The Spaniard Who Blighted My Life

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You know, I know, we all know that we should not make decisions when we are tired.

We are, at this moment, recovering from our folly in not heeding this maxim: our only excuse being that we were too tired to remember it.

Every month or so we take the car into San Jose to stock up with items unobtainable – or more expensive – in our little town.

Earl Grey tea…rice noodles… bones and ox kidneys for the dogs…cheap tomatoes…fencing wire from the Chinese tat emporium… five kilo lumps of fresh cheese from Turrialba and proper wholemeal bread from a baker who seems to be the only one in the area to be able to make  a loaf which is neither sweet nor as heavy as  lead once ingested.

Buying in bulk as we do, on the return trip the car is loaded with crates and sacks the contents of which have to be sorted, packed and divided between stores, fridge and freezer – after feeding the chickens, the ducks, the lambs and the dogs, not to speak of ourselves.

We have always done this in one form or another, but we are not getting any younger and there are moments when the mounds of kidneys to be diced and packed, peppers to be grilled and skinned and the rest of the gallimaufry awaiting attention can feel daunting.

That was the situation last week when the ‘phone rang.

Leo answered it: I paid no attention, assuming it was the chap who was supposed to come with his bulldozer the next day, checking that all was in order.

Then Leo came round into the kitchen, looking shell shocked.

‘I’ve done something awful.’

‘You haven’t cancelled him?’

‘No! It’s something else entirely….I knew I shouldn’t have done it while I was talking to him…’

It turned out that the man on the ‘phone had been one of the fleurons of  Leo’s family tree….his half brother.

The son of his father’s Spanish mistress.

Twenty plus years younger than Leo.

Last sighted over twenty years ago.

Who was not only in Costa Rica but was at that very minute in a taxi bringing him from our little town and should be at our gate shortly.

Well, not shortly.

We were sorting out the sheep for the evening when the taxi drew up at the house gates along the road.

The assembled dogs arrived, giving tongue.

A lugubrious face peered from the rear window. For some time.

Eventually, prompted by the taxi driver requesting payment, the entire person descended and the taxi departed.

The dogs bayed cheerfully.

The person shuffled.

The dogs bayed again….

‘Well, come in’ said Leo.

‘I don’t know how to open the gate’…

He was not, you understand, frightened of dogs..he was allergic. They were filthy things, carriers of disease…

The nine carriers of disease barked and leapt for joy..they don’t often get visitors who behave like the man whose feet are being shot at in the Westerns and intended to make the most of it.

Finally the Will Kemp of Estepona made it to the house and sank into a chair on the balcony.

He had, it appeared, come to Costa Rica to find the only remaining member of his family. Given that he has endless cousins on his mother’s side and Leo’s sister and brother all living this seemed a little thin.

As Leo had carefully never given him his address after the last encounter, he had had, he said, to track us down.

Would the great white hunter like something to drink? Tea, coffee, beer, fruit juice?

Wine.

He did not like tea, Costa Rican coffee was disgusting, fruit juice – God only knew what fruit was involved out here…and he was allergic to beer as he was gluten intolerant.

Happily involved with a bottle of banana wine he expanded. On his gluten intolerance.

After some ten minutes of a blow by blow description of fifteen years of diarrhea I thought it time to cook supper.

He was at my shoulder in a flash.

No condiments! I will be ill!

So we had plain fried fish, fried potatoes and fried tomatoes…not what we had planned for ourselves.but if he had a diet problem…

I dished up.

Where is the salt…there is no flavour to this food…

He managed to finish half a bottle of banana wine – luckily it had a label indicating that it was a Sauvignon/Semillon from Argentina or no doubt he would not have touched it – discoursing the while on his gluten intolerance and its problems, in the presence of a man who has two major illnesses and had recently spent five days completely paralysed in a major hospital.

Reminded – by me – of Leo’s problems he brushed them aside. Leo should take out private insurance, as he had done. Private medicine showed him that he was gluten intolerant and it changed his life

I left them to it while I washed up.

Leo then enjoyed a session of hearing how dreadful Costa Rica was…no culture, childish television, terrible food….why had we moved there? And to this awful house?

