Recent News – Purged – Week 35 of the 52 week short story challenge.

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‘So what are you going to wear?’

‘When?’

‘To go to your party?’

‘What party?’

‘Doh! You’ve been going on about this party for aaaages! You don’t seem to be looking forward to it much?’

‘Party? Oh. That party.’

‘YES!!! What are you wearing? Have you bought anything new?’

‘Should be red really but at the rate things are going it might be black.’

‘Boring. What kind of food will there be at this party?’

‘Hmmm. Plenty of sour grapes. Maybe a bit of humble pie. No jelly and ice cream I’m afraid’

‘Yuk. Will there be drink?’

‘Well, the main person in the party doesn’t drink – and he’s a vegetarian too.’

‘Fruit juice and dips then?’

‘Probably.’

‘You don’t sound very excited about going any more. Will there be lots of people going that you know?’

‘Yes, but not necessarily people that I want to spend time with.’

‘Why are you going then?’

‘I suppose you were going to find out eventually anyway. I’m not allowed to go to the party now.’

‘What!’

‘Not just me. Lots of people have been told that they can’t go.’

‘But you told me that you paid money to be in this party. Are they going to give you your money back?’

‘Doesn’t look like it. They’ve made a lot of money out of people like me and none of us can get our money back.’

‘Why not?’

‘Because the people in charge of the party have decided that we aren’t welcome, and that we’ve done something wrong.’

‘What did you do? Was it really bad?’

‘Not really. I shared someone else’s ideas on Twitter and unfortunately there were some words in the ideas that the people didn’t like.’

‘You shouldn’t have shared them then – not if they were bad words.’

‘Ah, but they only became bad words a couple of weeks after I had shared them. I’m not psychic – as you know. Some of the other people in the party have used much worse words than me and they are still allowed to go.’

‘That’s SO unfair!’

‘I know. At least I know why I’m not allowed to go. There are many who haven’t been given a reason.’

‘That’s even more unfair. I bet they are upset.’

‘Some of them are angry, but some, especially the older people; they are very upset, especially as they have been told that they won’t be informed of the reasons why they can’t go until the party is over.’

‘Can’t you stop them?’

‘Oh, we are trying but every time we try they make up a new rule to stop us.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘Ermmm. I know. You know in football – you have to score goals to win.’

‘Everyone knows that. What’s it got to do with your boring old party?’

‘Suppose every time you went to score a goal you found that someone had moved the goal posts closer together so that it was harder to get the ball between the posts?’

‘That’s cheating!’

‘Yes.’

‘You’re always telling me that cheating is wrong.’

‘Yes.’

‘What about the man? You know, the vegetarian man who doesn’t drink booze?’

‘Oh, he hates cheating too. He really wants us to be there. He’s very cross that we are being stopped from being a part of it all.’

‘Why doesn’t he tell the nasty people off then?’

‘He doesn’t like being nasty to others. He is a very kind and honourable man.’

‘I don’t like the sound of the other people though. They are bullies. You always told me to stand up to bullies.’

‘Yes, and I have been standing up to them. There are more of us standing up to them than they realise.’

‘I don’t think I would want to go to a party with them. Can’t you start up a new party and not invite them?’

‘We could  – but the party belongs to the party members – not to the bullies who keep changing the rules to keep us out.’

‘What happens next?’

‘I’m not really sure – none of us are that sure. We have to keep trusting that good will win over evil.’

‘Like in fairy stories?’

‘Yes – but this is real.’

‘Does that mean you can’t have a happy ending?’

‘Not necessarily. We can’t give up though.’

‘I’ve got an idea.’

‘I love your ideas.’

‘Let’s have our own party. With jelly and ice cream. To cheer you up.’

‘Okay. What shall we call our party?’

‘You choose.’

‘I name this party – the Purged Party.’

‘That isn’t a very nice name.’

‘It isn’t very nice being purged.’

 

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‘No Yo Ho Ho! – Not For Another Month at Least, Please?’

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We all love Christmas.

Well, most of us love Christmas.

Erm; a decreasing number of us love Christmas.

I loved Christmas as a child.

I still love it.

I cherish the story that I wrote at infant school about how I got a scooter from Father Christmas – with pictures too.  I can remember the bright blue paint, clean and unsullied. I rode that scooter round the streets until it eventually fell apart and was beyond repair.

