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.

Sunday, 15 November 2015

We are thinking of them

As with many other people these days the residents in Pavers Place have been playing out their issues with each other, in full view of the rest of the public, on Facebook. I confess to being confused by this particular social medium, it can bring such joy; announcements made by those you love, uplifting photos and often funny images, and then suddenly a few people get annoyed with each other and there it is for all to see.
This particular spat in the street revolved around Armistice day. There was a ceremony in the town on Remembrance Sunday which most people attended, standing in reverent silence, deep in thought. On Wednesday, the eleventh of November, Gary and Harry had decided that at eleven o’clock the tills would stop ringing, people would no longer be served and the shop would stand in contemplative silence with the rest of the country. There had been some discussion between the brothers about the phrase remembrance, Harry having some difficulty with the fact that he couldn’t remember something he didn’t witness, but Shane the vicar, who had been privy to this conversation, came to the rescue, suggesting that Harry should just focus on thinking about all those who had given their lives.
At eleven o’clock, although the Spar had no customers, Harry and Gary did fall quiet, somewhat strangely the people walking in the street also stopped and stood in silence. Ken emerged from the barbers and stood with his head bowed next to Reg, Margaret and Catherine who did the same, and Jacinta came out of her house to join them. I watched from the street, it was a strange spectacle and I had to pull my eyes away in order to focus on thinking about those who had died.
It would appear that Mand had not received the message about the silence, about thirty seconds into the two minutes she emerged from her house and saw her friends stood like statues.
‘You lot alright? What you like doing?’
Jacinta gave her a harsh look and made a zipping motion across her mouth, this had the effect of making Mand more vocal.
‘Alright Jacinta, don’t be narky, why ain’t you talking, has something happened, is it my Garthy?’
Jacinta’s eyes rolled heavenward and she looked towards the others for support, Reg jabbed at the poppy that was attached to his jacket and then pointed to the one that was pinned to Mand’s coat. This seemed to confuse her further and she looked down at the paper flower.
‘Has someone declared another war?’ Her voice had become small and she took on the expression of a frightened child.
The two minutes came to an end and in unison the group berated Mand for forgetting to be quiet and show her respect. She was clearly upset, ‘I’m sorry alright, I just forgot, it don’t mean I don’t respect them like’, and with that she stormed off.
The whole discussion should have ended there but Reg took to Facebook to proudly proclaim that he and Marg had observed the two minutes silence in the street, unlike some people. Catherine and Jacinta added a thumbs up to this comment and then made further snipes of their own. The messages continued to build up for some time, with words from people who neither lived in the road nor knew Mand. In the end the nasty comments were brought to an abrupt end by Ken, who announced that the people of the two world wars did not die so that people could berate each other on a computer, and that we should be trying to live in peace in their name. He posted this with an image of a white poppy, which received many thumbs up signs.
On Friday night the evening news burst into life with terrible images of atrocities committed in Paris, against people simply enjoying a night out. Mand, who had not been seen since Wednesday, posted a message on Facebook, ‘Those poor people in Paris, I’d like to think of them’. One by one the residents gathered in the streets, they stood together in a small group, Reg holding Mand’s hand as they bowed their heads. Ken initiated two minutes silence with the words, ‘We are thinking of them’, and the positive power that can be Facebook finally took its hold.

Saturday, 7 November 2015

Fireworks Fortnight

Oh the joy of being an animal owner on Guy Fawkes Night, or firework fortnight as it seems to be known in this area. I’m not even sure that many people have bonfires, they seem to just spend hundreds of pounds on fireworks and let them off willy nilly between now and Christmas. When I was growing up it was all about the fire work code, everything being kept in a tin with a tight lid, never returning to a lit firework and other sensible statements. I have my own code but I must admit it is not exactly firework friendly!
In Pavers Place Baz is annoyed that he couldn't put on a firework display, Mrs Parks at Pavers Primary got there first. Shirl was not annoyed, she was absolutely fuming.
‘Typical, the one chance we had to make a bit of money and she gets there first, and don’t think that nonsense about being ambassador for the school will wash either, I am not donating anything.’
Baz looked extremely sheepish, he had already agreed to supply the soft drinks and had said that he would help set up the whole event, which meant that Shirl would also have to cover the early shift at the pub, something that he would normally do.
Elsewhere in the street the history behind the reason for the event was completely lost on some of the residents, Mand had a vague link in her mind between the Houses of Parliament and Guy Fawkes, but her interpretation involved him putting on the first fireworks display in history.
Jacinta’s youngest daughter Sharonjeet was also confused, ‘Mum, what’s forks got to do with fireworks?’
Jacinta looked at Prithpal, who was equally bemused by the question, but rather than delve further they replied in the most simple way they could, ‘Nothing.’
‘Well why didn’t they call him Guy Forks Fireworks, especially if he invented both?’
The mystery behind the question solved, Jacinta decided to have a word with Mrs Parks, ‘I mean fancy holding a fireworks display but not telling the children the history behind it. Whatever next?’
When Shirl found out that Baz had donated both drinks and his time to the school she was even angrier than previously, privately vowing to make her husband sorry for what she considered to be his weakness.
‘That woman says jump and you say how high, and just so you can say you’re an ambassador. Goodness only knows what you would do if anybody gave you a role of real importance.’
Later that day Shirl bumped into Catherine who loved Guy Fawkes Night and always got involved in whatever local event was being organised, this year she had been charged with making the Guy.
‘I’ve got an old suit that I will sew together and stuff, and I’ll pad out the legs of some tights for his head. I can’t wait, and I’m donating some Catherine Wheels, when you have something named after you it’s important to celebrate’.
The conversation with Catherine gave Shirl food for thought and later that day she was back at her friend’s door with a contribution of her own.
The evening of the event was a bit chaotic in the pub, Shirl had managed to get one of her regular staff to cover the early shift but Baz was running late so was rushing around. ‘Have you seen my hat love, I’m sure I left it on the stand but I can’t find it.’ Shirl chose not to answer her husband and he assumed she was still in a mood with him.
The display was well attended, Margaret and Reg were in charge of food and Baz was on the drinks stall. Catherine, Mand and Shell were dressed in warm clothing ready to enjoy the spectacle. Before the fire was lit the Guy was paraded around for all to see, two children from the school pushing it in an old pram before it was tied to the post for the burning. Baz had a queue so only glanced up as it passed by, but there was definitely something familiar about it, Shirl was pleased to see him do a double take.
Finally the Guy was tied to the post and the Chair of Governors proudly lit the base of the fire, it had been built for maximum effect and flames quickly leapt into the sky, causing the spectators to let out a whoop of surprise. Baz looked up at the vigorous burning fire and then let out a cry, ‘He’s got my hat on, stop the fire, the Guy, he’s got my bloody hat on.’
Shirl had a huge grin on her face, ‘Language darling, and anyway, I thought you’d be pleased, I know how you love to donate.’


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.