Friday, 23 December 2011

Happy Christmas in our village? Perhaps.

   It’s been incredibly busy around the village lately as we all catch up on Christmas shopping and the purchase of sufficient alcohol to sink the proverbial battleship, but we have now lapsed into a mulled haze of pleasantries and goodwill.  Work is officially over for the OH this afternoon but he’s managed to arrange to work from home today, which is just as well as we went carol-singing round the village last night.  This is generally a very pleasant evening out, aided by the unseasonably mild weather which meant we were all sweating buckets by the time we got into the pub that was our final stop, but no-one seemed to either notice or mind.
    There was only one downer in the entire evening, in fact.  Most houses in the village now have at least a wreath on the door or a visible Christmas tree lit up in the front room, but quite a few have illuminated icicles, rippling snow-flurries or even Santas in their sleighs.  I hate to think what the electricity bill is for some people as not everyone fitted solar panels...  However, one house had a wide array of lights attached to its front and planted in the garden but none had been switched on.
  “Oh look,” I said to one of my fellow singers, “they’ve realised how much electricity they’re using and have decided not to turn them on yet.”
  “Didn’t you know? That’s Janet and Brian’s house.”  I shrugged in my ignorance, so my informant continued, “She was pregnant with twins? Tall woman with blonde hair?”
    I thought back over some of the larger people I had seen around the village lately and could faintly recall an attractive blonde who was clearly finding pregnancy very tiring.  “Has she had them then?”
  “They weren’t due until January 17th, but she went into labour last week.  Both babies went into a special care unit but one of them didn’t survive and it’s touch and go for the other.  They’re probably at the hospital.”
  It was sobering information through all the merriment.  How does anyone celebrate Christmas under such circumstances?   It made the words of ‘Away in a Manger’ far more poignant when we sang it at the next stop, whatever one’s religious beliefs.  And I had a chat with our ‘head chorister’, Les.  He was going to donate the money we collected to the Parkinson’s Society for family reasons, but now it’s all going to go to Sands, a support group for people like Janet and Brian.  And I shall pop a note through their door this afternoon, asking if they want to drop in for some cake when they get back from the hospital.  I can’t imagine they will, but the least I can do is offer.  Merry Christmas indeed.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Bring me sunshine...

As I was walking down to the post office last Friday, attempting to post all my overseas cards before the last posting date, I could have sworn that I saw Verity's Max speeding by in his car, the indicator flashing as though he was heading back to his former home.  I haven't seen him in the village since Verity threw him out back in April, so I wasn't entirely certain, but the car was definitely familiar. I speeded up my steps to the post office,  joined the lengthy queue of like-minded people and eventually returned home only to discover I'd left Celeste's presents on the kitchen table, and she has now decided she will be staying in Switzerland after all since it has snowed, so it was back to the Post Office again before they closed for lunch...
All of which meant that by the time I was able to phone Verity to ask if she knew Max was driving through the village, there was no answer.  I think she had said she would be at a planning lunch for next year's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in our local town, though it was probably a Christmas lunch for the planning committee without any actual work being done.   Either way, I wasn't able to get hold of her that day, or over the weekend.  Finally, yesterday, she returned one of my calls.  She was unusually vague about where she had been over the weekend, but she was able to confirm that it had indeed been Max who I had seen on Friday.
"Wretched solar panel people, couldn't actually pick a day to turn up and then keep to it," she said, "so I asked Max to be there and make sure they didn't leave a hole in the roof."
"I didn't realise you were even talking to Max," I said.
"Well, it wasn't ideal, but he at least knows where all the various switches are in the house that they might have needed access to," she admitted.  The words came in a rush, as though I wasn't the first person she'd had to explain to.
 "Why couldn't they come back today instead, when you could be there?"
"Oh, I'm not staying at home today, I have some book thing to go to and then some Christmas shopping to do.  Besides, it would be too late for the deadline - haven't you been following the news? I thought you were going to get solar panels yourselves."
We had looked into solar panels at one point, but the outlay needed was horrific and I thought the subject had been dropped.  I asked the OH when he got home, though.
"Oh, there was a good deal on the price you could sell the electricity back, and they're halving it from tomorrow.  That's what she meant about the deadline.  Still haven't ruled it out, though.  As technology improves, the price of the panels and their installation will probably come down, we can do it then. Seems the decent thing to do."  And he went back to reading the post while the TV was still on, wasting more electricity.
I'm going to have to invite Verity for lunch at some point, I think, to find out exactly what's going on, because she's far too keen to rush through phone calls and dash off at present.  It can't all be because she has to finish her Christmas shopping!

