Thursday, 26 February 2015

May The Flip Flop Force Be With You

When I was a small child I was sick all over my dad’s new girlfriend on a coach trip to Hastings, I tell you this because I was shocked, even at a tender age, that this did not turn the poor women off him, in fact if anything it seemed to improve his allure. Well this week a similar incident worked to cement the most unlikely of friendships.
The house at number 9 has been empty for a couple of months while Ken has been procrastinating and delaying decorating it. In the end he paid a mate of Baz to do it for him, so finally on Monday the new lodger moved in. He was a tall chap, with a beard and a beany hat. Every time I saw him carrying stuff into the house he was wearing a scarf, hefty jacket, jeans and flip flops, yes, that is correct, flip flops. So bemused was I by this event that I did something that is quite rare even for me, I got my binoculars, for some reason I had the most overwhelming need to get a closer view of his feet. The toenails were long, unkempt and dirty, but the soles of his feet looked (from where I was stationed) like they were shiny and soft, I was astonished and not a little impressed.
I was up early on Tuesday to check if the foot covering had been a one off, perhaps he had inadvertently packed away all his shoes and boots, but no, there they were again, the majority of his body dressed as if to face a Siberian winter and on his feet flip flops.
He had left the house and was heading towards the Spar when at the same time Mrs Misery (who we now know to be called Suzy) was heading back from the very same place, pushing the pram as if she had a tonne of bricks in it rather than a six month old baby. Suzy tends to walk with her head down, avoiding all potential social engagement but our flip flop wearer was having none of it.

He started with a cheery hello and followed it up with a question about the opening times of the Spar, I couldn’t hear everything they said but he was certainly some charmer because he had her smiling in no time; then it happened. He’d made some comment about the baby and how wrapped up she was that you could hardly see her little face, why anyone would take their life in their hands and move towards a swaddled infant is beyond me but he did indeed move closer to the pram. His coochy coo was answered by a moist belch from the baby and followed with the most dramatic yellow vomit I had ever seen, it was almost
textbook perfect.  The flip flop wearer stood up to reveal flecks of yellow sick stuck to his beard and looked into Suzy’s mortified face, she was clearly about to burst into tears. The most incredible thing of all then happened, the flip flop wearer flung back his head and laughed, actually laughed. I was so shocked I had to sit down, who was this bare footed idiot that had moved into the street?

Suzy and Mr flip flop continued to talk for a good while longer, his laid back attitude to the facial adornment of baby sick having clearly calmed her nerves. The next day they bumped into each other again at a similar time and continued their chat, I was almost getting to the stage where I thought there may be some scandal in the street but it would appear that Suzy’s intention was to introduce this man to Mand; she was single again after it had fallen through with Anton who, with the support of his wife, had turned his back on his Mormon ways.

The next time I saw Suzy she was telling Mand about the new resident in the street and how she would be delighted to introduce them, this new matchmaking role was clearly bringing some enjoyment to the young mum.

After Suzy had gone into the house Mand went straight round to Ken’s to check on the facts she had been given.  ‘Your new man is an interesting person, Suzy tells me he is a Jedi, how unusual, and to work in public protection too, I think he like, sounds amazing.’

Ken looked at her with a wry smile, ‘I’m not sure I’d count sexing chickens as public protection, but no worries, I suppose he also told her his name was Luke Skywalker?’

Mand giggled, ‘Oh Ken, don’t be silly, it’s Garth Fader, and anyway he told Suzy that the light sabre is just a story, although he did say he gets power surges through his feet, that’s why he wears flip flops, they are like, rubber. I can’t wait to meet him, it’ll make a change having an honest man in my life.’

I could still hear Ken’s laughter for a good forty minutes later. 

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Llama in the Lounge


If there any news worth knowing, or even quite a bit that isn’t, you can guarantee that it will travel through this street at speed. I know who knitted themselves a swimming costume and nearly drowned when using it for the first time, who has Botox in his armpits to help
to ward off bingo wings and who uses the tickle stick her husband gave her to spice up their love life, to dust her collection of novelty tea-pots.
Well this week the news was all about Raphe and Ian, according to Mand who had great delight in revealing all to Catherine, they are going through a rough patch. It’s all to do with Raphe’s mother, who will insist on visiting without much notice and then outstays her welcome. Apparently the minute she enters the house she removes her teeth and leaves them on the table by the telephone and then removes her bra and hangs it over the bannister. Mind you I have heard Ian remark that they couldn’t hang her bra outside on the washing line, lest some small animal tried to nest in it.

