Raining men – are you ready steady go? A one-month plan to brushing up nicely.

Men are like buses, you wait ages and then five come along at once. I’m not going to bore you to death with my sudden popularity because really when it comes down to it these moments do happen every now and then, and ten minutes later you glance round complacently and the buses have all departed again.  Still – five buses? It’s raining men.

Bus number one is a younger man, talk about a terrific ego boost.  Almost on the spot, too, so the Edinburgh Festival saw me a bit more out and about than I might otherwise, especially in such a hot August.

Bus number two is a long-time friend from way back who is gorgeous, eligible, newly on the market, and coming up to Edinburgh for a long weekend shortly with a view to relocating.

Bus number three is a lovely widower living on an island far far away but originally from the nearest town to the fictional Onderness, the beautiful Linlithgow. We’ve been talking through the website, and he’s popping back to visit family shortly: drinks date planned for near the end of September.

Bus number four is from the singles website, living in Spain, has been a fun correspondent for several months as well as guiding me through the shoals of sharks on the website. I’m off to Spain to visit my sister at the end of September, and a lunch is planned with several website correspondents, all meeting for the first time. Should be extremely interesting.

Bus number five is the perennial ex in the far-away country who has raised jealous brows and is now talking of crashing the lunch to keep an eye on things.  He thinks I am getting distinctly rackety.  Talk about the pot calling the kettle black . . .

Anyway, the point of this blog is preparing for busy times.  I don’t expect to catch any of the buses but I’m prepared to put in a bit of a run. I have a month in which I intend to dazzle and at the end of the month sweep into Spain looking good. My sister says there will be several pool parties, i.e. I will have to get into a swimsuit in public for the first time in forever. Yikes.

First on the agenda, and I should probably have done it for  Bus #1 except that I never expected Bus #1 to be interested anyway:  decent haircut and proper brow-shaping for instant results.  Repeat towards end September, but not on the day I am meeting Bus #3, as the newly-plucked look is not bewitching.

Second, dust off the Zumba exercise CD, I’ve been letting that slip to two to three times a week. It took ages at first to struggle through the routine (which is only twenty minutes) and I would be tomato-red by the stretches, the house trembling on its foundations, but I was losing weight and wanted a bit more firm to go along with that. Now I don’t even go pink and am quite surprised when it ends. When I was doing it every day I really noticed the difference in droopy bits which shouldn’t ideally droop, so it is back to that on a daily basis for the next month, using the shaker weights while I dance to banish any suggestion of bingo wings.  My Grasshopper Lawns characters do regular exercise, some on a daily basis. Anything they can do, I can do better.

Third, overall exfoliate with a gentle loofah, and moisturise. Do it every day (instead of once or twice a week, so easy to slip back into bad habits), and by the last week when I am about to start applying the extremely expensive fake tan in my holiday arsenal, I should have skin like chamois leather.  There will be no sunbed. Firstly, I’m a redhead so I don’t change colour. Secondly, sunbeds are probably the worst thing you can do to your skin. Just saying. I’m good about daily moisturiser on face and neck, but need to step it up everywhere else. Hair always gets brushed out a hundred times a day anyway, I have no idea whether that helped it keep its shine and colour, I’m just grateful it has.

Fourth, eat for health. I’m absolutely not going to get into the hotly-contested debate of what you should eat or how often. I’ve lost weight steadily over the last two years purely by eating less and doing more exercise and the only thing I’m likely to change in the next month is include more dairy, to get my nails good and strong, and more veg and fruit for glowing clear skin. About 10 days before Spain, I will re-start Echinacea, to resist the germs that gather around tourists on the move. By the way, we all know you reduce the veg and fruit a few days before special events, right? Very bloating stuff. Protein becomes the priority order of the day.

What did I miss?  There’s a teeth whitening kit in the arsenal which is easy to use and effective, it doesn’t create blinding choppers but it does offset the coffee and cigarette dullness. There’s an eyebath (these are both from Boots) that means both eyes and teeth are brighter and clearer. Restock the current favourite makeups, maybe try a new effect or two – makeup needs a shakeup regularly, what worked best even a year or two ago may not be doing you proud any more.

Stand back, world. I have a bus to catch.

Why do we turn our wonderful Indian summer into the age of fears?

I write light-hearted whodunits featuring four characters in late middle age, their autumn years, semi-retired, no longer young but not yet old: I haven’t yet found a description that instantly sums up their age, and if you know one, I wish you would tell me!

