Glad Thursdays

Thursday were always special when I was a child.

My Auntie Glad visited on Thursdays. Whatever the weather, she would get on the bus and make the half an hour journey to visit us. A journey that involved a lengthy walk at both ends of the bus journey.

Gladys was the eldest of thirteen children, reduced to nine by stillbirth and infant death; my Father was the youngest. When their parents died, it was Gladys that took on the role of mother to their surviving siblings, but to my father in particular as he was only a baby. Two of the girls perished in WWII, and their brothers (and Gladys’s husband) showed a tendency to fall out with each other over nothing in particular.

When my parents married, they spent the first years of their life together living with Auntie Glad, her husband and daughter. From what my Mother told me, it was Auntie Glad whose support and encouragement helped them through those early days. My Mother was a volatile red-head. My Father was a brooder whose moods were later diagnosed as depression.

The epitome of a grandma; Auntie Glad was denied grandchildren of her own because her daughter had been starved of oxygen at birth, and had learning difficulties as a consequence. The family feuds between the other siblings meant that we were the only children that she had really close contact with, and we were the recipients of her unconditional love – and rainbow drops.

Nowadays people think of those horrible multicoloured lumps of puffed rice as rainbow drops. Some people call our rainbow drops ‘Jazzies’. To me, a rainbow drop will always be circles of milk chocolate covered on one side by hundreds and thousands, and delivered in white paper bags by Auntie Glad. One bag for each of us to in order to ensure fairness and no squabbling. It was an unwritten law that you never pinched a rainbow drop from someone else’s bag. Auntie Glad would know if you did and that would make her sad. We all loved her so much that we never wanted to make her sad.

Back in the days when our city still had a pier, Auntie Glad would sometimes visit on a extra day, in order to accompany my Mother and the three of us on a bus journey to town. We’d sit on the pier and play on the attractions, or watch the sea and the ships while Auntie Glad fed us wine gums from a capacious bag. As soon as I could read, I can remember tracing the word on a wine gum with my finger. ‘Port’ and ‘Sherry’ were my favourites, and there was something slightly naughty about eating sweets that might have alcohol in them. I think we all knew that there wasn’t but it was another family myth that didn’t need to be exploded.

It didn’t matter how badly behaved we had been; Thursdays wiped away all our sins and started us off afresh. I can remember decorating the walls of one of the rooms of our council house with crayons. It was a small room between the kitchen and the front hall and in some families might have been used as a dining room. We ate in the kitchen, except for Christmas when the kitchen table was brought into what we called the ‘Living room’. The little room (named by my Father as the ‘Glory Hole’) also housed the Understairs Cupboard; a place of magic, mystery and spiders, where various items we had acquired were put for ‘lateron’. I was convinced that this was all one word for years, and described a time when all the exciting objects would be taken out and used.

It was a Wednesday when I decided to do a Banksy on the party wall. My Mother took the silence as a warning, and came in from the kitchen to see what I had been up to. She was not impressed, as in those days, the removal of wax crayons on a painted wall would require bleach, hot water and a great deal of elbow grease. My Father was at work, my Mother shouted, I cried and my siblings stayed upstairs, out of the way and absolved of any blame for my doodling. (I still doodle.)

“I wish it was Thursday!” I cried.

“So do I!” cried my Mother.

Auntie Glad’s magic touched us all and made our world a better place.

She died when I was about eight, and although we still had some happy memories, the loss of Auntie Glad was hard to bear. Life went on. My Father wheeled a bicycle several miles from the cycle shop when he discovered that I had learned to ride. We went on caravan holidays to Bournemouth and Selsey Bill, and trips to Winchester Cathedral, sitting at the front on the top deck of the bus, clutching a bag of sandwiches and a bottle of watered down squash.

It was only a few years later that without Auntie Glad, the glue that had helped cement my parents’ marriage, came unstuck and the family split in three directions. My Brother stayed with my Father, my Sister had already left home and my Mother and I left the house in the middle of the night in a taxi hurriedly called by my big Brother from the phone box at the end of the road.

It wasn’t a Thursday

Many years later and with adult children of my own, Thursdays are always a glad day for me. They have the ability to lift sad shadows and invoke happy memories. Rainbow drops are a rare treat now but even as I taste the first one out of the bag (there are still sweet shops where you can buy a quarter of sweets in white paper bag), I remember Auntie Glad and sunny afternoons in the days when none of us had anything to worry about.

It seems that Thursdays have become the day for going outside at 2000 hours and applauding the heroes in all occupations who are doing their best to keep us all safe, fed and well during this difficult time. Another reason to be glad for Thursdays.

No Gammon home

“Get your stuff packed kids. We’re going back home.”

“What about Dad?”

“He’s sent me another letter and this one says he’ll be staying down at the potato farm for now – well for at least the next couple of months.”

“I didn’t know he’d written to you Mum. I didn’t know that he could write.”

“That’s enough! It was a lovely letter and it reminded me of the man that I married, long before you two turned up.”

“Okay. What does he say? Leave the lovey-dovey bits out though.”

“He says that he and his mate Turkey are in the nice sheds now. A couple of the others went home for the weekend, met up with some mates who’ve just come back from a break in Marbella, and now they’re showing signs of this coronavirus thing. They’ve been put into isolation in the old sheds as a consequence. Dad says that they’ve all been asked not to go home at weekends in case anyone else brings the virus back, and he feels that it would be better for the three of us to be back in our own house.”

“Yay! No school either!”

“I know. You two can finish school today, no bunking off early. I’ve got the day off from the supermarket and your Auntie Sue and I are going over to the house to give it a good clean. Dad says it might be a bit messy.”

“A bit! I bet Dad ate and drank everything in the house.”

“That’s not a problem. My boss lets us buy stuff from work provided that we don’t stockpile. Of course, you can always take the last day off school and help me with the cleaning if you’d prefer?”

“No thanks. Looking forward to being back in our own house but I’d rather go in and see what everyone else at school is doing.”

“Will Dad come back to live with us Mum?”