Ian has always been irritated by Raphe's mother but, according to Mand, he fears that this visit could be the breaking point, she is bringing a large animal with her that she intends to keep in the house.
Catherine was intrigued to find out what sort of animal it was, as was I.
‘Is it a dog? Has she got herself a St Bernard or a Great Dane, although I do know she lives in a house with quite a small garden, that must put a terrible strain on her soil’.
‘No, nothing like that, it’s a proper animal, like one you’d find in a zoo like, oh I wish I could think of it, it was so unusual. I didn’t want to ask too much, he was really like filling up when he was telling me’. At this point Mand did a flapping action with her fingers to her eyes, as if to demonstrate that she too felt a bit teary.
‘Do you mean a petting zoo? For children, perhaps a goat or even a sheep? Although how would she get it here, I thought she came on the train, unless Raphe is going to get her, but why bring it with you in the first place, are you sure you understood right ?’
Mand was adamant, she is a good listener, her teachers always told her, not great at reading and writing but listening? That was her strength.
Catherine stared at Mand as she went through a list of possible animals, all large and all the type you would find in a zoo, having discounted camel, giraffe and rhino she finally settled
on llama, only reaching this conclusion because Catherine encouraged her into thinking it was merely a big sheep and therefore the most likely of the choices.
I could see by the look on Catherine’s face that she was quite incredulous about the whole sorry story and the next day she complained to Margaret that Mand was in fact a terrible listener or maybe just an incredible story teller.  When Raphe’s mother arrived on Friday she did not expect there to be a truck in tow, but, just in case, she had found the number of the local environmental health officer and she would not hesitate in using it.
Margaret had her own concerns about the whole thing (as did I, if I’m honest), she knows how volatile Reg is to anything new happening in the street. Margaret wanted to be prepared if an animal did turn up unannounced, therefore when she bumped into Ian the next day she took her chance. ‘I hear Raphe’s mother is coming to stay, that’s nice’.
Ian looked like he didn’t agree, ‘Yes, arriving Friday, hopefully to be gone by the next Friday, although that’s not confirmed, Raphe hasn’t asked her’.
‘Oh, and does she have any pets?’ Margaret had started well but I guessed she would struggle to ask the key question.
Ian looked at her oddly, I almost thought he was going to say it was none of her business, ‘Just a cat, but her neighbour usually looks after that’.
‘Oh, so that doesn’t cause a problem then?’
‘Goodness no, in fact if it meant she left a bit sooner then I’d be happy for her to bring the smelly old thing with her, the problem is she turns up uninvited and then doesn’t say when she’s going to leave, Raphe won’t ask her and he won’t let me. It’s awful once she arrives, we discuss everything else but that, it’s become quite the elephant in the room.
Margaret was able to report back to Catherine the next day, Mand may have been very good at listening but she wasn’t great at understanding.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

The Meat Raffle

On Sunday Baz held the normal monthly meat raffle at the Short and Curlies, I use the term normal with some trepidation as this month it did have a slight twist.
All money raised in the raffle goes to a local cause and Jacinta, who rarely goes in the pub anyway, decided that certain people were being denied the opportunity to give to local charities, as the prizes were unattractive to vegetarians. As you can imagine this caused quite a lot of indignation from some other people in the street, Reg for one. ‘It’s simple, she only eats vegetables, it only has meat prizes, therefore don’t enter and give your money to the charity anyway, why cause the fuss?’

This seemed a perfectly reasonable response to me (a rare event, I don’t think I’ve ever agreed with anything Reg has said before), however this still didn’t pacify Jacinta, she felt that this was contrary to an inclusive community spirit, the very thing that the raffle was there to promote.  Reg had not exhausted his views on the matter, ‘Anyway those sausages are practically vegetarian, mainly breadcrumbs, husk and a lump of lard, that’s what you get from that butcher’.
The butcher in question was Micky the Meat from the market, he always provided the meat raffle prizes to Baz. I’ve never heard any complaints about his meat, however there is history between Reg and Micky.  When he was in business Reg had won many prizes for his Cumberland ring and Micky had been the young whippersnapper who had taken his crown. Reg had been adamant for years that Micky had stolen his recipe, not helped by the fact that Reg’s daughter Emily had dated him for a few months. As Reg has stated quite openly, ‘There’s not much you can tell me about pillow talk, I myself came up with the idea for the Paprika Pork Pattie after a romantic session with my Marg, and I told her about it right there and then’.

Anyway, all this aside, Baz, being the sort of person who wants to include everyone did take Jacinta’s issues into account and pledged to provide one vegetarian prize.
Inspired by this Jacinta went all out to sell tickets for the raffle, I know she sold quite a few to the mums at the school gate and a few more to the people in her cookery class, she was even at the door of number 11 trying to sell to Mrs Misery, who as usual looked tired and unhappy. ‘I’m not really sure, Roger and I don’t ever go to the pub, we could win and not know it.’
Jacinta was having none of it, I’m not saying she bullied but she came away with a number of tickets sold at number 11.

