THE Eco Worrier
© Lucia Foster-Found 2019 www.luciafosterfound.com
“You shouldn’t leave your engine running – it’s bad for the environment.” A silver-haired, diminutive woman thrust her face closer and cocked her head towards the parked car.
True enough, her car was still burbling away. Between the radio’s jolly offering and the fan heater blasting warmth over her chilly passenger, she’d not noticed the engine noise when she'd hopped out and run into the shop to buy a paper. The car usually switched itself off as soon as she put it into neutral and took her foot off the clutch. Somewhat wrong-footed, she struggled to explain the failure of her vehicle’s environmentally friendly (if occasionally irritating) feature to the elderly lady currently fixing her with a dubious eye.
There was probably some techno-reason why the car hadn’t done its eco-thing, but the accusation of being less than environmentally friendly made her review her own planet-saving impact.
For one, she assiduously went through her rubbish to separate out the recyclables to be deposited in the brown bin, trooping to the bottle bank with her washed glassware too. When she remembered, which was most of the time, she shopped using her own bags ‘for life’. Although she anti-bac-ed them regularly as she’d read somewhere they could harbour deadly bacteria and, really, bags ‘for death’ didn’t have quite the same jaunty ring..
Deliberately not buying cheap, virtually disposable clothing, she preferred to spend her money in charity shops and car boot sales when her wardrobe needed a makeover; surely something of a win-win for everyone?
But truthfully, as just a well-meaning, ordinary human, she found trying to be less of a blight on Mother Earth something of a minefield.
Here’s one - Old Car versus New Car. An ‘Old Car’ might not be so clean to run, but scrapping it or trading it in for a ‘New Car’ that used goodness only knows how much energy and raw materials to manufacture. Which car takes the chequered eco-friendly flag?
And here’s another - plastic bags versus paper ones. Did she read somewhere that one supermarket was going to offer paper grocery bags? But didn’t she also read that the production and transportation of paper bags contributes more to global warming than plastic ones? Where had she seen that – and was it true? Reaching for her ‘phone she jabbed and scrolled feverishly, searching.
And if some plastic bags were bio-degradable, she wondered, why weren’t they all? Surely then there’d be a chance they’d naturally disintegrate before reaching the oceans where turtles and whales could eat them.
Then there was palm oil. A viral advert last Christmas rather poignantly highlighted the deforestation caused by palm oil plantations. That supermarket had vowed to ban palm oil from their own brand and she’d vowed to shop there as a consequence. Now she was disappointed in herself that she hadn’t done it more often.
And what about her beloved wood burner? Was she harbouring a soon-to-be-banned polluting monster in her sitting room? If a betting person, she’d have put good money on it being healthier for our planet than burning oil or gas forcibly extracted from the depths of the earth and transported hundreds, if not thousands of miles.
Ditto electric heating. Wasn’t most electricity made by some process that involved… burning fossil fuels or using nuclear power with its accompanying toxic waste? And where did this leave the debate on electric cars? They might be clean to run, but the power to charge them up had to come from somewhere, didn’t it?
She was no eco warrior – just concerned about doing the right thing. Wouldn’t it be great if she didn’t have to worry so much about her choices? What if only the right choices were available? Like her car. It made the right decision when it switched itself off – at least it did most of the time. She hoped it was the right decision anyway. As she didn’t actually sit stationary in traffic for long periods, she sometimes wondered if all this repeated re-starting didn’t in fact burn MORE fuel and release MORE pollutants into the atmosphere. Should look that up, along with every other thing she wasn’t sure about.
AAAGGHHHH… the list was endless and it was, to coin a phrase, doin’ her head in.
Neither a ‘chuck-it-all-in-the-same-bin’ barbarian, nor a ‘go-plastic-free’ paragon, it dawned on her she was that middle-ground creature - someone who does a bit to save the planet, whilst fretting a lot about the state of the planet.
She’d become an Eco-Worrier.
And worrying, as everyone knew, was pointless, achieved nothing – she needed to know more, do more, try harder. And that feisty lady in the shop was quite right. She really shouldn’t have left her engine running…
FIRESTARTER, gifted firestarter
© Lucia Foster-Found 2019 www.luciafosterfound.com
“Forecast is good for tomorrow.” A quick consultation with his smartphone apparently confirmed sunshine all the way to Sunday lunchtime. She admired his faith in the weather app. Personally, she put more store in her arthritic knee, which ached like an achy thing when rain was in the offing. And, like a giant tooth with a faulty filling in the middle of her leg, it was hurting. Popping an anti-inflammatory, she kept her own counsel and mentally located the pop-up gazebo in the garage.
A bruising trip to the supermarket ensued – each armed with a trolley they filed in with the masses. There were many men clustered around the chiller cabinets of meat products – presumably all with the same weather app as her own darling husband. A tall burly chap in a vest and sporting, she noticed, rather beautiful tattooed sleeves, grasped the last catering-sized pack of free-range pork sausages at the same time as her beloved. Fearing a slight altercation, she watched as her husband looked up (and up) at the lofty competition for his favourite porky treats. However, with a gracious “That’s alright mate – you go ahead. I was thinking of giving the duck breasts a go anyway”, the man-mountain sauntered off on muscular legs in search of poultry.