I think that may have been the Christmas that I got a Teeny Tiny Tears too – considerably smaller than Tiny Tears but she still had the capacity to cry and wee once you had filled up the water reservoir in the middle of her back.

This could have caused me to grow up with some very strange notions about how babies took on and expelled water but luckily I had baby cousins who dispelled those notions the first time I watched my aunt changing a nappy.

There were rules about Christmas in our house.

We didn’t start it too early – usually around the weekend nearest the tenth of December – the Chinese lanterns and crepe paper streamers were unearthed and strung around the room.

Christmas wasn’t a real Christmas without the tree lights malfunctioning.  A vivid Yuletide memory is of my Dad swearing quietly under his breath as he tried to track down the wayward bulb. We knew instinctively to keep out of the way until  the tree lit up, at which point we would all appear and make noises of glee and approval.

Christmas Eve was special.

We used to go to the house of one of my aunts; it started off in a quiet way with sandwiches and nibbles.  Giggling with our cousins at our great-aunt when she took her false teeth out and flicked fag ash into the peanuts (given a very wide berth by us knowing children but we didn’t tell the adults – cue more giggling).

Over the years, as their family expanded and they moved to a bigger house, my aunt and uncle’s pre-Christmas celebrations grew as well.  My uncle was Polish and introduced much of his heritage to the rest of the family at their parties.

Polish sausage, pickled herring, Bigos (ham and sauerkraut stew) and (shudder) brawn.

The sight of the pig’s head boiling away in the kitchen to make the brawn left me reluctant to even sample a tiny bit.

The peanuts were safe from fag ash now, the great-aunt had smoked her way into another place.

I miss those Christmas Eves; the joy of meeting up with the family and putting presents under the tree, buffet browsing Anglo-Polish style and pinching the odd glass of sherry when no one was looking.

Blessed as I am with a bevy of beautiful and talented cousins, I think that the reason we are so close – despite geographical distances – is because of those Christmas Eve parties.

It was usually Christmas Day by the time we left, tired and giddy and clutching carrier bags of presents that we weren’t allowed to open till the morning with the other presents that Father Christmas would be bringing.

Of all the Christmas Days I enjoyed as a child, the one that sticks in my memory is the Christmas When Every Thing Went Wrong.

The day began with the sprouts (eurgh) melted the plastic colander.

Then it was discovered that my Lovely Mum had forgotten to take the giblets out of the turkey before she cooked it. They were in a plastic bag. Mum invented an early form of shrink wrap.

Dad put too much alcohol on the Christmas pudding and rather than burning with a bright blue flame, it incinerated to a black shrivelled lump.

Needless to say, tempers were frayed.

My Dad shouted.

My Lovely Mum hit him with a rolled up newspaper.

We howled.

The dog, unsure if this was domestic violence or just a playfight, decided that it needed to be stopped.

So he bit Lovely Mum on the arm.

Things went very quiet after that.  The dog went out in the garden very quickly and Mum’s arm went under the tap – bruised but not bloodied.

There was also a strict rule about when the decorations came down.

I know a lot of people take them down as soon as they can – after New Year’s Day usually  – but as Lovely Mum’s birthday was on the 4th January, we left them up for her and had a mad dash to get them down and put away before Twelfth Night. Although Lovely Mum has left us, I still leave my decorations up till after her birthday.

I do like Christmas really.

Christmas carols make me cry; in my semi-religious phase I couldn’t get through Midnight Communion without blubbing – ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’ gets me every time and ‘Silent Night’ – I’m welling up just thinking about it..

Little school choirs singing in shopping malls turn me to a gibbering wreck .

I never managed to stay dry-eyed during either of my children’s nativity plays and had to make sure that I always wore a large scarf to absorb my tears and hide my quivering lip.

“Oh Mother – you are SO embarrassing!”

So why the grumpy title?

It’s only the 28th October!

Just under two months till Christmas.

So why are the shops full of Christmas stuff?  Poor old Halloween is being shuffled into a side aisle.So unfair to think of skulls, witches and ghouls being ousted by snow-persons, fat robins and Father Christmas.

Shops are beginning to play ‘Now That’s What I Call Christmas’ on an endless loop that drives the salespeople bonkers and does not encourage a festive spirit because we’ve all heard the tunes SO many times before.  Even the starving poor across the world will know that it is Christmas because of that flipping song!

Now this is the bit where I show myself to be a hypocrite. Having moaned about the early incursion of Christmas into the shopping arena – I cashed in on it.