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Had he seen any of the sights?

Yes…the Teatro Nacional…nothing special..

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Museums? Pre-columbian gold? Jade? Contemporary Arts?

What museums? Oh yes, there was a hole in the ground by the theatre, but it looked dirty…and he might get mugged…

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Pity he missed that experience…

Clearly he had thought to stay with us on his jolly to Costa Rica…but the dogs had put paid to that so eventually he departed by taxi, promising to return in a few days’ time.

‘Come early,’ said Leo. ‘I’m better in the mornings. And if you get here in the morning Danilo can pick you up at the bus station which will save you getting another taxi.

Two days later we had a ‘phone call at ten to two. He is in our little town, at the bus station

‘Wait there and we will pick you up in about twenty minutes.’

‘No! I will get a taxi! I cannot stand around in this shithole!’

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Some ten minutes later a taxi driver called us.

‘Can you give me directions?’

‘Yes, sure..they are working 0n the bridge so you will have to come by the back road..’

Voice from the back of the taxi…go by the bridge…go by the bridge…

They eventually arrived an hour later having tried the bridge to find that it is impassable during working hours and so have had to retrace their steps via the back road.

Again the lugubrious face waited a long time in the taxi.

It dawned on us that he was waiting for us to pay the driver.

As the driver was of our view that he will wait a long time until hell freezes over the face was obliged to pay.

He entered the house. the dogs, roused from post prandial slumber, eyed him hopefully, but there was no sign of dancing.

Leo, rashly, asked if he had had lunch.

No.

Well, we have something left from our lunch…chille con carne.

By this time I had retired to bed, having broken my big toe the previous day. Leo was in control.

‘What is in the sauce?’

Leo showed him the chili sauce which I use. The ingredients label is in Spanish – the only language which he understands.

‘No! I cannot eat that! I will be  ill! It contains gluten!’

Later examination showed that there is no gluten in the listed ingredients.

He decided to make for himself a Spanish tortilla..potatoes, onions and eggs.

Some half an hour later I emerged to find that he had taken off his shirt..revealing a revoltingly hairy back….had half peeled and then discarded slightly blemished potatoes which were now useless…had taken only the hen eggs – as being brown – and had used almost a whole bottle of olive oil – super expensive here.

He beamed at me.

Did I know how to make a Spanish tortilla?

Indeed I did, without need of his tuition. I also, in the words of the old music hall song, knew how to raise a bunion on his Spanish onion should I catch him bending tonight

While I cleared up the carnage he told me at length how awful Costa Rican food was.

How it cost him 12,000 colones to be sure to get a gluten free meal.

Why didn’t he go to the caffs on the market? Rice, beans and protein for about 2,000.

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A mou of disgust. He could not possibly enter such a place…

