Friday, 30 October 2015

Pumpkin Pandemonium

The clocks went back on Sunday and true to form Ken was left in complete confusion when at 8 o’clock on Monday morning he turned up for work to no customers. This was a rare event for him at the start of the week, the men in the surrounding area seem to have a follicle based growth spurt over most weekends and therefore it is Ken’s busiest day. When Catherine saw him in the shop so early, looking bemused, she as usual came to his rescue. He looked genuinely mournful that he had missed out on an hour’s sleep so he bedded down on her sofa in an attempt to catch up, as a consequence he was late for the queue that had formed outside the door to the barbers.
It has also been half term and everywhere I have looked this week adults and children have been carrying pumpkins of various shapes and sizes. The shops have been full of them, even Harry and Gary had a reasonable display. I was therefore somewhat bemused by the news story on the BBC that claimed there was a shortage in pumpkins and suggesting that people use a turnip instead. I know I am no Alan Titchmarsh but I doubt even he could grow a turnip big enough to carve, the two are barely worthy of comparison, that’s like saying we have run out of Huskies to pull the sleigh, let’s use a Yorkshire Terriers instead – ludicrous.
However, the shortage aside Gary and Harry had decided to run a pumpkin carving competition, this was open to children with the proviso that they drew the design and enlisted the help of an adult to carve it. I strongly disagree with the Halloween festival, it is far too American for me, but I was impressed with the health and safety aspect of these guidelines issued by the brothers at the Spar. It was also clear from that statement that this was a competition for children so Tom could not get in on the act, although he had been asked to help judge the winning pumpkin.
Jacinta’s three children were very excited about the prospect of designing a winning pumpkin face and they visited a pick your own pumpkin farm as a day out during the week. Suzy went along with Molly, who is just starting to walk, she looked quite sweet in her orange all in one winter suit with matching wellies, although I was concerned that if she sat down in the field she could easily be mistaken as a pumpkin.
The two families returned later in the day with a very flustered looking Jacinta, all of the children had managed to get at least two pumpkins and Suzy even had a small specimen, I assume for Molly. Jacinta’s son Manjit however looked very sulky and I could see why. His head was sticking out of the top of a black bin bag, the rest covering his small frame. He cast Jacinta an angry looked as he climbed out of the car and scurried into the house, she rolled her eyes heavenward as if asking for some celestial intervention.
The families took their pumpkin entries to the Spar yesterday, the judging was to commence at 4. Manjit had cheered up immensely, enough to be bragging to Tom about the mud slide that he had helped to create at the pumpkin farm. ‘It was brilliant’, he said, ‘I found it by accident, but once I did loads of other kids joined in. Epic.’ He fell quiet when Jacinta’s eyes found his, the situation had not been quite so epic for her, especially when the mothers of the other boys realised that it was her son who had initiated the make shift adventure.
The judging was short but sweet, the winning entry by a little girl called Heidi Clam, her family had moved into the neighbouring road quite recently so her parents were delighted. Prithpal on the other hand was fuming, he had carefully carved all three pumpkins and was sporting a blister to prove it. He demanded to know from Tom why his entries had not been chosen.
‘Too good mate’, explained a smug Tom, ‘ You forgot they were supposed to be made by kids, that Michelangelo bloke could have done those pumpkins.’ He pointed to the winning entry, as if to make his point, ‘You see that there? Clearly carved by a Clam!’
Prithpal stared at the winner, back to his blister and then to his children. ‘Come on you lot, get your pumpkins, we’ve got some soup to make’, and with that they all trooped out of the shop.


