Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World (2 page)

BOOK: Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World
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Doreen found motherhood daunting and by far and away the most difficult task a woman could ever attempt. Catastrophic injuries were avoided on an almost hourly basis and the house needed steam cleaning at least twice a day – but when things went well it was just the best feeling ever. Their summer holidays in Weymouth were legendary, but then they really splashed out and went abroad for the first time. To Saundersfoot. She'd made cardboard passports for the kids which they waved at the tollbooth woman on the Severn Bridge. When they finally arrived, a passing truck had clipped the town sign, reducing it by one letter to Saundersfoo. That holiday had passed into family history, never to be beaten.

Time galloped by, uncaring and swift, so when Doreen reached her thirties she had two boisterous youngsters to control in addition to keeping down a full-time job. Bernie had his plumbing business to keep him busy,
It's A Doddle For Coddle
proudly emblazoning the sides of his van. Stresses and strains tore at her family in much the same way as they did for just about every other family she knew. Some went under, others survived. Hers fell into the latter category. Just! Now Jo and Marty were both postgraduates and had proper passports of their own, the type where the photo actually looked lifelike and an embedded chip allowed you to roam the world. Saundersfoo had been replaced by Faliraki, Weymouth by Ibiza. The kids were gone, living their own lives and only returning when the laundry needed doing. Doreen wouldn't have had it any other way.

Maria had never experienced such difficulties, bless her flashing almond eyes. She had no children and planned none for the future. Her ovaries were locked up tight and strictly off-limits to any passing sperm. She was a woman with an eye on the main chance and no snivelling, figure-ruining, nipple-chewing infant was going to stop her achieving what she desired most. Status. Money. Power. El Toro provided them all with traditional South American presidential flamboyance.

Doreen could almost feel Maria's Latin incandescence radiating from the phone pressed to her ear. She'd now been forced into this wholly unnatural silence for nearly a minute, yet Doreen knew she could keep her waiting for as long as she liked. Power indeed. The woman was literally panting with frustration. No doubt her bosom was doing that wobbly thing which made El Toro go weak at the knees, but Doreen didn't care too much about Maria's trembling hooters.

‘We all have to make sacrifices, Maria,' she said finally, taking pity on the poor woman before she started ripping out her own hair. The conversation required a patience she didn't really feel, necessitating the use of that calm voice she knew exasperated Maria so much. ‘You are part of a larger picture. Your needs must sometimes be put to one side. No sex. That's an order.'

‘But –'

‘No, Maria. I will not hear any more. I admit it is unfortunate for you to be involved with such a petulant, self-centred, arrogant bully-boy, but it is your duty. I tell you again, it is vital to deflect El Toro. He's just irritating the Bolivians now but they are a grim and determined lot when they get going. Use your most powerful weapon. Deny him your connubial services. Coupled with the rumour I have just decided you are going to spread that not all is well in the presidential trousers, this should be enough to achieve our aims. In my experience with men such as El Toro, the merest suggestion of soft cock syndrome would prove too humiliating. You only need to point out, in your inimical way, just how embarrassing it would be if his chuckling populace discovered the extent of his sexual inadequacy. How much it would demoralise his military. You only need to deflect him minimally while I work on the Bolivians, then, once conflict has been averted, you can restore his vigour with some of those imaginative techniques for which you are so renowned. I'm confident you'll find some way to correct his distressing lack of rigidity.'

‘Yes, Mother,' replied Maria in a suitably deflated tone.

‘Good. Now then, my dear, you will keep me informed, won't you.'

‘Certainly, Mother.' Poor Maria sounded most despondent. Doreen decided to offer a little reward.

‘And when the dust has settled, I'll arrange for a presidential trip to London and we can go shopping for shoes.'

‘Oh, thank you, Mother,' squealed Maria with genuine delight. Now, that had cheered her up. Considerably.

‘I love you, Maria. Do not ever forget that.' Doreen finished the call and took a deep breath to calm herself. Goodness, she'd almost lost her temper. South American dictators and their lively concubines could be so tricky to handle. She mulled over the situation while the coffee machine continued to belch spasmodically, and wondered why this burden had settled on her shoulders. The answer came immediately, as it always did in these moments of reflection, accompanied with the fond memory of that day in February over fifteen years ago, the day her life changed for ever.

The day
she
came.

