I am conscious that I haven’t blogged on this site for a while, but the delay was made worse by the deaths of my father and his sister within a month of each other in March this year. Both died as a result of our family curse, strokes, which previously took both their parents and another brother, the latter at only 49 years old. Back in October 2011 ,I came across a charity called InterAct Reading Services where professionally trained actors and actresses read short stories and poetry etc as part of a programme of supporting the recovery of stroke victims who have been lucky enough to survive. The charity run a short story competition biennially under the name of one of its patrons, Baroness Ruth Rendell of Inspector Wexford fame.
Given the history of strokes within the family, even before the events of last March I decided to enter, along with the added inducement of a £1,000 prize and the opportunity to write four more short stories over the next twelve months for the charity. Suffice to say I didn’t win, although having read on the website www.interactreadingservices.org the winning entry by Christian Cook, it is not hard to see why. Therefore I have decided to reproduce one of the two entries I submitted, it is a light-hearted monologue type piece which as you will see from the tags, unashamedly refers to the Black Country and to the Brownhills/Clayhanger area I now firmly regard as home. Enjoy.
I light a scented candle and wait for the aroma to gradually waft around my kitchen, hoping it masks the smell of the grill pan, on which I had earlier made a sacrificial offering of pork sausages. As the candle burns brighter, slowly releasing its delicious scent of Passion Fruit and Orchid, I complete the usual morning rituals before scrutinising the day ahead, and the likely goings-on in that little part of England’s Black Country that I now call home.
I wander out to the conservatory; the sun is out and so is Max, our feline friend from next door whom I’m convinced, seems to be on a perpetual mission to try and prove cats really do have nine lives, despite all evidence to the contrary. With his fluorescent collar and his wanderlust nature, Max seems to be everywhere. I have even seen him crossing the main road through the village to get to the fields on the other side, before skirting a stream to get into the next housing estate, where presumably he has conned his way into someone else’s affections. Our family barbecues are not complete without a visit from Max seeking any leftover offerings, and we have several photos of him perched upright on a chair, with the “I’m waiting” look of expectation that only domestic pets can muster.
The phone rings; it rings several times every day, everyone from charities and utility companies to government advice on debt re-structuring. This last one I find particularly amusing, given their stated preference for paying off the nation’s credit card. Because my surname is different to that of my partner, I am frequently mistaken for a Mr Cox, which always results in a) having to patiently explain that my name is not Mr Cox and b) no, it’s Miss Cox and she is not here either. One caller from Sky TV having thought I was the mythical Mr Cox, then asked if Mrs Cox was available, to which I replied; “Mrs Cox is my mother-in-law and doesn’t live here. Trust me, if she did, I wouldn’t be”. Both my partner and her mother thought this highly comical, so I’ve kept it in the folder marked Sarcasm for Cold Callers, for future reference.
It’s just gone 11.30, and I can hear the sound of the letterbox being opened and our daily quantity of junk mail, pizza leaflets and perhaps the occasional item of wanted post being delivered. As a former employee of the Institution previously known as the Post Office, I look back fondly on the days tramping the streets, all in a mad rush to ensure that the morning mail was actually delivered in the morning: i.e. before 9.30am, rather than anytime around midday like now. Deliver it any later, and they’ll have to start calling it Brunch Mail. Thanks to Royal Mail’s so-called improvements to its service, getting your mail delivered at a regular hour can be almost as frustrating as phoning for a Doctor’s appointment – you hang on; and hang on; and hang on…
I return to the kitchen to make yet another cup of tea while also checking said post, as there appears to be one or two items of interest for a change. As it turns out, they are both bank statements. But at least it’s gratifying to know how diligently the Banks do manage to keep track of what little money I do have in my accounts. It’s just a shame they were unable to show the same diligence before we as taxpayers, had to put our money into their accounts!
I pour the boiling water into the cup and wait for the tea in the bag to draw. Being of Irish descent I naturally like a strong cup of tea. A former colleague – I refuse to call them co-workers – once asked me the difference between English tea and Irish tea. I told him that for Irish tea; you had to leave the bag in the cup for a good couple of minutes to enjoy the full flavour of the tea. With English tea on the other hand; you simply dipped the bag into the hot water, before discarding it faster than a politician’s election promise.
I check the scented candle which has burned another half-centimetre of wax; the aroma of Passion Fruit and Orchid now pervades the whole of the ground floor. It is time to extinguish the flame. I replace the lid and return the candle tin to the window ledge, safe in the knowledge, that it will probably be needed again quite soon.