Sunday, 25 October 2015

The Harvest Festival

Every year there is a harvest festival at Pavers Primary, old tins of beans are routed out from the back of cupboards and the odd packet of cuppa soup turns up on the display, which adorns the stage in the main hall. Along with the letter requesting donations there is a cut off slip at the bottom asking for names of people who would benefit from the food.
I overheard Mrs Parks, the head teacher, talking to Baz about last year’s offerings, ‘It was a particularly poor show, someone had sent in a bag of offal which seeped all over the vegetables and one child brought in one Oxo cube. By the time the hymns were over the kidneys had begun to smell, the whole scene looked like a macabre art exhibition that had reached out to the other senses; three of the children were sick and one of my junior members of staff fainted.’
Baz nodded his head in sympathy, she had no need to worry this year, he had reassured her, as ambassadors of the school he and Shirl were planning an impressive gift that could be exhibited centre stage.
More than one of us in the street had a fair inkling that Tom had been the offal offerer, he often managed to get a buy one get one free bag from the butchers in the high street, they seemed keen to offload them on Saturday afternoons. He had tried to pass a bag onto me on more than one occasion and I know he had forced some on Suzy, even though she had tried to tell him she was a vegetarian.
I managed to dig out a tin of peas and some of that reconstituted mashed potato that had been hanging around at the back of the cupboard for years. It was past its sell by date but surely if can’t go off, it’s a powder! I did toy with contributing a bath and talc set that I had won at the school fete in the summer, but I suppose that is hardly harvest themed, I’ll save that to donate for the Christmas fair.
The people in the street had some strange views on the food to donate although all doing so in kindness, Ken had offered a couple of cans of tinned goat, Jacinta was making a large batch of samosas and Margaret was sending in a couple of knitted tea cosies.
I could think of no one to name as someone needing to receive the food so did not return my slip to the school, however I found out from Ian that Tom knew a number of people and would be grateful if I would pass on my letter to him. I was happy to do this but admit to being more than a little suspicious when later that week Tom was writing his name over and over in different pens and in different styles on a pad in the Spar.
‘Tom, I keep that pad in case I need to note something down from the customers, what are you doing with it?’ Harry was always on the ball with Tom, having been subject to a number of his scams over the years.
‘Just practising’, said Tom, ‘I’ve never been happy with my handwriting, and they do say it’s never too late to change’.
On the day of the festival Baz and Shirl turned up with the biggest basket of fruit you have ever seen. It was very generous of them but not one of the offerings could have been harvested in Britain. Mrs Parks was very gracious in her gratitude and sure enough the fruit took pride of place centre stage. The rest of the display was rather meagre and the staff had done their best to bulk it out with foliage from the school garden.
After ‘We plough the fields and scatter’, Mrs Parks got up to make a speech thanking the children, the staff, the parents and anyone else she could think of, she was going to hand over to Shane the vicar for a few words but before she did so she made a surprise announcement.
‘Unfortunately this will be the last year that we will hold a Harvest Festival at Pavers Place in which we distribute foods. We have had significantly more names of people who would benefit from the donation than actual food to give. We shall however still hold a Harvest Service.’
She sat down looking a little flustered and Shane took to the stand.
Jacinta is on the PTA and she revealed later that there had been 50 names in the hat for donations, however, once they had been looked at properly there were in fact only 41 different people, a certain Tom Evans had appeared 10 times.
‘It was annoying’, admitted Jacinta, ‘ but at least there was no blood on the cauliflower this year’.

Sunday, 18 October 2015

Phonetically Speaking

It's been a quiet week in Pavers Place, most people have been scurrying around trying to avoid the rain. Diets have been forgotten in the sudden onslaught of the cold weather and the 5p plastic bag fiasco has completely died a death.
Catherine’s money making attempts have gone through a significant slump, the aloe vera market has slowed down as people start saving pennies for the next  expensive festival and no one is interested in being hypnotised at the moment; as a consequence she decided to do some temp work.
Convinced that she could turn her hand to anything, and desperate to make some quick money Catherine signed up with a recruitment agency early Monday morning, by Tuesday she was working in a call centre on the late shift in a hut on a farm in rural Kent.
 ‘It's down a horrid country lane’, she complained to Jacinta after her first day, 'I'm not happy when there is no middle of the road, I was nearly run into a ditch  by a tractor on the way there’. As a nervous driver who had only just gotten to grips with turning right, Jacinta was full of sympathy.
The next day the only chair available was one with a wonky seat at a desk with very few letters left on the computer keyboard, and a head set that came fully equipped with its own bacteria and what looked like someone else's ear wax.Catherine was distraught as she explained the situation to a sympathetic Ken.
'The thing is I don't want to be a quitter, I have always been a can- do person, this can’t beat me.'
Armed with industrial strength antibacterial wipes, a cushion and a print out of the QWERTY key board, Catherine returned to the call centre the next day, on arrival she was called into the office.