Relieved, she left hubby to pillage all things beef as she detoured to the salad area via the baking goods, the fruit aisle via the eggs, the herbs and spices via the dairy products, before reuniting with him in the drinks aisle, where he was laying waste to the imported beer section. No need to plunder the wines as they’d not long returned from a week in Bordeaux…
Saturday dawned fine, but her meteorological knee disagreed with the current benign skyscape and she dragged the gazebo out from its hiding place, as he wheeled the all-singing-all-dancing-super-barbecue onto the patio. A long-lusted after addition to his shed, it had been by far the best loved birthday present she’d ever bought him, in spite of the fact that he used it twice a year - at most.
As she assembled a salad of crumbled feta and beetroot, a dish of griddled Mediterranean vegetables and another of roasted butternut squash with sunflower seeds, she watched him from the kitchen window. Using the quick-lighting gadget she’d bought him for Christmas, he lit the barbecue before coming into the kitchen to pile dishes with a carnivore’s fantasy. Humming happily to himself he kissed her and beetled off to the garden once more. Dressed rocket and radicchio baubled with cherry tomatoes was placed on the table next to her home-made rosemary focaccia loaves and cottage rolls. Later, she’d cook the jersey royals to be ready just in time for the meat. Similarly, at the last minute, so it didn’t go soggy, she’d transform the giant meringues she’d been up late preparing into a raspberry pavlova. And break out the brownies.
Friends and family arrived for lunch along with the rain. The children drifted off to watch age-appropriate films in different rooms – the sound of something Pixar from one, Marvel from another. Grasping bottles of beer, the men splashily sprinted to the gazebo and barbecue, magnetically drawn by the primal combination of fire and meat. The women watched from the house, chatting, Chardonnay in hand. Holding court, her husband, sporting his chef’s hat, was brandishing tongs and spatula, flipping burgers, turning sausages, and rotating chicken thighs like a possessed conductor. His grand finale of steaks, precisely seared with a perfect checker-plate was impressive, professional almost.
The party over, the rain abated along with the ache in her knee. The clearing up not too arduous - little food remained and the dishwasher was doing sterling service. Outside in the gazebo, Hubby was busy restoring his pride and joy to its gleaming best. Wondering, as she usually did post-barbecue, how a man literally unable to boil an egg produced such excellence without practice. Nothing fancy, but everything was grilled so beautifully – no charcoal encrusted offerings. Juicy burgers, bronzed sausages and the chicken was succulent yet cooked through and crispy-skinned – the steak… perfection.
Did it peeve her that he totally stole the show with an hour’s effort, whilst she had spent a whole afternoon, evening and morning prepping, peeling, kneading, whisking, mixing, roasting and baking? No… she was pleased for him. Really. Her face however, unbeknownst to her, adopted what the children called her ‘evil genius’ expression as she ordered a book on Amazon Prime. Strike whilst the iron griddle is hot, she decided.
“Darling” she called out “Don’t put it away in the shed. And leave the gazebo up. I think we should barbecue more – you enjoy it so much and it’s so delicious.”
“Really? Oh, OK. For the summer?”
“Yes – and maybe into the autumn if the weather is fine. Might be fun for Halloween and great for Guy Fawkes too. In fact, I’ve read that some people roast their Christmas turkey on the barbecue – now there’s an idea…” He laughed incredulously. Bless him.
Her phone gave a little ding. ‘BBQ-ing 365’ would be arriving tomorrow…
There’s A Rat In The Kitchen (what am I gonna do..)
© Lucia Foster-Found 2019 www.luciafosterfound.com
Layers pellets. Check. Mite powder. Check. Feeder, drinker, corn. Check, check, check. Or maybe, looking at the prices, that should be cheque, cheque, cheque..
Pushing around the trolley, she pushed aside the thought of the mounting cost and daydreamed of golden-yolked scotch eggs, smoked salmon scrambled eggs and eggs poached to bouncy, runny perfection with griddled asparagus. Salivating, she trundled off to the checkout. The run and ark were being delivered the next day (big cheque, monster cheque) and the day after that they were to collect their flock. And they weren’t going cheap either.
The children were excited, she was excited. Her husband The Accountant, not so much. His childhood memories of hen husbandry largely involved being chased by the bad-tempered cockerel so admired by his mother. Although, when the bird outlived his usefulness, the coq-au-vin served up by his pragmatic mama had apparently been unforgettable and particularly delicious. Contrary to popular belief, revenge was a dish best eaten hot, it seemed.
Later, over supper, the family were deep in discussion. “Shouldn’t we name them when we get them? I mean, the names we choose now might not suit them.” Daughter hadn’t fully grasped the notion that the chickens, all being the same breed, would be practically identical.
“Mine’s Thor.” Son was Marvel obsessed – either he hadn’t twigged or, more likely, didn’t really care that the chickens would all be girls.
“Am I allowed to choose one?” The Accountant suddenly appeared mildly interested. Surprised, she shrugged “Of course darling.”
“Margot.” He seemed very decided.
“Durrell?” She’d been watching the series.
“Robbie.” He sighed – he’d been watching something else, apparently.
Moving on, she said “Well I can’t decide between Boudicca and Emmeline.” Perhaps Daughter had a point after all and she would wait to see which name suited her chicken best.
Some weeks later, Margot, Thor, Scarlet and Boudicca (she pecked the others) had settled in. The family were egg-bound and she was quite relieved that Thor and Boudicca were broody and stopped laying. After announcing that he was very ‘over’ eggs in any disguise (and there had been many), The Accountant found the receipt for the state-of-the-art Ark.
