Afternoon Delight

via Daily Prompt: Tea

Last week, my niece Amber celebrated her seventh birthday. She told her mum that, instead of a party, she would like to go for afternoon tea at an upmarket local hotel. It’s one of those places with a gym and a pool and Amber had seen the Afternoon Tea menu advertised one morning when her mother took her swimming. We all thought this request was out of character, as Amber is the archetypal tomboy. If she’s not playing football or being Spiderman, she’s climbing trees and having fun with her two dogs. But the menu choices seemed to have mesmerised her and her mind was firmly made up.
The whole family, well, the distaff side, turned out, dressed to kill and ready to hit the dining room. There was Amber, her 11-year-old cousin Cara, mum Maggie and me, Auntie Noreen, Granny Brigit and Great-Auntie Josie. Talk about competitive! The two seniors had donned wedding hats and brandished their handbags like weapons, and Amber even wore a dress – unknown!
In the dining room, we could almost inhale the gentility. Flowers were everywhere, dahlias and gladioli, in sparkling containers brimming with greenery. The table linen was as gleaming white as Granny Brigit’s new dentures. Our chairs were noiselessly adjusted by smart young waiters as we were seated, conversations hummed around us in muted tones, spoons really did tinkle against fine bone china. It all felt a bit like an Agatha Christie murder mystery was about to kick off, so much so that I found myself peering round to see if there was any sign of Jane Marple or the immaculately French Hercule Poirot. But no, there was only our excited little party and a dozen or so other ladies, taking tea at tiny tables, waited on by a contingent of attentive waiting staff.
Until. We had oohed! and ahhed! over the neat pyramids of wafer-thin sandwiches, the light crumbly scones with oodles of jam and cream, and were dreamily contemplating the heavily-laden cake stand – chocolate and cholesterol heaven – when HE arrived. Our daddy, Brigit’s ex, Willie.
Picture the scene. A mature – 85 next birthday – stocky chap, short in stature but making up for it in havoc potential, paused in the doorway. It was like an alien had entered the chintzy room and every female’s eyes swivelled to check him out. Willie wasn’t wearing his glasses – vanity being another of his main attributes – and seemed to be having some difficulty in focusing. Our entire table groaned, before turning to concentrate on the contents of the cake stand.
Except Amber. Reverting to her usual demeanour, she leapt to her feet and yelled, ‘Grandad! We’re here! Just look at the size of our bloody chocolate eclairs!’ The very room seemed to gasp. Grandad followed Amber’s call, weaving his way through the seated ladies, occasionally nodding and winking, coming close enough to hover over Cara, eyeing the unfamiliar bevy before him with something resembling incredulity.
‘Is it you, Brigit?’ he eventually blurted. ‘Is that you? What’s wrong with your face? You look like a tomato plant!’
As one, we turned to look at Granny Brigit. To say she’d turned scarlet would be an understatement. She swayed to her feet and removed her primrose hat, crumpling it against her green twinset in short fat ring-festooned fists. She’d gone from tomato plant to velociraptor in the space of five seconds. Fiery sparks shot from her eyes in Willie’s direction.
‘I invited you,’ she growled. ‘I distinctly remember asking you to come. But you said you’d a snooker match at the club. Too busy playing with your coloured balls to come to your grand-daughter’s party. And what in the name of God is that you’re wearing?’
She’d done it now. Everyone in the room stared at Willie’s turquoise silk jacket, peach chinos, yellow paisley cravat and engineer boots. The fact that he is only sixty inches tall and had his hair slicked back like John Travolta in Grease seemed to somehow complement his choice of outfit. ‘He looks like our old Andy Pandy with a quiff,’ I whispered to Maggie, who glared at me and tried not to giggle at the same time; no mean feat.
‘It’s not the party, Granny,’ Amber piped up. ‘The party’s tomorrow. Today is afternoon tea.’
‘Afternoon tea?’ Willie’s eyes widened to a zombie stare. He gripped the back of Cara’s chair, threatening to tip her out of it and onto the parquet flooring. ‘Don’t they serve any proper drink in this fancy shebeen? I’ve not got done up in my best gear for bloody afternoon tea!’
A rush of activity ensued and Willie was surrounded and rapidly seated by the smooth young waiters. As though by magic, a pint of Guinness appeared on the gleaming tablecloth beside the waiting chocolate fancies. Willie smiled and chucked Amber under the chin. ‘That’s more like it, you know what your old Grandad likes, darlin’, don’t you?’
Amber looked at him innocently and nodded. ‘Yes, Grandad, football and drinking and snooker and chips and golfing and…’
Cara dived in to change the mood. ‘Would you like a scone first, Grandad? Before your drink?’
Willie thought about this. He looked around the table, taking in the mixed expressions of the adults and the trusting young faces of the two girls. ‘Well, if there’s no chip butties on offer, I suppose I could risk a scone.’
Beside me, I felt Millie relax. Across the table, Brigit’s face still threatened war, but we knew that she wouldn’t spoil her granddaughter’s special day. The ladies at the other tables had lost interest, sensing that no fireworks were going to be set off, and returned to their muted gossiping.
Amber picked up a china plate and loaded it with a huge fruit scone, a pot of thick cream and a tiny jar of strawberry jam, before handing it to her Grandad. She waited while he prepared his feast and took a bite before turning to Maggie, her expression serious.
‘Next year, Mummy, if we come for afternoon tea, I think we should all wear fancy dress, like Granny and Grandad. I’ll be Spiderman.’