'I finished my stint at the call centre, it wasn't really for me.' Mand, who had worked in the same office since leaving school had been impressed that Catherine had been willing to go somewhere she didn’t know in the first place. 
 'Didn't you like it?’
'I don’t think they liked me, I got told off today because I didn’t know the phonetic alphabet.'
Mand looked shocked, she had her friend down as very brainy, ' You don't know a for apple and b for banana', she sounded the letters as she spoke.
At last Catherine felt cheerier, ' Not the sounds of the letters, the phonetic alphabet, you know like alpha, bravo, when you tell someone your postcode you say delta instead of d'.
She could have been speaking a foreign language, Mand looked completely mystified, Catherine tried to explain further. 'If you had to tell someone your surname and they couldn’t understand what letters you were telling them, what would you say to help?'
Finally understanding the game Mand spelt out her surname, 'S for sausage, U for umbrella, T for teeth, O for orange and N for knee, so I like know my phonetic alphabet, right ?'
Not wishing to shatter her friend’s confidence Catherine agreed.
The next day she started on the reception in a car showroom, all the salesman called her darling and babe, it was quite irritating at first but no one cared that she said K for kangaroo, this was definitely a much better job.

Saturday, 10 October 2015

Bag For Life

This week the country threw its hands up in horror at the thought of paying 5p for a plastic bag. I know I’m being facetious because a lot of people (like me) do agree with it, but so many others have been upset.
Harry and Gary in the Spar were more annoyed than most because the charge is only 5p, for months now their plastic bags have been 10p, although they did have a free ‘bag for life’ campaign before they introduced the levy. Now that the government have set the rate at 5p there has been quite a hoo ha about whether they should reduce their charge or not.
‘No, I’m not doing it, if the government want to be weak that’s up to them, I for one am sticking to my guns.’ Tom was sitting in the shop on the stool listening to Gary getting more and more het up, the issue didn’t arise for him because he had been collecting old plastic bags for years; in fact he had set up a stall outside the Spar selling his bags for 5p when they had started charging, until he had been moved on by an irate Harry.
‘I think you will have trouble, and we all know who from.’
The ‘who from’ in question was Reg, he had been outraged by the new charge, especially when Margaret had bought an expensive dress for ladies night at the lodge, only to be told she would have to pay 5p for the bag to carry it home in. He refused to pay the extra amount, even though the dress had cost over £100 and Margaret have offered the five pence piece. Getting redder and redder and more irate by the minute he had finally been escorted from the shop by the security guards, Margaret scurrying behind him, the dress bundled and bagless in her arms. The torrential rain they faced when exiting the shop hadn’t helped the situation, by the time they arrived back in the street the dress resembled a bedraggled cloth and Margaret was in tears.
‘The first thing I’m doing when I get in that house is ring my solicitor, I’m suing for assault and emotional distress and then I’m going to The Sun.’
The view from my window suggested that the only sun he would benefit from would be the one that shines brightly in the sky, that or a thick towel, the pair of them were soaked.
I didn’t think the national papers would be interested in Reg’s plastic bag bitterness, but the next day there was more than one article about people carrying their goods to their car in the metal shopping baskets, provided by the supermarket, ‘I was treated like a dog’, sang one headline.
As it turned out The Sun had completed a successful run of ‘life with the 5p plastic bag’ stories and had moved swiftly onto much more important issues, like Wayne Rooney has  a snooker table and Posh Spice wears flat shoes.
The next time Reg went into the Spar he and Gary eyed each other like participants in a fast draw duel, it was clear that there was no bag for life in Reg’s hand and the 10p sign twinkled brightly beside the stack of Spar bags. As usual Tom was in residence and he reported later that he did consider running into the street to gather more observers to this tense standoff, as it was events moved far too quickly.
Reg gathered his usual items into the basket, sausages, bacon, sausage meat, pate and bread, he then made his way to the check out. As Gary rung the prices into the till he faltered over the next words, ‘Would you like a bag, it’s…’, before he could announce the price a triumphant Reg pulled a string bag from his pocket with a flourish.
‘No thank you, I have a bag, it’s a one off, a limited edition you might say, made by my Margaret, I’ll be using that from now on. So you can stick your 10p charge where the…’
At this point Shane the vicar walked into the Spar and Reg stopped his sentence midway through, Shane called a cheery hello failing to notice the snarling looks that Gary and Reg were sharing.
As Tom recalled the story in the Short and Curlies later that evening he declared the incident a draw. ‘But’, he warned, ‘this may not be the end of it, there was a bloke in the Spar a bit later on, he was asking a lot of questions, I think he was from The Sun.’