“With the initial capital investment of equipment and on-going expenses, be dead long before we recoup the costs in eggs” he remarked, dourly.
“We’ll buy more chickens when these die.” Honestly, what a doom-monger.
“No. Us. We’ll have grown old and died.” He explained in a voice dripping with sarcasm. Ah. Well yes, it had been the top of the range habitat and eye-wateringly expensive…
Whilst pickling another jar of eggs the following morning and wondering how to resurrect his feeble enthusiasm for her feathered flock, she turned and was presented with a rat. It was on the kitchen work surface, closely investigating the pasta maker with curious paws and twitching whiskered nose. Until she screamed and dropped the spirit vinegar, that is.
The rat scuttled off to whence it came. Her country-wise friends spoke with one voice; ‘when you’ve got chickens shred, you’ve got rats. Everyone knows that’.
But not her. And what to do? Not poison. She shuddered. Of a live-and-let-live disposition, she was conflicted. Also, a bit loath to tell The Accountant that the dearest eggs on earth came with free vermin. Albeit vermin with a penchant for kitchenalia.
In the event, she didn’t have to say anything. Gazing out of the window, drinking his early morning coffee, The Accountant spotted the rat on the bird table. He all but trampled her in his rush to the study and she nearly dropped the pasta maker she was retrieving from the dishwasher.
Moments later he returned with an air rifle she’d forgotten he had - and a childlike look of glee.
What happened between bookkeeper and rodent, she preferred not to know, but a notable lack of celebration indicated neither were harmed in the skirmish. Retreating to an oasis of cookery books and instruction manuals, she used her lovely fresh eggs and her long-ignored pasta machine to make batch after batch of lovely fresh pasta... Sheets for lasagne and ravioli, ribbons for stroganoff and goulash, spaghetti for bolognese, vongole.. Some she dried on the clothes airer, some she froze. Spaghetti carbonara was on the menu that evening.
The Accountant and children pronounced dinner to be delicious, before retreating to other rooms. When her husband emerged from his study to join her on the sofa and kiss her, she caught a manly and not unpleasant whiff of gun oil.
He was carrying his newly rediscovered air rifle and smiling “That fantastic meal reminded me of our honeymoon in Italy and I’m so glad you’re finally using that pasta gadget you badgered me for Christmas – when was that – 3 years ago? Oh – by the way, I’ve ordered some targets, in case they arrive and you wondered what they were. What are we watching?”
“The Durrells on catch-up, but I did notice that Wolf of Wall Street is on Freeview if you’d rather?” she glanced at him sideways – the other Margot was in that one.
“Keep the Durrells on – you like it and I read it at school. Anyway I was thinking – what about Corfu for a holiday?” He rubbed the gun’s barrel with an oily cloth and was in chirpy mood, so she felt it best not to mention the issue of leaving the chickens.
“Of course, we’ll have to find someone responsible to look after the hens properly whilst we’re away.” He added cheerily. Poultry problem? Between them, she and the rat might just have cracked it.
A Bit of a Pickle
© Lucia Foster-Found 2019 www.luciafosterfound.com
Returning from holiday and heaving the suitcases through the back door, the tomato plants caught her eye. Bowed under the weight of fruit, coloured through the spectrum of darkest green to rosiest red, they had exceeded all expectations. With only a patio to call a garden, but a surfeit of containers, she’d dedicated the sunniest corner to an assortment of tomato varieties. Like the rats of Hamelin, there were great ones, small ones, lean ones and brawny ones. They’d been eating them all summer - sliced in salads, grilled with bacon, roasted with lamb. They’d been giving them away to friends and family all summer too. She noticed that her obliging neighbour from over the garden fence had kept the plants well watered whilst they’d been away, but hadn’t made much of a dent in the crop, in spite of being told to help herself.
The next morning, after a good night’s sleep back in her own bed and nursing a cup of tea that tasted exactly as it should, she surveyed the fruit. So late in the season, the green ones wouldn’t have much of a chance to ripen. The red ones were too numerous to eat raw before rotting; they went off a lot quicker than shop bought. A freezer already stocked with home-made passata meant that she had only a couple of options left.
Torn between ketchup and chutney, she chose chutney. Vague memories of her mother making a gallon of tomato ketchup some decades previously, coloured her decision. The resulting somewhat watery sauce had been ‘interesting’ in flavour but nothing like the stuff that, in those days, came in glass bottles that needed a good thump on the bottom to get it moving. Mum’s ketchup collection had hovered in the store cupboard for years, gradually making its way towards the dark at the back of the inaccessible top shelf, before mysteriously disappearing altogether at the turn of the century.
Telling herself she didn’t need to venture to the shops for ingredients, she retrieved some apples from the freebie fallers’ basket across the road and substituted dates for sultanas. Sugar, garlic and onions were always about. Mustard seed she had – because of the saag aloo that was a bit of a family favourite; cloves were waiting for bread sauce. Surprisingly, powdered ginger was in the cupboard too because… she couldn’t remember why. Ad lib-ing with one or two other ignored spices, she included a bag of chilli flakes too as an afterthought. Now, vinegar.. Recollecting seeing a big jar of it somewhere strange, she eventually located some malt pickling vinegar under the sink with the cleaning products. Raiding the glass recycling basket by the back door, she put a motley assortment of jars in the dishwasher. She was good to go!
