessly stabbed and rent asunder by the judges, who alone enjoy heavenly melting moments. Then there are the celebrities we have never heard of who can’t cook and are sent on an emotional roller coaster, baking perfect pastry or told they have to cook twenty octopuses ( or is it octopi ) for the guests at a posh hotel.

But some programmes are with us in real time. Nature and gardens brought into our living rooms by presenters on their home patch, alone, no irritating chatting with fellow presenters, giving the viewers their undivided attention. Gardener’s World brings calm and peace on Friday evenings. I know every day is the same as a carer in a pandemic, but I like to pretend it’s the end of the week. Monty Don wanders around his own large garden, with trailing dogs, digging and potting. But my favourite parts are viewers’ home videos, enthusiastically showing us an endless variety of inventive gardens of all shapes and sizes, bringing us all sorts of useful tips – and I thought I was obsessive about saving water… some don’t even have a balcony, let alone a garden; apartments filled with plants so you feel you are in a jungle. One young chap even had endlessly circulating water running down the wall into a fishpond.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006mw1h/clips

Drama has not been forgotten. Alan Bennet’s Talking Heads have been given a new production with a few new tales; monologues are perfect for social distancing and his characters move us as they gradually reveal their often surprising stories. There has also been a good selection of new short plays with actors having equipment delivered to their own homes, presumably with a few instructions. Filming themselves and conveniently often married to other actors, thus providing a cast of two.

Radio has always been a lifeline since our mothers’ and grandmothers’ day for housewives, mothers and anyone at home all day and I’m sure it was for many confined during Covid. Cyberspouse has listened to Woman’s Hour every day and BBC Radio 4 has three serialised books before lunch. But there is one drama that has let me down. I have been listening to the Archers ( the world’s longest running soap? )  on and off since I was in the womb and I thought Ambridge was a real place in a real county, Borsetshire. Imagine my confusion when farming life carried on as usual, The Bull still open for drinkers, while the rest of England was in total lockdown, everyone isolated. No one in Ambridge even mentioned there was a world wide  pandemic. Opinion was divided on Archers Facebook fan pages and among listeners emailing ‘Feedback’, some were glad of the escape from Covid while others like me thought it ridiculous. Eventually they ran out of recorded episodes and there was the first ever break in transmission, followed by a relaunch of a different type of soap. Endless monologues by any actors who knew how to work the recording equipment at home. For the first time, all those characters we love, or love to hate were expressing their own feelings, creepy or what. Soap operas by their nature are written in the third person, we have to wait till a character opens their heart to another character for insights and we like it that way.

http://www.thearchers.co.uk/

For fiction in real time drop in to my Friday Flash Fiction – tiny tales of ordinary folk in a pandemic.

Have your viewing and listening habits changed since the pandemic? What have your Covid comforts been?

Silly Saturday – Blockdown

So how are you getting on with the blocks? There is a lot you can do with blocks, apparently, I have not actually done much myself yet, so DO NOT use this as an instructional post. This is what most of us have achieved so far. Yes, giving a paragraph a background colour and this seems to be the most popular colour; reminds me of hospital curtains.

But yellow is a bit bright…

…and purple too dark.

and grey too boring.

Perhaps this is more fun and let’s change the colour of the words.

How are your eyes?

Let’s have some pictures. So far I have only made them round and small.

But I could click on to Patterns and see what happens.

Salisbury, Wiltshire

I have just learned how to put three pictures in a row, except I have ended up with six in different sizes. Never mind, Salisbury is a lovely place to visit. If you think you may have seen these pictures before that is because my media library is full and I repurpose most of my photos.

You can click on to patterns for words

and you might end up with this.

Don’t walk down this path.

If this post gets any smaller it might disappear altogether.

Do not try this at home.

