All Posts By

Linda Cohen

Christmas 2016, Ghost stories..., Short story - Horror

THE GARDEN GATE

If only I had been able to sleep that night none of this would have happened. You see when I couldn’t sleep I would gaze out the window and that’s when I spotted that the garden gate was open. It was swinging to and fro in the dark misty night, and it seemed to be beckoning me in.

I look at my sister Jenny, fast asleep in the little bed next to mine. “Jenny, Jenny,” I whisper. “Wake up!” But she will not stir; she just groans slightly in her sleep and snuggles further down into her warm bed.

I run back to the window. The gate is creaking in the still dark night – but wait, what is that, a light at the far end of the garden? I just have to find out what it is; I just can’t rest.

Feeling less than brave I creep slowly down the stairs, my nightdress billowing around me, my slippered feet making no noise on the parquet floor. The house is completely dark. What would my parents say if they saw me going out at the dead of night to the garden, dressed only in my nightwear?

I slowly lift the latch on the heavy front door and it creaks open. I wait a few moments, just to make sure that I haven’t woken anyone else, and then I am outside. Thank goodness no-one heard me.

Once outside my feet just seem to fly over the cobbled path towards the light. It is blinding in its intensity and draws me in, draws me on.

I reach the open gate, still swinging gently on its hinges. It seems to be saying ‘Enter, come right in.’ I walk nearer and nearer to the light and, as I approach it, I see that the glow is surrounded by an enormous rainbow bubble, just like the ones Jenny and I used to blow from our little pots of bubble liquid that Mother bought for us, but we had certainly never blown one so big or so beautiful.

Suddenly I stumble but feel a hand guiding me up. “Careful, my child.” A woman is standing there, the hood of her long black cape covering her face. “Careful,” she repeats. “You nearly fell and we can’t have you falling, can we now?” The woman is holding my hand and I feel strange, uncomfortable. I want to go back to my nice warm bed. Who is this woman, and what is she doing in my garden late at night? Deciding I must tell my parents, I turn to go but she will not release me.

“Where are you going?” she asks.

“Back. Back to the house,” I reply.

“Not so fast. We’ve only just met, and we have so much to talk about,” she says. She will not release my hand. “Come sit a while.”

I am scared. I don’t want to sit. I want to go back now. This was such a bad idea. But the light is blinding me now and I can’t see the woman’s face; it is completely hidden by her hood. Maybe if I could see her face I wouldn’t be so scared. “What do you want to talk about?” I ask her.

“Oh you know, this and that.” I try to calm myself, but I am shaking like a leaf. There is nothing I can do to calm my nerves. “Now, Emily,” she starts.

“Oh! How do you know my name?” I ask in surprise.

“Oh, there’s a lot I know about you,” she replies. “For instance, I know that you have not been a very nice girl lately. I know that you stole your sister Jenny’s ballet shoes because you had lost your own. I also know that you have been telling lies about your best friend Miranda, and got her into a lot of trouble. That’s just a few of the things I know. Would you like me to tell you the rest?”

I sink down onto the cold grass. “No, no thank you,” I reply, my head in my hands. I feel my heart racing. How could she know so much about me? I stutter an apology. “I never meant to hurt anyone, or do them harm. It’s just that I had a really important ballet exam, and I couldn’t find my shoes anywhere. Jenny is no good at ballet so it wouldn’t be so important to her, and it meant everything to me.”

“That was very unfair of you,” says the woman. “Jenny wanted to do well in her ballet exam as well. You see that light in the distance, the one in the middle of the big coloured bubble? I want you to walk towards it. You must enter the bubble and be cleansed of all your evil ways.”

I start to cry. I don’t want to walk into the bubble. Why had I come here?

“Now my child, there is no need for that. Just keep on walking. Come on, I’ll lead you there.” She grips my arm once again, pulling me towards the light, and all the while I am sobbing quietly.

I find myself in the middle of the bubble, and there is Jenny. I call to her, “Jenny, Jenny,” but she doesn’t seem to hear me. She is looking for something, and I hear her say, “My shoes, my lovely ballet shoes, where can they be?”

She starts to cry and I run towards her, but the light is hot, beating me back. “Now I can’t enter the competition,” she says. “All that practising, all for nothing . . . ” and she sobs as though her little heart would break, and I feel mine break with her.

Suddenly, with a loud pop, Jenny is gone and, with a whooshing noise, there in the middle of the light stands Miranda. She is talking to someone; I think it is our teacher but I can’t be sure because the light is so much brighter now and I can’t see her face properly. I call out to Miranda, but she doesn’t hear me.