“There was a time when I’d have said no, but now…I think this potato picking has done him the world of good. He says he’s lost weight, is a lot fitter, and has had time to have a long think about the things that were bothering him when we left.”

“So things will go back to normal then?”

“What’s normal? Nobody knows what’s going to happen with this virus. They say that some people will die from it, and others may die because they can’t get food and drink now that the shops are running out.”

“How come your shop has plenty of stuff then?”

“My boss has been through this sort of thing before in the country that he comes from. He puts out so much produce in the shop at a time, stops people taking more than their fair share and opens up early for elderly people, NHS staff and carers. The kind of people who stockpile aren’t welcome there and they know it now.”

“Why do people stockpile? Even if you self-isolate it’s only supposed to be for two weeks but all the stuff on the news shows people with shopping trolleys piled high with loo rolls and pasta.”

“Fear. Greed. Ignorance. All three perhaps?”

“I hope Dad does come back. I hope the virus doesn’t get him.”

“He says that he spends a lot of time outside picking those potatoes, and the blokes that are in isolation weren’t friends of his anyway. I hope that none of us gets it. Talking of which, when did you last wash your hands?”

“I’ll do it now.”

“Me too. I’m glad they’d sold out of our usual liquid soap though. That Pink Gin Fizz hand wash smells much better.”

Please stockpile Brussels sprouts?

 

  • Hand sanitiser is more expensive than soap and water, so don’t steal it from hospitals or patients’ bedsides or pay extortionate amounts of money for it in your local shop
  • Singing ‘Happy Birthday to me’ twice is roughly the right amount of time to spend washing your hands under warm running water.  It doesn’t matter that it isn’t your birthday and you don’t have to sing out aloud
  • Drink plenty of fluids – water doesn’t have to come out of a plastic bottle – corporation pop and other beverages will do – anything as long as it is wet and doesn’t do you any permanent damage
  • No amount of paracetamol, aspirin or trademarked products containing them, will prevent you from catching Covid-19, and can be dangerous if you exceed the stated dose, so don’t stockpile them
  • Covid-19 is a respiratory virus – that means that it affects your breathing and not your bottom, so stop the silly stockpiling of toilet rolls
  • Coughs and sneezes spread diseases so keep them to yourself – carry a hanky (clean one every day please), tissues or if desperate, do vampire sneezes and coughs into your inner elbow – not a place that makes contact with other people very often
  • Stockpiling pasta and rice is counter productive – they are both pretty bland and will possibly make you constipated unless you are using vegetables, cheese or meat to flavour them
  • When you are busy piling vast amounts of food into your shopping trolley (assuming that your supermarket hasn’t cut down on how many packets of anything you can have) spare a thought for the elderly, the disabled and the poor who do not have the money or the ability to stockpile – deprivation can be as dangerous as a pandemic
  • Don’t be offended if friends and family who have high risk medical conditions ask you not to drop in on them unexpectedly – respect their right to stay safe
  • Hospitals, health centres and surgeries are full of sick people and should be avoided if possible
  • Use your common sense and follow medical advice rather than panic buying and getting unnecessarily stressed – unless you like Brussels sprouts in which case you have my blessing to buy as many as you like.

The Fields of Gammon and Turkey

A group of middle-aged men, most of whom have permanently florid faces, stands huddled in the growing dawn of a deserted high street.

They are waiting for a coach. A coach that will take them on a trip to the countryside. That will make a change from sitting in front of a television watching the BBC.

Except that when it arrives the coach is an old ex-local authority minibus, sold off because it would cost too much to have seat belts fitted.

The doors open and a grim-faced woman in an old waxed cotton jacket, holding a clipboard, checks the names of the men off her list as they get on the bus and push each other in a rush to get the ‘best’ seats.

Gammon finds himself seated next to a bloke that he used to work with.  They exchange pleasantries and laugh about the fact they are on a mystery trip today. They also compare their financial and personal situations. Like Gammon, his friend Turkey is living alone because his wife and children have moved in with relatives who voted to remain in the EU and as a consequence have a more varied diet and lifestyle, unlimited by jingoistic prejudice.  Like all the men on the minibus, Gammon and Turkey have small suitcases, rucksacks or rarely used sports bags containing their essentials.

Towards the end of the journey the woman stops at each man and asks them whether they voted to leave the EU or to remain.  Brexiteers are given a yellow star badge to wear, remainers get a red one, those who refuse to say are given a yellow star badge anyway.

When the minibus arrives at its destination, the occupants trail out into a grey landscape barely brightened by the rising sun.  The fields surround them and seem to go on forever, the only interruption being three large storage containers.  Two have a yellow star on the door while the slightly smaller one has a red star.  The woman splits the men into two groups and indicates to the smaller group that they should go to the red starred container.  The others are pushed in the direction of the yellow star containers.

Gammon and Turkey are among the latter group and when the door creaks open they find themselves in a dark room largely taken up with bunk beds; a sign points to the end of the room and indicates the presence of a lavatory and bathroom.  Just the one lavatory and bathroom.  Belongings cover some of the beds and show that the bunks are already occupied, and the newcomers find out very quickly that they have been left the beds with thin, urine stained mattresses and skimpy blankets.

In the red star container, life is slightly better; there are two lavatory and shower rooms, the bunks are more stable with clean mattresses and blankets.  There are no signs of other occupants, just a chalk scrawled notice on the wall. “Please enjoy, we know that you were our friends and did not want to leave us.”  It is signed ‘EU’.

A hand bell is ringing, summoning the men outside where the farmer is waiting for them.

“Okay! These are my potato fields and I desperately need the crop to be gathered in, which is why you lot are here.  I usually have a reliable bunch of Eastern Europeans who do this work but thanks to Brexit, they can’t work here anymore so I have you lot instead.  You’ll have noticed that those of you who have red stars have got better accommodation, you will also get a better standard of food because we don’t need to get picky about where the food comes from.  My son will teach you how to harvest the potatoes.  I’ve assumed that you are more intelligent than the yellow star group and you will pick up what you need to do more quickly.  If you go off with him now he will kit you out with some gloves and boots.”