The resulting concoction smelled quite nice. Her husband said so too, so it wasn’t her imagination. Although it had taken a lot longer to reduce than she’d thought it would, the consistency looked right as she ladled the brownish sludge into the jars, feeling very seasonal and a little bit domestic goddess-y. Rounding off the whole exercise with attractive labels that she’d designed and printed herself and colourful fabric lid covers, she arranged the chutneys on a shelf and planned to give some away as Christmas gifts.
A few weeks later, her husband was having some cheese and biscuits and expressing a wish to try her chutney. Choosing a rather attractive hexagonal jar from her hoard, she handed it to him with a smile on her face and a small glow of pride in her heart.
“Nnngghh.” A strangled noise escaped him as he chewed, his eyes bulging a little. Swallowing and taking a large gulp of beer to follow it down, he caught his breath and announced that it was ‘interesting’ (uh-oh) and possibly needed to ‘mature’ for a bit longer.
“Really?” She hadn’t actually tasted it herself, so she dropped a large blob on a cracker and took a bite. To say it was viciously acerbic with the heat of a thousand dragons, didn’t quite do it justice. She felt her gums shrivel; her tongue tried to crawl away. Valiantly, she swallowed, also washing it down with a swig or three of his beer.
“Yes, perhaps a bit longer.” She agreed in a small, slightly squeaky voice, abandoning ideas of gifting it. At least, not to anyone she liked.
Breaking out a jar of Branston, her husband sweetly shone a small ray of hope. “I read somewhere that the original Worcestershire sauce tasted so vile that they locked it in a cellar for a few years - and then discovered its aged deliciousness by accident.” He said, encouragingly.
But it was with a certain degree of sadness and a belated sympathy with her poor old Mum, that she relegated her chutneys to a little-used top shelf. A dark half-way house to a mysterious disappearance at some unknown future date probably, she thought, as she closed the cupboard door.
Never mind, her patio was going to be wall to wall strawberries next summer. Jam had only two ingredients. What could possibly go wrong?
A Baggy Dog Story
©Lucia Foster-Found www.luciafosterfound.com
The gadget that Lord and Master (LaM) had stuck in her ear registered a whopping 104. She dragged herself off to the bedroom and LaM thoughtfully switched on the TV for her;
“Look Sweetings, it’s that depressing musical you like – the one where Wolverine sings.”
And so, lying in bed, a little delirious, she’s idly watching the cast of Les Mis skipping out of the screen and reappearing on the duvet, to prance over the ridges made by her legs. During her recent bout of glandular fever, she imagined she saw Cher and Meryl Streep cavorting over the sitting room rug. Here we go again, she thinks.
A little later, the water glass is empty on her bedside table and she’s relieved to hear the back door slam. Heralding the return of LaM from his obligatory dog walk, usually her domain, along with most of the domestic tasks, LaM has manfully stepped into the breach caused by her inconvenient dose of the ‘flu. Quite what obscure strain it must be that’s laid her low she can’t imagine, having trotted off to the supermarket pharmacy for their jabs this and every winter, for years.
“Darling, please..” she croaks as he explodes into the bedroom, bellowing;
“DOG POO! Quite honestly, I think the world’s gone mad! I flicked it with a stick, away from the path and right underneath a patch of brambles that I’m fairly convinced no family will be picnicking under anytime soon. But no! That, apparently, is not good enough! I’m to gather it into a plastic bag, so that it can go to a landfill and take millions of years to break down! I thought that the idea was to cut back on plastics. At least my way, the elements can do their thing – in a few days it’ll be gone.” He took a breath.
“Thirsty – please…” feebly she pointed at the bedside table.
“Shouting at me, they were. Said they’d got it on their shoes, they did. But it wasn’t our dog’s poo – it must have been some other dog’s poo.”
LaM seized the glass and stomped off downstairs to the kitchen, returning with it full to the brim of cold water. She gulped it all down. It was, quite possibly, the most delicious drink of her entire life.
He continued as if there’d been no pause; “And on the way back to the car park, I came across a bush festooned with these bags, bulging with their noxious loads. Like some dystopian Christmas tree. How can that be an improvement on what I did – I ask you?”
Even in her sickly state, she thought of the rolls of biodegradable poo bags that she had in various colours, in various coat pockets. Never without them. But she didn’t have the strength to speak on the subject. In a couple of days’ time, she’d be well enough to debate it. Probably tell dear old LaM that his method was very à la Forestry Commission and quite de rigueur at some National Trust properties. But in the meantime she just wanted to put her hot dry cheek against her cool smooth pillow and sleep.
Ordinarily a huge fan, she also wished Hugh Jackman would take his troupe and troop off back into the television.
Awaking from her nap she found LaM perched on the edge of the bed, fresh glass of water in one hand and two paracetamol in the other. He helped her sit up and a damp flannel he must have placed whilst she slept, fell from her forehead. The dog had also sneaked into the bedroom, sliding from the floor and up onto the bed with remarkable skill, almost defying the laws of physics. Stroking her spaniel’s silky head with one hand, whilst the other was stroked by LaM was both soothing and gratifying by turn.
“I’ve ordered your favourite curry. Now, I know that you probably haven’t much appetite, but I read somewhere that spices are extremely good for colds and ‘flu. You should try to eat a little bit when I bring it back. I’ll leave the dog up here as she seems very concerned about you. As am I, Sweetings. Sorry about my rant earlier. I’ve found the poo bags and I’ll make sure that I’m armed with them for the morning walk. You’re not to worry about a thing.”
