Heather Binney


Heather Binney

Heather Binney trained as a geologist and environmental scientist, specialising in climate change and evolution of landscapes. She is writing a memoir based upon her family history, incorporating her interests in natural history and geology. She also enjoys writing short stories, usually set in Clapham, where she has lived for the past 20 years.
Contact: hbinn001 [at] gold [dot] ac.uk  

Mrs Jardine & The Vicar


The terraced houses in South London should, given their close proximity, be the best of neighbourly environments. However, the residents in Taybridge Road rarely spoke to each other, perhaps the occasional good morning or a quick moan about parking and school runs. Everyone pretty much kept to themselves. Sometimes, the only indication that a house was lived in was the weekly appearance of rubbish bags, ready for collection the following day.

The streets had changed over the past 20 years. The influx of money had pushed these small houses out of the financial reach of the people they were built for. New wealth allowed the houses to grow, extending upwards into lofts and down into basements, forcing up the square footage and maximising volume. They were stepping stones to better postcodes.

Some of the old families had hung on to their homes, resisting the temptation to cash in. But these un-renovated houses stood out as exciting development opportunities for the invading middle classes. One long term resident, Mrs Geraldine Baxter, had lived in her house since she was a girl. It was first owned by her grandparents, who had paid £800 for it in 1934. It is ironic that when the Baxter’s bought a new front door for their home in 2007, it cost more than the original value of the entire house. “You don’t get much for your money these days,” joked Mrs Baxter to her husband, John. 

Late one Tuesday afternoon Geraldine opened the front door to see her new neighbour, Mrs Jardine, standing on her doorstep. She was holding the hand of a little girl who looked up at Geraldine through thick rimmed glasses. Her visitors looked worried and uncomfortable. 

Mrs Jardine was dressed smartly in a fitted skirt and tight polo neck jumper. An expensive silk scarf was loosely knotted around her neck, it was a present from her husband, Ralph. The little girl wore a pretty frock, with a lace trim and white ankle socks topping off her shiny black shoes, ‘as if she is off to a party,’ thought Geraldine. These next door neighbours had met before but only on the neutral territory of the pavement and so Geraldine was surprised to see Mrs Jardine at her door.

“I am so sorry to bother you Geraldine,” said Olivia Jardine, “I was wondering whether I could ask you an enormous favour? Ralph has been called to the office on urgent business. The problem is that he was supposed to be looking after Daisy and I have an important meeting at the church. It’s the Vicar, you see, he needs some advice on fundraising, all rather dull, and I can’t really bring Daisy with me. Could you by any chance look after her? I won’t be more than an hour or so, I promise. She’s had her tea and doesn’t eat nuts.”

Geraldine crouched down and extended a hand to Daisy who had been trying to hide behind her mother. 

“Of course Mrs Jardine, that won’t be a problem. Come along Daisy, why don’t you come inside? My son Pete is here playing with his cars in the front room.”

“Oh thank you so much Geraldine. I can’t tell you how grateful I am, I was at my wits end. Bloody husbands, you can’t rely on them can you? I will be back as soon as I can, only a couple of hours, I promise!” Olivia held a bag out to Geraldine who took it and was about to look inside. 

“Those are Daisy’s asthma puffers. Blue for normal wheezing and purple if it gets bad. There’s an EpiPen in there as well, just in case she stops breathing, but I’m sure that won’t happen. The instructions are on the side of the box. There’s also a piece of paper in there with my mobile number, Ralph’s number and also one for Daisy’s doctor. I’m sure you won’t need any of this, but you never know, do you? God willing, all will be ok, and it’s only a couple of hours after all.”

With further warnings of allergies to grass, milk and rubber bands, Olivia Jardine headed down the path, shouting out to Daisy, “Bye bye darling, have a lovely time and be good! Mummy won’t be long, she’s just going to talk to the Vicar about his roof.” 

Geraldine guided Daisy into the hall and closed the front door behind her, the letter box banged loudly. The corridor suddenly became dark and smelt very different to Daisy’s house. Not nasty, just different, as if lots of things had been cooking all at once. 