The red star group – all three of them – looked at each other, grinned and waved goodbye to their yellow star workmates as they followed the farmer’s son to the equipment shed.

Whilst they were being kitted out, the farmer turned to the yellow star group. “You are the reason that I have lost money and will probably lose even more as Brexit widens its grip.  Your accommodation is not particularly luxurious but that was your choice.  You’ll have seen that some of the bunks are already taken; like you, the occupants chose to leave the EU and have been working here for the past week.  They aren’t happy about it but they made their choice. My wife will take you to the shed once the other group are finished, and we will try to give you sufficient gloves and boots to do the job, but bear in mind that you will get the leftovers and some may not fit or be in good condition.  Before Brexit I could afford to buy new equipment for all my workers; now I get them second-hand. Any questions?”

Gammon raises his hand. “I’ve got back problems.  I shouldn’t be here. I’m on the sick.”

“Nor me!”

“And me!”

The cry rings round the group.  The farmer shakes his head and laughs. “According to DWP you are all fit to do manual labour and the fresh air will do you good.  Anyone found lying in bed and malingering on this farm, will get a bucket of cold water to freshen them up.  This is the real world here; we can’t go sick because it costs us too much money. Any other questions? No?  I bet you lot wish you’d asked more questions before the referendum now.”

The farmer’s wife gets a nod from her son, who is leading his little group to a smaller potato field over to one side.  They watch him and listen to his instructions, and as a consequence are soon at work filling up sacks with potatoes.

The yellow star group crowd into the shed and scrabble for boots and gloves that vaguely match.  Most of them are wearing clothes that are not best-suited to working in muddy fields; they follow the farmer to a large and very muddy field.  He gives them instructions on what to do and watches as they struggle with the cold, heavy mud.

Despite their small numbers, the red star group manage to fill all their potato sacks and are given a break during which the farmer’s son makes a pot of tea and distributes biscuits – plain but nutritional. They are quite a jolly bunch now, knowing that they have decent accommodation for five days, a lift back home and the reassurance of their Universal Credit payments.

The struggles of the yellow group continue; mired in mud and hampered by clothes that grow heavy and damp in the cutting wind, gloves and boots afford little protection and their only reward is a short break and tin mugs of cold water doled out by the farmer’s wife.

Lunch is soup and homemade bread; the red star group has beef broth but the yellow stars have vegetable soup made from the farm’s own produce.  There is no time for a long lunch break as the work has to be completed before dusk, when all the workers have a chance to clean up before their final meal of the day and bedtime. The farmer explains that early to bed and early to rise is the only way a farm can survive. He also adds that each worker has a quota of potatoes to meet and this will be recorded every day.  Workers who meet the quote will get their Universal Credit paid.  Those who don’t, in addition to cold water buckets, will have money deducted accordingly.

“That’s not fair!” says an already blistered and aching Gammon. “You’re treating us like slaves.”

The farmer shakes his head.  “These are the same rules that the Eastern European workers had – except that we had no yellow star containers then because we didn’t need them. They weren’t picky about their food, they didn’t care what country it came from as long as it tasted good.  They had no need for televisions because they made their own music and laughed a great deal.  We miss them, but you people think you know best so stop moaning and get on with it.”

 

The Gammon Meeting of Restoration 2020

In a smoke-stained, beer soaked room with rickety wooden tables, and battle-scarred velour covered chairs and stools,  a group of middle-aged men are having a bit of a meeting.

 

“Right then.  Let’s get this meeting underway shall we?”

“Hang on.  Where’s Bob?”

“Bob’s not coming.  He’s picked up some work.”

“Doing what?”

“Dunno.  He wouldn’t say.  In fact he was pretty cagey about it.  Says he’s having a meeting with this new boss this afternoon. First of all I want you all to look at the notice.”

“What is it and where did it come from?”

“It’s our list of demands now that we’ve left Europe.”

“The EU.”

“Same thing.”

“Nope.  Europe is all to do with geography.  We’ve left the EU but we’re still a part of Europe – geographically.  That’s what my boy says anyway.”

“Anyway.  I’ve been given this poster and asked if we can sign up to circulate it round our area. ”

“Can we read it first? I’m not signing up to anything without reading it first. That’s what got us into this mess in the first place.”

“It’s called the Restoration Bill and it’s list of demands from those of us who voted to leave Europe, I mean the EU.”

“Ta.”

“I’ll read the first bit – ‘We the Sovereign Citizens of the United Kingdom demand a redress of our God-Given right to Liberty, Free Speech, Assembly, Self-defence, National Self-determination and Christian Faith, all of which have been eroded’.”

“Do what?”

“Doesn’t the United Kingdom include Wales, Scotland and a bit of Ireland.  I thought we were trying to make Britain great again?”

“We are.  I think that bit might be a mistake.  Shall I go on?”

“Yeah, I mean unless anyone else has any objections about the first bit?”

“Well I do.  I’m an atheist now but before that I was a Jehovah’s Witness; so the bit about God-given and Christian doesn’t apply to me, does it?”

“I don’t go to church so it doesn’t apply to me either.”

“Will you just stop nit-picking and let me get on with it!”

“Sorry I spoke.”

“Number one on the list is restoring the freedom of speech eroded by hate speech laws.”

“What does that mean when it’s at home?”

“It means that we can say what we like, when we like and about who we like, and we can’t be stopped or get arrested for it anymore.”

“Hardly freedom of speech when you’re told to stop nit-picking is it?”

“I’ll ignore that comment.  Point two is restoring the right to self-defence and bear arms. Before you say anything, ‘bear arms’ means that you can carry weapons without getting arrested, nothing to do with wearing a vest.”

“Cool.  Knives and guns and such?  That first bit about self-defence; does that mean that if a foreigner has a go at me I can knife him and not get arrested?”

“Hmm, I’m not too sure about that.  Point three goes on about Common Law, the Magna Carta and Bill of Rights.”

“Flippin’ heck what’s all that about then?”

“I looked it up.  Common Law is law written by the courts and not the government, the Magna Carta is an important document that goes back to 1215, and King John signed up to it. The Bill of Rights isn’t that old, it only goes back to 1689 and it’s all about rights.”