She wasn’t worried and, actually, the thought of a curry didn’t fill her with disgust. But somewhat removed from reality, she slid down her pillows as the dog sighed and snuggled up to her. LaM departed. Jean Valjean et al continued their performance on her bed, only now, she observed with slight detachment, they had tiny poo bags in their little hands..
But the dog was taking no notice of them and neither, in her pleasant delirium she decided, would she.
All I want for Christmas… is Christmas
© 2018 Lucia Foster-Found
“What’s on?” He asks, sitting down with his wife and daughters in front of the flat screen. Judging by their feverish anticipation, some momentous broadcast is imminent.
He should have guessed. The John Lewis Christmas commercial. A festive triumph as always; witty and poignant. But such excitement for an advert? In November? Mind you, the tree’s already twinkling in the corner...
When he was a kid, Christmas kicked off on 24th December. Sounds of frantic sellotaping ceased as his parents joined him for the ‘big film’ before bedtime. The year of the pogo-stick featured ‘Khartoum’, with, if memory served him, rather un-christmassy scenes of slaughter and decapitation. Happy days.
Sunday lunchtime: Salt baked sea bass. Whilst nice in its way, he felt a bit cheated out of his roast. And not entirely full.
“Dress rehearsal for Christmas. Very European to have fish.” Mummy announced. Dad was (very quietly) appalled. What with Brexit and everything, he wasn’t feeling particularly European just now. But he didn’t cook, couldn't cook, and it didn’t do to upset Mummy. Rather wear a wasp nest on your head than upset Mummy.
“Lovely…” he murmured, planning a clandestine visit to the Toby Carvery for a pre-Christmas stuff-up lunch. He sighed in pleasant anticipation.
Mummy was saying “Girls, Christmas shopping tomorrow? Get it done, no rushing around on Christmas Eve - like your Dad. “
Sadly true, every year. And he wasn’t alone. Vast numbers of men gathered, moving in herds, buying the wrong perfume and lingerie two sizes too small. They would not be seen together in such numbers again until 14th February.
“Cyber Monday, Daddy. Everyone does online shopping then, if they didn’t get it all on Black Friday.” His youngest, the go-to for all things interweb.
“Black Friday? Didn’t you go with your friends, love?” Curious, he hadn’t seen his wife weighed down with carrier bags.
“Yes! A fight broke out over discounted T.V.s. We saw it from the escalator. Vicious, so much blood.. When those women were arrested, we called it a day and went for Prosecco.“
Christmas Eve: “I’m off into town. Anyone coming?”
“No thanks love, expecting some deliveries. And the food shopping’s arriving.”
Dad left the house with its vague air of anxiety. Purposefully he walked along the High Street. The males were flocking, but that year he was a man apart, independent, free. A few purchases, a charitable donation and he was done. Cradling his poinsettia and carrier bag, it was dark when he arrived home. His children looked tragic. His wife had a mobile to her ear, shouting at some poor unfortunate as she paced.
His usually positive, confident wife hung up and crumpled. Dad held her close. Crying into his coat, she hiccupped;
“Christmas is ruined. We bought presents online, the tracking said they would arrive before today, but nothing’s come.” She snivelled into his lapel.
“And the things I got gift wrapped in the market – there’s tins of beans inside the boxes! I’ve been robbed.” She blubbed.
“And no sea bass in the groceries.” She wailed.
‘Every cloud’ He thought as he kissed the top of her head.
“Love, don’t cry. I’ll nip out and get your big fish before the shops shut.”
Mercifully, no sea bass were found that Christmas Eve. Turkeys, however, were abundant. Keeping the joy from his voice, he rang and broke the news to his wife. Like a deranged stockbroker she shouted “Buy! Buy!” Elated, he bought a bird and all the trimmings.
Next day, after his second Christmas dinner that week, Dad presented his forlorn family with their presents.
“Daddy, I love Pooh bear!” His youngest cooed.
“Pluto was always my favourite.” His oldest cuddled hers.
“Minnie. That’s what you used to call me.” Mummy smiled nostalgically.
“I’ve an idea.” Dad had their attention. Ideas were Mummy’s department. “We’ll have a Festive Fishy Christmas when the things arrive from China.”
“Really?” Mummy looked happier.
“Yup - something to look forward to. And there’s more. Because you know, Christmas isn’t about stuff. When you die, your last thoughts probably won’t be about stuff. They’ll be about love and memories. So, no tacky gift sets this year, we’re off to Disneyland Paris instead. We’ll squeeze it in before I have to eat a big fish.”
Squeals of delight followed and Dad felt a distinctly non-alcoholic Yuletide glow.
“And now, family-mine, a festive filmic treat from my own childhood. Whilst not quite as feelgood as the John Lewis ad, it definitely has something.” Mother and daughters smiled indulgently. Dad had, after all, rescued Christmas.
The word ‘KHARTOUM’ loomed large across the flat screen.. Happy days.
LIVE AND LET THRIVE
© 2018 Lucia Foster-Found
Tear-wet hair at her temples, she lies on the bed. Needing to cry great racking sobs and rail at the world, she is silent. Deafening grief won’t turn around that flight to Brisbane and bring her girl back. Lying on the bed, that morning vacated by her twenty-five year old baby, she turns her head and inhales the sleeping scent of her child.