Edge, Vivian, William and Donald are in their late fifties, early sixties.  For women, it is definitely the age when the menopause has finally stopped shaking us like a rat between its teeth, and we get a surge of vitality and a sudden renewed interest in life. For both men and women there may have been health glitches, and we are consciously improving our general condition with a little judicious exercise, slightly more cautious diet.

So here we are, feeling better than in years, the offspring are for the most part now independent, the fierce competition of the workplace is less urgent: we’ve risen as far up the corporate ladder as we are likely to go.  Time to ease back a little, and enjoy this unexpected gift, right?

For some reason, no. Things are too good, we can’t get used to that, so we turn this wonderful golden time, this Indian summer, into fears. We could get sick, so every symptom plunges us into gloom. We could lose our jobs, so we stress ourselves into getting sick (whoops. Double whammy). We could lose friends, even people we love, and we start distancing ourselves in preparation. We’ve seen our parents get very elderly, or we have lost them already, and old age is suddenly terrifying.stress

It’s worst when we are alone, but hey, lots of people are alone. The Grasshopper Lawns books are set in a residential village where it’s a condition of acceptance that residents are over fifty-five, and have no family. There are hundreds, thousands, of people who would jump at the chance of meeting others in the same boat. It’s a given that life leaves lumps, bumps, scars, and baggage and no-one you are going to meet will be free of those, any more than you are. It also brings resilience, humour, and experience and people you meet will have those too. A stranger is just a friend you haven’t met yet? Well, maybe not quite that glib. But by reaching out, you will make friends: do it. Have realistic expectations, and have fun. Don’t sit at home and get old before your time. At the very least, look up meetup.com for your area, you’ll be astonished at how much is going on around you.

Quite a few of my blogs are about single life, second time round, and the idea of meeting someone romantically can be alarming.  I won’t kid you. It is. If you go that route, you will meet some very odd people, have some alarming encounters, you will feel your blood fizz and your heart creak, but you will definitely feel alive and stimulated. For some bizarre reason, Society looks askance at older people dating, flirting, having affairs. Goodness me, why? Don’t we all want affection, shared laughter, even passion, for the rest of our lives?

I didn’t set out to write a series of books that celebrate this stage of our lives, but it did turn out that way. In the first book, Edge could be any age between fifty-five and seventy-five, her life is so sedate. By the seventh book, the four friends are fully enjoying their Indian summer, and there is nothing I have written that contemporaries, friends, or I, have not done. Okay, apart from solve actual murders!  I get slightly peeved when I’m told that when I get to that age, I will see things differently. I am that age. I have younger friends who are already starting to fret and worry, and think themselves old. My older friends, on the other hand, are confidently leading the way into what is, despite our gloomy expectations, a totally unexpected gift from life.

Take hold today.  Carpe diem, and step into the sunshine. Enjoy it! And enjoy every day from now on, to the end of your life. Make it a life to remember with pride. Maybe with a breathless laugh or two … wrinklie love

Journeys End yadda yadda

Gosh, been a while since I was in here. Dusty. Check out that cobweb! Brings a whole new meaning to website.

Well, I have three good reasons. Firstly, although my books are quietly building a discerning, charming and intelligent readership (very few of whom review, but they keep buying, and in the long run that’s probably more of a compliment), it is a select group indeed, so I have been doing temp work to fatten up my emaciated piggy bank.

Secondly, I’ve been wrestling, and mostly losing, with the latest book. It wants to go one way. I want it to go another. There’s nearly as much negotiation as Scotland will be facing (Yes or No) in the fairly immediate future, and it is four against one, and quite stressful.  The only way to resolve the deadlock was a one-off Halloween edition, and Halloween is scarily close.  Which means 11 12 is now suddenly needing some beta readers. You in?

Thirdly, and I’m surprised I found the time, I’ve been expanding my social horizons and am about to take my first holiday in more years than I can remember. Not alone.

last straw

That blasted singles website again. This Spanish dude asked if I was still doing the research and I said no. Well, to cut a long story short (for now. It’ll be in a book sometime, somewhere) he’s not Spanish, just lives there. He’s not even Scottish, although he lived here twelve years. He’s very nearly the boy next door, we’re both from the same part of the world, we are eerily alike, we’ve been talking every day for three months, and I haven’t a clue whether he’s my long-lost twin brother (we all suspect we have one, right?) my friend, or my future. It will be an interesting holiday.

So that is why, between working from the crack of dawn to late afternoon, frantically scribbling for a few hours, then talking on Skype until the wee small hours, the website fell by the wayside.  On the bright side, I have Plans, Interviews, and Reviews coming up, at least one fantastic guest book tour lined up, and maybe even some photos from the holiday. (There will be segways. Some scenery.)