Geraldine opened a door off the hall and led Daisy into a small room with a window that looked out onto the street. Daisy found it difficult to see anything she recognised through the thick net curtains apart from the blur of her mother’s car as it sped past the house. Familiarity was obscured and Daisy felt cut off from where she felt safe.

The Jardine’s and the Baxter’s houses had the same layout, just mirror images of each other. But this wasn’t why everything seem so strange to Daisy; this house seemed darker and the furniture was older. She found it difficult to believe that her bright home was just the other side of the wall. Daisy felt the familiar welling up of wanting to cry, her throat tightened in anticipation. She clasped her hands together, for comfort, pretending she was with her mother.

In the centre of the room there was a small boy, sitting on the floor playing with toy cars and making revving noises.

“Pete, this is Daisy, the little girl from next door. How old are you Daisy?”

“Six,” she whispered, with a slight lisp.

“Pete’s a little bit older than you, he’s eight but I’m sure you’ll both play nicely. Won’t you Pete?”

Pete sat fingering a toy car and just looked at Daisy, and said nothing. 

“There you go. Daisy why don’t you sit down next to Pete?” Daisy carefully lowered herself to the floor, half kneeling, awkwardly. “Now you’ll share you cars with Daisy won’t you Pete? Be nice to our guest.” Geraldine disappeared out into the hall and headed towards the kitchen.

After a long silence and more staring, Pete asked Daisy, “Why do you wear those funny glasses?”

“Because I can’t see.”

Pete carried on staring and tried to see himself in the reflection of her lenses.

Daisy continued, “Mummy says it is because I am special. God has chosen me as his little angel.”

“Angels don’t wear glasses.” Pete started to push a small lorry along the carpet and stopped and looked back up at Daisy. “Angels have wings and a shiny circle over their heads. Not glasses. Anyway all angels are boys, girls can’t be angels.”

“Girls can be angels, my Mummy told me. Mummy knows lots of things because she talks to the Vicar, a lot.”

“You can watch me play with my cars if you want,” said Pete as he turned his attention to his toys.

“OK. What are you doing? Are you parking them in a neat row?”

“No, I’m just playing. This is a Porsche 971 with wheels that move. See. You can open the doors like this.” Pete demonstrated the moving wheels and the little doors that open and showed Daisy the tiny plastic interior. “And this red one is a Toyota 432i with a turbo engine, which is this bumpy bit on the bonnet, look.” 

Daisy tried to see what he was pointing at but all the cars looked the same apart from the different colours. She nodded slowly and looked at her feet. She was going to cry, she could definitely feel it coming. She swallowed a few times, she didn’t want to cry in front of this boy.

“Do you want to go in the garden? We can bring this Land Rover, it can go on rough roads. You can have this Ford Focus,” offered Pete. 

“I am not allowed to go outside because Mummy says the grass makes me wheezy.”

“What does wheezy mean?” asked Pete.

“It’s like this – heeaagh, heeaagh, heeaagh.” Daisy impersonated somebody wheezing, a rasping noise, which made her dribble slightly.  Pete looked on, surprised at this sudden outburst. “Mummy says I wheeze because it is a gift from Jesus. It means I will be good at indoor things when I grow up.”

Daisy had begun to feel more relaxed and had forgotten that she had wanted to cry. She suddenly thought of her toys in her bedroom next door.

“I have little 24 toy cats at my house and they are all different apart from 2 which look the same. They are Kattikins, with a kicking K, and they all have names. Sometimes Mummy lets me take one to church as she says all God’s creatures need saving.” She stared into the distance for a while, and Pete tried to work out what she was looking at, the lenses in her glasses made her eyes look huge and weird.

“Do you want to see my bedroom?” asked Pete, standing up suddenly.

“Mummy says I shouldn’t go upstairs at stranger’s houses unless the toilet is up there.” Daisy stood up and double crossed her legs, wrapping one round the back of the other. “Um, actually I need to go to the toilet now,” she said.

“Do you want to do a wee or a dirty wee?” asked Pete.