She wore a beautiful cashmere camel coat, very classy, and a dusky blue silk scarf over her head. Doreen had never forgotten the sunglasses. Why did she wear dark glasses indoors? In February? She was very tall and austere and, once they were on their own, took off her glasses and fixed Doreen with a steady stare.

‘Doreen Coddle,' she said in a husky Yankee twang, ‘Ah'm Katherine Hepburn and ah want to talk to you about saving the world!'

To say Doreen was stunned would have just about been the biggest understatement of her life. Kate laughed merrily at Doreen's goggle-eyed expression. ‘Do you know, dahling, that's the exact same look I had on my face when Clemmie Churchill drove up to my front door in her lovely Rolls-Royce and told me it was my turn to save the world. I think it's a natural reaction, but hear me out.'

‘I – I –' stuttered Doreen impressively.

‘That's my girl,' chuckled Kate, patting Doreen's inert hand. ‘Ah'm going to tell you a story, sweetheart. It's a very long story, one which spans centuries, but take it from me you'll not get bored. You'll discover why your hair is the colour it is and why you, of all women on earth, are destined for this task. Don't worry, dahling, surely ruling the world can't be as difficult as bringing up two children, and you've made a very fine job of that.'

‘I – uh!'

‘Still monosyllabic? Only to be expected. Sit yourself down. Ah'll brew up, as you British like to say, and then we'll begin.'

And so it was that Doreen Coddle inherited the title from Kate and became Gaia, Supreme Goddess of the Sisterhood of Helen, Defender of Knowledge and Mother of Blessed Lycia, descended by clear and unbroken bloodline from Helen of Troy herself, committed by solemn oath to nurture, preserve and protect the Earth for the sakes of her own children and those of every mother on the planet.

What a day!

Doreen poured the coffee, picked up the tray of steaming mugs and chocolate digestive biscuits, and nudged her way out of the kitchenette through a pair of battered swinging doors and into the salon beyond.

‘Here we go, girls, and I've found some naughty bum-fatteners to dunk!'

Doreen Coddle ran the world.

She was a hairdresser from Chipping Sodbury.

CHAPTER TWO

The lush green fields of the Severn Vale wheeled sedately, turning slowly as the bird circled high above, his senses alert to the faint thermal rising from the chequerboard of sun-heated pastures far below. He soared effortlessly as the rising updraught caught him, lifting him on wings spread wide. He rarely flew this high, preferring to flit among the trees, but the day was so grand he just had to give in to instinct. The feeling of freedom was profoundly pleasurable, as it was to all birds who could be bothered to heave their sorry feathered butts into the air. This particular bird had little sympathy for his cousins who merely strutted and fluttered on the ground. They were invariably nervous, always looking over their shoulders for predators. He avoided nervous birds if he could. Their conversation tended to be stressful, to say the least. Another swirl of warm air caught him at an awkward angle and he adjusted his body without even thinking, such was his consummate mastery of flying. He prided himself on his skills and could be as nimble of wing as a hawk, no mean feat for such a big bird. Yes, it was a lovely afternoon and he basked in the bright sunshine, his back and head warmed pleasantly by that friendly yellow ball in the sky.

Presently, peering to the side, he spied the Lady River Buzzard a little way off. She swung in closer, riding the airs effortlessly, and joined him on the other side of the thermal, the two swinging around in a lazy, unhurried circle, nonchalantly spiralling ever upwards with leisurely elegance. Slowly, she caught him up until the two were flying almost wing tip to wing tip. She was acquainted with him and called out politely. He replied with a brief squawk of his own. With the courtesies nicely handled, the buzzard dipped her wings fractionally in respect, then rolled away and dived, peeling off to patrol her favourite hunting grounds along the banks of the Severn. Any vole or rabbit foolhardy enough not to keep its eyes peeled wouldn't survive long with such an accomplished hunter stalking from above.

He watched her glide away until she was just a tiny dot, then looked to his own affairs. Below, he recognised the intricate jigsaw pattern of tree-dotted hedges, of roofs and roads, streams and ponds, and took great comfort from their familiarity. Down there, amongst the scattered dark green copses and golden squares of rape, lay the tiny village of Prior's Norton and home.

Home! The bird was entirely familiar with the human concept of home: a place of belonging, somewhere comfortable and safe, where good food and interesting conversation could be enjoyed, and where love could be shared. The bird knew all about love. He loved as a child loves, unreservedly, uncomplicated, as deep as the soul; and he knew his love was returned with the same simple intensity. This was the cornerstone of his life. Most people just couldn't understand, just did not comprehend how a creature, a mere bird, could enjoy and reciprocate such an intensely human emotion, but the bird did not care about them. All he cared about was his mummy and daddy.

