44. Green Peas

pexels-photo-768089.jpegThe boyfriend loves raw peas, and I try to grow some for him every year. Sometimes, there’s enough for a feast; in other years there is just one pod per day to savour.

He buys loose peas but I think their flavour is muted compared to frozen peas. However, he will never know of this superior taste because he won’t eat cooked peas.

As a child, it was a privilege to be asked to pick these gloriously english peas from the garden and sit around lazily shelling them into a bowl. Nothing compares to the juicy sweetness of freshly-picked peas. Stuffing tumbling handfuls into our mouths, not wanting to make a second trip into the garden for more, in case we missed some gossip from the Sunday lunch visitors lingering in the kitchen. Those were the days where lettuce was either round or iceberg and never came in a packet. It would never have occurred to us to use the pea shoots in salads or as a garnish, but now it is as ubiquitous as parsley or coriander are these days. Such simple memories of washing freshly dug potatoes and carrots from the garden, knowing that in an hour, two families would be squashed round a table, on different sized chairs, eating juicy chicken with fresh garden vegetables.

14. Shopped

pexels-photo-236910.jpegIt was the big Asda’s (or was it Tesco’s?) TEN year celebration in an out-of-town location, opposite the high school, where kids wearing that uniform were banned from entering during school hours. The store was built on the site of the old pit, where a few of the ex-miners who misspent their youth underground, now worked above gound, but still in the dark, on the very same spot, in the draughty warehouse or night stocking shelves. The store had recently been significantly extended and was now a flagship hyper-megastore, with a cafe, dry cleaners, hairdressers, travel agent, shoe shop, hot curry counter, pizza and rotisserie chicken bar, a discount bookshop as well as an electrical department to rival Currys.

I’d been taken off the checkouts, where I worked part-time, to become a full-time store guide for a few weeks. It was an easy job. The money was ok and the staff canteen did lovely school dinners. It was the same food as they sold in store, that we had at home. To be able to get a subsidised fried breakfast, hot lunch and another cooked meal at tea time was pure luxury. It was one of those satisfyingly great jobs I never realised was as good as it was, until after I’d left. I’d come home physically tired, sleep really well and get extra points for taking home some of those whoops products on their last use-by date. We got to try all sorts in our house. Croissants in a can that you bake yourself was probably the strangest thing.

A recce to get my bearings and memorise where stuff was on the shelves didn’t take that long. No further training required. I pretty much knew what I was doing for the next month. I wore a sash which said, ‘STORE GUIDE. HAPPY TO HELP’ The job was to walk round asking customers if they’d managed to find everything they needed. When they inevitably complained about “not bin able t’find ‘owt cos everything’s bin moved raand”, I would fetch the items they wanted. Sometimes they didn’t know exactly what they wanted, so I’d return with three brands of beans so they could choose.

Sometimes, I’d go in the back office and blow up a load of helium balloons, and if Angie was on Switch, I’d sing that Rolling Stones song to her, in a squeaky voice. I’ve never laughed so much at work since. Then, I’d walk around the store handing out promotional balloons to children, and whenever I saw some older kids, I’d give them the downlow on where the cheapest crisps, biscuits and pop were so they’d get maximum value for their pocket money. (Six bags of crisps for 33p, two litres of lemonade for 12p and some custard creams or bourbons for 29p. You can’t beat that kind of value. Every little helps and all that.) If it got busy I would “jump on the tills” for an hour. In the same way that some people sleep talk as if they’re still playing a POV shoot-em-up, I’m sure I used to dream about those infuriating scanner beeps in my sleep.

The newspapers and magazines were just by the entrance, and there was a whole family browsing the Disney videos and birthday cards. I saw a little girl stand up on tiptoe to try and stretch to reach one of the balloons on sticks, and heard her say wistfully, “I wish I had a balloon.” None of the family had seen me up to that point, so I walked up behind the girl and said in my best fairy godmother voice, “You wished for a balloon and your wish came true,” and I cheerfully handed the astonished child a balloon from my bunch. Her mother and I smiled at each other, and there might even have been a moist eye. The kid was saying something about magic, while her parents kept telling her how lucky she was, and that she should thank the nice lady. No-one should ever underestimate the joy of such a simple thing. People stand in the street selling them and whole cartoons are based on them lifting people up, up and away!

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Years later I realised that my youth and inexperience had made me the willing mark in a recurring con. Every week, some of the lads I went to school with would buy a bottle of peach schnapps (it was the 80s) and pay at my till. I thought it was because I knew how old they were, so they wouldn’t have to prove their age, and also because they wanted to say hello to me. Then, the same lads would come back through my till a few minutes later saying they forgot to get some crisps, or pop or whatever. They’d show me the peach schnapps,which I naturally assumed was the one they had bought earlier, plus the receipt and then they would pay for the crisps.

It never occurred to me at the time, that they were hiding the original bottle in the car, coming back back into the shop, getting a second bottle pretending it was the same one, and simply sauntering out of the store, brazen as you like, with my blessing, unchallenged.

You live and learn.

10. After Show Party

It was one of those rare Saturday nights when a half-decent band decided to play one of the satellite towns near where I lived in the North of England. This was 1980-something and mobile phones had not yet been invented, so arrangements were finalised in advance. The boyfriend would drive me, his sister and her friend into town, so they could go to the local hair metal club and get chatted up and bought drinks by men in leather trousers, puffy shirts and frizzy hair. Me and the boyfriend would go to the gig and we would all meet up afterwards and go home.

After the gig, the boyfriend and I went back to the car. I decided to wait in the car, and snooze. He was going to go to the club, find his sister, tell her we were ready to go, and come back to the car and wait with me for them. There was no point both of us paying to get in when we’d only be in there for about 20 minutes or so.

It was a proper open-air ground-level car park. I wouldn’t have waited in my own in a multi story. I hated them. It was probably because of something to do with watching ‘Death Wish’ when I was too young to understand it.

I locked the doors, reclined the front passenger seat a little, put the radio on low, and snuggled down using my coat as a blanket.

A few minutes later, I heard an obviously very drunk woman slur, “I need a wee.” I heard her stilettos scrape on the Tarmac and she bobbed down between two cars parked in front of me, hoisted up her skirt, pulled her knickers down and began to pee. I had a front-row seat. Her boyfriend was a few cars over from me. I could see the light come on as he opened the car door. I don’t know what came over me, but I briefly pressed the car horn. The toot startled her and she fell over right into the pee.

I was stifling my laughter, and hiding at the same time. She scrambled to her feet and half-slurred, half-shouted, “why d’you beep at me? You made me fall down,” over to her boyfriend. “It wasn’t me.” He shouted back. “Get in the car. You piss-head.”

They drove off to the sound of Def Leppard blasting out. A few minutes later, the boyfriend returned.

“Sorry I was ages. There’s a tour bus outside the club. It was packed inside. I nearly didn’t get in. Took me ages to find her. She said she wants to stay there a bit. So I got you these.”

“Ooh chips” I said. “Thanks. Did you do double vinegar?”

“Yes. Watch you don’t spill any on you. There’s some in the bottom of the tray. I know you like them soggy. And I put loads of salt on. For your blood pressure. No scraps though.” he replied. “They didn’t have any. That kebab meat looked disgusting. It stunk. Some bloke dropped his doner as soon as they’d given it to him, but they gave him another one. But I did remember to get you one of those little forks.”

“Plastic or wooden?”

“Wooden”

“Anything good happen while I was gone?” He said.

“No.” I yawned. “Nothing to report.”