Friday, 25 December 2015

Happy Christmas

The big day is upon us and I wish everyone a jolly day that contains, good food, merriment and a family that gels on well together in confined spaces.
Last night most of Pavers Place turned out for the traditional Christmas Eve church service, led by an enthusiastic Vicar Shane and assisted by his dog Joe, who howled all the way through Away in a Manger. Garth and Mand turned up wearing matching flip flops, Reg and Marg brought sausage rolls and pigs in blankets to share at the end of the service and Catherine provided mince pies. The group were a happy bunch and by the end of the night Tom had been invited to dinner with Garth, Mand and Catherine, who would be sitting down at Ken’s place after dropping in for a festive sherry with Suzy and Roger. I’m not sure Ken knows about his extra guest but I’m sure he would say his usual, ‘No Worries’.
I will be heading to the Kent coast for my Christmas but I’m sure the street will manage fine without me overseeing the situation, after all, Thanet has it's own residents for me to cast my beady eye over.


Saturday, 19 December 2015

Secret Santa

Why oh why was I drawn into it? I’ve never agreed with it, I don’t know who invented the dreadful ritual, I bet it was someone in America. Not that I have anything against Americans, I just don’t want to have to embrace every celebration that they have. I tolerate Halloween, but Secret Santa is a step too far.
Anyway, I said yes. I must have been at a weak point, and I was asked by Mand, who has been a bit down in the mouth lately and has taken to saying ‘like’ a lot less. I should be pleased about that but I do miss it, in a way, it was an idiosyncrasy that I had grown to…!
The Secret Santa had been an idea of Baz, he wanted everyone to take part who were regulars at his functions throughout the year. The giving of the wrapped tat was to be the focus for the Christmas event, an evening of carol singing in the pub, a buffet, mince pies, mulled wine and gifts. I cannot reveal who the recipient of my gift was in case you feel tempted to tell them and then it would spoil the essence of the evening, but I can say that they were extraordinarily easy to buy for.
The evening was very pleasant, everyone was in lively spirits and both the food and singing were of a good standard. Then came the present opening, it was one of those uncomfortable occasions, everyone was handed their gift but took it in turns to open them, so we could all gauge the reaction.
Most of the presents were of the tame variety that no one could take offence at, socks or mugs for the men and scarves or toiletries for the woman. Jacinta was given a vegetarian cookbook, ‘A 100 ways with a carrot’, a clear re-gift from the meat raffle, although Reg didn’t bother with any secrecy, ‘I had to do something with it, me and Marg we like our meat, and no mistake’.

Reg was given a gnome holding a string of sausages, which did make him smile, and Garth was delighted with his sequin covered flip-flops, as was Mand who was beaming at his positive reaction. The book for Ken advising the best way to relax was hardly needed, but well chosen by the giver; Tom was very excited about his gift of a bag for life and a jar of pickled eggs, much more so than anyone could have imagined.

There were three of us in the circle of doom left to see what Secret Santa had in store. Raphe seemed initially pleased that it was clearly a book, but was less than enthusiastic to receive the autobiography of Gerry Halliwell, previously known as Ginger Spice, smiling through gritted teeth I could hear him hissing at Ian, ’That’s it, I’ve finally had enough, next year it goes’. I can only assume he means his hair colour.
Mand looked like an excited child as she too realised it was a book but her face almost crumpled into tears when she revealed the title, ‘How to attract and keep a man’. The whole group went silent, and I hoped the person who had chosen the present felt guilty about their lack of tact. However, things immediately improved for Mand when Garth swept across the circle, took the book from her hands and threw his arms around her, ‘You don’t need that’, he said, ‘You’ve got me.’ It was like watching a smaltzy channel 5 Christmas film and we all clapped and cheered.
Then it was my turn, no book was hiding in this wrapping and my stomach lurched as I carefully pulled off the tape. The plastic false nose, glasses and moustache stared back at me, as the pair of toy binoculars fell from the packaging onto the floor. I managed a slight smile as I looked around the group. ‘Are you saying that you think I spy on you?’ The response was unanimous, ‘Oh yes, curtain twitcher.’ I was mortified.