Listen, that beta reader thing? Talk to me. Twitter. My author page. If you’re already on my mailing list, you have the address.  New readers, and ones who know the series. I reciprocate. Get in touch.

The best friend question

Regular readers of the blog know that I joined a singles website a few months ago to do some research. I’ve hung up my research cape and boots but the website I chose has a fairly active blogging section and some are really interesting.

I was totally taken aback, though, by an exchange I saw on one of them, written by a bloke who sent out a whole bunch of eflowers to make new contacts. One response was from a woman who said she had received an eflower a week ago and the man who sent it was now her best friend. Say what? I read it again. Best friend. In a week. She hadn’t met him, they had exchanged messages and then talked on Skype, and he was her best friend.

Has the meaning of ‘best friend’ changed? My daughter, when about ten, told me she had fifteen best friends. No, no, I said, you have fifteen friends, which is your best one? She looked at me as though I was deficient (ah, that look mothers so love) and told me they all were.

Maybe I should have asked which was her BFF. That used to puzzle me, too, aren’t best friends ipso facto  best friends forever? My best friend and I have known each other since we were obnoxious spotty schoolgirls. We live in different countries now, don’t talk that often on the phone (but never for less than an hour when we do) and meet up every few years. I can tot up my real friends without taking off my socks, and I still think I am rich. Edge and Vivian, in my books, have been friends since childhood and now are fellow residents at Grasshopper Lawns, but had also kept their friendship going during long separations in different countries. Staying power, to me, is as important as shared interests, laughter and support.

The thing is, there were lots of comments on that particular blog on the website and the general consensus was that someone you were attracted to, and could talk to for hours on end, was an immediate best friend. If you really struck lucky, your love interest as well (although maybe that takes two weeks. Nobody said.)

So tell me, what is a best friend?  I’m a writer, I need to know these things.

Virtually over


Points to remember when having a virtual affair:

Never, ever plan to meet.  Hard not to type, in the heat of the moment, damn I wish you were really here! Never ever say it otherwise and if you think it, get out. You’re getting too caught up.

Keep it unreal. Use a false name, never give your address or media links and keep the exchange of photographs to a minimum. It is oddly unnerving to have a photo of someone staring blandly at you from the screen at the same time as you are telling each other the detailed and not-at-all-bland things you are up to. Imagination is better.

However, be virtually realistic: it must be a bit schizophrenic to have someone rhapsodizing over your enormous perky perfect breasts when even you can barely see the things, no? Or your long legs, when you barely make it to five foot in your heels – calling you a pocket Venus when you tower over the average bloke, or – one for the boys here – raving over your washboard belly when that ship sailed many six-packs ago. I was realistic about my good and bad points and still ended up apparently gifted with alabaster skin, and my full and perfect lips being traced with a loving finger, it made me feel restless and oddly inadequate.

Don’t get into details about your lives. This is virtual.  Keep it impersonal, keep it light. Explore places one of you has been to, yes, that’s quite fun, don’t get into long chats about your respective problems or it starts to feel real. It ISN’T.  Share some fun stuff if you must but keep the baggage out of sight.

Of course it is a joke for me to give any advice at all considering I caused absolute havoc with my recent affair, so here is the cautionary tale. Anyone who has good tips to add, kick in with comments.

A few weeks back I wrote a blog (Messaging sex rocks) about starting a virtual affair and I haven’t written much since. Not on my blog, not worked much on the latest book, barely kept up with emails, the very occasional tweet, and very sporadic Facebook, because a quite ridiculous amount of time was being spent on this affair. I worked out that one day we had spent five, yes FIVE, hours talking to each other.  Actually I did freak a bit at that point and try to dial it right back.  Every morning when I fired up the pc, there would be messages on ooVoo, and if I responded, he was instantly on line. He wanted to chat every lunchtime. There would be mid afternoon messages. And every night, on the dot of ten, the ping from ooVoo and that was my evening gone until midnight. Well, at first that was quite intoxicating, and he is funny, and inventive, and I think it was three weeks before we repeated a scenario (and only then because it was one we had both enjoyed).  And when you live alone, and I know I am going to start sounding defensive, it IS nice to know when you’re in the mood to chat you can drop a line and instantly get a response. But the time was becoming a problem. Part of it was that he was not, ever, to be hurried. He would undo my buttons, for example,
and stop to admire what each opened button revealed (despite exchanging detailed descriptions, I know to him I not only looked like mature Barbie, but a mature Barbie who has looked after herself really, really well.)  I tried the short-cut of saying defiantly that I was stripped for action in anticipation of his arrival, so he started ‘buying’ me lingerie and posting the link on ooVoo before our meetings—I want you to be wearing this, sweetie.  Links are such fun. We travelled a lot, for example. I said restlessly once that I was sick to death of what is proving to be a particularly cold and wet spring / start to summer, and that evening there was the link to a tropical island with the most beautiful deserted sun-drenched beach and lagoon you can imagine. We swam, and made out on the beach, and got caught by the incoming tide. (Talk about catching crabs.) We went to street fairs in charming locations, and got the giggles when we found chocolate-coated strawberries on one stand, because they’d featured in a recent meeting. He surprised me with a detailed and well-thought-out virtual trip to Paris for our one month anniversary (a month already? Seriously? I’m not good at keeping track of things like that). One lunchtime we browsed an Ann Summers shop, laughing out loud (well, I know I was) as we exchanged teasing links of things we found. He found an on-line auction catalogue and ‘bought’ this fabulous Art Deco mirror, for our little love-nest. Aw. Bless.