No more binge-watching bad TV on a Sunday night till the small hours, knowing that the weekend will be over once they go to bed.
Or dressing in their one-sies to watch The Hunger Games. All of them. Again. Hands in a box of maltesers.
Or hugging her, warm and real and whole, not some image on a laptop.
“It won’t be so bad, Muzzy – we can Facetime.” Not so bad, just bloody awful.
Now that her eyes are open and the leaking tears slow, she looks up at the glow-in-the-dark stars they never quite got around to taking down. There are spiders there in all four corners of the room, too. Good job her daughter didn’t clock them. Well, no point in turfing them out of the room now there’s no-one else in residence. Live and let thrive.
A bedroom now spare and empty of her girl, but still filled with her presence. Along with three large bin bags. “Muz – didn’t get around to sorting out these.” She’d put Post-Its on them; Charity eBay Muzzy
How she thought ‘Muzzy’ was going to squeeze herself into clothes two sizes too small, she wasn’t sure. Maybe she’d had more faith in her mother’s ability to stick to a diet than was strictly realistic. The fashions were probably too young in any event.
Yesterday, her girl’d been writing on the sticky pads. Yesterday, she’d been packing, looking excited and painfully so much younger than her quarter century. Yesterday, sat just here on the bed, checking over her passport, ticket and money. Yesterday.. all my troubles seemed so far away.
One of the spiders scuttled out of its corner with surprising speed and made it half way across the ceiling, before changing its mind and scuttling back.
Now it looks as though they’re here to stay. Oh I believe in yesterday. The mournful ear-worm continued unabated in her head and her throat tightened.
The spider repeated its scuttling manoeuvre. “Which one are you?” Talking to herself now to distract the tears clamouring to fall again. “Ringo, John, Paul or – who’s that other one – can never remember his name..”
A voice calls up from downstairs. “Is that you love? Are you alright? Would you like a cup of tea?”
He is hurting too, but blessim, he is of the belief that a cup of tea, if not quite a panacea, will surely lessen the sting. And maybe he’s right she thinks, as she heaves herself off the bed and out of the door. Switching off the light, she remembers “George.. that’s him. G’night boys.”
Putting post in the bedside drawer of the spare room. Photographed and Watsapp-ed, it can be destroyed when her girl’s back for a visit next year, or maybe the year after. And her silver christening bangles have turned up. A bit random, but will she want to keep them – they’re a bit titchy? She puts them in the cupboard and they can be taken back to Oz next visit. Or not. Probably they’ll go into the eBay bag that she still hasn’t got around to sorting out.
Looking around; five spiders now, they’ve been joined by a smaller one, but is that a spiderling or a sightseer? It’s living near the light fitting. Well, they can’t be the Beatles anymore, which is fine, she never really liked them anyway. Always thought the Monkees were better. Controversial, probably.
P’raps they’re the Rolling Stones – aren’t there five of them? She’s not sure – and not sure that she’s very keen on the Stones either. Thinks they only did one good song, ‘Paint it Black’, but it’s in her top ten, so she forgives them for all the others.
It’s not so bad with Facetime, actually. At least she gets to see her daughter, her face and expressions as she talks. How did people cope years ago? Exchange flimsy, tear splashed air mail letters.. As many and as often as they were, they would never be enough.
She has a thought. Take That; there’s definitely 5 of them, or there were. Loved ‘Rule the World’, her and her girl’s special anthem from ‘Stardust’, their go-to movie when Christmas tree decorating every year. She’ll be doing that on her own this December. Those tears, always hovering.
She hasn’t been in the spare room for a while. Sitting on the bed, not knowing what to do with herself. Where to put herself. Surgery didn’t quite sort it and now there’s the smell of radiation in her nose. Impossible - it doesn’t smell of anything, but real or not, it’s there. Conversely, she can’t smell anything else. Bizarrely, everything tastes of cream, even her tears as she licks them from her deeply, unnaturally tanned top lip.
Vaguely aware that there are only four spiders. Robbie’s gone then.
“Love?” Blessim is calling up the stairs. His poor face wears a look of haunted apprehension.
“Yes, I’m just coming down.” He’s taken to driving her into the forest. Says the trees are good for her, something about positive ions? She goes because she’s no energy to say ‘no’. And it doesn’t really matter where she feels like she’s dying, home or away.
It crossed her mind to end it all, but she couldn’t summon the enthusiasm. And now the treatment’s over. With sympathy in their voices they’d said she’d feel worse before she felt better. They were right, but at least there’s the hope that she’ll feel well again, happy again, fancy a curry again.
She’s drifted into the spare room. The bin bags are still there. Events overtook her before she had a chance to adios them. It’s an ill wind, her own mother would have said - her daughter’s clothes actually look pretty good on her. They always did have similar taste.
Five spiders. Robbie’s back then. He looks bigger.
Blessim has discovered and embraced the ethos of de-cluttering. He’s cleared out his loft, his shed, his man drawer and the eBay bag. Blessim has also embraced car booting. It was a warm autumn and, feeling a bit better, she finds it pleasant sitting in a deckchair, beside the van, in a field, on a Sunday morning.
Putting the cash in the bedside drawer, next to the bangles, she thinks the room needs a bit of a dusting. Back down to four spiders. Robbie’s gone again then. That didn’t last long.