Sunday, 13 December 2015

Lionel Blair (the cat) trashes Christmas

Christmas gets closer as each day passes and the shops are packed to the hilt with tinsel, turkeys and cake. The problem with the shops stocking all types of goodies is that you end up buying things that at all other times of year you would not turn a hair at. I don’t even like Christmas or the wanton waste of money spent on too much food that we won’t eat, and yet I still found myself buying some vacuum packed chestnuts. I have no idea what to do with them and they will probably stay in my cupboard until the next Harvest Festival at Pavers Primary. Enough of my culinary conundrums, there have been more serious problems in the street, it would appear that Lionel Blair has a liking for Christmas Trees.
Lionel Blair, you may recall, is the gender confused cat that Ian and Raphe adopted in October. He has settled down significantly and they have now found that he will sleep quite easily at night to the soothing sounds of Enya, a folk artist from the eighties who could put you in a coma with a couple of trills and sings as though she could be drifting there herself.
Ian and Raphe are delighted and feel he completes the family unit, making this Christmas one to saviour. This will also be the first Christmas they will be spending together with no other extended family, Raphe’s mother having met a toy boy on her coach journey to Bognor in the summer, a Spanish lad called Pedro who was the very attentive waiter. She is travelling to meet his family next week; but I digress.
Raphe’s mission was to style his home with the Christmas spirit throughout, this involved copious amounts of tinsel, greenery sprayed gold and silver, baubles, glass ornaments and five trees. That’s right, you did read that correctly, five trees. One for the hall, one for the lounge, one for outside, a small one for the conservatory and a mini tree to stand beside Lionel Blair’s food bowl. I do know that they have extended the house a little at the back and also installed the said conservatory but they are still living in a Victorian terrace, I can only imagine how cramped it will be.
The decoration took a full weekend, furniture was moved to fit in the trees, gold and silver paint was sprayed onto sprigs of holly and conifer bought from the market and lights were unravelled and tested; by Sunday evening the transformation was complete and displayed on Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
Catherine and Mand had been invited round for a real life viewing and they discussed it excitedly afterwards before returning to their homes. The excitement was fuelled by rather a large number of mulled wines, Catherine was sober enough to express her concerns about the cost of electricity with that number of lights, even Lionel Blair’s tree was adorned.
On Monday morning Raphe seemed very unhappy, he was ringing his hands as he spoke to Jacinta and Ken, and looked close to tears.
‘He pulled all of the baubles off of his own tree, then carried on in the lounge before starting on the one in the hall. I didn’t even think cats liked chocolate, but he’s eaten all of the hanging ones covered in silver foil and had started on a net of chocolate coins.’
Jacinta was looking sympathetic but it was clear to see that Ken was on the verge of laughing.
‘Did you find all this when you woke up today?’ she seemed genuinely interested.
‘No, that’s the worst of it, Ian is fuming, he woke us up at two o’clock, howling at the top of his voice, he was stuck half way up the tree having caught his collar on a branch. I had to clear up, Ian went back to bed, he hasn’t spoken to me this morning. It’s always the same when Lionel Blair plays up, suddenly he becomes my cat’.
At this point Raphe burst into tears and Ken burst into laughter, Jacinta gave one a dig in the ribs whilst putting her arms around the other.
When she relayed the story to Prithpal that evening they both agreed that their choice of pet had been a good one, cats may have some qualities to redeem themselves but you could rely on chickens not to trash your Christmas trees and provide you with fresh eggs, they couldn’t be more perfect.