He took one final look around. The landscape was breathtaking: the rollercoaster humpbacked Malverns to the north; the bare-breasted convexity of May Hill crowned by its nipple of fir trees to the west; the dark rolling woodlands of the Forest of Dean spreading south, the shining silver band of the river snaking through its fertile grasslands; and dominating the east, the long solid ridge of the Cotswold escarpment. Yes, it really was very nice indeed – but not quite as nice as Brazil!

Tucking in his wings, Bertie angled down into a delightful shallow dive, his feathers ruffling pleasantly. Wind hissed softly as his speed increased, but he did things with his long tail to scrub off some of the excess velocity, keeping things nicely dignified. After all, he was a hyacinth macaw and knew all about dignity.

Below, he saw Celeste sitting at a table set on the lawn beside a shady tree. She was engrossed in her book and so he trilled a happy call. She looked up, waved and patted the chair next to her. ‘Here, Bertie. Mummy loves you.' The sound of her voice filled him with a deep joy and he spiralled down in a tight corkscrew, banking to display his full wingspan, before executing a perfect landing on the back of the chair. It swayed and creaked under his weight. He sidled over for petting and nibbles. Celeste obliged both generously, putting her book to one side and concentrating on her beloved Bertie. He lapped up the attention and, as he always did nowadays, broke into a paean of contented purring.

Presently, she rummaged in a bowl and handed a fat walnut to him. He crushed the tough shell with ease and extracted the oily nut inside with delicate dexterity. ‘Thank you, Mummy,' he said, as polite as always. He'd been brought up well.

‘My pleasure. Do you want some more?'

‘Yes, I do,' came the immediate reply. He knew the answer to that question and was rewarded with another nut as an extra treat. Celeste stroked along his back and down the length of his majestic tail feathers. Now thirty-seven years old, Bertie was well into his prime, a stocky, heavily-bodied macaw with a head bigger than her fist, forty inches in length and with a five-foot wingspan. His thick plumage was immaculate, a deep violet-blue, dazzling in the warm sunshine. His entire body was covered in glorious azure except for glowing yellow patches bordering his bill and matching panda rings around his alert brown eyes.

Not a feather was out of place. He groomed every day without fail and was as fastidious in his personal habits as any fashion-conscious teenager. Celeste tickled under his viciously curved black bill and the purring waxed. He closed his brown eyes and lapped up the attention. Now that Sebastian was gone, he had no rival. The Persian found country living just too messy. He was simply too hirsute; a town cat, he needed to be near a grooming salon. A few months at the cottage had reduced his effeminate fur to a muddy tangle of matted knots interspersed with the occasional captured twig. The final straw came when several robins checked him out as a possible nesting site. He now lived in pampered luxury with Patti Duke-Warrender at her London home where, apparently, he'd taken to pissing on her prized peonies. Bertie was not surprised at the cat's total lack of respect and thought his departure no loss to the household, but was saddened when his great friend Barnstable scuttled off to hamster heaven at the advanced age of four. Bertie really liked the little chap, often feeding him nut after nut just to see how big his bulging cheeks could actually get, and stood with Celeste when James buried him under the oak at the top of the garden.

So now the household just comprised Bertie with his mum and dad, and all three couldn't be happier.

It had been two years since Vivian Bell won the election, an election precipitated by Bertie, whose innocent and entirely unexpected outing of James Timbrill had been the last straw for the old Government. Now sulking in opposition, they and James had parted company with little love lost on either side. Incredibly, James was still the MP for Gloucester North, even though he'd tried really hard to retire. Unfortunately, he'd not taken into account the strength of feeling and stubborn loyalty of his constituents, who had cajoled, badgered and bullied him into standing as an Independent, and he'd romped home at the election with all the other candidates losing their deposits – no MP had a greater majority. He had entirely misjudged their mood, expecting condemnation and vilification, but instead finding that they cared not one jot for his well-publicised proclivities. He was universally liked in the city and commanded huge local support – unlike at Westminster, where his life was made spectacularly uncomfortable by every other Member in the House.

BOOK: Bertie and the Hairdresser Who Ruled the World
13.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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