“No shit Sherlock.”

“So this lot that drew up the poster want us to go back to the really old days then?  Why?”

“Point four; restoration of Double Jeopardy, jury trial and Legal Aid.”

“Double Jeopardy!  I saw that film.  Cracking!  What’s it mean for us though?”

“It means you can’t be tried for the same offence twice.  If I broke into the club and bashed the manager but they didn’t have enough evidence so I was found not guilty.  If a witness came forward after the trial and proved that it was me, I couldn’t be tried again.”

“Sounds good to me.I’n not sure about legal aid though.  They gave it to that bloke who was going to be deported and he won the case and was allowed to stay here because he had a cat.”

“You’ve been reading the Daily Mail again.”

“It was in the Sun.”

“Point five is about getting rid of the Commies so that they can’t infect our families, education system, law and public institutions with their nasty ideas.  I think we can all agree to that one.”

“I suppose so.  Can I go to the bog?  This is a bit boring and my bladder’s full.  Shall I get another round in when I get back?”

“Good idea.  All this thinking and talking is making me thirsty.”

“Hurry up then. I’ll carry on anyway; the next bit is about making sure that our kids are being taught British History, Geography, Constitution and Christian Faith in school.”

“What does constitution mean?”

“It’s like telling kids about laws and such. They have it in America.”

“But I thought  you said earlier that we’d be going back to really old laws from really old England?”

“Point seven is about British Fishing waters.  These blokes want us to have full fishing control of 200 miles.  I suppose that’s all around the United Kingdom because that’s where the sea is.”

“Doesn’t apply to rivers and such then?”

“I don’t think so.  Point eight is making sure that veterans get housing, benefits and services.”

“Does that include all veterans or just the British ones?  What about the gurkhas and such? That would mean that they got more stuff than people who weren’t in the forces.  That’s not really fair is it?”

“Better than giving it all away to immigrants.”

“Aren’t gurkhas immigrants if they decide to live here?”

“Point 9.  I can’t see any discussion on this one.  No EU flags to be flying on official buildings. Is that okay?”

“Yeah.  Stick the good old Union Jack up there instead.”

“The Union Flag you mean.  The flag that represents the United Kingdom rather than just Britain.”

“You mean that the Welsh, Irish and Scottish are allowed to fly our flag as well?  What about all that bunting and little paper flags that we bought cheap?”

“You can fly St George’s flag if you like, but bear in mind that he never visited England and he was born in what is now Turkey.  So he wasn’t even an immigrant.  Just a foreigner and the patron saint of people with the clap.”

“No! Where did you get all this from?”

“My nipper did a project on it for school.  They’re doing family trees now.  I had  to spit in a bottle so my lad could send off and find out what my DNA is.  Everyone in the class had to get samples; your girl is one of the ones who got their results back early, I’m still waiting for mine.  I might turn out to be royalty or something. What did yours say.”

“I’ll ask her when I get home.  Are you sure?  I haven’t spay in any bottles.”

“No, but you’re always gobbing in your back yard.  She probably snuck out there with a cotton wool bud  and scraped a bit off the floor.”

“Do you lot want to hear the last point or not?”

Ah, go on then.”

“It’s a bit long but basically it means that anyone convicted of crimes, and having responsibility for covering up grooming groups will have to give full disclosure.”

“Grooming?  What like combing and washing dogs and that?”

“No, you numpty! Like those blokes who were having sex with under age girls.  Those foreigners.”

“Most of whom were born in the country and were British citizens – or should I say sovereign citizens?”

“Are you sure you weren’t a remoaner mate?”

“Here’s your beer lads.  You’ll never guess what I’ve just heard at the bar!”

“Ta.  Okay, what have you heard?”

“The Club’s undergoing a refurb; new owner, new manager,  new name and new rules and regulations.”

“What! They can’t do that!It’s our club.”

“Not any more. It hasn’t been a club for working men for a long time.  None of us work.  Who’s bought the club? ”

“It’s a constitution – no – a consortium.  That means it’s a group of people have clubbed in together to buy it and run it.”

“Who is in the consortium?  Are they from round here?”

“Yeah.  The head of the consortium things owns the Polish supermarket, the Pizza Pan and the French bistro down the road. I don’t think he’s going to take too kindly to that poster of yours either.”

“We’ll have to fight this lads!  We know our rights!”

“What rights? You going to wave the Magna Carta at him?”

“The manager says we’ll have to pay our tabs and apply for membership before the end of the week.  It’s going to be known as The European Comradeship club.  I’ve already signed up.”

 

 

 

 

At Home with the Gammon

“Mum! What are we having for dinner?”

“We’ve had dinner.  Your Dad says that we have breakfast, dinner, tea and supper – like in the old days.”

“What old days?  Where’s the car Mum?”

“More to the point, where’s the dog?”

“Ah, well.  Dad’s gone out in the car with the dog.  He’s going to exchange the car for one that’s made in Great Britain, and he’s going back to the dog rescue centre to change the dog as well.”

“That’s our dog! All our friends have got French bulldogs!”

“Yes, well Dad’s going to see if they’ll change the dog for a Staffordshire bull terrier because that will be British too.”

“He obviously hasn’t heard that there is a thriving puppy farm trade for all breeds – based in Eastern Europe and Ireland as well as in the UK.”

“Your Dad says we have to say Britain now, Great Britain in fact, because people in Wales, Ireland and Scotland don’t agree with us Brits. Dad says that they are just jealous of us like all the people in Europe.”

“Dad needs his head examined. My teacher says that all this Brexit stuff is codswallop.  I didn’t dare tell he r that my Dad voted for it. I’m going up to get changed.”

“So what are we going to have for our TEA then Mum?”

“That’s been another problem.  Your Dad’s given me an initial list of things. We can’t have pizza or pasta because that comes from Italy. No crusty French, Champagne, omelettes or pancakes because they come from France…”

“Hang on Mum.  We have pancakes before Easter, on Pancake Day. The bread is baked on site at the supermarket.”