Sunday, 4 December 2011

News of the World I'm Not

You're probably wondering what happened about Fiona's flowers.  Well, actually, if you've been as busy as I have over the last couple of weeks, you've had too much to think about to wonder about the mendacious Fiona and her envy-inducing flowers.  I've been trying to shop for Christmas presents, without much success - nothing looks terribly appealing, or if it does, I'm rather put off by the price tag.  Still, I bought some lovely earmuffs and matching scarf and gloves for Celeste, since she was going to be a chalet maid for the time being, at which point she phoned and said that since there hadn't been much snow, it was possible she would be home for Christmas after all.  Perhaps it will be cold and snowy again here? 
Anyway, I went round to Fiona's as soon as I'd finished doing the washing-up after dinner that night (grilled pork chop with a stir-fry vegetable medley and some steamed cabbage, in case you're interested) to hand over the flowers and challenge her on her lack of honesty.  Not that I really care, you understand, just to see what she said.  I was very disappointed.
"Oh, thanks for taking those in.  I'd taken my little charges up to town to see the new art exhibition.  You can't start introducing children to culture too soon, in my opinion." (The children she looks after are all under three.  I doubt they know what an art gallery is, other than a place to run around. I bet she was intensely unpopular and didn't care an ounce.) "It never occurred to me that there might be a delivery."
"I was a little surprised you were out," I told her, keeping as straight as face as I could manage before dropping my little bombshell.  "Though I was even more surprised that someone could be under the illusion that you've just turned forty."
Fiona turned very slightly pink before retorting with a reasonably-well aimed barb of, "Taken to reading other people's cards, now, have you? I suppose with nothing interesting in your own life, you have to resort to invading others'."
I tried to point out that the card had fallen out of the flowers but not wanting to have a full-blown argument on the doorstep at a time when other people are still out and about, I stopped defending myself and went, without even asking who D was.  I'd make a terrible tabloid reporter and an even worse witness at that Leveson enquiry, crumbling at the first refusal.
Meanwhile, I have found an old recipe for Christmas pudding, so I thought this year I would have a go at making my own.  The only disadvantage is that even once the quantity has been reduced down as far as I can, it makes about 20 pounds of pudding.  Consequently I've been boiling small puddings every night for the last week and plan to give them as Christmas presents to some of the older residents in the village.  It's a good recipe and there's something lovely about home-made, so I hope the recipients appreciate my efforts.  The house is developing a lingering odour of Guinness and currants; the OH is talking about getting it redecorated next year and I don't think it's a coincidence.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

An Opportunity

   I was just about to sit down to a lovely cup of coffee and a biscuit and a chat with Joe after whizzing round the whole house with the polish and a duster, when the doorbell rang.  It was the local florist, though this wasn't immediately apparent as he was struggling with an enormous bouquet of flowers.
   "Hi," he said, once he had managed to arrange the flowers and his arms in such a way that his face was visible.  "I'm really sorry to bother you,..."
   "Oh, no bother if you're delivering such beautiful flowers!"  I was about to help the flowers out of his arms and into mine when he turned them slightly away from me.
   "Um, no, sorry, they're not for you.  That's the point.  They're for a Ms. Haggerty, couple of doors down?  But there's no answer there, and I could see the lights on here...  Could I leave them here for her?"
   I was about to tell him what he could do with Ms Haggerty's flowers but he was quite a young chap and might have been shocked.  I was also dimly aware of Joe hovering somewhere between me and the kitchen, waiting for the kettle to boil  So I smiled my sweetest smile instead.
   "No, that's no bother at all," I oozed at him, retrieving the flowers in what I believe to be a smooth move. (Eat your heart out, England rugby team.)
   "Brilliant, thanks.  I'll leave a card for her to come round."  And he set off.
   I was slightly disappointed that she would know that I had her flowers, but never mind.  No good deed goes unpunished.  I carried them through to the kitchen with Joe holding the door open fully for me so that the flowers weren't damaged, and then put the basket on the worktop.
   "Look, there's a card fallen out," Joe said, bending to retrieve a small white object that had fluttered to the floor.
   Now, I would never *open* an envelope addressed to someone else, but if the contents actually fall out, then it would be foolish not to read them.  And boy, was I rewarded!
   "Happy birthday, Fi - now you'll see that the big four-oh was nothing to worry about after all! All my love, D."
   Innocuous? You may very well think so.  I, however, was in the same class as her at school.  So I know that she's known for a few years whether or not one should worry about being 40.  D, it would seem, does not, despite sending all his (her?) love.  Now where would D have got such a misconception from?  I am actually looking forward to handing over the flowers later.  And the card.  Separately.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Show-us interruptus?