Friday Flash Fiction – 1000 – Walking The Dog

Sam spotted her locking up her bike, hoping she was coming to the meeting, wondering if she would remember him. Two of his team had dropped out already, he didn’t imagine they had anywhere better to be on a Friday afternoon, but that’s the way it was; some homeless people didn’t like being organised and they didn’t like talking. He couldn’t remember her name, despite making such an impression on him. Katie, no, perhaps the earnest facilitator would say her name. He whistled to Sheba who helpfully rounded up his new charge, a snappy terrier mix the elderly owner claimed was a Jack Russell. He would have to keep her on a tight lead at the meeting.

Cassie removed her cycle helmet, took her shoulder bag out of the panier, stretched her back, stepped onto the path and nearly tripped over a little dog.

‘Sorry.’ Why was she apologising to a dog?

‘Bella, come here…’ a man’s voice called.

Bella! Maybe she was pretty as a puppy. Cassie regained her balance and carried along the path, wondering how today’s meeting would be. One of the others from work couldn’t come, he was actually back in the office so had a good excuse. All the more reason for Cassie to feel she should attend, even though James had suggested a trip over on the ferry and lunch outside a waterside pub.

She was aware of someone behind her, in these days of pandemic it wasn’t just women in dark lonely places who were nervous of strangers, anyone who took the virus seriously did not want people breathing near them. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a man on the grass, giving her plenty of space on the path.

‘I’m so sorry, the dog, not mine, exercising her for an old lady. You don’t recognise me, do you?’

When a shaggy dog bounded up she realised who it was.

‘Sam, oh sorry, haircut and wrong dog.’

‘No wonder you’re confused, you are going to the meeting again?’

‘Yes, yes, I’m a bit worried as one of my team can’t come and it was my company that started this in the first place.’

He laughed. ‘Two of my team are missing, not as if they had anything better to do, hope we don’t get told off.’

‘She is a bit serious isn’t she.’

Cassie smiled to herself. Sam brushed up well with his neat haircut and she found herself glad he was going to be there. Perhaps a reflection on her lack of a social life, no that was a condescending thought, Sam was as worthy of sharing her afternoon as James and probably more interesting.

‘You must like dogs a lot Sam.’

‘I like Sheba, not too enamoured with this one, but the lady who is fostering Sheba while I’m in the hotel suggested I get into dog walking, might be an earner.’

‘Oh yes, it was big business where I was in London, some walkers even had their own doggy mini buses.’

He looked crestfallen.

‘Oh I’m sure most dog walkers just have strong leads and a good supply of those plastic bags… hmm rather you than me.’

‘That is a downside, but I’ve seen worse in my life.’

‘Of course, I mean er…’

He smiled in a way that suggested he was worried about embarrassing her, rather than the other way round. ‘Hey, what was pre Covid stays pre Covid, new haircut, new man. That’s what I liked about the group, not dwelling, just looking for solutions, looking to the future.’

‘Will you still sell the Big Issue?’

‘Yes, I just started again, over the water is my pitch, small town, but no other sellers around. Trouble is, people haven’t really started coming out much, I need more strings to my bow.’

‘People going back to work – lonely dogs, people isolating – bored dogs, yes I’m sure there will be customers out there.’

That’s what Sam liked about Carol, no that wasn’t her name, anyway she was easy to talk to and positive. She was pretty in a quirky sort of way, not that she could ever be more than a friend, what clever career woman would want to go out with a homeless chap. Besides, she was probably married, children, teenagers even, hard to say how old she was, his age, younger… Still, it was good to have a nice sensible adult to talk to, though he would not mention the fact that he was likely to have to leave the hotel next week with no idea where to go. It was unlikely that well intentioned meetings could come up with solutions quickly.

They were all greeted by name by the earnest facilitator who seemed relieved that anyone had turned up again. Cassie, of course, why hadn’t he remembered that was her name. He smiled at Cassie across the six foot gap between their folding chairs, but was jolted out of his relaxed state by a familiar grating voice. Lindy, one of the other homeless staying at the hotel, Lindy who loved talking, Lindy who he tried to avoid.