“Dad says they are French and they call them crepes.  No paella, tortillas or Sangria, none of that jambon ham on the bone stuff either because that all comes from Spain.  You aren’t to go to the little shop at the end of the road because it’s run by Polish people, and Dad says you can’t go to the other shop across the road because the people there come from India and that means they are British.”

“Sajid’s parents own that shop; the whole family were born in this country.  His grandparents came from India years ago.”

“MUUUUUMMM!  Where’s my duvet?  Why have I got these manky old blankets on my bed?”

“Dad told me to get rid of the duvets; he says they are really called continental quilts which means they came from Europe.”

“We bought them in IKEA!”

“Which is Swedish according to your Dad.”

“No more meatballs then? Or Dime bars?”

“Dad says we can buy from Morrison’s, Sainsburys, Tesco and Asda but we have to read the labels of everything we buy to make sure it all comes from Great Britain.”

“No Aldi or Lidl either?”

“Not on my list of approved shops.  Dad says that this isn’t the final list but if we are going to get our country free from Europe we have to make sure that we stop buying any of their rubbish and support Great Britain instead.”

“So you and Dad are going to take this ridiculous idea even further then?  What’s next? No Chinese or Indian takeaways? Are we going to live on fish and chips?”

“Only if we get them from Morrison’s or from the chippie opposite.”

“What about our local chippie?  We’ve been going there for  years.”

“Owned by a Greek family. I know they’ve owned it for over twenty-five years.  I remember the celebrations but Dad says we only by from proper British people, not immigrants.”

“Oh, here’s Dad now.  No car though and no dog either.  Has he really gone out wearing that awful Union Flag tee-shirt?”

“You won’t believe what they said to me at the dog shelter! They’ve taken our dog but they won’t let me take another one because they don’t think my reasons for giving up the dog are ‘ethical’.  Do-gooders! This country has been ruined by EU political correctness!”

“What about the car Dad?”

“They took the old Citroen off my hands but I’ve had to go on a waiting list if I want a Vauxhall because they’re closing the plant down. I had a look at the list.  Not many British names on it either.  I told them, I wasn’t going to take second place to any immigrants.”

“I bet that went down well Dad.”

“The salesman looked Chinese, although he spoke with a proper British accent. You can’t tell with these people.”

“What people Dad? We’re doing an ancestry project at school, and so far it looks as if most of us have relatives who weren’t born in this country.”

“That’s enough of that commie claptrap.  I don’t know what rubbish they teach you at school.  I’m off to meet my mates for a Great Britain meeting down the Working Men’s club. Make sure you’ve put up something tasty for my supper when I get back.”

“Okay.  Dad’s gone now. What are we going to eat?”

“I’ve had to throw a lot of stuff out but there’s some Hovis bread,  Cheshire butter, Wensleydale cheese and Branston pickle.  You can make yourselves some sandwiches.  Dad says that is okay because sandwiches are named after a British earl or something. They are going to put a more definitive shopping list together at the meeting tonight.”

“A shopping list put together by a bunch of blokes who leave their wives to do all the shopping. That will be fascinating!”

“Why does Dad still go to the Working Men’s club when he lost his job three years ago?”

“Don’t you ever say that sort of thing in front of your Father!  He’s a very proud man; proud of his heritage and his country.  It wasn’t his fault that the company he worked for decided to shut the plant and move to France.”

“Because of Brexit?”

“No!  And don’t say that in front of your father either.  The company moved because they could get cheaper labour in France, nothing to do with the fact that they couldn’t get the people to do the work in this country.”

“My letter’s arrived.  Why didn’t you tell me Mum?”

“Oh, all this fuss about the car and the dog and what we can and can’t eat; it must have slipped my mind. What is it?”

“DNA results.  I used some of Dad’s spit for my school project because I’m not old enough.  Guess what?”

“Tell us! Tell us!”

“Are you ready for this – because I don’t think Dad will be.  Did we ever find out anything about his father?”

“Your Dad was brought up by your grandma.  We never knew who is Dad was and his Mum had run off long before I met him.  What does it say?”

“According to this he is 88% Southern European and 12% British but some of the British bit is Irish as well, and it describes the Southern European section as being 55% Iberian, which is like Spain and Portugal, but those areas also have cultures of Africa and the Mediterranean.  Don’t look at me like that Mum.  I’m just reading what it says in the report.”

“This will kill your father; his blood pressure is high enough as it is, and I haven’t been able to get his prescription from the chemists because it’s run by an Asian man and there was a big sign in the window with a list of popular medication saying that we’ve run out of in this country. Your Dad’s drugs were on the list; I can go to Boots apparently but I haven’t had a chance to get into town.”

“By the way Mum, we know what Dad voted for but what about you?”

“I voted the way I always have done.  I did what your Dad told me to. He knows what’s best for all of us.”

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to the World of Taupe

 

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WARNING – this one really is totally fictional – my family is wonderful.

I suppose the rebellion started seriously on my fiftieth birthday, although my sister-in-law Lizzy had been winding me up from the moment she first appeared in our front room clinging coyly to my younger brother’s arm. She simpered and paid saccharine compliments to my parents; pretended to be interested in my little sister’s doll collection and when she wasn’t talking, she was gazing at my brother with puppy-dog eyes.

They were all smitten.

I wasn’t.

Lizzy seemed to realise this very quickly and whilst she was always ‘sweet and lovely’ to me when anyone else was present, her comments inevitably held a barb.

‘I do love your hair that colour – it suits an older skin – what dye did you use?’

I hadn’t dyed my hair at all.

‘Of course, you’re at the age now where purple is the only bright colour you can get away with – although it makes you look a bit …washed out.’

She was only three years younger than me and a good five years older than my little brother.

When I first met her, she reminded me of Amy from ‘Little Women‘ – self-centred and obsessed with clothes, hair, make-up – oh and did I mention – herself? She snatched my handsome and charming brother from under the noses of several younger and much nicer girls but unlike Amy, age did not improve her behaviour.