Tears are running down her cheeks as she sobs, “I promise you, I didn’t steal Tom’s pocket money. I wouldn’t do that, Miss.” But the teacher says she doesn’t believe her, and that she will probably be expelled from school. Miranda falls to the floor and I want to run to her, tell her that I didn’t mean to get her into trouble. It was just that I really wanted those sherbet lemons on the top shelf of Mrs Walker’s sweet shop, and Tom’s money just happened to be in his desk and it was my only way of getting those lovely sweets. I know I shouldn’t have blamed Miranda for stealing the money when I had done it myself, but I didn’t think Tom would notice the money was missing. After all he is so spoilt and seems to have loads of money all the time, and I never have any.

Suddenly there is another loud pop, the light goes out and the bubble bursts, throwing me back onto the grass. I see the woman standing there again.

“See? See what you do by your lies and untruths? So much unhappiness all caused by you,” she says.

I am just trying to work out how to defend myself when, from the distance, an even larger rainbow bubble starts hurtling towards me. It stops beside the woman and she steps inside it. In an instant, she is gone and I am alone in the garden.

I run back to the house, my slippered feet carrying me faster than I have ever run before. I hear the garden gate close behind me. I am nearly home, nearly at the house, safe, warm. AND I have learnt my lesson.

Short story - Love and loss

The carousel

It was hot that day, Joe, and you were so restless. I was trying to keep you happy as your father was working on his latest book and needed us out of the flat. The flat had never seemed smaller than during those last few months. You were so excited when Ellie rang and said that she and your very best friend Suki were going to Hampstead Heath Fair and did we fancy joining them?

When I look back on that day I wonder what would have happened had it been raining or had we been busy. In the event we accepted her invitation gladly.

When we got to the fair you and Suki ran ahead, two beautiful three-year-olds, Suki so very blonde and you so dark. I never took my eyes off you for a second, Joe, as you ran ahead. And then you saw it, the carousel. The music could be heard for miles and it seemed to draw you in. “Mama! Mama! Horsey,” you cried.

“Yes darling,” I said, “but you have to wait for the music to stop and then you can have a go.” Round and round it goes while you and Suki jump up and down, waiting for your turn. At last it stops.

I have to lift you up on to the carousel, you are still so small. You choose your horse, a bright red garish-coloured one with a big grin on its face, and you climb up on it. You wave to me. Suki is behind you. You are so happy, Joe. Round the carousel goes, and you wave again. “This is such a wonderful idea,” I say to Ellie. “We were going mad in the flat. It’s so lovely to see the children enjoying themselves like this.”

The music stops, the carousel is slowing down. Suki climbs off her horse, but you will not budge. “Go round again, Mama,” you say. I see no reason to say no. I pay the man for another go and you are waving at me, waiting for the music to start.

At that moment my phone rings. It’s your father. “How is it? Is Joe enjoying himself?” I tell him how much you are loving the carousel and we chat a bit. He offers to make dinner for when we get back that night, by way of an apology for being so distant lately. I accept happily. “That would be lovely,” I say. The music is slowing down, but your father is telling me something. I can’t remember what now, but we are talking and then I glance up. The carousel has stopped going round and I look for you. I am sure you were on that bright red horse. I finish the call hurriedly. “Joe!” I call. “Joe!” I search the carousel, but a new crowd of children are pushing their way on. Maybe you are sitting on another horse? I tell the man I can’t find you and he just looks at me, not really caring. He has a business to run and he just shrugs. He has to get the carousel going again. I am a nuisance.

I am on the carousel checking each horse, but you are not there. You must have got off and run away. You are only three years old, Joe, too young to be at the fair without a parent watching you. I search frantically. I call Ellie on her mobile and she hurries to my side. I ask Suki if she has seen you. She shakes her head from side to side. We run everywhere. We go back to the carousel. You are nowhere to be found, Joe.

How can this be happening? How can you just disappear? My heart is pounding fit to burst. I am frantic. It feels as though my eyes and ears are full of blood. I run here and there. I find a St John’s ambulance tent and go in. I tell them what has happened and they tell me not to worry, that children disappear all the time and they are usually found within the hour. I feel vaguely comforted by this, yet still I run, round and round, searching everywhere and anywhere I think you may be.