Only three left; leggy, smallish and medium. With no sign of any flies, she’s starting to suspect that the spiders might be eating each other. The grisly remains (no body, just legs) of the gangly one by the light fitting seems to proves her right. That’s grim.
And when she’d been to see them for her birthday – the band, not the spiders - there were only three by then. Wondering what happened to that other tall one, she laughs out loud. No.. unlikely they ate him.
Like childbirth, the memories of the treatment are starting to dwindle. Blessim’s expression has resumed its benign good humour, although he’s still insisting on a weekly walk in the forest. Sweet.
Her girl’s return is imminent! Making the spare bed with clean bedclothes scented with ‘fresh sky’, or so she hopes, the old sense of smell isn’t what it was. Ditto the old sense of taste, but she’s been cooking her daughter’s favourites and loading up the freezer; lasagne, chicken fajitas, chilli, cottage pie. KP and chief taster, Blessim hasn’t stopped smiling.
The strange tan has faded and she feels well. You can’t really see the scars and, on a small screen, neither could her daughter. And she herself had not guessed that the love that took her girl to the other side of the world had faded too. Seems they’d both been faketiming.
One spider left. Medium. Gary? He seems to be the last one standing and she feels it’s time he was free to make beautiful music outside in the Virginia creeper.
“Goodbye Gary. I love you, but if she clocks you tomorrow she’ll freak. And she’s Back for Good, Gary, my baby’s Back for Good!” In a voice ruined by radiation, she sings.
The Virgin Beater
It’s half past eight on a chilly winter’s morning and, self-conscious in her flowery gardening wellies and borrowed Barbour, she arrives at the pub. Space is at a premium as she shoehorns her mini between a shiny new Range Rover and a filthy ancient Landrover, where they sit together, companionable, eclectic. Shyly poking her head around the door of The Wheatsheaf, she looks for her friend amid the atmosphere within, thick with the sound of hilarity and aromas of coffee and waxed cotton.
Wading through a sea of panting spaniels and wagging Labradors to reach the bar, there’s friendly banter and introductions all round for the ‘Virgin Beater’. And a go on the sweepstake. Only two quid and she makes her choice based on insider information from the gamekeeper. The whispered number a mysterious calculation, apparently based on a look around the room and a peek out of the window.
Then it’s into the beaters’ trailer to sit on hay bales, watching the farm go by, but only knowing where she’s been as she looks over the back door. The veterans get comfortable, making a roll-up for the next drive, WAGs gossip and children chatter in their excitement. Even the dogs, terriers mainly and the odd cocker spaniel, have an expectant look about them and, nerves dispelled, she feels a club-like spirit of inclusion into this alien world.
Yomping through the fields, ploughed now, but frosty enough that she’s not carting half of Hampshire around on her boots, as bidden, she waves a flag made from a plastic feed bag and hazel stick. Calling “aye aye” like the others, she walks towards the copse, keeping in line with her neighbours as they drive the birds towards the guns waiting unseen behind the trees. The smaller skittish partridge are the first to take flight and head up and over the bare beech and oak, followed by a volley of shots. Exotic looking pheasants seem the last to fly. Reluctant to lift off, some leave it almost until the beaters tread upon them at the edge of the wood. Maybe they’re the smart ones, she thinks. Not gaining height enough to be considered safe or sporting, they’ll fly another day.
The pickers-up are doing their thing; working their dogs, retrieving the shot game. The guns too – many have dogs and the hillside is alive with activity as the birds are gathered, tied in braces and hung from the hooks in the game cart. The trailer bounces over the ruts in the tracks and the birds swing in unison as they’re towed away to the next drive.
And so the day goes on. Fresh air and exercise deep in hidden Hampshire’s countryside she’d glimpsed mainly from the road. The sun comes out and jackets are shed. A welcome stop for elevenses; tins and Tupperware full of coffee cake, brownies, egg sandwiches and sausage rolls miraculously appear. Hot chocolate for the kids and a ‘sloegasm’ for the grown-ups – pink, fizzy and delicious – whatever it was…
The hours evaporate and the day is suddenly over, as a weary but buoyant party reconvene at the pub. In the dusk, the game cart is the focus of attention, as the bag is discussed and a final count made. With a practiced eye and quick feel of the birds, the old timers choose the plumpest braces to take home with their beater’s packet. The remaining game is loaded into the butcher’s van, the temperature’s dropping and the gathering drifts back into the inn, where the log fire beckons.
The talk is all about the day now past; a butterfly drawn out by the sunshine, a young Labrador’s first retrieve, the high pigeon. Steaming bowls of slow cooked game stew, and dumplings fragrant with sage are consumed at the tables, whilst the dogs sleep beneath. Pints and shorts are quaffed, volumes increase and the serious consumers settle in for the evening.
The newest beater, replete with warm food and no longer a self-conscious stranger, bids farewell with promises to return. Heading for home she contemplates recipes for the brace of partridge that resides on the passenger’s seat, alongside her earnings. Also, minus the cost of a pint for the gamekeeper, are her winnings from the sweepstake - and she wonders “What price a terrier pup..?”
Manners Maketh White Van Man
LaM (Lord and Master) burst through the front door and slammed his keys on the table. He took off his coat and rammed it down over the hook in the hall. Inwardly I winced, envisaging a sewing repair job for which, quite frankly, I’m ill qualified.