On Sunday the turnout for the raffle looked to be promising, Jacinta had arranged to leave the children with her mother so that she and Prithpal could go along and Margaret and Reg were in attendance, even though on the way there he was still stating that the sausages in the raffle would be ‘nothing to write home about.’ The biggest surprise to me was that Mr Misery, who we now know to be called Roger, also walked along to the pub.

With two prizes left the sausages and the vegetarian option were last to go. Baz pulled the raffle ticket from the ice bucket, ‘Number 62, 6 and 2, 62, hang on, there’s a name on the back, Roger and Suzy from number 11.’  Apparently Roger went bright red as he went up to the collect the prize, and everyone else went bright red when he chose the sausages. Jacinta was the first to pipe up, ‘I thought you were a vegetarian?’
 ‘No, not me, that’s Suzy.’

Of course this only left the vegetarian prize and Jacinta had her fingers crossed as the number was called, ‘152, 1, 5, 2 …152.’
Reg being quite a mean man did not suggest redrawing the ticket but instead looked shameful as he went up to receive the prize which was wrapped in a paper carrier bag.
‘This is against all my principles, a vegetarian prize in a meat raffle, hang on, it’s not even food, '100 Things to do with a carrot', what am I supposed to with this?’

Baz looked embarrassed, ‘Yes sorry, I don’t know anything about vegetarian food, so I bought a book, it’s beautifully illustrated though and there’s a great sausage recipe in it’.


Thursday, 5 February 2015

The Turnup Prize for Art

Every year the local school holds an art competition, it’s called the Turnup prize for art and true to its name any child that turns up with a piece of art goes home with a small prize. Gary and Harry display the winning entries in the Spar for the month following the awards ceremony, it being a children’s competition some of the exhibits are quite unusual and
others are strangely political. Last year one of the winners was a poster stating, ‘Say No to Drugs’, the picture was a bottle of Calpol, with a big cross through it.
This year there has been a lot of excitement because the competition has been opened up to adults in the local area. The first prize is £100 and as far as I can tell there are a few people in the street intending to enter.
The closing date was a week ago Monday and Ian and Mand were talking about their own entries, ‘Are you more of a Picasso or a Constable?’ I was impressed with Ian’s conversational optimism, ‘I dunno, I just do drawing like, anyway, ain’t that Picasso the bloke with no ears, how can he do art?’
I could understand why he changed the conversation back to Celebrity Big Brother quite quickly, Mand seems to have muddled up her understanding of the senses as well as her knowledge of artists.

The competition winners were informed by letter and this was to be followed by a prize giving evening at the school where all the entries were also exhibited. It was clearly a shock and disappointment to Ian and Mand when they discovered that Tom had come first in his category, personally I’m all for creative development but I can see where they are coming from.

On the night of the awards ceremony Tom had made a big effort, he was not wearing his
normal food splattered jumper but instead turned out in a grubby plaid jacket, a striped shirt and a novelty Christmas tie, he looked like a flag from a country where all the residents have pattern blindness.
Jacinta, Prithpal and the children walked with Tom, Ian and Mand to the school, although you could hear Tom crowing about his success all the way down the road.
I was at the window most of the night and could see them all return from the school, but Tom was surprisingly absent, I assumed he’d gone straight to the pub to celebrate his success, although it was out of character for him, especially if he had money in his pocket and there was a round to be bought. I now know why he wasn’t there.

The next morning it was obvious that Ian was looking for someone to retell the events of the evening, I was intrigued to find out where Tom had got to, so I broke the habit of a lifetime and decided to pop to the Spar at the same time as he was passing by the house, he was full of glee as he told his story.

At the prize giving the head teacher Mrs Parks had decided to mix up the evening a little, so announced the categories in a random order, by the end of the evening there were just two prizes left, the category for 18 and over being one of them, Tom was chomping at the bit and looking more and more self-important as the night wore on.
The second to last prize to be awarded was for the 7 to 9 category and the winner was Tom Evans, who, Mrs Parks had said, could be very proud of the simplicity of his snail which made such an effective image. Apparently everyone looked around for Tom Evans to walk up to accept his £10 book voucher and pack of crayons but no one appeared. Mrs Parks read out the name of the winner again and again everyone looked round, she began to look quite cross, after all that was the point of letting the winners know in advance.

A sudden thought occurred to Ian and he nudged Tom, ‘Isn’t your surname Evans?’ Tom nodded in agreement, ‘Yes but I’m 79, not 7 to 9’. As the mistake dawned on everyone Mrs Parks looked furious but apparently Tom was even more upset, especially when he was told that not only was he disqualified but that he wouldn't even get a pack of crayons.
As Mand put it, so succinctly, ‘Even that bloke with no ears would have ticked the right category, right.’