She was always attractive; big brown eyes, curly dark brown hair that settled itself into the kind of tousled curl that we all tried to achieve with perms but ended up in tight corkscrews for a month before dropping into sad waves. Her figure fell into the realms of petite but with an impressive cleavage, a tiny waist and pert apple bum cheeks that perched themselves seductively on my brother’s knees . She did try sitting on my father’s knees once, but the look my mother gave her made her shoot up and settle on the sofa with an apologetic ‘Oops’.

I was in the last stages of planning my wedding when Lizzy started seeing my brother. I made it quite clear that I was in charge and didn’t need any assistance (apart from my mother) but Lizzy was insidious. Once she realised that I had not fallen under her spell, she whispered ideas into my mother’s ear, knowing that they would be passed on to me as her original thoughts.

No. I did not want a horse and carriage to take me to and from the church – and while we are at it – I wanted the church up the road that I had passed every day on my way to school – not the overblown cathedral in the centre of the city which had no parking and was the wrong denomination anyway.

Nor did I want a flotilla of teeny bridesmaids in varying shades of deep pink tulle and crystals.

I had plumped for a lunchtime wedding with an afternoon reception, so that we could drive off to our honeymoon hotel in daylight. Lizzy (via my mother) felt that this was rather cheap and that we should have a disco and evening buffet. She had pointed out to my mother that the afternoon reception could be for close family and the evening event could be opened up to the rest of the family and ‘our’ friends. She even drew up a list  of who should attend which event but she missed a trick with this because my mother – instead of copying the list in her own hand – gave it straight to me with slightly pursed lips.

Not surprisingly Lizzy had excluded my favourite relatives from the afternoon, and bumped up the numbers in the evening by including a host of unknown people who were ‘dear friends’ of my brother – who looked at the list and shook his head in puzzlement after only recognising one or two names.

I won.

I had the elegant old black and silver Bentley for my wedding transport, we married in my favourite church, and my best friend and little sister were my only bridesmaids –  in blue silk dresses that matched the cornflowers in my bouquet – and could be worn again for parties and special occasions.

We made sure that all the relatives were invited to my afternoon reception, together with good friends that we knew. Lizzy sulked throughout but I didn’t care. She was eventually persuaded not to wear white.

It was my day.

Of course, when Lizzy married my brother – it was the event of the century that put my brother’s bank account into the red and milked every possible penny out of Lizzy’s elderly father as well.

It was pinker and frillier and more over the top than your average gypsy wedding; Lizzy had difficulty walking in her overblown and diamante-encrusted dress. Even my brother – who usually took Lizzy’s whims with heavy pinches of salt – was a little perturbed by her excessive Bridezilla demands.

To be fair, she didn’t shout and swear when thwarted; her little lips formed a semi-permanent pout, her little feet stamped a tarantella until my brother and her father consented and stumped up more cash.

I escaped being maid of honour in florid pink frills, but only because I was heavily pregnant with my first child at the time. Lizzy had been heard to mutter that I got pregnant deliberately just to spoil her wedding.

I didn’t but I almost wished that I had.

The one-upwomanship continued; I had two boys with gas and air, Lizzy had two girls by elective sections because she didn’t want ‘down there’ messed about with. My boys were bright, funny and very active, her girls inherited their mother’s hair and pleading eyes, as well as her methods of getting their own way. Males were putty in their hands and even my mother gave in once they lisped ‘Pwease Gwandma?’ and fluttered their eyelashes at her.

Should you really use mascara on the eyes of three and five-year olds?

My husband (not in any way influenced by me of course) had a deep and profound intolerance for his sister-in-law but lately I had found a new ally in my never-ending battle against Lizzy; my little sister was now a willowy teenager with Gothic tendencies. She loathed everything that Lizzy liked and was openly rude to her in a way that I envied and could never rebuke her for. This usually resulted in my sister being sent to her room by my father, whilst Lizzy sobbed prettily into a lace handkerchief and was attended by my doting (and slightly cross) brother and the two mini-Lizzy girls.

We lived within our means and tried not to feel envious when Lizzy boasted about their new house with its hot tub. On the rare occasions we were invited round, we sat nervously on the edge of their slippery pale pink Italian leather suite and prayed that our rambunctious boys wouldn’t break anything. The house (a five-bedroom detached with integral garage and a be-decked and be-paved garden because Lizzy didn’t do gardening) was a monument to pink, silver and black. Every room had at least three mirrors so that Lizzy could admire herself from every angle; after all, the small fortune that hadn’t been spent on the house or female clothing, was invested in Lizzy’s improved cleavage, her nipped chin and tucked buttocks.

Sitting there, in my cleanest jeans and said purple shirt, sipping a glass of very dry Prosecco and glaring at my reasonably well-behaved sons, I realised that envy was the last emotion that Lizzy caused me to experience. I decided not to fight against something that meant so little, and as I tried to relax back against the spiky, sequined scatter cushions, I knew that this was not what I wanted in my life.

Back to my fiftieth birthday. My parents had offered to host a birthday party but Lizzy jumped in and said that it would be too much for them ‘at their age’ and as they had just finished decorating their newly built orangery, she and my brother would be delighted to host the party.

How could I refuse? Well, I could have done but not without upsetting my parents and my not-so-little brother. Good living and business dinners had given him a paunch and a more than slightly pompous air. He had taken over his father-in-law’s accountancy business and appeared to be making a go of it. To think that I used to have to help him with his maths homework!

We dressed in our best. My husband and my older teenage boys were pried out of their jeans and into clean chinos and shirts. I wore a dark green lace dress that had been sitting in my wardrobe waiting for a suitable event. We collected my parents and sister – the joys of having a people carrier – who were also glammed up a bit. My sister had changed her Doc Martens for a pair of red sparkly Converse boots and was wearing black velvet instead her customary leggings and an oversized tee-shirt.

I coveted those Converse boots.

We thought we were attending a family affair so finding the driveway full of upmarket cars was a bit of a surprise. Lizzy seemed to have invited most of the local gentry and other influential people – to my fiftieth birthday party.

I smelled a rat and so did my husband and little sister.