I’m sat on the kitchen floor de-burring the spaniel. The painstaking process is endured with stoicism by my floppy-eared friend and, as it’s a not-infrequent occurrence, (the bursting, slamming and so forth), the dog and I look up with only a polite interest.
“Oh, bad day darling?” I ask. “Thump, thump” enquires the dog’s tail.
“Bloody white vans. There ought to be some sort of supremely difficult exam that white van man has to pass. Or better still, an incredibly slow speed restriction. Or both.”
The dog’s fur, now rid of all manner of ingenious seed carrying vehicles, had returned to its habitual smoothness. Stroking her was very soothing. I was able to make suitably sympathetic noises, whilst mentally checking the contents of the freezer to locate the peas that were to accompany the fish pie currently in the oven.
Encouraged to continue, he ranted “Overtook me on the dual carriageway at god-knows-what-speed, then realised that it needed to take the next turning off, so slammed on the breaks just in front of me and, well, I nearly died!” Love him and his sense of the dramatic.
LaM stepped over the dog, poured himself a scotch and sat down at the kitchen table. Dutiful dog went to greet him, presenting her head on his knee to be stroked. The recuperative combination of Famous Grouse and soft silky fur, restored his sense of proportion.
“Well, perhaps that’s a bit strong - and by the way, dinner smells delicious, but I did have to brake very hard. I put it down to a combination of dry roads, good tyres and that driving course thingy, that I didn’t have to do a dangerous evasive manoeuvre.”
A hint of pride had crept into his voice. Evidently he had no memory of the fact that the reason he’d been on ‘that driving course thingy’ was as a result of his speeding..
“I’m happy that you made it home in one piece, darling.” And I was. He was an irascible old stick, but he was my irascible old stick. Plus, there were a whole stack of manly chores lined up for his weekend’s spare moments, no doubt shoehorned between the round of golf on Saturday morning and the rugby international on Sunday afternoon.
“On the whole, though, I’d have to say that I find van and lorry drivers to be some of the most courteous and considerate drivers on the road. They pull over on these narrow country lanes and put their hand up in thanks when I do the same.” I commented mildly, as I retrieved the peas from the freezer and popped them in the microwave.
“That’s because you rarely drive more than a 10 mile radius of the village, my darling, and hardly ever leave Hampshire. Your world is in miniature, sweetings.”
A fair point, if a little patronisingly delivered, I had to concede. I’ve got to a certain age and know what I like. And what I like is my home county, Hampshire. I rarely venture forth across its borders and make no excuses for that. With its cities, towns, villages, beautiful countryside, rivers and seaside – it was indeed a wonderful world in miniature – and was all I needed. But I pressed on regardless.
“Today, for example, a little old lady cut right across my side of the road and proceeded in a series of lurches, kangaroo-stylie, as she turned up Parson’s Lane. I had to slam on my brakes, and instead of putting her hand up to say ‘sorry’, which would have been nice, she just glared at me as if I was a dangerous driver and everything wrong in her world was now my fault.”
“Isolated incident.” LaM was dismissive. But actually, now that I gave it some thought, that sort of thing happened quite a lot in my world.
Perfectly lovely, smiley, sweet natured old dears of the village got behind the wheels of their cars and assumed a scowling, slightly demonic expression, coupled with ‘interesting’ driving techniques. Was it, to cut them some slack, merely a lessening of awareness brought on by their diminishing faculties?
Note to self as I opened the oven; keep close eye on LaM, who, let’s face it, wasn’t in the first flush of youth.
“No – you cannot speak of the ignorance and recklessness of white van man in the same breath as our friends and neighbours.“ he said with a grandiose finality.
The dishing up of the fish pie rather brought the conversation to a natural end.
The following afternoon, after he returned from the golfing expedition, LaM offered to drive me into town. His destination, a DIY store (remember the aforementioned manly chores?) was next to the garden centre that I needed to visit. Returning, loaded up with bags of Feed&Weed and quick set cement, we were pootling along the road to our house. Drawing up behind a small cordoned off section of roadworks on our side of the road, due to some much needed superfast broadband for our village, we waited for the flow of traffic to break so that we could move on.
We waited. LaM tutted. We waited some more. He tapped his fingers on the steering wheel. A steady stream of cars continued towards us with no sign of letting up.
“Oh for goodness’ sake!” LaM had reached the end of his (rather short) tether “Will no one stop and let us through?” he shouted at no one in particular.
As if by magic, the next vehicle approaching stopped and flashed his lights. It was a white van.
“Look darling, that white van has stopped and the nice man is letting you through. Isn’t that kind and helpful of him?” The irony was apparently not lost on LaM, who harrumphed and mumbled something that sounded like “One swallow doth not a summer make.”
As he went to pull away, already raising a hand in thanks to the smiley white van man, LaM was forced to slam on the brakes. Weed & feed and quick set cement slid forward and collided with the backs of our seats, as we were overtaken from behind by an elderly couple in a brand new SUV. From their lofty perch, manufactured somewhere in the Pacific rim, they grimaced at LaM and white van man both, as they cut across our path and roared away.
White van man shrugged and raised his hands, palm up as we drove past him, with a cheery wave from me and a shake of his head in utter disbelief from LaM.
LaM’s absolute certainty in the-way-things-are-supposed-to-be had been somewhat shaken, so I allowed myself the merest of gloats as I patted the dear old stick’s leg.
“Welcome to my world, darling.”