She did not wait to be introduced but launched straight into her spiel.

‘So can your company, PMJ…’

‘MPJ’ Cassie tried to interrupt.

‘…JPM really help? I’ve been here before, talk, talk, talk then you all go back to your comfortable homes.’

Sam felt his stomach clench, mortified for Cassie, most people weren’t given life on a plate, what did Lindy know about Cassie and her colleague. He managed to catch her eye and wink, did she smile back or was she just cringing. For a moment he closed his eyes, imagining going over, clasping her hand and taking her away… but Lindy was still talking.

‘… and then there’s poor old Sam, gotta leave the hotel next week, can’t chuck me out yet, cos I’m a woman…’

Sam kept his eyes closed, could he ever really move forward?

Game Set Match

Game, set, match are words you will not hear this week as Wimbledon has been cancelled, but there are plenty of games people have been able to play in lockdown and isolation, from real cardboard playing cards on a real table to computer games.

Humans have been playing games since forever. Adam and Eve probably got bored playing hide and seek; Eve for sure, that’s why she went looking for new interests like the tree of knowledge. Our cave dwelling ancestors collected shells and stones and drew lines in the dirt, but got annoyed with their children for time wasting.

‘Will you stop playing with those sticks and stones and go and collect some berries like I told you to.’

…and onward millennia to the last years of the twentieth century when parents would be telling teenagers to get off the computer ( the one household computer bought by fathers across the land because it would be educational for their children, though they really wanted to play with it themselves ) and do their homework, or read a book, or get out in the fresh air. At one stage I was heard to say I would never have got married let alone had children if I had known home computers were going to be invented…

And who would have imagined that their son in his thirties would still be playing computer games with his school friends; not still going round each other’s houses, they live hundreds of miles apart, but playing on line with X Boxes …

Call of Duty Warzone – 150 players in teams of 4   – already my mind is boggled. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0E44DClsX5Q&feature=youtu.be&fbclid

‘This game uses something called “skill based match making” which uses a combination of different player statistics to fill games with people mostly of the same skill level. The result is that as you get better you never feel like you are getting better. The advantage is that players do not feel like they don’t stand a chance against very good people. It’s very controversial within the gaming community.’

The world of computer games is a total mystery to me, but one advantage of blogging is that you can write from a position of total ignorance. I do understand that computer games have been made by very clever and creative people and they are just as valid an art form and interest as any other. Now portable personal electronic devices are the latest entertainment for older generations to worry are time wasters and just plain bad. Books, radio and television have all been frowned upon in their time.

I informally interviewed a few of the first generation to play computer games, the first parents to not mind their children playing.

In contrast to Call of Duty fans a professional chap enjoys single-player games such as Batman and Uncharted 4 ( which seems to have ‘real people’ in it ) . ‘I don’t have any online friends to play with, or the time to play online. Zelda: Breath of the Wild is probably one of the best games ever made.’

Lego Harry Potter sounds more fun, a favourite of a lady in her thirties. ‘It’s all about collecting studs and learning spells and defeating He Who Must Not Be Named!’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TEQ4ky00L8Q

Lego games are all good for children and parents to play together. Another couple have bought a Nintendo Switch and the first game they are trying is Mario Kart, basically racing, to play with their young children.

Why you play is different for everybody, a mum in her thirties says ‘I like to play co-op games rather than competitive ones, otherwise it’s too annoying.’

Another professional man who enjoys computer games for unwinding says ‘How can they be called time wasters, at least they are interactive, not like slumping in front of the television.’

If I wasn’t busy blogging, writing, reading, gardening; perhaps if I tried some of these games I would enjoy them. It’s never too late to start. On Woman’s Hour this week they were talking to some ladies in their seventies who love playing computer games and their grandchildren love being able to play games with them. They like the challenge of… what are all these game about? Getting out of places, through a maze or something completely different?