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Smell like a new man

Perfumes for men and boys? Why not? They’ve been smelling of sporty shower gel and sharp aftershave since at least the sixties or seventies, when heavyweight boxer Henry Cooper advised them to ‘splash it all over’.

Nothing wrong with a bloke smelling like he’s had a decent wash. Trouble with these millennials is, though, they’ve all got beards or heavy stubble. How can you get a good niff round your jaws if you haven’t shaved? Oh, excuse me, I didn’t realise that modern lads just rubbed their fragrance of choice over their hairy chops. Seems a bit strange, though, like changing your shorts without having a bit of a spruce up around your dangly bits. Still what do I know? I’m a dinosaur, apparently.

But it’s definitely taking the piss when I read that some new men’s fragrances are inspired by the scents of concrete, skateboards and even – I’m not kidding – baby teeth. Has the world gone mad? No, not the world, just, as usual, the market. And marketing.

I’ll tell you something for nothing, though: I’m quite partial to the smell of freshly laid tarmac. I think you call it asphalt in the US. That’s a good strong, masculine pong: maybe that’s where the notion of a fragrance reminiscent of concrete comes from. Who knows? It might catch on among those rugged muscular types, maybe. Can you imagine? New fragrance, what’s that called? ‘Concrete mix’, really? Mmmm… different.

Skateboards have never played any part in my everyday life: roller-skates, yes, when I was a kid, mostly associated with the smell of sticking plaster and lint bandages, with light notes of iron from oozing blood trickles. Course, you only get the iron notes if you catch the blood escaping from the plaster on your grubby fingers and then lick it off. Ah, the sweet remembered tastes and smell of playing out in childhood. Yes, maybe there’s something in that one. What about ‘Blood and Sand’?

Milk teeth – does this have anything to do with baby breath, a delightful, milky, unique scent? Doubtful, by the time little ones are losing their milk teeth, their breath smells of toffees and liquorice and fizzy drinks. Or is that only my grandkids? My imagination can’t quite reach far enough to come up with a name for a men’s fragrance inspired by milk teeth. Suggestions on a postcard, please.

Sport? Not by any definition.

Today I am making Paella. I’ve got chicken pieces, prawns and Chorizo sausage. It should be easy – how hard can it be? It’s only a sort of risotto with protein in, instead of my usual mushrooms. I’ll tell you how it turns out.

Lately, I’ve been struggling with my liking for flesh. I won’t lie, I love nothing more than a crispy bacon butty, a nice thick rare steak or a succulent piece of salmon with pasta. But something on Twitter recently stopped me in my tracks. It was a whale hunt, taking place in the ocean around the Faroe Islands. The first post I read, last week, was about a mother and baby pilot whale, a type of dolphin, who’d become separated from their pod and, seemingly, escaped the hunters’ nets. But not for long, as a photo showed all too graphically. Mother and baby, dead, laid out side by side on a blood-soaked beach. That day, the Twitter post informed me, 193 animals had been slaughtered. For sport. I moved on quickly to the next post and put the image out of my mind. It was nothing to do with me, after all.

But a day or two later, there it was again, further news of how the hunt was progressing and the shocking information that nearly 1000 Pilot Whales had been killed by this hunt in just two months. Nearly one thousand dolphins. I had a mental picture of them, rounded up, trailed to shore in the nets thrashing and trying to escape, to save themselves and their young. Then suffocating on the beach, before the ‘sportsmen’ – read ‘killers’ – arrived with their clubs and their lances, the surf turning red. I couldn’t ignore a thousand dead dolphins: I opened the attachment and read further details. It appears that the whale carcasses are used to provide food for farmed salmon, you know, the type I buy, once a week, in the supermarket. I don’t know why this should have affected me so much, killing whales on an industrial scale, for sport and to fatten captive salmon, to feed me and other people like me, just ordinary people, who enjoy a bit of fish once or twice a week. I didn’t know about this annual slaughter: did you?

Why did it trouble me? I thought of the dolphins I’ve seen, off the west coast of Ireland, surfacing, splashing their tails, swimming alongside the tourist boats with their calves. Maybe they were Pilot Whales, dolphins, maybe not, does it matter? They were just alive, happy, splashing along, going somewhere, wherever it is that dolphins go, but not expecting anything like a boatload of hunters – ‘sportsmen’ – to be waiting, planning their deaths on an industrial scale.

I think I’ll cook the mushrooms.

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Don’t Lose that Holiday Feeling

You know how it is…you go on vacation, have a great time, swear that you’ll change when you come home, talk to your family, drink less, dump the junk food, exercise more, ignore the small stuff that winds you up and makes you a grumpy bear. Then you come home, and reality bites. We’ve all been there, for sure. How is it possible to hold onto that optimistic vacation mood when you’re back in the rat-race, when the morning alarm sets you in motion for the day, when you’re working for the man or, increasingly, you don’t even know who you are working for? What then, Happy-Chops, or should that be, Sad Face?