Two years ago we got rid of our huge holly berried and fir-coned false Christmas tree and bought a nice fibre optic 1 metre high tree that needed very little in the way of decoration and took less than ten minutes to put up.

I loved that little tree.

We had to get the decorations down a bit sharpish as, for the first time ever, we were flying off on holiday for the New Year and couldn’t face the idea of unpacking, washing and undecking the halls.

I don’t know what happened to my little tree.

We hunted high and low in the run up to last Christmas but it was nowhere to be found so we went off to the garden centre to get a replacement.

All the nice trees were gone and a real tree was out of the question, as Scooby had come to live with us and we weren’t quite sure if he could differentiate between an outside tree and an inside one.

We continued our search but by this time it was mid-December and they were beginning to set out the Easter egg displays.

We settled for a slightly larger tree that appeared to be fibre optic and looked as if it could stand the vigors of tail lashing and large-male bashing.

It was a hideous monster tree and what I thought were fibre optic lights turned out to be translucent globs on the ends of the branches.

Every branch had to be fluffed out and attached  to one of the three stems that made up the body of the tree. The fake fir was rough on the fingers and I broke two nails trying to insert the branches. When we finally got it upright it was HUGE and very drab, so we had to go out and buy MORE decorations for it.  Of course, by this time there were hardly any decorations left, just a mish mash of broken or ugly coloured baubles. We could have used Easter eggs I suppose.

Bezzie Mate and  went for lunch at my favourite garden centre a couple of weeks ago  and I noticed that they had the mock-Christmas trees on display.  Against my better judgement but fuelled by a decent lunch, we had a rummage in the festive section but they didn’t have the tree I wanted.

Undaunted we drove down the road to the bigger  garden centre (more choice but the cafe is more like a transport cafe and always seems to be full of screaming kids).

My heart leapt; we had barely got in the door when I spied my long-lost tree shimmering amongst its larger (and uglier) fir-y brethren.

BM toddled off for a browse amongst some boots and I combed the centre desperately seeking an assistant.  I found one but he was having an intense conversation about bulbs with a very demanding woman who kept grabbing his forearm.  He didn’t seem to mind though.

I waited.

And waited.

I got bored then and had a competition with myself to find the most tacky Christmas decoration in the store. It was a toss-up between some very ugly opaque white rigid plastic trees of about 6 inches and an array of ‘fibre-optic Christmas tapestries’. Closer inspection revealed them to be printed material pictures with lights in funny places. They were the winners but they were all hideous I couldn’t choose the worst.

My assistant was free!

I took him to my tree and asked if he could find me one that was boxed up.  He took the tag and disappeared.

I went in search of BM who was in the process of falling for some stout walking boots that were half-price.

My assistant returned toting a long white box. He turned it round to look at the picture and check that he had the right one.

He had the wrong one and disappeared again into the bowels of the garden centre.

We carried on browsing but feared the worst when he returned with a furrowed brow.

“I can’t find it.”

“But you have one on display. You can’t have sold out of them yet? “

“No, they’ve only just come in but it wasn’t where it should have been. If you want to reserve one, we could call you when we find it?”

I’ve been caught like this before. I reserved something then turned up to find that another member of staff had sold it because they thought it was a returned item.

“Can I pay for one now? Then I can come in and collect it when you find one.”

“Oh – erm – okay.”

So I bought it and filled in all number of forms with my name, address and telephone number.

By this time, BM and I were exhausted and had to test out a range of conservatory furniture before toddling home for homemade curry.

I got a phone call a couple of days later to say that they had found my tree. Hub and I went to collect it and found that with his (not-very-constant) gardener card, they could knock off a further eight pounds! We also bought BM’s boots and sent them off to him because they weren’t on sale online. They rub one of his ankles.

Bargain.

I admire people who get all their Christmas presents in the January sales – almost as much as I admire those who dash around the store on Christmas Eve snapping up ‘bargains’.

Hub is notoriously hard to buy for. He only really wants paintball bits – although now he and Gap Boy are sharing a motorbike there might be some mileage there. GB has already started demanding his Christmas presents. Uni Boy is home this weekend but I doubt that he will come up with anything helpful.

Ah, but I am blessed with good friends who like silly things, and an adorable bunch of small children and babies who can revitalise my Christmas spirit.

Mine’s a very large sherry please.