“I don’t know what a dirty wee is but Mummy says that if I want to do a poo at somebody else’s house and I can’t hold it in, I need to ask my friend’s Mummy to help me. I don’t want to do a poo, I just want to do a wee.”

“My Mum will have to turn the light on for you, you are too small. MUM!” shouts Pete, pointing his face to the ceiling for better effect, “she wants to go to the toilet!”

Geraldine came out of the kitchen and into the living room, wiping her hands on a tea towel. She put her arm round Daisy and steered her towards what looked like a cupboard under the stairs and pulled the light switch. “Will you be alright on your own sweetie or do you need some help?” Daisy looked round at Geraldine.

“I need you to help me. I am not supposed to sit down on other people’s toilets. My Mummy usually holds me up.”

“Well we can’t risk any nasty germs, can we?” muttered Geraldine under her breath. “I tell you what,” said she said loudly, “why don’t you sit on your hands instead?”

“Ok,” Daisy said slowly, “it is a bit small in here.”

When Daisy had finally finished she stood in front of the sink and washed her hands thoroughly, using the special soap Mrs Jardine had provided. She then dried them carefully. The six-year-old obsessive.

The visit did not go particularly well and the time dragged by slowly. Pete preferred to play with his toy cars on his own and, in despair, Geraldine put Daisy in front of the television, something which was probably banned in the Jardine household. 

There were a couple of allergy scares, none of them requiring medicinal attention. The worst moment was when Daisy thought she might have accidentally touched a cushion where the cat had been sitting. Geraldine calmed the hyperventilating Daisy down with a drink and some bright orange Wotsits.   

Eventually, after two hours Mrs Jardine returned, out of breath and apologising profusely for her lateness. Her hair was slightly ruffled and the buttons on her cardigan were done up in the wrong order, giving the impression of a slippage in standards.

“I am so sorry, Geraldine,” gasped Olivia. “The Vicar just went on and on, that roof really is in a terrible state. We ended up in the old crypt looking at the plans. Quite a messy business as you can imagine! Anyway, we put our heads together and came up with a fabulous fundraising campaign. You should come along, there’s going to be a ‘Light up St Mary’s’ evening next month at the church. The choir have some special tricks up their sleeves, or should I say cassocks!” She laughed loudly at her own joke.

Geraldine smiled politely. She thought Olivia looked a little flushed and there was a slight smell of alcohol on her breath. ‘Perhaps she stayed on for communion,’ thought Geraldine charitably. 

“Thank you so much for looking after Daisy. I trust she was well behaved? She can be very shy sometimes. I should have given her some books, she could have read them with Pete.”

“Oh no, she was perfectly well behaved, weren’t you Daisy?”

Daisy, hearing her mother’s voice had squeezed past Geraldine and grasped her mother about her legs.

“She had a glass of tap water, I hope that was ok, she said you normally only drink bottled water?” said Geraldine. “I let the tap run for a while first, so it was nice and fresh.”

“Oh no, that’s fine, when needs must, can’t do any harm, once in a while after all, ha ha, yes, yes, good, good! Thank you, Geraldine, most kind!  What do you say to Mrs Baxter, Daisy?”

“Thank you Mrs Baxter for having me. I had a nice time. Thank you for the crisps and chocolate drink,” said Daisy politely.

“Not at all, not at all,” said Geraldine quickly, hoping that Olivia hadn’t noticed her daughter’s mention of the illicit snack.

Geraldine said her goodbyes, with promises of return visits, and sighed with relief after they had gone. She only really relaxed when she heard the smooth thud of her neighbour’s front door closing, signalling they were home.

The Jardine’s lived on Taybridge Road for a further three years after Daisy’s visit. Olivia and Geraldine spoke if they bumped into each other on the street but the visit to the Vicar was never mentioned. They were merely pavement acquaintances, their respective thresholds remained uncrossed, apart from the one occasion. Both were secretly pleased it was never anything else. 

The Jardine’s went up another rung of the postcode ladder and bought a detached property in the Wandsworth triangle where parking was easier and the neighbours were further away.