Then he asked why we had no mangoes as they were in season…well, they are at lower altitudes, but ours won’t be ripe for a month yet.
‘But they are in season’….
He wanted us to show him the finca…I could not walk far thanks to the curse of the toe and Leo certainly couldn’t but directed him down the one and only road which runs alongside our land.
The dogs escorted him to the gate, hopeful of dancing….but he disappointed them..
I made us some tea.
He returned  ten minutes later saying that he was worried that he might get lost.
Oh, what were we drinking? Tea…no, he would have a coffee. That man must have hearing so acute that he can hear the clink of a tea cup at a mile’s distance.
Leo then suffered a long recital of how none of his mother’s family would have anything to do with him. Hardly surprising since she worked all her life to support him while he lazed about on benefits and her handouts and at her death sold her house  to live on the proceeds. Not something to endear himself to people who loved his mother.
Then followed a far from delicate enquiry as to Leo’s testamentary dispositions…..and the strength of family ties.
Supper time eventually came.
Leo had point blank refused to eat another meal like that of the first evening and asked me to make a Balti….absolutely no gluten in the recipe ingredients.
I called them to the table and put the Balti, the rice and his tortilla on the table.
Our guest settled himself.
First, though,  he had to wash out the wineglass at his place setting.  An insect had settled in it…probably alive with gluten.
Then he complained about the dogs settling in in expectation around us.
I invited him to start, indicating the Balti.
He smirked and said that he could not take gluten…didn’t I remember?
I showed him the herbs and spices I used….all gluten free – including red pepper flakes – ‘gluten free’ on the label.
He licked a finger, pushed it into the flakes and licked it again. No, it had gluten. He could taste it..
I left the table. Before I raised that bunion..
He ate the tortilla he had made, complaining to Leo that I had knowingly made something he could not eat.
Leo told him that while he was quite right not to eat something containing gluten, he had been told – and had been shown – that the meal was gluten free and that once he had finished his meal Leo would call him a taxi.
‘No..later. I can make another tortilla if I’m hungry.’
‘Now.’
Why? He had come thousands of miles to visit Leo …how could Leo throw him out?
Quite easily. No effort at all.
I was in the bedroom, seething quietly, when he barged in – knock? Call? Gracious me no! He wished to explain that thanks to me cooking something he could not eat his brother was going to throw him out It was not his fault if he could not eat something full of gluten…
I was not polite in two languages.
Having called a taxi Leo escorted him to the door and went to clear the  table.
He then made a reappearance in the bedroom and I was even less polite in two languages.
Leo removed him with an energy unexpected in a man of his age and health and he finally left with the carriers of disease barking in triumph as the taxi pulled away..
With any luck it will take him another twenty years before he tries again.

Blazing Loos, Gilded Fossils and When Did You Last See Your Trousers?

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Which is to say that I have been, indeed, still am, on holiday and will be so for another week to come. The last of the visitors have departed in a deluge of rain which has prevented me from washing the bedding and we are on our own, eating the leftovers and chewing over the lessons learned from giving the house a trial run under real life conditions.

We swapped our house in France for this one and although I spent some time here last year, it was not long enough – nor extensive enough – to see how the house would stand up to visitors, so the descent of the tribes was designed not only to have the pleasure of seeing friends and family again but also to see how the systems coped with seemingly non stop use of swimming pool, showers, baths, washing machines and loos and the effects of same on the electricity bill.

Our journey had not been uneventful.
Leo had booked a seat in the exit aisle of the ‘plane and was informed by a stewardess that he was in charge of the door. In the event of the pilot calling ‘evacuate’ three times he was to seize the handle and pull it sharply upwards, at which point, she said, the door would fly off entirely.
He spent the flight wondering why suicide bombers bother to carry bombs in their underpants if all you have to do is book a seat in the exit aisle and pull the handle to have the entire contents of the ‘plane sucked into oblivion.
And if that is all it takes, in the interests of security might it not be better for airline staff to keep such knowledge to themselves?
All through the flight he kept eyeing that door….

Still, we arrived unharmed in Barcelona and took the shuttle train to the Sants station to book our ticket.
The clerk fancied himself as a comedian when dealing with foreigners and managed, first, to bugger up electronic payment, then to issue only one ticket and finally, as I discovered when queueing to go down the escalators to the platform in the overheated bowels of the station, when finally issuing two tickets had given us seats in different carriages.
Leo had been tiring….it had been a long flight…thanks to the clerk we had only ten minutes to catch the last feasible train….but the discovery was like lighting the blue touch paper.
With a terse, explicit and unflattering description of the clerk he was off like a harrier to the ticket office, the queue parting like the Red Sea, to obtain redress.
The lady clerk – perhaps used to her colleague’s little ways – made no demur and issued new seats immediately so we caught the train for the two hour journey south.

As the gentleman who looks after the house told us on arrival, there had been a violent thunderstorm and the electricity was down in the village and surrounding areas….but as we drove through the pass, lights suddenly came on in the dark countryside below….all was well.
We made a cup of tea and went to bed.

Pottering the next day, there was another violent thunderstorm which drove us indoors and when it cleared we heard a helicopter overhead…backwards and forwards between the village and the pine clad hillside above our house. There had been a lightning strike, a blaze, and the fire brigade were into action immediately, scooping water from the communal swimming pool and dumping it on the fire….
Might be an idea to get insurance…..