You are not back within the hour, Joe. It is now seven o’clock and night is falling. The police are here, asking whether I have a photo of you. Of course I do. I empty my bag and give them my precious photo. You are smiling that same smile you had as you went round on the carousel. You look so handsome, Joe. Your hair is blowing in the breeze. It’s a photo I took just a few weeks ago in Grandma’s garden, my beloved boy. I feel my heart is about to break. What will I do? Where can you be?

The kindly policewoman suggests that I go home. “We have many officers searching for Joe. Go home, get some rest,” she says. “Who knows, he may even have found his way back home by now.” I know in my heart that will not be the case. At three years old you would have no idea how to find your way back, but I let her believe that she may be right.

Your father is distraught when I return. “How could you let this happen?” he questions me. “How could this be?” I say nothing. There is nothing to say. I sit down, put my head in my hands and sob, silently, all the while praying that this nightmare will end soon.

Joe, there is so much to tell you. Your father and I searched the Heath for years, many years after the police finally gave up. They were very kind, they kept in touch always. There was a sighting here and a sighting there, but they were always false alarms. Of course they told us that they never give up, but we know they have. After all it’s fifteen years now, Joe.

Your father and I separated. I couldn’t handle his distress and blame and how guilty he made me feel. He couldn’t bear to look at me. I blamed him. Maybe if he hadn’t phoned at that particular moment I would never have taken my eyes off you just as the carousel was stopping.

Joe, I look for you in the eyes of strangers. Would I even recognise you now? I torture myself night and day. What happened that day? Who are you with? Are you even alive? Are those terrible people who took you that day kind to you, at least? Do they love you like I love you? Did they just need a boy like you so badly they didn’t care that they ripped the heart out of the people whose son you were?

I will look for you until the end of my days. You are everywhere and nowhere for me, Joe. You are the wind that howls in the winter, the sun that shines in the summer. You are everything that matters, and more. You will live forever in my broken heart.

As the years wear on and hope fades even more, I wonder if I have the strength to carry on but I will never give up on you, Joe.

I have been back to Hampstead Heath Fair every year since you disappeared. I stand by the carousel, watching it go round. So many children in the intervening years riding that same ride. The garish red horse is still grinning at me – if only he could talk, maybe he could tell me what happened that dreadful day.

The Painting - 48 hours to turn back time

Episode 9 – Mary and Stephen: Lisnagroob, 1947

He had tried to get a job, of course he had, but jobs in Ireland were scarce especially when you were unskilled. He had never worked the land like his brothers. He had never liked hard labour, never seen the point of it actually. No, he was more artistic; he needed to express himself. His father had called him a big sissy, but he didn’t care. All he needed – all he wanted – was his paper and paints and he was happy.

Of course he knew what everybody in the village thought of him and his family. They were called the awful O’Hanlon boys, and he was embarrassed by that, but when he had married Bridget things had changed. He had gained respect along with a wife and, for a while, he had been content. He had been painting more than ever and had even managed to sell a few of the paintings. That gave him some kudos in the village and with Bridget’s family – at last.

What he couldn’t bear though was how Bridget had changed. Once the first baby came along she seemed to have become another person and somehow he couldn’t reach her. She seemed bowed down with the responsibility of caring for the child, and of course by the time the second child came things had become just too much for her. ‘Thank goodness for Mary,’ he thought, not for the first time. Mary was in between deciding what to do with her young life once she had finished school, so was more than happy to earn a little money while she made up her mind.

It was the hottest of summers. Stephen lay in the long grass, staring at the cottages, staring at the home he and Bridget had lived in for what seemed eternity now. Her family had owned the cottages since the 1800’s, and they had been handed down from generation to generation. Bridget’s father Michael had reluctantly agreed that she and Stephen could live in the smaller one once they had got married. Of course Stephen had had to be grateful for this and, of course, Michael never let him forget how grateful he should be.

That afternoon Stephen had picked up his paints and brushes and was busily sketching the scene, the two cottages to the forefront, with another, distant, in the background. As he painted, lost in the moment, he saw her coming through the long grass. It was as if he was seeing her for the first time.

Mary fascinated him. It wasn’t just her ability to manage the home so well, where Bridget failed, but something almost ethereal, untouchable about her, a dreamlike quality.

Her hair was falling around her face and she swept one side behind her ear, unaware that she was being watched. But Stephen noticed everything. The way she was coming towards him, her cheeks flushed, the heat of the day making her glow slightly, as she came nearer to him carrying the bread and eggs that she had fetched from the nearby farm. She was humming slightly to herself. Stephen laid down his paints and brushes and stood up. Mary jumped. She had been so far away in her own thoughts.