Saturday, 3 October 2015

Bach, Beethoven and Bowie - soothing music for cats

In a move that surprised everyone in the street this week Ian and Raphe decided to get a cat.  This news was so surprising because they did not have a good word to say about Raphe’s mother’s cat, but I’m not one to gossip about hypocrisy, I just hope that their boasting about it being different because they would be the parents, doesn’t come back to bite them.
They had decided to get a young cat from a rescue home, something that would appreciate their love. They chose a male ginger cat called Leo that had a tricky start in life because when it arrived at the rescue centre its name had been Lilly, the staff told Ian and Raphe that it had an erratic personality which they attributed to the misunderstanding over its sex. Persuaded that they could make a significant difference to the life of the cat, which nobody else had shown any interest in, they took him home wrapped in a blanket, cuddled by Raphe all the way back to the street.
Raphe was very excited about the new addition to his family and stood in the street nursing the cat as Jacinta, Margaret and Mand cooed over it. He recalled a sorry tale about the cat’s early life and how it had wrongly been treated as a girl. Form where I was sitting I could see the small creature, an orange thing with a head that was clearly too large for its body, I did wonder if this was the reason no one had even glanced at it, although it did seem very placid, nestled in his blanket. Raphe declared that things would be better now it belonged to a loving family and had been given a new name, one that suited it, Lionel Blair.
Mand was on it straight away, ‘Lionel Blair, now that sounds familiar, didn’t he used to be the prime minister?’

I thought Margaret was quite unkind in the way she guffawed at this comment, ‘No, that was Tony Blair, although the cat is quite like him, got the same colouring.’
Raphe looked more than a little offended, ‘He is nothing like Tony Blair, no Mand, Lionel was a dancer, back in the day, he was very good. I’m going to train the cat to dance.’
Now this I couldn’t wait to see.
A few days later Raphe appeared in the street again looking completely exhausted. He had taken a few days off to get the cat settled in, spending morning, noon and night with it. Far from being the placid little sweetheart that it had been doing an impression of a few days previously Lionel Blair was, in Ian’s words, the cat from hell.
‘I don’t want this to break us, but they are not bonding, and even I am struggling,’ Raphe’s eyes filled up with tears as he imparted this news to Suzy, ’I mean, have you got any tips, you know how it is, what with you also being a mother.’
Suzy didn’t have a chance to respond as Daphne, who had been standing chatting to Ken almost flew across the road. ‘Ken tells me you have a new pussy, how lovely, is she settling in ok?’
‘No, and it’s a he’. Raphe was more than a little curt but Daphne didn’t seem to notice, instead she went on about the benefits of a lavender wand, a floral stick that did wonders for a cat’s mood, and what’s more, she made them herself.
‘I only charge £7 each, you let the cat sniff it and play with it, the results are almost immediate, calms them right down.’
At his wits end and in fear for his relationship, Raphe agreed to try the wand and Daphne dashed back to Garths house where she kept a stash.
The term ‘money for old rope’ comes to mind, but at this stage I think he would have tried anything.  The following day Daphne was nowhere to be seen as Raphe described to Ken the vigour with which Lionel Blair had ripped the stick to pieces. The house was littered with bits of lavender and Raphe himself had incurred several injuries when waving the wand in the cat’s direction.
As usual Ken had a suggestion himself, one that involved the use of music, and that he could back up with internet research.
‘You should look it up on Youtube, there’s a whole section, ‘Sounds to soothe cats’, give it a go. I reckon music can cure all ills man, never say never, no worries’.
Looking like a man with all the worries in the world Raphe headed home with Ken’s words ringing in his ear, if this didn’t work the cat formerly known as Leo and Lilly could be heading back to the rescue centre.
I have heard talk that Ian can be quite mean but last night he turned up at Ken’s shop with a bottle of rum and some Turkish Delight (Ken’s favourite), the music had worked, Lionel Blair had slept through two nights and was showing signs of calming down during the day too. They had been careful to choose sounds that they could also sleep to but the rest of the time anything seemed to work.
‘We’ve stayed off the Heavy Metal but he responds well to a bit of Bowie; Ken you and your music can work miracles.’
Now I think that’s a bit over the top but I must admit, I am glad Lionel Blair is staying.