The day after that the first visitors arrived….and the water gave out. A bucket chain was set up between house and pool to get water to flush loos, and the men went into conclave. Pipes were traced, blue plastic reservoirs were found, fuses were flicked on and off – and water reappeared.
Only to give out again.
The gentleman who looks after the house was consulted.
The next visitors to arrive were warned to bring wipes.
A plumber could not be found until after the weekend.
The gentleman who looks after the house gave it more thought and remembered that the water board had been at work recently alongside the property.
He hunted around and found that not only had the water board changed the position of the water meter but that they had also turned it off.
They had, it seemed, thought it best as the house was empty.
He had saved us a fortune in plumbers.

Water restored, we relaxed again, apart from rescuing visitors who had become lost in the maze of rooms, stairs and corridors.
One wandering soul found wailing in the third kitchen was given the watchword ‘turn right at the dresser’ to find the stairs to her room and could be heard in the evening repeating it to herself as she turned the corner that cut her off from the rest of the house.
Tables and chairs were set out on the terrace, in the courtyard and by the pool. Mussels were consumed in quantity. Wine descended gullets. More mussels were consumed.
We went to bed at peace with the world.

I was woken by a cry of horror. I ran to the loo where Leo was standing, his hand on the cistern.

‘It’s hot!’

I put my hand on the cistern. It was indeed hot. Very hot, and filling with more hot water from the immersion heater.
Scots blood turned to ice. Flemish blood was not far behind it.
Not only metered water, but heated metered water had been flushed down the loo.

‘Quickly! We have to try them all before anyone flushes anything!’

Visitors could have been forgiven for thinking that it was a police raid as their doors were flung open, the lights went on and Leo galloped to inspect the cisterns. Those with hot water were turned off at the tap and, inspection over, we all foregathered in the kitchen in various states of night attire to drink tea and discuss the problem.
Tea drunk, biscuits eaten, someone remembered that there was some ham in the fridge to make sandwiches and the committee decided that the best thing would be to switch off the electricity to the immersion heaters which seemed to be supplying the loos and drew up a rota for morning showers so as not to waste the water already heated.

The gentleman who looks after the house was consulted the next day…and reluctantly said that we would have to have a plumber…and possibly an electrician….
Good job he saved us all that money when the water gave out!

Disasters apart, life went on.
The fossil expert discovered fossils of coral on the steps to the courtyard and, rooting in a cupboard, came up with something like a giant snail, painted gold.
‘Vandals!’
It was a fossil, a large fossil, and is gradually being scrubbed free of paint to take its place under the almond tree in the entrance.

We went to the local mushroom fair where we bought shoes, honey and a truffle…

We went to the seaside…..

We went to see our lawyer……

We visited small villages, roamed on roads made from crushed limestone covered rapidly with an asphalt carpet which led up into forbidding mountains, bumped on rocky tracks to visit remote chapels…

We had a great time, exploring…

Visitors came and left, with shifts in the shopping…red wine took over from white, pork from mussels…and then it was time for me to go to visit my mother in Southampton.

She had a list of things which needed attention, so it was an intensive shopping session – thank the Almighty for John Lewis and the helpful staff – and we sat up talking into the evening, with a consequent late start to the morning.

Up before mother I had been making tea and offered to bring her a cup. She was sitting by the window in her dressing gown, the curtains drawn across.
I made to draw them back but she stopped me.

‘No! Leave them alone!

‘But it’s dark like this…’

‘Doesn’t matter! I’m in my dressing gown and you can see this window from the vicarage!’

Given that there is a belt of trees between the two and that only by hanging out of mother’s window at risk of your life could you see the vicarage back door I felt that mother was exaggerating, but she was adamant.

‘But the vicar has other things to do than to lurk at his back door to see you in your dressing gown!’

‘That’s as may be, but leave those curtains alone!
I’ve never taken to him…he doesn’t visit like the last vicar…
And he’s into vestments…I suppose he’d be happier in Rome but with all those children he’s had to stick to the C of E….’

Remembering the previous incumbent whom I had always considered to be the C of E’s version of Ian Paisley, while being a loving, caring man, assiduous in visiting his parishioners, I began to wonder what social revolution had taken place in the parish.