This last week has been rather busy as I was roped in to help with Front of House for the local choir's autumn show. I know this is not strictly village-based, but bear with me. It's the kind of thing that *would* happen in the village, and there are people connected with it from the village.  The show was a full-blown musical production with orchestra and everything, and watching the dress-rehearsal looked pretty amazing, but the front of house team (and probably the rest of the folks behind it too, though I didn't have much to do with them) were all rather frazzled because it was a new venue for them.  Normally this wouldn't be a problem, but apparently, according to Annabelle, who is a friend of a friend of Jennie's and was running the team, they'd only had three weeks' notice of the change of venue.

I was telling Verity about it over a hastily grabbed coffee on Monday, after it was all over, as I hadn't had a chance to chat to her when she turned up with a group of her 'ladies' at the Friday evening performance.  "It seems very odd that they should have so little notice that their venue wasn't available," I told her.  Annabelle had been rather busy so she hadn't been able to tell me anything.

"Well, what did they expect?" Verity almost snorted, though she would never do anything as inelegant as that, not in company.

"What do you mean?" I asked.  "Do you know something?"

This was a silly question, as Verity is so well-connected that she knows most things about the local area, some of it true.  And if she has been correctly informed, I suppose the change was rather predictable.  Without naming names, a member of the senior management team at the school where they were originally going to perform found out that his wife had been having an affair with a member of the choir, and said affair had been going on for some time (Verity thought years, though she wouldn't swear to that). When said cuckold also discovered that the choir hadn't got anything in writing about using the premises for their show, he immediately arranged for the premises to be withdrawn.  Hence the need to find an alternative staging point in next to no time.

"Of course," Verity added, "the school are denying it. The official version is that an electrical fault has been discovered that is a fire hazard. But everyone knows that's just a cover.  Right, got to go."  And she left without even asking for a biscuit.  She's up to something.  She would never leave without having half a biscuit.  Unfortunately, I shall have to wait until she tells me, because I just don't have the contacts she does!

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Oh the irony...

    Susan has just been round selling poppies again - she did try last week, but I must have been out or busy or something.  Anyway, she was also able to tell me that the police have found out who broke into the school - and it must be true, because Annie told her and the buzz is all around the playgroup.

   Apparently, Carol and Tony had been going on at home and to anyone who would listen about how the school was at risk because of all the church silver being there, and their darling teenage son, who has a few disreputable friends it would seem, decided to investigate.  He and a couple of said disreputable friends broke in, failed to find any church silver (which the vicar is keeping at his burglar-alarmed vicarage) so they ate the last of the biscuits in the staff room, drew a few rude pictures on the whiteboards with the wrong kind of pen so it won't wash off, and then left.  It was their handwriting and sloppy spelling that gave them away as much as the bragging on the school bus  the following day.

   Needless to say, Carol and Tony's picket of the school has now stopped and their younger children were brought to school by a neighbour.

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Catching Up

I've written a blog entry for posting several times since the last update, and each time I have been overtaken by events.  So rather than post each of them and bore you with old news, here is a brief synopsis.

First, just days after a news item on thieves stealing cables and BT showing how complicated the innards of such cables are and my saying to the OH thank goodness that hasn't happened here, it happened here.  Consequently the village was without phone or internet for several days, rejoining the modern world piecemeal as the cable was repaired, except for those who had a reasonable mobile signal, which wasn't many.