‘I couldn’t stay away’

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I confess.

It has been two days since my last blog in the April Showers section of my life and I couldn’t stay away any longer.

Here we are in the merry old month of May when lovers sing, hey ring a ding a ding,and Gap Boy (dressed as an American football player) went off to a party last night so we had peas and carrots all night long :-).

On the downside – the artex dust has made me wheezy  – so I have inhalers – and caused a rash – so I’m on itchy cream and antihistamine, I’m on antibiotics again and – oh well, that’s it really – except to say that my GP is an extremely nice man and a very good doctor.

So – mustn’t grumble  – because the sun is up and shining very beautifully over the rooftops, Hub is catching up on much-needed sleep, Scoob hasn’t realised I’m awake yet and the kitchen I have longed for and dreamed about for years is slowly taking shape,

No sign of a text from GB asking to be picked up from the party/police station/friend’s house, so I assuming – perhaps foolishly – that all is well there.

Uni Boy will undoubtedly perform his duty call this weekend; he knows that I worry far too much and that the only way to shut me up is to make a call once a week to catch up on life here in the slow lane.  He is very busy at Uni on his final year exams, but is also aware of the fact that his bedroom is full of the Chilly Twins and a number of large cardboard boxes.

We all love the Chilly Twins.  They sit there very quietly in their Manhattan Silver glory, still pristine despite the layers of brick and plaster dust that cover everything else in the house.

GB very kindly filled up the water dispenser for me – forgetting to check that it was totally empty first  – so we have a very soggy instruction manual for the water filter.

“What a stupid place to leave the instructions!”

I sniggered quietly at my roaring boy.

The facility to get chilled water instantly pleases me extremely and I look forward to the day when the Chilly Twins are in their permanent home and I can pour myself a quick glass of icy water whilst doing the domestic goddess bit in the new kitchen.  I particularly like the fact that a little blue light comes on when you press your glass against the thing that makes the water come out. I’m easily pleased.

It is good to delight in simple things.

Continuing with the kitchen theme  – and if you are bored by my obsession kindly take the easy way out and stop reading now.

The inspector came and pronounced the RSJs very satisfactory (rolled steel joists – wit woo), the acro props (oh how au fait am I with builder-speak! Not really – Bezzie Mate told me what they were called – he knows such stuff) have been removed and are lying outside on the grass.

All the rubble and kitchen detritus has also been removed.  A very sweet elderly man in  a flatbed came and took it.  I was a bit concerned that he was doing all the heavy lifting whilst the two young chaps on the flatbed were pointing out what he should pick up and pass to them next.  Younger generation eh! Mock Tsk.

The electrickery is almost finished now – which is just as well because yesterday saw the arrival of the Plasterer!

He brought with him the sweet boy who has no front teeth but a beautiful face (until he smiles – at which point my maternal heart goes out to him and wants to whip him up the road to the friendly dentist who has done such a great job of keeping the teeth of this family on the straight and narrow).

They are very self-sufficient.  Not only do they have their own ghetto blaster, they also bring their own kettle and tea-making facilities – I was allowed to make the first one but after that the boy took over domestic duties.

I have a new box of biscuits for them today.

I thought the plastering would be quieter than the demolition and the channelling but the banging of the lump hammer has been replaced by the frequent sound of the metal stepladder being dragged across the floor.

These are small things in comparison with the revelation that the Plasterer and his boy sing like angels – well angels singing along to Radio One and covered in plaster dust. If I thought that the builders were tuneful, then they are knocked well and truly into a cocked hat  by the glorious abandoned trilling with which my plastering is accompanied.

I am delighting in their happy noise and anyway – I’ve found the button that switches on the subtitles for the TV now.

When the chaps leave for the day Hub and I have been wandering about in the echoey vastness that has replaced the Krappy Kitchen.  We both have daft looks on our faces as we remember parties in the past and look forward to finding out just how many lovely friends we can get in here for the kitchen-warming.

Enough of all this.

I must find the itchy cream, get dressed, sort out the Scoobs, enjoy the sunshine and the flowers in the garden whilst he wees, open up the kitchen, boil the kettle, make my breakfast, wake Hub (much later) and smile like a loon as the singing starts.

I also need to acknowledge that without the careful planning and shrewd investments of our much-missed Ronnie, none of this would be possible.  So Lovely Mum and Ronnie, if you are up there watching the chaos, listening to the singing and laughing at my cack-handed attempts at making tea  (bleurgh), thank you for making sure that we are all so well looked after.