We were ushered into the ‘orangery’ which Lizzy had now renamed the ‘Atrium‘ as there were no indoor orange trees to be had. The table was laid with a range of vol au vents and dainty finger foods. A hired butler circulated with a trays of drinks and an expression of extreme disdain.

To quote my youngest son – ‘This is a bit posh Mum. When can we go home?’

Once we were all settled with drinks in our hands, Lizzy tapped a fork on her glass to get more attention. She shimmered in silver lame that matched the window blinds and smelled – rather metallic.

‘Thank you all so much for coming here today to celebrate my older sister-in-law’s fiftieth birthday. Come over here dear, and let me give you this very special present.’

She beckoned to me, and reluctantly I handed my drink to my husband and went to join her centre stage. She handed me a gloriously beribboned and wrapped box. I actually felt a little excited, and having moved aside a platter of very pink King prawns, I put the box on the table and undid the ribbon.

As I lifted off the lid I glimpsed something that cut me to the core.

Taupe!

My least favourite colour.

Taupe.

The colour of old age; of sensible clothing, of a farewell to fun.

Taupe.

A memento mori shade.

I started to put the lid back on, my face in a rictus grin.

Lizzy yanked the lid out of my hands and like a magician, simultaneously pulled a garment out of the box.

I wish it had been a rabbit.

It was a cardigan.

A taupe cardigan.

Accompanying it was a pair of taupe Crimplene slacks.

Even my mother didn’t wear Crimplene – or taupe.

Lizzy laughed her affected little laugh and patted my hand.

‘Well, you are getting on now. You really should dress your age.’

Words failed me – which was just as well because they didn’t fail my little sister.

She pulled the offensive garments from Lizzy’s hands and threw them on the marble floor. She stamped on them with her sparkly red boots, emptied her glass of champagne and then swept the entire platter of King prawns – Rose-Marie sauce and all – on them as well.

‘You can stick your world of taupe crap where the sun doesn’t shine Lizzy. My sister is far too young for that rubbish and you know it. You are a pretentious prat. No one really likes you, your children are spoilt brats and you’ve ruined my brother.’

My little sister turned revealing the red flashing LEDs on her heels, and stalked out of the room. My husband and sons followed her out, meek in the stunned silence.

Mutely, I followed too.

When we climbed back into the car, my little sister handed me a gift-wrapped box.

A pair of sparkly red Converse boots with bright purple laces and flashing heels.

Goodbye to the World of Taupe.

 

 

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The End – Week 52 of the 52 week short story challenge

Well.

I did it.

52 weeks of short stories, blogs and the odd poem or two.

I was a little late sometimes – so the gaps between postings is sometimes less than a week – sometimes more – but I did it.

We’ve all been saying what a lousy year 2016 has been  – and to be fair to those who died and those who grieve for them – it has been pretty lousy.

Good things have happened too but as always – we overlook the good and dwell on the bad.

So let’s not.

In 2017 I do not intend to set myself any resolutions – because I invariably lose interest in them or forget about them until April – by which time it is a bit late for this New Year and too early for the next.

Last year I finally settled with my ex-employer and used some of the settlement to join a gym. On our induction day I met a rather wonderful young woman who has become my personal trainer and motivated me to lose almost two stone and improve my fitness to the point that I only need my walking stick for urban route marches – I use the hiking poles for more foot-friendly territory. I’ve also started  Pilates classes – I can actually kneel on my arthriticky knees, and my balance has improved to the point where I rarely fall over – unless Scooby gets under my feet!

Regaining my fitness and losing weight is an ongoing aim – and after the Christmas and New Year hiatus it is back to the gym tomorrow – with a vengeance.

2017 also brings an end to my being a kept woman – I will be earning a crust again soon and able to make a financial commitment to our household again. The best thing is – it still leaves me time to spend with my lovely Hub, get back to editing the stuff I’ve written and continue with the gym. No office politics to contend with and I don’t have to answer the phone within three rings – so ner.

I’ve made some new friends in connection with my re-awakened political conscience – lost a couple too but we are all entitled to our own opinions and I will follow the path that feels most natural and logical to me.

I don’t believe in greed and selfishness – especially when it causes suffering to others.

I want the NHS to belong to all of us – not to big businesses who only care about their profit margins.

I want us to help the homeless, the sick and disabled, those who really cannot find appropriate work and those who have had to come to our country in order to escape warfare and persecution.

I will continue to fight prejudice and narrow-minded ignorance – wherever I find it.

We have a duty to protect our earth and the creatures that live upon it – for our children and for our children’s children – ad infinitum.

That will do for now. The discipline of finding something to write about once a week has taken hold  again – and together with nine years of successfully winning NaNoWriMo – 2017 could be the year that I finally tidy up my writings and look for an agent.

Onward and upward – what doesn’t kill us makes us strong.

A Christmas Story – Week 51 of the 52 week short story challenge

 

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“Christmas won’t be Christmas without any presents,” grumbled Jo, lying on the rug.

“It’s so dreadful to be poor!” sighed Meg, looking down at her old dress.

“I don’t think it’s fair for some girls to have plenty of pretty things, and other girls nothing at all,” added little Amy, with an injured sniff.

“We’ve got Father and Mother, and each other,” said Beth contentedly from her corner.”

― Louisa May AlcottLittle Women

 

When I came across ‘Little Women’ at the age of seven years old (I was an advanced reader) I found it difficult to understand the situation that Jo and the other March girls found themselves in. We always had presents at Christmas; we weren’t rich but neither were we poor. We weren’t particularly vain – especially not my older brother – and we too had a Mum and a Dad.  The thought of taking breakfast to a poor family confused me. Did we know any poor families? We lived on a council estate but everyone on our street, everyone at school, on our estate. They all seemed quite comfortably off – except perhaps one woman who lived in the flats and got quite cross when my friend and I babysat for her and didn’t eat all of the shop bought scampi and chips she left for us – she was only gone for an hour and in those days young girls often babysat babies for an hour or so.

As for breakfast – would a poor family really appreciate my bowl of Shreddies or  Ricicles? My brother’s Cocopops or the porridge my Mum sometimes made (until the advent of Readybrek – but more of that later).