Sunday, 6 December 2015

Christmas Spirit

The street has gone Christmas mad. Blackpool illuminations has nothing on us; if that lonely man in the moon in the Sainsbury advert is looking down to earth he would certainly see Pavers Place. Ken started it, he bought one of those hideous inflatable snowmen that blow about irrationally in the wind, looking like a giant white sausage skin that has been caught above an air vent. It stands just inside the frontage to the shop but due to Hurricane Desmond it whips at any poor soul that happens to be walking past. He followed that with a few pathetic strands of lights wrapped around the bush at the front of Garth’s house which still protrudes threateningly into the path.
Reg was torn between being infuriated about the lights on the bush, ‘I think he’s mocking me’, and full of derision about the lacklustre display, ‘Call those Christmas lights?’
Harry and Gary have made space in the Spar for a full blown Christmas tree, the first time they had done this, usually they suspend paper decorations from the ceiling. The tree has caused offence to Tom, whose seat had been removed to make room for the tree, he now spends time prowling around the shop leaning against the freezer cabinets or nestled in the corner beside the household goods.
Even Jacinta and Prithpal had strung some lights around the conifer in their garden and Ian and Raphe have hung a Christmas wreath on the front door. Raphe made it at a class he had attended last Saturday and was so enamoured by the success that he is busily knocking together a few more, to sell at the school’s Christmas fayre next week.
The only houses as yet unadorned are mine (I don’t do Christmas), Mand, who is still grieving after Garth gave the plastic tiara to Suzy, and Margaret and Reg, apparently these are still in the planning stage.
Although Mand has been mooning about since the Egg Tuck In Trial she has taken solace from the fact that Garth is back in flip-flops, a sure sign that he has parted company with Daphne. Roger and Suzy also seem to be back on track after he spent a night in the car after the event. I don’t know what time he bedded down into the Micra, but it was funny seeing him emerge the next day looking dishevelled and tired. It also reassured Suzy’s friends that far from being the down trodden women she was actually the ultimate keeper of the keys, they have been putting on public displays of affection ever since.
Reg spent a lot of time up a ladder on Friday at the front of his house, an unwise decision in this wind. Margaret stood at the bottom unravelling strings of lights, when she wasn’t running to catch the sheets of plans that were continually blowing down the road. From my lounge I could hear him shouting instructions at her, her voice in return was becoming more and more shrill. He finally managed to erect the frame of a Father Christmas sitting on a sleigh with a couple of reindeer pulling it along, which when switched on revealed a multi-colour flashing light display, enough to send anyone of a delicate nature into a full blown migraine. This was followed by a real Christmas tree in the small front garden which had further lights, beside which stood a couple of elves and a snowman. The scene was complete and there was only one word suitable to describe it – gaudy.
Reg was completely emerged in the Christmas spirit and invited all the neighbours to gather around his lights that night to partake of a glass of mulled wine, some homemade sausage rolls and a mince pie. Ken was magnanimous in his praise to Reg for all the effort he had put into the house, but he did point out the cost of the lights, both financial and environmental.
‘You’re lights are shiny for sure, but I’m harnessing the power of the wind, it’s costing me nothing.’
Last night Hurricane Desmond decided that he’d had enough of supporting the inflatable snowman and with a huge gust removed it from its fixings and blew it across the road. Reg woke up to find his Father Christmas sporting a white nylon covering that had completely entangled around the sleigh and the reindeer. The wind being too fierce for Margaret to let him recover it, his display will have to sit dormant until things calm down. When I saw him in the street heading towards Kens his face was very red and angry looking, I’ve a feeling he was harnessing his own wind and was intending to expel it in the barbers direction; I am in awe of the fleeting nature of the Christmas spirit.