art deco mirror

It wasn’t all sex.  We almost became friends, in an odd way. I take part in a monthly short story competition, in an effort to control my tendency to waffle (judge for yourself how that’s working out), and in April I won it which was pretty cool—there are some really good stories every month, it’s a great competition. Paddy* sent me flowers and champagne.  Virtual flowers and champagne, my daughter pointed out. Well, yes, but when I told her I’d won, she’d said oh, okay, that’s nice, and told me another anecdote about my grandpuppy. We were so in synch that I’d log into ooVoo to leave a message, and find him already there typing. Or I’d go to the original website (which has virtual gifts and excellent emoticons), ditto, and find a message so fresh the email notification hadn’t yet reached me.

Hang on, I thought. Isn’t he married? This is getting weird. One married friend (male) said his wife was probably doing the same on another website, the safest form of swinging ever. Another married friend (female) said I was probably acting as a virtual fluffer, sending him to bed every night primed and ready for action, and should be charging for marriage counselling. I checked his profile on the original website, and he’d shown his status as single. That was, if anything, more alarming. What single guy spent so much time and thought on a virtual affair instead of being out there living a real life? But okay . . . actually, no, not okay. I started trying to back off and reclaim my own real life. More flowers, more teddies, and more and more affection rather than lust. Oo-er.  Then it came out, a passing comment, that he was married and I said right, that’s it, we’re done, this is getting way too inappropriate for an extramarital fling. My mailbox very nearly exploded under the weight of messages. Sheesh.  Okay, but no more lovey-dovey gumph.  Occasional meet-ups, just for fun, and by the way, I added, I’m out tonight.

As always, when I got home after my evening out, I logged in to check emails (and twitter and Facebook) and glanced on ooVoo and he was there, waiting. Not in the mood, I said sternly, and he said he’d sleep downstairs, keep his iphone on all night, in case I changed my mind.  Okayyyyyyyy . . . help!

I put him off for days and finally agreed reluctantly to a ten pm meeting on Sunday night. So not in the mood.  At nine-thirty I got a message saying he’d be late, something had come up, but I’ll be there ten-thirty sweetie, and I’m so sorry.  Fair enough, I got on with my poor neglected book, and when ooVoo pinged it was past eleven.  And he said he couldn’t say why he was  late. Well of course he could, it’s a virtual relationship, right? MAKE SOMETHING UP. So I ticked him off at length, logged off and told Twitter I was mad as a hornet and got a lot of teasing and a little more sympathy than I deserved. I assumed, of course, that he’d dumped me for a romantic interlude at home and while I was fully in favour of that, I was really annoyed about my interrupted evening.

Turned out the interlude had been far from romantic. Mrs Paddy* had had enough and confiscated the iphone, he said she was being unreasonable, and there had been a prolonged quarrel. I sympathized, told him Mrs Paddy* was entirely within her rights and I was out of the picture, and we’re over.

2012-02-12 15.01.00-5


Now I just have to get my head around my guilt. And pass on warning messages. That’s the main reason I’m sharing because wow, virtual can be intense. Be warned! He took it far more seriously, but I’ll be honest, during my earlier attempts to back off I missed him, I pined, a little bit. After all, a virtual man always looks good, never laughs too loudly or fails to perform to perfection, never belches or farts or steps on your feet when you’re whirling gracefully around a dance floor, never stares for too long at another woman; what’s not to like? He always thinks you look good, your bum never looks too big in anything, and he sends flowers, wine, and thoughtful gifts every day.