Well, I’ve been thinking about this: there must be a way to keep smiling, or at least stop living out your days behind a clenched jaw and gritted teeth. No, I don’t mean win the lottery, or inherit a fortune and an island in the Caribbean, though that would be pretty awesome. And this is what I’ve come up with so far:

Stop predicting

No-one does this more than me: I am the original prophet of doom. Even though my predictions are generally way off, I always think I ‘know’ what’s gonna happen. This is so wrong: nobody knows. So don’t do it. Just stop it, okay? Wait and see. You might be pleasantly surprised.

Think new day, every day

Okay, so yesterday was a bummer and gave you a headache. And today you’re not going to take shit from anyone. But, you know what? Today might just be the day someone smiles at you and treats you like you’re a human being. Or you could reverse this and try using the smile technique yourself. It’s amazing the difference a little friendliness and politeness makes. It’s positively contagious, and I mean positively. Try it, I’m pretty sure you’ll like it. And it works, too.

Don’t give yesterday’s hurt a free ride

You know how sometimes you are so pissed off about something, you just can’t stop thinking about it? Even though you can’t change it or control it? So, what happens is, you are so intent on replaying your pain that you don’t leave any room for a little joy to sneak into your day. So, thinking that one through, how are you ever going to feel better, to feel happy again? You’re just letting the pain take you over. And that hurts, you know how much. So here’s what to do. Allow yourself one hour a day to obsess on the cause of your unhappiness, no more. Set the alarm if necessary. After 60 minutes switch the thought off. You can go there again tomorrow, and the next day, for as long as you need to. But I think what you will find, if you do this and don’t cheat, is that each time you will need less time to relive your pain. And what does that mean? You will have more time for joy. And that’s a good feeling, right?

I’ll come back to this topic again, so check in from time to time and let’s see if we can keep smiling together.

Happy Holidays!

 

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Is it a viper..?

The saga of our visiting snake continues. This holiday we have been providing visiting opportunities for some of La France Profunde’s native wild creatures. Some wilder than others.
My innocent – bless – relatives were so fascinated with the snake referred to in an earlier post, Wimps Abroad, that they spent some considerable time – when they could have been lazing about, drinking beer and sunbathing, or even playing boules with the locals or doing a spot of gardening – crouched by a hole in our stone garden wall, poking each other and exclaiming ‘It’s moving!’ ‘I can see its head!’ ‘Watch it! It’s coming out!’ and suchlike excited commentary. It was like listening to giddy children watching a live birth.

Instead of rushing to boil water and warm towels, I poured myself a generous gin-and-tonic and left them to it. It was only later, when the photographs were pored over by us and our neighbours, that the question arose: was it, as we’d anticipated, a harmless grass-snake type of serpent, or was it a venomous viper? Apparently it’s all in the eyes, harmless snakes have harmless-looking round eyes: venomous vipers have snake-eyes vertical slits. But the photographs do not prove anything one way or another. The snake did not come out of its hidey-hole and bat its eyelashes, like Kaa in Disney’s Jungle Book. It stayed put and thereby set us all a-tremble. Would it return later and bite one of us when we weren’t looking where we put our big clumsy feet? Would it shimmy up the back wall and slide into the bedrooms at night where we lay asleep and vulnerable? Probably not. We wittered on about these issues at length. It hadn’t been all that threatening, just lurked in its hiding place, keeping its head down. So we drank some more beer and eventually forgot all about it.

Hunters’ Feast

We joined the local hunter’s club for their annual feast yesterday. For six hours we dined on fresh produce, venison, local cheese, cakes and wine in company with around 100 local hunters and their families. A delightful, friendly, fun day, with much warm hospitality and good humour.

The meal was conducted at a leisurely pace, with breaks for the odd unexpected fanfare from a little chap with a genuine French hunting horn, a surprisingly competitive tombola – after which widespread swapping of prizes took place – loud snatches of song and lots of franglais with our nearest diners. Spontaneous outbreaks of applause rippled around the large dining area: I have no idea what prompted these but we joined in merrily, clapped and cheered along, presumably to thank the organisers, the chefs, the horn-player, the singers, the waiters-on and the clearers-away. And, of course, the bold hunters for providing the huge amount of game in the first place. I am no gourmet and have not previously eaten much venison, but theirs was succulent and wine-soaked and very delicious. Even the Bambi jokes didn’t spoil my enjoyment.

 

 

Back in the Old Country

Here we are, back home for a week. Too much traffic, too many noisy kids, too many people in the supermarket checkout queue. But still… people say ‘How’re ye?’ They talk to you, in proper sentences, they put you right if you take the wrong road, they’re not too busy to spend five minutes explaining where your old bank has relocated to.
For sure, all the millennials are glued to their mobiles, pavement cyclists still try to kill you, but they apologise, with charm, at the same time. It’s a dangerous world, the Old Country, but friendly: know what I mean?
And did I mention how feckin’ stunning the Old Place is? Just so’s you’ll know you can believe me, I’ll post a photo.