 Minecraft is a game created by Microsoft where players can explore a 3D world, discover natural resources, craft tools and build houses or other structures. Now that sounds quite fun. I read in the newspaper that an archaeologist has recreated a Bronze Age landmark – with a great deal of technical help from his eleven year old daughter. Doctor Ben Edwards and Bella have created a digital version of Bryn Celli Ddu, a 3000 year old burial mound on Anglesey, with further help from other experts.

https://www.minecraft.net/en-us/

I think I would like a game where you create your own country estate with beautiful gardens which wouldn’t need weeding. If such a game exists let me know.

A more exciting thought; can authors turn their novels and short stories into computer games, will that be the next thing on Amazon KDP? I think some of my writing would be perfect, I just need a few artists and people who do coding, whatever that is…

You’ve read the books, now play the amazing games.

Do you or your family play computer games? Love them or hate them?

Silly Saturday – Baz the Bad Blogger Bounces Back

Today I welcome back Baz the Bad Blogger who has been taking a blogging break. I first interviewed him in November 2018.

https://tidalscribe.wordpress.com/2018/11/03/silly-saturday-baz-the-bad-blogger/

‘Baz, may I ask you why you took such a long break?’

‘I was bored with blogging and I didn’t sell any of my novels.’

‘Did you find it hard to keep up with writing blogs?’

‘No, I just got bored with reading other people’s blogs.’

‘Do you think your followers will be happy to see you back?’

‘Well I only have one follower left, the others stopped following me after I made honest and helpful comments on their blogs.’

‘Oh dear, well I guess this is more of a relaunch. Do you have a new novel in the pipeline?’

‘Yes, the sequel to ‘I Zomboid’, my dystopian novel about a government taken over by zombies and androids. I am having trouble, as real life has become stranger than my fiction.’

‘That’s for sure, which leads me to my next question, how have you been coping with this pandemic and lockdown?’

‘Very well, I work from home anyway, or would if I had a job and when I do go out I find people are considerate and keep their distance.’

‘Are you looking forward to the pubs opening today?’

‘I was hoping to sink a few pints, but you have to book in advance and when I mentioned my name none of my locals had any vacancies.’

‘That’s bad luck, will you enjoy a drink in the comfort of ChezBaz?’

‘What?’

‘Um are you hoping to enjoy a drink at home this evening with er… do you live alone?’

‘No, we’re quite a household, me and the snakes.’

‘Have you decided on a title for your next novel?’

‘Panzombic.’

‘Finally, will your new blogs have a theme, perhaps one that fits in with the strange ideas in your novels?’

‘My garden through the year, everyone is interested in gardening lately, lots of bloggers post pictures of their garden. Baz’s Blooms it will be called and I am bound to get lots of new followers.’

Baz kindly shared some pictures of his garden…

Friday Flash Fiction – Open Space

Cassie was feeling more positive than she had for a while as she saw James approaching on his bicycle for their rendezvous at the austere offices of their employer MPJ. It was not because the pubs were opening tomorrow, something to be avoided, or because she believed the pandemic was over, it was not; but her mind was open to new possibilities.

‘How was the ferry James?’

‘Great, it’s so windy out there on the water this morning, I love it like that, blowing the virus away; only a few of us on the boat anyway.’ He laughed. ‘Less than a week of the ferry back on duty and they have taken away my hire car.’

Cassie couldn’t help feeling a little pleased that once again they were safely separated by the water and a limited ferry timetable. Their several meetings at the offices had been good, making life seem a little more normal, but would it be awkward now she had declined to join his bubble? Would he try and change her mind after she admitted on Facetime last night that Doris next door did not want Cassie to create a bubble for her. Doris’ son and family were now 85% sure they would be over from the USA for their delayed annual holiday and Doris was hoping they would quarantine with her, be her bubble.

James keyed them in at the side door, ushering Cassie in first and keeping a safe distance. At the desk the lone security chap looked glad to see them.

‘How many in today?’ asked James.

‘Three, no sign of the boss yet.’