At the very least, don’t get together too often. And keep in touch with real life …

Would I ever have another virtual affair? I’m a writer, so using my imagination, and playing with words, is purest fun for me. I live alone, so someone I can talk to at any time is intoxicating, even if I have to sit on a virtual lap before I start to chatter, and have to gasp obligingly at intervals. (Ooh, ooh, to quote Joan Rivers.) He listened intensely (did everything intensely) and said the right things at the right times, I doubt I’d find that again anyway. It was (women are funny cattle) oddly unnerving. But as to having another affair, probably not. It is, when all is said and done, a little too weird!

Ever researching on your behalf,




Messaging sex rocks

A while back I asked the people on my mailing list to have a look at a rather more sensual story and the feedback was wow, yes, and I should do more. I like writing it, and it seems I’m good at writing it, but problem, I have a quiet life: just me, my computer, and my imaginary friends. How to jumpstart the imagination and expand my experience? Getting out there for real can take ages and carries a serious risk factor. And it turns out there really is a limit to the kind of questions you can ask people (what turns you on, what makes you hot) without setting up potentially embarrassing expectations. Oops.

Except, of course, on dating websites. Been there, done that, for Five Six, but I remembered the many approaches I had primly ignored and blocked while on the website. What if I responded? I signed up on a free website (not looking for quality, just quantity) and was honest about my age and said I was a writer who liked to talk about sex. I put up a photo that was me but also not very like me (in view of the conversations I hoped to be having, I really did not want to be recognized and hailed in public as Gloria*) and waited patiently in a corner of my web and the first juicy fly buzzed by in less than an hour. Increasingly steamy messages whizzed back and forth and it was even quite fun. I did eventually have to block him after two days as he kept wistfully kissing my cyber shoulders, and sending me cyber flowers, because he wasn’t very imaginative and an hour is an hour, time is money, been there, done that, so many men, so little time. Thanks for the memories but time to move on. (And he was fixated on panties, which is a word I happen to hate. Sorry, guy. Knickers or nothing. You are the weakest link, goodbye.)

the fantasy kiss

Free websites are weird. There’s a woman who wants us to exchange photos of our boobs by email. Aye, that’ll be right. One retired bloke keeps messaging that he wants to MARRY ME (stop shouting!) and take me to his villa in Spain where I can WRITE to my heart’s content while he LOOKS AFTER ME. Anyone interested, let me know, he seems loud but genuine. A surprising number of younger blokes are desperate to learn from a mature woman who talks back. Their technique was all swearies and no-one under forty seems able to spell, so between spelling errors and the website’s auto censor (more st*rs than *ctual vow*ls) they were quite hard to read. They are learning, but it is older men who have the imagination and range.

I have had virtual flings with, gosh, a dozen men? (yes, website bicycle of note) (quiet pride) and some of them are pretty sick men, you know? Yes, Domdaddy, I’m looking at you. How you reached 60 years old without being locked up I have no idea. There’s nothing Gloria* won’t consider but she does draw the line at encouraging anyone to think their desires have any place in a normal world. Slut, yes, but a slut with standards. She has been sent more fervent cyber flowers and had more partners wanting repeats than seems possible, sometimes they are back in hours.

Reading erotica and porn is, of course, tingly, which is why people do it. I struck pay dirt, (hell, the mother lode) with Irish Paddy*, who is 50. He was on the website looking for a sensual partner for intimate encounters, and I messaged him on the off-chance. Paddy* has a lyrical imagination, is a fluent typist, and gets totally involved in the moment. He eventually switched me (as Gloria*) onto ooVoo as the st*rs were getting us down and as George Takei says, oh myyyyy. I am in writer heaven: an appreciative and interactive reader who is not only totally in synch but has suggestions and developments of his own. Talk about tingly. When ooVoo jumps to life, so do I. Who knew research could be such fun?

So that’s the word on messaging sex. Don’t ever start into anything on Skype or elsewhere under your own identity, no matter how harmless the first approach, because there are some sick puppies out there. But oh myyyyyy…

In the meantime, I—oops. There goes ooVoo—must go.

*not really. Names have been changed to protect the louche.

Five Six Pick up Sticks, a murder mystery by E J Lamprey

Yay, the third book has been accepted. This is a great way to read sample chapters 🙂

First Chapters

five six final


Buy from Amazon


Website dating for the over-fifties is definitely a boom industry, but for some it has been a dead end, and the Scottish police want to know why. Sergeant Kirsty Cameron’s aunt Edge is the right age to become the bait in their investigation, and even has some recent murder-solving experience on her CV, making her the perfect candidate. 

The third whodunit in the Grasshopper Lawns series dives gleefully into the murkiest end of the senior singles dating pool (where the predators lurk) with Edge secretly hoping to meet someone special. It’s spring, and it seems the rest of the world is in love, is there someone out there for her? Preferably not the murderer, of course. 