Mother had the answer.
‘Of course, we old people are dying off and you’ve got the new types…found religion to get their children into church schools and they want value for money….plenty of show and no substance!’

Clothes bought, a new television ordered, I leave at 1.00 a.m. for the coach to Gatwick….and return to the house to find that I can find nothing: neither in the kitchen nor in the rest of the house.
Desperate for a shower and some lighter clothes I look in vain for my old pair of corsair pants which I had left in the machine for the next routine wash….

Nowhere to be seen.

Enquiries are promulgated…one person remembers hanging them out…another remembers seeing them in the laundry pile…no one knows where they are now….

I shall have to rename them my Scarlet Pimpernel pants:
They seek them here, they seek them there….

And until they are found I can’t get up to weed the terraces…

The ‘Phone Call

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powerisastateofmind.blogspot

Friday morning for me in Costa Rica, Friday afternoon for my mother in England.
Time to call her for her shopping list.

She used to have a shopper, but when she retired and handed over to a younger woman mother could not get along with things.
Items would not be bought…didn’t have any….the sell by dates could be as close as the next day….oh, it’ll be all right…or some cheaper alternative would be provided…that’s the brand my kids prefer…

So now I call her on Skype, she gives me her shopping list and I go on line to Tesco and make the order which will be delivered to the door a week later.
Thus she doesn’t have to carry anything heavy and doesn’t have to go out at all if the weather is inclement.

So, the nine o’clock coffee out of the way I wind up Skype.

The ringing tone is answered promptly and my heart sinks as a suspicious voice asks

Who is it?

Glory be, mother’s friend Adolpha, over eighty and hard of hearing, has collared the ‘phone.

I tell her it is me and I’m calling to get mother’s Tesco list.

Fatal error. I hear her saying to mother

There’s some woman here from Tesco trying to sell you something.

As I am about to bellow a correction down the ‘phone in the hope that mother can hear it at the other side of the room, Luzmilla – Friday is cleaning day – comes in from the balcony shooing a dog before her. Volubly.

At the other side of the world Adolpha adds

Some foreign woman.

Seeing I am on Skype and assuming that I am talking to my mother Luzmilla shrieks a greeting into the laptop.

Sounds hysterical!

I suppose they have to meet targets, says mother’s voice.

Plenty of English people would like those jobs replies Adolpha, herself from Austria. It’s a disgrace and she doesn’t even speak English!
Now look here, whoever you are….

At this point I manage to get her to understand that it is me on the line…

Well why didn’t you say so!
Here, it’s your daughter.

We get down to brass tacks and mother is just wondering whether to change her brand of tea bags when Monty the lamb, unable to find Leo and in need of milk, nudges me sharply on the arm and bleats loudly.

What on earth was that?

Monty.

That doesn’t sound like a lamb….too loud.

Luzmilla, who fed Monty on her lap when he was tiny and adores him, tells me she will heat the milk while I’m on the ‘phone and as Monty bleats again as he sees the fridge door opening she replies with a bleat of her own.

More like a camel…No, I think I’ll stick to the same ones…Now, meat…

We set off again while Monty is fed and Luzmilla moves off into the bedrooms, her progress marked by the banging of the broom against the skirting boards.

Then the insect sets off. I don’t know where it is, I don’t know what it is though I imagine it to be some sort of over endowed cricket but it makes a noise like a dentist’s drill and can be heard over a wide area.

Now what’s going on….I’ve lost my train of thought…
An insect? No insect makes a noise like that…Danilo must be working somewhere…

Lamb chops – but loin chops, make sure they are loin chops – decided upon, the merits of gammon come under the spotlight as opposed to pork….and then the dogs bark furiously as Danilo’s son arrives on his motorbike with the day’s supply of fresh milk for Monty, to be received by Luzmilla with much shouting at the dogs to be quiet.

It’s a madhouse…whatever is going on? The milkman on a motorbike…still I suppose it’s better than mine – a new man I think, comes creeping around late in the morning, when he thinks I can’t get to the door fast enough to complain about the Gold Top! If that’s from Jersey cows I’m a Chinaman.