I wish you – and all the other beloveds up there in the clouds – could be here in person to join in the kitchen party but it is never very hard to conjure up your smiling faces – we will raise more than a glass or two to you in gratitude and know that you will always be with us.

In the words of a friend – Happy Days xxx

 

 

 

‘Three Degrees of Social Influence’

“Jason! Hey Jaaaayssssonnnn!”

Jason looked up from his laptop and smiled at the vision before him.  Nico; red skinny jeans, lime green polo shirt,virgin white Converse and a casually draped peach cardigan that was in danger of slipping off his fashionably slight shoulders.  Pulling out the chair opposite, Nico sat down with a flourish and crossed one leg over the other, his foot flipping in an attention-grabbing manner. He was being watched by the other students in the room and he knew it.

“Guess what!”

Jason shrugged his chunky and less fashionable shoulders, camouflaged by a uniform black tee-shirt and grey hoodie that enabled him to blend in with most backgrounds.  “What Nico?  What have you heard?”

“Well.” Nico leaned forward conspiratorially, “You know like, I was going to a party at Amelia’s last night?  So sick! Huge country farm, parents away, big brother in charge but like he is always SO out of it!”

Having been omitted from the invitation list, Jason had tried to ignore the buzz that had gone around college regarding the party. As it was a major talking point, this had not been easy and packing up his books to go home on Friday night, it had been particularly painful listening to the excited babble.  He slid out of the room as quietly as he could and walked home trying to convince himself that the party would be a total failure, that Amelia was a stuck-up phony and that he wouldn’t have gone anyway even if he had been invited.

“Anyhoo!  It was a DISASTER!” Nico squealed, his expressive legs crossing and recrossing themselves. “Somebody put the address on FaceAche! There were like literally HUNDREDS of people there!  Police, ambulance, fire brigade – did I tell you that someone torched the barn?  Amelia was like totes DEVASTATED! She’d been so careful just to keep the invitations to friends ONLY but one of her friends must have like posted the information to THEIR friends and then like  they posted the invitation to THEIR friends and ZILLIONS of strangers turned up!”

“Much damage done?” Jason said as he executed a couple of swift keystrokes on his laptop.

“Oh my days yes! The barn burnt down.  Rooms were trashed, all the booze went and like the caterers left once the food fight started.  Amelia’s brother was arrested for a public order offence – he was like TOTES drunk – and Amelia threw everyone out.  Some of the girls were supposed to be staying the night and they had like NOWHERE to go!”

Raising his eyebrows slightly, Jason stopped to take a sip of his Americano coffee from the utilitarian white mug.  The waitress brought over Nico’s beverage; creamy beige in a tall glass with a long spoon and accompanied by a flake and marshmallows.  It rejoiced in the name of Choco-Mocha-Vanilla-Latte-Macchiato; Nico had opted for extra whipped cream and a sprinkle of cocoa powder. It was a barrista’s work of art with a carefully executed heart-shape in the cream.  Other students rushed to the counter to order the same, but no one came back with a solid white mug.

“Is that your essay?  I’m going to have to ask for an extension.  I just don’t understand this three degrees of social  influence stuff at all.”

Smiling slowly, Jason saved his essay, emailed it to his tutor and pressed delete in his FaceAche settings. He looked pensively at his friend.

“How many FaceAche friends do you have Nico?”

“Oh, like hundreds I suppose.”

“So suppose you had some good news.  Such good news that you wanted to tell ALL your friends on FaceAche.  That’s one degree.  Then one of your friends decided to tell all of their friends, none  of whom actually know you personally. That’s two degrees. One of your friend’s friends thinks that the news is SO wonderful that she decides to tell all HER friends too.  Suddenly loads of people who you don’t know are aware of your good news.  It’s been established that good news spreads more quickly than bad.  Isn’t social media a wonderful thing?”

Nico’s gorgeous brow furrowed.  He opened his mouth to speak, looked over at the innocent face of his friend and tried to remember if he had actually told Jason where Amelia’s party was being held. He felt a little nauseous and pushed his coffee creation away.

Satisfied that the fake FaceAche profile he had created on Sunday morning had been well and truly deleted leaving no trace to himself, Jason closed down his laptop, drained the last of his Americano, and got to his feet.

“You coming Nico?  Class starts in five minutes.”