The murders of the recent past were solved with her friends Vivian, Donald and William, but this investigation is so covert, not even they can know why she is suddenly so keen…

View original post 8,282 more words

Introducing Five Six, with puppy eyes for feedback –

Five Six Pick Up Sticks, which has dominated my life for longer than I care to remember, goes live soon, and I’m chewing my nails. I would dearly love feedback on this excerpt from the first chapter? Be mean, if you have to. I’m thick-skinned, I can take it.  First chapters have to set the scene and tone of the book, and it may not appeal to you as a book, but if you might have liked the look of it, except for – well, it’s the ‘except for’ that I would love to know.

It officially launches just before Halloween and has 13 chapters and a retired witch living in #13, but no exciting Halloween stuff. And just to warn you – no gore, no zombies, no vampires, no wild sex – I think I had better shut up now. I’m talking you out of even reading further.  There IS a life-and-death car chase on the Forth Road Bridge, and where earlier books had a couple of murders to solve, this one had over twenty, if that helps. But no gore. Please comment …. on Twitter or Facebook if not here.

five six final

Detective Inspector Iain McLuskie locked his car in front of the main house at Grasshopper Lawns and struck off across the large garden with the confident familiarity of a man who knew the place well. With several murders there in fairly quick succession over the winter he’d spent a fair bit of time at the retirement village, but things had been restfully quiet lately. It was a pleasant novelty to be visiting socially, and he looked around appreciatively at the changes the season was bringing to the Lawns.

Spring had been late arriving in Scotland this year, but was making up for lost time; an army of tulips, flaunting vivid scarlet petals, marched through the borders past exhausted daffodils and crocuses, and the giant bank of rhododendrons was bulging with fat buds. Privet hedges crossed each other to make X-shaped mini private gardens at regular intervals around the perimeter of the lawn; he could see a few gardening enthusiasts already hard at work in the lovely spring weather. The sky arched blue overhead, the sun was warm on his face and the lightest of zephyrs pushed a few puffs of cloud overhead, and stirred the blossom on the fruit trees.

An indifferent gardener himself, and father to young football hopefuls, his own small garden was stripped to basics. One day, he promised himself, when he had the time, he would pop back here for gardening ideas. In the meantime, he was making his way to number twelve of the apartments that encircled the lawns, to run a proposition past Edge, Sergeant Kirsty Cameron’s slightly eccentric aunt.

The aunt in question was found busily weeding her triangle of hedge garden, which contained an elegant old bench and some ancient flagstones nostalgically imported from her previous home. She was wearing faded jeans, an overlarge plaid shirt and a completely disreputable gardening hat, and was clearing weeds between the flagstones with vigour and a running muttered commentary.

“I hope there aren’t any swearies in that lot, Miz Cameron?”  He hailed her cheerfully and she twisted round.

“Detective Inspector McLuskie! What a surprise. And of course there were swearies. Along with a magic spell that apparently banishes creeping buttercup. If it works I shall rent myself out for gardening services and be rich for life.” She used the bench’s sturdy support to scramble to her feet and looked past him, surprised. “Where’s Kirsty?”

“Helping out in Grangemouth for the next few days.” He pointed at his cheek. “You’ve – er – got a bit of mud…”

“Oh, I must look like hell. Gardening doesn’t suit me.” She pushed her battered gardening hat up her forehead – adding two more smears of mud, to offset the rakish dab on her cheek – and shot him a sharp look. “Not that I’m not pleased to see you, but what brings you here? Come on over to my verandah, do. I’ve some lemonade there in the shade.”

Two Havana chairs flanked a tiny table which held a jug of iced lemonade and a glass, and she waved him to one of the chairs.

“Help yourself, I’ll get another glass. I’ll only be a moment.”

He started a polite demurral but she fixed him with another sharp glance, said “Nonsense!” and vanished inside.

Smiling, he helped himself. Kirsty Cameron was in her twenties, a pleasant and competent police officer who was a pleasure to work with, but she was the image of her aunt. He had a sudden impression of what she would be like in thirty years’ time. Still slender, still attractive, redoubtable…

Edge reappeared without her hat and gardening gauntlets, her face free of smudges, and a fresh glass in her hand. She sank down into the other chair with a sigh of relief and he held the jug up invitingly, and filled her glass at her nod.

“I hope I’m not interrupting?” He drank gratefully – the lemonade was icy, clean and sharp, delicious – and she grinned at him.

“Not at all, I was clearing my decks for Kirsty’s visit this afternoon. What can I do for you?”