I think they must water it down, says Adolpha in the background and she and mother discuss the likelihood of this, oblivious to the seconds ticking away on Skype, their conversation ending in
You can’t trust any of them these days.

Mother decides on the gammon.

We have run through most of her list with a slight pause at Evian water as she was sent Buxton water in error last time and does not want a goitre at her age and then she thinks she will have a packet of breakfast cereal….

Puffed wheat, I think…
And then the guinea fowl strike up, legging it past the back door…

I know what that is. That’s those awful birds you had in France who kept trying to drown themselves….
Whatever possessed you to get some more….and don’t let them send me organic puffed wheat.
Tasted like cardboard and a tiny packet for the price….
Yes, that’s the lot….

We say our goodbyes and as I shut down the call I hear Adolpha’s voice in the background

They said it was organic, but how could it be? It came in a cellophane packet….what’s organic about cellophane?

Shopping with Mother

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No, not shopping with mother as of recently…the scythes on the hubs of the wheelchair, the walking device held in rest as if pricking into the lists and the purse providing a safe environment for elderly moths…..

Shopping with mother when I was a child and we had just moved to Surrey.
We moved further into Surrey a little later, but this is the period I remember – perhaps because it was all different.
Different accents, different houses, different schools.

We could go in two directions.

To the right it was a long walk along the ribbon development of thirties houses, detached or semi behind their gates and hedges – privet much in evidence with the sharp smell of its flowers in summer; old man’s beard showing its feathery heads in autumn.

We would pass the unmade up lane with the wooden weatherboard houses one of which was home to an elderly maiden lady who would give me moss roses in season while she and mother drank tea under the trees….
We would pass the house on the corner with the monkey puzzle tree – home to a cantankerous and incompetent doctor who is responsible for the damage to my middle ear (I have a long and unforgiving memory when it comes to health professionals)…
Further on there was the house ruled by the whims of an African Grey parrot, companion of an old Scottish lady – relict of a minister – who used to give me Beauty of Bath apples from her tree while my father tidied up her garden…
Then to the parade of shops near the church to which I was despatched for Sunday School on the dominical afternoon to allow my parents time to dispute the nature and availability of marital rights.
For some little time I suffered a confusion between marital rights and Marian rites – probably due to the High nature of worship on offer at said church as commented upon by the minister’s relict – but kept my confusion and subsequent enlightenment to myself.

The fish and chip shop…working up for its lunchtime trade…the sweet shop next door, beautifully positioned opposite the zebra crossing serving the children from the school opposite.
I remember the dragon of a crossing keeper who would shout at children who crossed the road to visit the sweet shop only to want to cross back again with their booty once selection had been made among the pear drops, wine gums and chocolate bars.
I used to wonder whether she was responsible for the accidents to children on the sharp bend by the church back down the road…but, again, kept my thoughts to myself.

Past the photographer with wedding pictures in the window where mother would drop in rolls of film to be developed or collect the results in heavy paper envelopes, strips of negatives tucked into the special pocket.

The pet shop opposite was not on my mother’s rounds…my father would take me there to buy biscuits for my dog,Sandy; large ones of different colours…I remember beige, red and green…and black, charcoal ones, said to counteract the flatulent effect of the green ones.
Clearly, no one had told Sandy. I learnt to take cover whenever he would stir, heave himself up from his rug and take a stroll down the hall; seconds later the lungs would be overwhelmed by a smell so virulent that you would think that thirty school canteens had simultaneously decided to boil cabbage to death.
Silent but deadly…that was Sandy.
The pet shop was a delight as its owner had a mynah bird which could imitate …as I recall…every regular customer and I was thrilled when I in turn had the mark of its recognition as it gave forth what was evidently my standard cry…’There’s the mynah bird…’

But, back on mother’s path, the road began to run downhill into the main shopping area…butchers, bakers, grocers and – to me the high point – the Co-op.
The Co-op did not stock food…but it seemed to have everything else and above all it had those wonderful change machines…little metal tubs on wires which would whizz at ceiling height between the wooden counters and the cash desk.