‘Oh my goodness! You scared me,’ she said. ‘Didn’t see you there.’

Stephen smiled. ‘Sorry, didn’t mean to frighten you,’ he said…

Short stories on International Women's Day

Flight of fancy

It wasn’t a big lie, as lies go, just a small one. And it wasn’t told out of malice or anything other than possibly a rather large inferiority complex.

Whilst filling in the form, at the part which asked for my name, I put Alexandrine Verity le Marr instead of Ann Crump. Whether or not I thought this would get me the job I wasn’t certain, but I just didn’t fancy being Ann Crump anymore. Then I wondered whether I should say that I lived in Camden instead of the Archway Road but, if they ever wrote to me, I wouldn’t get the letter so I decided it was better to own up to where I actually lived.

I posted my form back to them that very same day – better to be keen, I thought. On second thoughts I wondered if I had been too keen – the form had only arrived that morning and, by 1:30 pm, it was in the post back to them. I really wanted this job. Well, to be honest, I wanted any job. It had been six long months since I had had any gainful employment and money was running out at a rate of knots. I began to think maybe I should sign on and face the indignity of some spotty youth in the benefits’ office trying to place me in a situation of work that wouldn’t appeal to me at all.

No, this job was the one. It was all I ever wanted, it was the one I had dreamt about, the one that would offer me opportunities beyond belief, the one that would open doors to the kind of life I had always wanted. The only problem was I hated flying, but I would probably get used to it after the first few flights. I just needed to build my confidence up a bit. “Air hostesses, we urgently need you”, the ad had said. “Come and work for British Airways and go that little bit further.” That was me. I needed to go further, but did I have the qualifications? The answer to that was definitely not. They asked for English and Maths GCSEs. I had neither, having had to leave school at fifteen, or rather having been asked to leave school owing to behaviour which made me blush now I thought about it. How hard can it be just walking up and down the aisle of an airplane offering drinks and food? Why would English and Maths even come into it?

I would lie about that too. I would award myself nine GCSEs, two of which would be English and Maths, and no one would be any the wiser. After all, no one ever checked so what harm could it do?

I waited patiently for a week to see if my form had been approved, pacing the floor each time the post was due. Then one wonderful day, just after I had given up ever hearing from them, there it was. I had been awarded an interview. I was to go to the offices at Heathrow and ask for Ms Gwen Mathers who would conduct the interview.

Then began the serious business of what should I wear? I wanted to be sophisticated and stylish, surely just the perfect balance for an air hostess. Not overdone, rather more understated with a hint of Meryl Streep accepting a film award before going onto a neighbour’s barbecue straight afterwards, so casual as well.

I searched the shops for days then came up with the perfect outfit. This perfect outfit also took the rest of the money I had saved for a rainy day, but what the hell? It was an investment.

The great day dawned, my excitement was in overdrive. I had rehearsed the journey so knew just how long it would take to get there. Of course, when the great day dawned it was pouring with rain. Just my luck – I would arrive with a frizzy mass of hair from the damp, but I wouldn’t let this worry me. I had to have this job so I would pretend that this frizzy look was totally intended and anyone with straight neat hair was so last season.

There were a lot of us girls there, all eyeing each other up to see who had the most potential. I noticed that several of them were incredibly smart and really looked the part. On the other hand, some looked not the part at all. I felt I could be in with a chance.

At last my turn came. “Alexandrine Verity le Marr – please come this way.” I didn’t budge. “Alexandrine Verity…” Suddenly I was jolted into realisation.

“Oh sorry,” I stuttered. “That’s me.” I was forgetting that I had changed my name. I followed the incredibly well turned-out woman who had come to fetch me.

I don’t know what I expected. Just one woman I think, this Gwen person that the letter had said would be interviewing me. In fact there were four people behind a long desk. I was ushered to a chair and, one by one, they started firing questions at me. Why did I think this job would suit me? Had I had any experience in this field before? and a million others which I couldn’t remember afterwards as my mind had gone totally blank as it is prone to do in situations of great stress.

The woman on the far left looked long and hard at me before she asked, “And which GCSEs did you obtain?”

“Oh,” I said airily. “Maths, English, French, Geography, English Lit, Chemistry, Spanish, History and Science.”

The woman looked long and hard at me. “You look vaguely familiar,” she said. I peered at her. Yes of course I was vaguely familiar. We had sat next to each other in school for four years until I had got expelled.