“I ken Kirsty visits Tuesdays so I wanted to speak to you first. I was going to ask how you were but I can see you’re back to your old self, right enough.”

“Just a small operation.” She was dismissive. “Part of growing older, such a bore, but I hope you got my thank you note for the flowers; it was very kind of you. And being called JB Fletcher did wonders for my ward cred!”

“Ah, now, you know we value your detective skills. In fact, I’m hoping you might be interested in – well, if you’re not too tied up with anything at the moment – you’ve jokingly said a couple of times in the past that you wanted to join the Force?”

“You’re offering to sign me up as a hobby bobby?” She leaned forward, eyes bright with interest and he waved his free hand vaguely.

“Not sign up, not as such. More if you’d put in an occasional… let’s call it appearance, on our behalf? I don’t know if Kirsty has said anything at all about some deaths we’ve recently picked up on which have aroused our suspicions? I’ll let her fill you in, but long story short, there’s a potential link to the dating agencies that cater to singles over fifty.”

He half-filled his glass again and sat back. “You ken the whole Scottish police force has been reorganized, aye? There’s no denying that doing away with all the little divisions has improved our overall picture, and now we’ve picked up some odd similarities in a few geographically-scattered deaths. I’ll have to ask you not to talk about it the noo, we dinna want to start any kind of panic in case it’s pure coincidence. We’ve been lucky; there was already a fraud investigation starting in the senior singles scene, with a top undercover poliswoman assigned to it. She’s just the person to take it up a level. Problem is, all this extra information got dumped on her, and all urgent, and she says there’s a limit to what she can do without ever meeting the marks. It would really help her if there was someone doing the social, appearing as her, but only in low risk situations. And it would be good to have someone – er –”

“Old?” Edge offered helpfully and he laughed awkwardly.

“No, no! I was trying to think how to say someone who could genuinely be interested in meeting senior singles. Old wasn’t the word I wanted!”

“I know what you mean. Someone older, who really could be expected to want to pick up sticks and sympathize about gout. I joined one of those senior dating websites myself, once. You wouldn’t believe some of the responses I got – from all ages, too. Still, it was cheap; you get what you pay for. I did think of going for one of the more expensive select introduction ones – mainly because my accountant Patrick looked on the verge of being snapped up by one of his widows, and that would have left me without my standby escort. Then he managed to escape, and I also made friends with Donald and William, so I never bothered.”

Iain grinned involuntarily. “Life must have been very quiet before yon Laurel and Hardy! There’s nothing for them in this set up, though. What I thought was, mebbe you’d like to pop round, have a talk with Susan, weigh each other up and see if it would be something that would interest you? She’s working from her home, it’s just over the way, in Onderness. She’ll talk you through what she’s doing, the possibles she’s already identified, how she’s monitoring things. She’s very good, and a nice person, you’ll like her. And you’ll ken why I’m asking, when you see her. You look very like the profile picture of herself that she’s posting on the websites.”

Edge poured the last of the lemonade into her glass and gazed thoughtfully into space after Iain’s departure. Murder. Back in December, when Betsy Campbell’s death had started a whole train of events, proximity to murder had been quite exciting, but there had been rather too much of it since then. Still, this wasn’t on the spot, and her involvement would be very limited. It wasn’t even confirmed that murder was involved at all –

Her train of thought was abruptly interrupted by the sight of a sizeable rump reversing slowly into view on hands and knees from the miniature garden next to her own and a breathless voice calling her name.

Stifling a laugh, she hurried over to help Miss Pinkerton up. The older woman, her neighbour in number thirteen and known to all as Miss P, gasped out grateful thanks as Edge helped her to her feet.

“Ay do it every time!” Miss P puffed ruefully. “Ay think Ay can manage on my weeding stool, and then Ay reach too far for a pesky herb and the next thing Ay know Ay’m on all fours again. Ay don’t know how you manage to get up and down so easily.”

“I don’t at all,” Edge assured her. “If it wasn’t for my bench I couldn’t get up either. You should get a bench in your bit, they’re very useful.”

Miss P was at least seventy, with a fresh complexion, fluffy white hair and the wide candid eyes of a young girl. Writing an endless stream of wistfully romantic novels kept her in comfortable circumstances, and Edge considered her an ideal neighbour – quiet, gentle and unsociable. Over the three years they had been neighbours, Miss P’s extreme shyness had only slowly thawed to the point where conversation occasionally slid past the briefest of friendly greetings, towards the first glimmerings of friendship.

“Ay really should be doing this at midnight anyway,” she said diffidently and unexpectedly. “Dark moon, you know. Most efficacious. But at my age, midday will have to do, Ay can’t be crawling on all fours to my apartment at midnight. What would my neighbours think?”