I was aware of the fact that not only did the March family live in another country, they also lived in a different time. A time when long frocks and white gloves were the accepted mode of dress. A contrast to my own – tee-shirt and shorts in the summer, jumper and cord jeans in the winter. I was only ever dragged into a posh frock on special occasions. Ah, but Jo and I did have something in common – we were both tomboys.

My Christmases as a child were much of a muchness; although a couple of occasions stick in my mind. The year when I still believed in Father Christmas – especially after he brought me a shiny blue scooter. I must have been at school then because my Mum kept the diary entry I wrote for school – complete with a reasonably good drawing of said scooter.

The year when everything went wrong. It started with my Dad having problems with the Christmas tree (not a real one) lights malfunctioning. Whilst he muttered at the lights, twisting each bulb in an effort to find the dead culprit. The rest of us kept quiet as we hung up paper streamers and dusted off the Chinese lanterns that came out of the special box every year. On the day itself things went VERY wrong. My Mum cooked the turkey without removing the giblets; she melted the plastic colander with the Brussels Sprouts, too much brandy was put on the Christmas pudding and it ignited rather too well. Mum cried, Dad shouted, the dog got excited and bit Mum because she was hitting Dad with a rolled up newspaper.

Another memorable Christmas was the one when Dad brought home a bottle of Advocaat and a cocktail mixer. This was a large glass container with a battery-powered whisk in its silver metal lid. We had Snowballs that Christmas – and not the cold and wet ones that you chuck at each other either. After Christmas when Mum and Dad had returned to work and I was left to the not so tender ministrations of my older brother and sister, I decided to utilise the cocktail mixer and make my own Snowball. I hadn’t actually seen what my Dad put in the glass container – so I worked my way through our depleted alcohol stocks and put a bit of everything in. Then I whizzed it. Then I drank it. Then I felt a bit funny – and hungry.

This is where the Readybrek comes in. I wasn’t usually allowed to make my own because of the  kettle (not electric but the whistling type that sits on the hob – our house must have been a health and safety nightmare) but my brother and sister were still asleep. I was too impatient to wait for the kettle to whistle so my Readybrek was rather stodgy but a spoonful of honey helped.

I put the empty bowl in the sink and went back to playing with my new Christmas toys. There was a knock at the door and despite having been told NEVER to answer the door on my own – I did. It was only the milkman. As I bent forward to pick up the milk bottles I was very, very sick  – all over his shoes. His cries of disgust brought my siblings running. My brother cleaned the milkman up and my sister cleaned me up.

My cocktail experiment was discovered and I was banned from the alcohol cupboard. We swore each other to secrecy but the milkman grassed us up. I never liked him. We used to take it in turns to go out to his milk float and pick some nice biscuits for tea. My brother and sister always seemed to come back with chocolate digestives or custard creams but I came back carrying a packet of plain-looking sugary biscuits that I wouldn’t eat. My Mum was puzzled by this and accompanied me to the milk float, standing by as I asked for a packet of nice biscuits. Without a thought the milky picked up a pack of the hated biscuits and handed them to me. I looked at my Mum sadly. She laughed and handed them back.

‘Those are NEECE biscuits. Not nice biscuits. Which ones do you want really?’

I pointed at the milk chocolate digestives. Success.

I wonder what the March family equivalent would have been?

ceri-ann-steve-and-dad

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Creation Myth – Week 50 of the 52 week short story challenge

Harry sat in the middle of a grassy lawn.  He was surrounded by beautiful flowers and fantastic insects.

He frowned with concentration as he picked out the colours and shapes.

Every object had to be different, and he smiled as he placed them on the grass and watched them come to life.

Other small gods occupied the lawn, each intent on their own marvellous creations.

The Big Benevolent One smiled as he wandered past looking at their labours.

His fingertips touched Harry’s head.

Harry looked up and smiled back.  He was very happy.

“Good job Harry.  You can move on to something bigger now.  Some animals and birds perhaps?”

Flushed with pride at such a compliment, Harry collected more materials and set to work.

He started small; a mouse and then a brightly coloured lizard.

Placed carefully on the grass, the mouse shook his whiskers and scurried off to make a home.

The lizard took his time. He stretched and let the sunshine warm his shimmering skin.

“Time for something bigger now.  I shall call it Dog and it will be my friend.” Harry said to himself and was just putting together the items he needed when he heard an unfamiliar sound.

The Big Benevolent One was standing in the corner of the lawn staring down at Milo; a slightly larger god who had put together some especially clumsy-looking cactus plants.

There was an ominous rumbling.

“You can do better than this Milo.  Look around you. Look at the colours and the shapes. Move on to something beautiful or you’ll have to spend time making rocks.”

Milo frowned. He hated making rocks. It was boring, hot and the other larger gods shouted at him.  They had only a few more days to finish the Earth after all. and everyone was working as hard as they could.

Except Milo, who just wanted to lie under the trees and watch everyone else working.

The Big Benevolent One moved on to admire someone else’s work and Milo sulkily picked up some brown clay.

He rolled it idly between his hands, then on a piece of flat stone until it grew longer and thinner.

He started another, and another until the stone was covered with a number of long thin brown snakes of varying sizes.

Harry glanced over at the snakes; all blind and hungry and dull.

He got to his feet, picked up a handful of pieces left over from the lizard and walked over to Milo who felt that he had done enough and had fallen asleep.

The snakes were given jewel-bright eyes and long forked tongues.  Harry striped their brown skin with green and white, red  and blue for the big ones, and for the last he covered the brown with yellow and white stripes.

Stroking the warm skin as it came to life, Harry smiled.

“You will be a corn snake and your name will be Dave.'”

Hearing the sound of the Big Benevolent One approaching, Harry got up and returned to creating Dog.

Milo woke and looked at the fabulous snakes slithering around happily in front of him.

“Well done Milo!  Take a little break now.  Usually only lazy gods make snakes but you have done well. ” The Big Benevolent One patted Milo’s head but looked across at Harry and winked.

Harry was happy, especially when Dog came to life, wagged his tail and licked Harry’s face.

Milo snored in the sunshine.

corn snake