Sunday, 29 November 2015

The Egg Tuck In Trial

Now that the cold weather is starting to engulf us I am spender longer and longer avoiding television programmes that have placed unknown celebrities in the jungle. Everyone in the street seems to be a fan and whenever I bump into someone they want to discuss the antics of a Lady, who eats unmentionable parts of an animal with a knife and fork whilst wearing pearls. Harry and Gary, not a pair to miss a marketing idea, have taken the opportunity to promote their new range of meats which include ostrich steaks, kangaroo sausages and wildebeest burgers. Taking inspiration from the Lady in the jungle they are offering a free plastic tiara to those buying more than one of the exotic items.
Tom could see no profit in the idea. ‘You’re mad investing in that novelty meat, no one round here will buy it, and you’ve cut down on the frozen roast dinners, not thinking of your regulars.’
Gary shot Tom a look, he had given up explaining that the Spar was not there purely to cater to his needs.
Reg was much more impressed, being a keen meat eater he was willing to try the steaks, sausages and burgers and was delighted to be able to give Margaret the tiara to wear whilst she was cooking, a move I felt may come back to haunt him.
For a vegetarian Suzy seem to take an unhealthy interest in the unusual meat, this may have been encouraged by Garth, who was standing by the freezer explaining that he had been travelling in his younger days and eaten a number of less ordinary foods.
‘I’ve eaten wild dog and alligator, both tough but quite tasty.’
Suzy, who for once had left the baby with Roger was hanging on his every word.
‘I’ve even eaten an ostrich egg, scrambled it was, kept me filled up for the whole day’.
The spell surrounding the two was broken when Tom piped up in response to this boast, ‘That’s rubbish, an ostrich egg is the size of twenty four hens eggs, two dozen, no one could eat all of that.’
Garth looked angry at being disturbed by Tom, but even more annoyed that his honesty had been called into question.
‘Look, old man, if I say I ate an ostrich egg, then I did. Just mind your own business.’
This streak of rudeness was unlike Garth and he reddened as he noticed that Suzy looked uncomfortable at the exchange; quick to diffuse any tension in the shop Gary jumped in with an idea to unite the group.
‘I know, why we don’t have a challenge, the egg tuck in trial. I’ll donate the ingredients and you two can compete, see which one of you can eat the most scrambled egg, we’ll start with twelve eggs each. The winner can chose a pack of meat from the jungle range, and a free tiara.’
Tom, as ever willing to get free food agreed immediately and spurred on by Suzy’s smile Garth also put himself forward. A quick ring round ensured that the event could be held the next day in the Short and Curlies, with Gary leading proceedings.
Word spreads like wild fire in this road and the next lunchtime saw a number of residents gathered for the trial, I went along but only as an excuse to miss the Saturday Christmas shopping crowds.
The pub smelt distinctly eggy as we waited for the two platters to be brought forward by a smiling Shirl. Gary had rang his friend at the local press, ensuring publicity for both the shop and the pub. Suzy had managed to persuade Roger to take her along for the event, although it was clear he was less than impressed and Mand, Daphne and Catherine hung around Garth, making it unclear to an onlooker which of the women partnered him.
At one o’clock, after a short speech by Gary, the pub bell rang and the two men began to eat. Tom, clearly believing that speed was the secret to success, shovelled the egg into his mouth, on the other table Garth took a more measured approach. The eating commenced for five minutes when Tom began to slow down, Garth continued at a steady pace and was announced the winner when his opponent downed his fork and rushed to the toilet. He picked the wildebeest burgers as a prize but also took the plastic tiara which he quickly unwrapped, with a big grin on his face he stepped over to Suzy and placed the plastic adornment on her head.
Roger hissed at her to take it off at once, as Daphne swept out of the pub, followed by a forlorn looking Mand. Garth looked from an angry faced Roger to the door that had banged shut, the atmosphere was almost cake like. As everyone started to look down or shuffle, the door of the pub swung open and in marched a pale looking Reg, ‘I’ve been looking for you’, he shouted at an alarmed Gary.
‘I’ve been here’, he said, ‘doing the egg tuck in trial.’
‘Trial? I’ll give you trial. Do you know what that meat has done to my stomach? And as for my Marg, she’s almost lost a stone in weight, that’s not all, that tiara has taken clumps out of her hair, she’s as bald as a coot’.
Garth used this diversion as an excuse to flee, followed by Roger dragging Suzy by her arm. At this point I was torn, follow them to see what happened or stay in the pub? The pub won, Reg was going to ring the Sun and the local reporter was taking pictures, better than any TV jungle.