They walked up the stairs; even if they had wanted to use the lift James had put several bands of yellow tape across the lift doors. The corridor was silent and Cassie stifled a giggle.

‘Why are we whispering.’

‘Strange isn’t it, I didn’t realise how noisy this place was when it was full. Coffee first? That machine must be the only thing still working at MPJ.’

It was still a bit awkward – just standing there a few feet apart. He was smiling at her.

‘I like this, having a proper chat, I know it’s not every girl’s… wom… lady’s idea of a date. That’s what I like about you Cassie, up for anything. I love the way you aren’t worried about what you wear and don’t fuss about makeup and stuff.’

Cassie wondered how to take his remarks, she couldn’t imagine him doing very well on the dating scene, but obviously she wouldn’t either.

‘Has anything new been decided about work? The parents in my group are going round the bend. The children are going back to school next week, but it’s only for two days a week, then in two weeks it will be the holidays.’

‘So what do parents usually do in the holidays?’

‘Don’t ask me, what does you sister do with her two?

‘They are too far away for my mother to help out, they take some time off for the family holiday, that’s up in the air this year… the rest of the time, holiday clubs I think.’

‘All grandparents can’t be isolating, they can’t all be old and have health issues.’

‘The younger grandparents probably have jobs, or did have. Anyway, the boss still thinks we’re all doing a wonderful job working from home and wants as few coming back here as possible till we’re absolutely sure it’s safe.’

‘You can’t blame him after losing his daughter and that girl in my department, but it’s never going to be a hundred per cent safe in any work place, safe anywhere for sure.’

‘He’s changed a lot,’ said James ‘those who have known him a long time say he’s changed completely. Now we not only have to treat all the staff as family, we have to look after the homeless as well.’

‘I know, I got the email, I volunteered.’

‘I didn’t volunteer, it’s been dumped on me, have to work out the logistics of using this nearly empty building to make sure nobody in this city goes back on the streets.’

‘Isn’t that the future of offices, that’s what everyone is saying, but what do the homeless want? That’s what I’m going to find out at this ‘People in the Park’ thing this afternoon.’

‘Oh that, don’t you go taking in strangers Cassie.’

‘Is that likely, I’m afraid I’m not that much of a do-gooder, my home is my castle.’

‘Don’t I know it’ said James.

Cassie smiled to herself as she cycled to the park. Poor James, she was still managing to avoid telling him where she lived, but would she feel home owner guilt as she met up with these homeless people?

Luckily some overly sincere volunteer was facilitating the little gathering in the park, a couple of other MPJ people and five men and women and a dog. Cassie didn’t think of herself as good with people, but this little straggle of folk must be feeling even more nervous. She found herself drawn to the chap with the shaggy dog, Sam he introduced himself. The others were happy to let him do the talking, he was engaging and had good ideas. He needed a haircut, but so did everybody till the barbers reopened tomorrow; Sam didn’t match the homeless stereotype. Staying in a hotel obviously helped and perhaps he was recently homeless without ‘complex issues’. The more he talked the more fascinated Cassie was, how could such a chap have ended up with nothing in the world except a rescued dog? But what he said was true, how would putting these people in an empty office building help if they didn’t have jobs to regain their self respect. Where would the jobs come from in a post Covid recession.

When they broke up from their carefully distanced circle, agreeing to meet next week, Cassie felt she was at least part of something new and positive, even if she couldn’t see how it would work out. She felt a cold nose on her hand.

‘Sorry Miss, Sheba doesn’t understand social distancing.’

‘Oh er, call me Cassie please Sam, I like dogs, or at least I’ve never had one… I have got a pair of geckos.’

‘Really, how about that, I used to have some strange pets when I was a kid.’

Sam’s route around the park, with Sheba glad to be on the move, was the same path back to where Cassie had locked her bike. He walked parallel with her, keeping to the edge of the path, a safe distance, but smiling and chatting. Yes, Cassie felt she was part of something new and positive.