I was all ready to tell you about that and the forthcoming play in my next post, especially since the OH and I were both helping with the front of house and could have thrown some light on backstage shenanigans.  Unfortunately, the backstage shenanigans, in the form of the leading lady falling off the stage during the dress rehearsal after too many gins to delay her nerves and breaking her ankle, led to a rather subdued pair of performances and a last-minute Caroline, who was going to be the prompt, reading the part on stage with a book in her hand.  The cast all did their best but it really wasn't quite the same.  The director was seen muttering backstage after the second performance that he'll be banning all alcohol until after the shows next year - so good luck with a) attracting a cast under such rules, and b) enforcing it.

On the Monday, Halloween, the school had been planning a costume/charity day, in which the children came to school in their costumes rather than pestering elderly village residents in the evening, paid a small amount to go towards a charity but still received lots of sweets courtesy of the teachers and the PTA.  However, because the church is still squatting in the school hall, the vicar had made his disapproval very clear and the event was cancelled.  Carol and Tony and their chums were all picketing the school at home time, fashionably damp in the costumes they and their children had been wearing all day since they had been kept out of school in protest at what Carol calls 'church brainwashing'.

Then, on Thursday, the police were round.  The school had been broken into on Wednesday night and cupboards rifled, though nothing significant seemed to have been taken.  Carol, naturally, has told the police that clearly the thieves were looking for the church silverware and that the children are in danger of further attacks as long as the church insists on sharing the space, but the sergeant seemed pretty sceptical about at least part of this explanation when he asked me for any suggestions as to who it might have been.

On top of all that, Celeste has announced that she's taking time out from her university course to be a chalet maid in Switzerland.  No amount of pleading with her on the telephone could convince her of the error of her ways, her rationale being based largely on the fact that Switzerland is not in the eurozone.  Her father is not speaking to her and disappears off to the pub whenever I raise the subject.  I can only hope that November, after a dodgy start, is an improvement on October.

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Church vs. State

The recent sunshine seems to have mellowed most of the residents, as we have had a couple of quiet, trouble-free weeks, Aunt Sally notwithstanding.  It came as no surprise, then, that the change in the weather has brought a change of temper.

It took only a little spark, though I suppose with no definite end-date, it might leave some people feeling rather uncomfortable.  The essential problem is this: for some unknown reason (I would normally say godforsaken but it seems a little too ironic), the church vestry, which is being refurbished, was built using some form of asbestos.  Therefore, the entire building is off-limits until the specialists have removed the offending material and declared the area safe to enter.  In the meantime, even the vicar isn't allowed in.  As he is one of the governors of the village school, the obvious alternative meeting place to celebrate the various services is the school hall.  Obvious to him, that is.

Last night, a group of parents, about six of them (doubtless resorting to safety in numbers) decided that they weren't happy about this arrangement and went round the village, knocking on doors to ask us all to sign their petition, namely that the churchgoers should find somewhere else to meet while the church is out of bounds.  It wasn't clear how many parents at the school object, or if it was just the half-dozen out enjoying the break in the showers, but they clearly felt very passionate about it.

"It's brainwashing," Clare told me, with her husband/partner Tony nodding as punctuation.  "It confuses children, having church and school in the same place." (Nod.) "I, I mean we, don't have a problem with people going to church but they shouldn't force it on us and our children.  I mean, they've started asking awkward questions!  So you see, you have to sign the petition."

"Umm, but where else can they go while the council won't let them into the church?  It seems a reasonable solution to me.  And after all, the school always has their Christingle in the church."

"That's not the point," Clare fired back.  "And anyway, Jesus didn't even have a house for his meetings, let alone a school hall.  They should meet in the graveyard.  At least that's blessed ground, or whatever they call it."

Privately, I wondered whether Jesus would have been as happy sleeping rough if Judea had had the climate of the UK but I doubt Clare would have taken kindly to such a suggestion.  I bottled out in the end by saying that since my children had long left school, I didn't feel it was appropriate to get involved.  Clare was a bit huffy but the light was fading by then and they clearly had other houses to visit, so Tony and the others moved onto Delyth's house even before I had closed my door.  I shall let you know if they are successful!