Sunday, 22 November 2015

Casually Clod Hopping at the Short & Curlies

Ever since Baz and Shirl moved into the Short and Curlies the function room at the back of the pub has been a space given over to clutter. A selection of mismatched chairs and tables sit alongside the walls, surrounded by old bingo balls from a machine long defunct, shabby curtains, a few reams of bunting and a no longer shiny glitter ball. This year however the room was given a makeover and the inaugural opening event was a fish and chip supper, followed by a ballroom class and dance; although why anyone would want to trip the light fantastic on top of a greasy dinner is beyond me.
Shirl was beside herself with excitement, not only would she get to wear a low cut, slashed to the thigh dress, but she would be Pavers Place very own Tess Daly/Darcy Bussell. Shane the vicar had been roped in to join Shirl to judge the most improved dancer of the evening, the prize being a glamour makeover at the hands of Daphne for the lady and a new haircut by Ken for the man.
Everyone in the street had been persuaded to pay the five pounds and join in the fun for the evening, even I had succumbed to a ticket. Gary and Harry had donated a few gifts for a raffle and many teachers and parents from the school were also going to be in attendance.
On the morning of the dance Reg was boasting to Catherine about his prowess on the dance floor, he and Margaret had won a dance competition at Butlins in 1984 and he felt that they would have lost none of their skill. Roger stopped to join in the conversation, Suzy had persuaded him to go along for the evening, much against his wishes, but he was more concerned if he won. He already had hair that could best be described as wayward, Ken’s hands on it could lead to all sorts of problems, and after all, he had a responsible job to hold down. Reg reassured him that there was little chance of that happening.
The makeover of the function room had been impressive, the walls were newly whitewashed and bright pictures adorned them, picking out the colours of the curtains at the windows. My own description would extend to the word gaudy, but it was definitely an improvement. Shirl and Baz had decided to keep the mismatched furniture telling everyone on arrival that ‘shabby chic’ was very 'in'. Reg failed in his attempt at whispering, ‘Shabby’s about right’ to Margaret, who rewarded his tactlessness with a jab in the ribs.
Once the fish and chips had been consumed Shirl took to the microphone to announce the start of the evening’s entertainment. There would be a dance lesson led by a local teacher, Elaine Preeps, after this there would be an intermission during which time there would be an exhibition dance by two local champions. At this point I could see Reg go very red and become suddenly animated, he grinned at Margaret who looked terrified; as Shirl said nothing further they got up with everyone else to take the dance lesson. After a swift waltz and a few basic cha cha steps the dancers spent some time practicing, before the dance off later in the evening.
Everyone sat down and Shirl picked up the microphone, as she did so Reg started to stand, straightening his tie and adjusting his jacket. Margaret was desperately pulling at his arm, trying to get him to sit down, then Shirl made the announcement.
‘We are delighted this evening to welcome to the dance floor, our very own championship dancers that also live in Pavers Place; performing the samba, followed by the jive, please welcome Ian and Raphe.’
Gliding across the floor they effortlessly performed the two dances. I say this, however I did spend a considerable amount of time watching Reg, whose mouth seemed to be moving but no words were coming out. He was redder than I have ever seen him and although Margaret was still tugging at his arm he actually slumped into the chair.
At the end of the dance the applause was rapturous and I wasn’t the only person who stood to show my appreciation. Reg had recovered his composure and did join in with the clapping. As the noise died down I could see Daphne lean over to Garth and give him her view on proceedings.

‘It’s a shame that Raphe is too good to win the prize, I could certainly do something with that skin.’ I can only hope that she keeps that particular gem to herself.