“Well, this neighbour would be quite startled, certainly. I was going to ask if you’re a good witch, but even in my head it sounded exactly like a line from the Wizard of Oz!”

“Oh, not a witch at all, not really. Not any more. Ay was quite the Wiccan in my younger years, even now Ay observe the more practical rituals, like cutting herbs according to the moon phases, but Ay don’t like to talk about it – or be talked about, if you’d be so kind.”

“Of course not, although I think it’s fascinating. Did you at least get all your herbs?” Edge fought to rid her mind of an image of her portly neighbour dancing round a midnight bonfire, and succeeded.

Miss P beamed at her and held up a slightly crumpled woven bag. “Oh yes, once Ay was down there Ay got the lot before Ay called for you. Ay had a feeling you’d understand when Ay heard what you said to that nice-looking policeman. Before you moved away, of course. Not that Ay would have listened if Ay…” She gave up on her jumble of sentences and settled instead for, “Will you join me for a quick cup of tea?”

“I’d have loved to.” Edge had to shake her head. “My niece will be here in less than an hour and I’ve still to make myself and the apartment presentable. Are you coming up to watch the boules later this afternoon?”

“Ay hadn’t planned – well, maybe. Ay don’t really go out in public alone but Ay suppose it isn’t really public. That’s at the top bit, where the new allotments are?”

“No need to go alone, we’ll knock on your door on the way past.” Edge was firm. “You’ll like Kirsty, she’s lovely. And boules is such fun.”

“It was very popular in France, when Ay lived there, but of course it was only older people who played it in those days.” Miss P seemed completely unaware of possible irony. “Ay do remember Godfrey saying the first tournament was very successful. Did you play?”

“No, I couldn’t at the time, I’d just had my op. Pity, because I love it, I’ve played it a bit in the past. I think the competition will be fierce today, but every time I thought I’d pop up and get in a little practice there’ve been people working on their game. Sylvia and Matilda are there half the day, every day. I imagine they’ll be the winners today.”

“Oh, Sylvia!” Miss P permitted herself a tiny unladylike snort. They agreed she’d be ready for three thirty and she headed back to number thirteen, while Edge hurried into her own apartment to shower off the morning’s exertions. She shook her head as she went. The most unlikely witch in the world, living right next door; bet that wasn’t on her application form! On the other hand, the Trust only selected residents with interesting pasts, so anything was possible…

Loves to travel

“Love to travel” I wrote automatically, then had a double-take moment.  I used to love to travel.  Canada, Australia, Africa, America, Europe, been there (bits of) and done that (most of).    But still love to travel?  Short answer, No. 

Long answer, not until they invent an effective and comfortable teleporter which doesn’t need to be checked for flies or for that matter cockroaches or any other life form that a cheap and imperfect teleporter would incorporate into the unwary traveller’s DNA.  

I love to drive, for up to an hour.  After that the trucks and other cars and those bloody caravans, that isn’t as much fun as it was an hour ago. 

Trains – in my childhood we used to travel overnight to Durban in our own compartment, beds made up, choc on the pillow, I loved that.  Find me a train still doing that and I’ll rethink the travel thing. 

Sea travel?  Having been inevitably queasy on numerous ferries I’ve never felt the urge to go on a cruise.  Being trapped in a hotel which is bobbing up and down doesn’t immensely appeal. 

And flying, well, don’t get me started.  I’m claustrophobic and hate crowds, so being wedged in a cramped seat a mile above the ground in a metal tube with a few hundred people is about as close to my personal definition of hell as I hope I’ll ever get. 

I quite enjoy the actual holiday bit – exploring strange new places and enjoying different lifestyles – but there’s always the looming anxiety about the bloody awful trip back.  And whether I remembered to switch the oven off.  

After that little epiphany I examined the rest of my answers.   Hmmm.  Red hair?  Not so much.  As a Twitter friend said recently, I’m blonder every time he sees me.  Thanks DC but we both know the creeping blonde is in fact creeping pepper-and-salt.  Build?  Oh dear.  A few extra pounds does heavily rely on one’s personal definition of a few.  Changed that to Large.  They need an extra definition between those two – like, oh, 20% overweight.  

So, let’s re-examine the application.  Large greying anti-social smoker who won’t travel, doesn’t like walks in the rain, would rather poke herself in the eye with a mascara wand than watch sport on telly, is okay with animals as long as they don’t crap in the flowerbeds or need feeding early on a Sunday morning, and will never ever respond to any written approach from someone who spells as though Slade had taught them their English.

Yup, scrapped the application.  What’s the point?