I felt my face redden. “Do I? I’m not sure why.”

The woman leaned over her desk. “Excuse me,” she said, “but did you attend Tollington High? It’s not on your CV.”

“Err, no,” I replied. “Where is that?”

“Near the Holloway Road. Bit rough, but a good enough school,” the woman replied.

“No. I went to Channing, as you can see by my CV,” I said. This was another lie. Just a little one, no harm done.

The woman leant back in her chair. “I could have sworn you were Ann Crump, same sort of hair.” I cursed the rain for my all-too-familiar frizzy mop – everyone recognised me by that. “But it says here that you are Alexandrine Verity le Marr… Funny, you are the image of someone I used to know.”

I laughed heartily, maybe a little too heartily, and she kept peering at me with a strange look on her face while the other people were questioning me.

Just then the door opened and a small blonde woman appeared offering coffee or tea to all. When she came to me, she gasped in amazement.

“Bloody hell! It’s Ann Crump! How are you? How lovely to see you. What are you doing here?” I gazed at the small blonde woman with a vague look of surprise on my face, as if to say Do I know you?

My face went a strange puce sort of colour. The small blonde person, who I now recognised as Marie Ellis, was rattling on about what a coincidence it was and she hoped I got whatever job I was applying for. But of course I now didn’t stand a chance for the simple reason that this small blonde woman was none other than the person whose dinner money I had stolen, along with Simon Ellis’s. And not for the first time, she had reiterated to anyone who would listen. And it was obvious that, once she realised who I was and how she knew me and what I had done, she would be offering her own views as to why I must definitely not be employed.

One could argue that, of course, that was a very long time ago and people change, if one wanted to be fair. But when was life ever fair? One could also argue that a coffee-making person was not high up enough in the company to make her views felt but, by her relaxed attitude towards all, it was obvious that this was untrue and she was obviously very comfortable in her position. I found out afterwards that she was in fact PA to the Chairman and was only making coffee and tea that day because the person who normally carried out this service had the flu.

The game was up. I was not offered the job, probably because my cover had been blown and possibly because they all now knew I had been expelled because I had stolen some of my class mates’ dinner money, not just once but several times. And getting pregnant didn’t help, although that had been sorted out thankfully. As luck would have it all these people would also know that I had got no GCSEs at all owing to the fact that I had been booted out of school at fifteen.

It’s funny, but if I had remained Ann Crump I may have got away with it. I could have pretended that I had turned my life around, realised that a life of crime was not for me and that I had been doing voluntary work for many years because I wanted to put something back into the community. I may even have been able to blag my way out of having to leave school but, because I had tried to embellish my very miserable existence by romanticising my name and my credentials, they explained to me that I was not deemed trustworthy or at all suitable and that this was not part of the British Airways philosophy. They had all nodded hard at this part.

”Honesty at all times,” they quoted at me as I slunk out of the room, and I must admit it would have been a lot less embarrassing, if I had stuck to this advice at the beginning of the interview.

Short story - Humour

Eight ounces of flour

Right, here we go: flour, butter, eggs, one teaspoon baking powder, caster sugar… Hang on, I need four eggs and I’ve only got two.

I get in my car, and drive to the local convenience store. “Hi. Have you got any large eggs?”

“Large eggs,” says the assistant. “No, don’t think so. Got some medium.”

“No,” I say, in the manner of someone asking for a shot of methadone. “I need large ones.” He sucks his teeth in, shakes his head, and wanders off to the back of the store, where he triumphantly produces a box of six large eggs.

“Just found these for you,” he says, looking for my approval. I thank him profusely, and drive home again. Once back in my kitchen I see that three of the eggs are cracked, but what the hell: I only need two more anyway.

OK, here I go again. Eight ounces of flour, eight ounces of butter, four eggs, one teaspoon baking powder, eight ounces caster sugar. Everything is in place, baking trays at the ready, mixer lined up, and off I go. I put the radio on to LBC and James O’Brien – he will help me through the next hour while I create my masterpiece. Then the phone goes.

“Hello darling,” says my Mum. “You ok?” She doesn’t even wait for an answer. “Just thought I’d let you know there’s been a bomb scare at Marble Arch.” Mum, always the harbinger of doom, with the latest news story that she just has to share with me.

“Well, OK, Mum but I’m not going to Marble Arch today. I’m actually trying to bake a cake. Can I speak to you later?”