There was a Marks and Spencer but we did not darken its doors. Mother objected to their prices and to that fact that they had no changing rooms, so that if something did not fit you were obliged to make a special trip to return it.
I wonder if they were placing their money on the markets overnight even then…
If so they made nothing from mother.

British Home Stores on the other hand, did have changing rooms and their quality was every bit as high as that of M and S so while knickers and liberty bodices – was there anything so ill named – were bought at the Co-op, dresses blouses and skirts were bought at BHS.

This was as far as we went, unless taking the train to London, or when, occasionally, my father would walk us all down to the old fashioned pub near the station where we would sit in the beer gardens – lush borders worthy of a country house garden – while Sandy would eat crisps – the twist of blue paper containing salt having been removed and added to my bag – and I would sip at my sharp, fizzy lemonade.

If we turned left when leaving the house then the walk was shorter…but steeply uphill. We knew no one on that stretch and clearly did not enter The Cock Inn which had no beer garden but did have a door mysteriously labelled Snug.

At the crossroads at the top of the hill was a large pub….white, with car parking space in front. Going straight ahead led to the swimming baths to which schoolchildren would be bussed to have their heads held under chlorinated water in a laughable attempt to teach swimming. Luckily I contracted what was unblushingly known at that time as African Foot Rot which released me from that particular torment.

On the right was the wool shop. I dreaded mother turning that corner as it meant sitting on a chair for a long time while she and the owner discussed exactly what sort of wool would be suitable for yet another knitted skirt and jumper set to make my life unbearable. To this day mention of ‘heather mixture’ can depress my spirits and make me start to itch.

On the corner itself was a butcher’s shop. A proper one. Poultry with ruffs of feathers hung head down; rabbits swung by their hinds, blood at the nose. No turkeys…it was before turkey time…but geese, yes. What were called ‘green’ geese in the autumn, fresh from feeding on grass, and ordinary geese at Christmas.
No meat on display…everything was kept in the cold rooms behind and I used to position myself to catch the waft of cold acrid air as the door was opened.

To the right was the row of shops leading to the cinema.
I remember the Home and Colonial Stores with its gold lettering on a black ground, where mother bought tea and bacon – often, all too often, the ultra salty Ulster for boiling – and J. Sainsbury, all marble topped counters and white tiled walls, where she bought breakfast sausage…a liver based delight which I would gladly meet with again.

On that road too was the bus stop where the chocolate and yellow coaches of Surrey Motors would pick up passengers for day or afternoon trips in the good weather.
Mother and her sisters would sometimes book tickets for themselves and their children; cream teas figured largely as did historic houses, though I also remember a trip to the Cheddar Gorge notable for one young dare devil standing on a cliff edge shouting
Look, Mum…no hands!

No, not one of us.

And on the same road was the ironmongers, delighting in the name of Sprange, which I used to think might be the name of one of the utensils sold there…for it sold everything from buckets to mouse traps via sink plungers and tools.
Crowded shelves lined the walls; there was a wooden counter in the middle; items hung from the ceiling and the men in brown warehouse coats who served knew where everything was.

They might have been traditional, but they were not behind the times.
At a time when aerosol cans were a novelty they stocked them, bearing a product for disseminating scent for use in the loo, which came in colours supposedly appropriate to the smell of the contents….pink for roses, blue for lavender….
Several ladies were interested in these delights to the detriment of their family budget and they were selling fast on a day when I followed mother inside.

What was to happen next would confirm for me that the British – at that time – were a very self controlled race.

One of the brown coated gentlemen approached the elderly lady at the head of the queue.

Yes, madam. how may I help you?

I want an arsehole.

Not a twitch from the man at the counter. Not a sound from the customers.

Certainly madam. Which colour would you like?

A blue one.

Certainly, madam…I’ll just have it wrapped for you.

No comment was made, no knowing looks were exchanged even after she left, purchase tucked in her shopping basket.

Once mother had bought the steel wool she had come to buy we too, left the shop.

Did that lady say….

Yes she did.

And then we both had to sit on the seat by the traffic lights, laughing until our stomachs were sore.