“Well, just make sure you don’t go there. You don’t want to make things worse.”

“Don’t worry. I’m in my kitchen, miles away from Marble Arch. They won’t get me here, Mum.” She rings off. Mum seems to think that I, and I alone, am responsible for most of the problems in the world today. She is convinced that I started the war in Iraq, and nothing I can do or say will convince her otherwise.

I get back to my baking. Eight ounces of flour, eight ounces of butter – the doorbell rings, catching me in a fright.

I drop the bag of flour and it goes all over the floor and all over me. A fine white powder is floating round the kitchen draping itself over everything. I rush to open the door. “Parcel for you, love. Sign here. Blimey, have you seen a ghost?”

I catch sight of myself in the hall mirror, and I am in fact white all over. “No,” I say haughtily. “I’ve just dropped a bag of flour.”

“Oh well,” he says. “You could always audition for a part in A Christmas Carol. You’d make a fabulous Marley’s Ghost,” and he goes off down the path, laughing hysterically to himself at his own joke. I close the door quickly, swearing to myself silently.

Back to the kitchen. Four eggs, eight ounces of flour – a new bag has now been opened – one teaspoon baking powder. The phone goes again.

This time it’s my friend Susan, with yet more tales of her errant husband who has designs on the woman across the road. “Actually, Sue,” I say, before she can carry on. “I’m just in the middle of trying to bake a cake. Can I call you back?”

“Baking a cake?” she says in disgust. “Haven’t you heard of Sainsbury’s? They’ve got dozens of cakes.”

“Yes, I know, but I wanted to bake one myself.” She puts the phone down in disgust as if I’ve just told her I’m boiling the cat.

I go back to the kitchen. Eight ounces flour, four eggs, eight ounces sugar, blah blah blah. I start to weigh out the sugar and the flour, and that’s when the phone rings again.

“Linda, it’s Mum. I forgot to tell you that Roger and I are thinking of taking up ballroom dancing.” Roger is Mum’s latest boyfriend and, at 86 looks like he can’t even get out of the armchair.

“That’s great,” I say. “But actually, Mum, I’m trying to bake a cake.”

“Well! I thought you’d be pleased for us,” she says.

“Yes, I’m very pleased, but I can’t actually express my pleasure at this moment because I’m busy. Can we talk about it later?” She rings off.

Eight ounces flour, sugar, butter – hang on, have I added the sugar yet? I look in the bowl. The flour is definitely there but I can’t see the sugar. Must have done. I’ll take a chance, I say to myself. I start to add the four eggs. Two go in and, as I’m about to put the third one in, there is a rapping at my back door. It’s my neighbour, Karen.

“Hi, sorry to be a nuisance. Just locked myself out of my house! Could I borrow my spare key?” Karen and her family are always locking themselves out of their house so they have deposited a spare key with us. They seem to use it with irritating regularity. I locate the key and see Karen happily on her way. I get back to the kitchen.

Now, how many eggs did I put in? Was it two or three? I can’t remember. I have a stab at three, then find two more lurking behind the bowl. One neatly deposits itself on the floor with a splat, adding to the flour. It occurs to me that, if I throw some milk on the floor, I could make a giant Yorkshire pudding. I ignore the mess, take another egg out the fridge and plop it in with the others. As I switch on the mixer and start to make the cake, I smile happily. James O’Brien tells me it is ten o’clock and I suddenly remember I have a dental appointment.

I quickly oil my tins and cut the parchment paper into expert rounds just as Mary Berry told me to do. And here I have a bit of a guilt trip: I have been faithful to Delia Smith for many, many years but, just lately, I must admit I have been having a bit of a fling with Mary Berry. I just hope Delia never finds out. I have even considered buying a little string of pearls to wear round my neck so I can look like my heroine, but haven’t yet got round to buying any.

At last everything is ready and, with a flourish, I pop the cakes in the oven so they’ll be cooked on my return. I step over the giant Yorkshire pudding, and rush to the dentist. As I approach the reception desk, the girl behind it looks at me in a troubled sort of way. “Blimey,” she says. “Have you just seen a ghost?”

Not you as well, I think, not another comedian. I now realise that I should not have left the house in such a hurry, and I definitely should have washed my face before I came out. “No,” I reply wearily. “I’ve been baking.”

I wait for the smart reply, but to my delight she says, “Oh, a proper little Mary Berry aren’t you!

My heart swells with pride. “Yes!” I say. “But please don’t tell Delia.”