Hello and welcome to another Saturday Story; chapter 5 in the continuing adventures of Erin and Mrs H as they come to terms with life amidst social distancing, shortages of beans and toilet paper and panic buying.
This week they are battling boredom!
Chapter 5: Called to the Bar?
"No your not, dear."
"No, you're not. You can't be.
"I am too. I feel it; that sort of restless prickly sensation."
"That could be the kitchen scourers and washing-up brush you're sitting on. If you move to the left – your left, there are some new thick bath sponges I got from Mrs Singh. Guaranteed shred proof; but please do not take that as a commission to prove them wrong!" Mrs H had been shopping early that morning and caught up on some much-needed shopping essentials. Mrs Singh had been kind enough to pre-pack the items and then seal the shopping bags, so all Mrs H had to do was use her contactless payment card, then take the bag and leave.
Erin walked over to the sponges, and after prodding with her paw, some careful body placement and more than a bit of wobbling from to and fro managed to settle herself down. A few minutes later, however, she was not so happy.
"Nope, it's no good, now I feel bored AND seasick, or maybe that should be freshwatersick? Maybe I'm spongesick!"
Mrs Hudson looked up from her Wireless Times magazine, in which she'd be circling the radio programs she wanted to listen to, and then sighed. "Now, as there is no water nearby – none except the washing up bowl, which you never go near, you can hardly be fresh or saltwater sick, Erin. It's just in your imagination. Maybe if you sit on something solid?"
"Maybe if I ate something the boredom would go away. What do you think?" Erin said, sat looking at her tummy and gently prodding it. "I could squeeze another meal in, a small one wouldn't hurt."
"Boredom has nothing to do with your tummy. It's a slippery slope to think that."
"So, is that a no to a light snack before our midmorning break?" Erin asked with more optimism than was due.
"Yes, that's a no. And to be fair, it's only 8am, and you just ate. The hunger, like the boredom, is just in your imagination."
So it's my imagination that's bored then?" Erin asked, seeing an opportunity for a snack. "Maybe my imagination hasn't had it's breakfast yet? Yes, I bet that's it. Mrs H, can my imagination have breakfast please: runny egg and soldiers, followed by half-fat cream nip frappe."
"Glad to see your imagination is health-conscious, Erin. I shall see if my imagination is up to it, after all, she has been busy too, planning lunch and scheduling some exercises." Mrs H paused momentarily, index and middle fingers touching her temples, and eyes shut. "No," she said, snapping her eyes open again, "apparently my imagination says breakfast service is now finished. She suggests that your imagination needs some exercise to stop it from being bored."
"Exercise Mrs H, that sounds like hard work, and after all, I have just had my breakfast. But what sort of exercise did you have in mind?" Erin gave Mrs H a sideways look. Mrs H's ideas, to Erin at least, seemed to involve her doing all the activity and Mrs H merely directing.
"Nothing much, really. Well not to start with anyhow. Like all good things, first, we have to study, then we do."
"I knew there'd be a catch – homework. This 'good' thing is going to be calculating the number of squeezes of washing up liquid in a bottle – the hard way, one bowl of washing at a time. Or maybe the number of broom strokes to clean the floor?"
"But you did enjoy those games though. Especially the making shapes out of the laundered sheets. Triangles, squares and rectangles all nice and neatly created with 90-degree corners."
"Oh yes, I really liked making the pyramid shapes underneath," Erin butted in.
"Oh, my those were fun games, and most practical too." Mrs H smiled, remembering how they'd made a game of some of the household chores and actually got the tasks done quicker. There was always a reward at the end of it, and both slept well each night.
Erin pondered a moment, then her curiosity got too much. "OK, so what do you have in mind?"
"Nothing at all arduous as it happens. In fact, a lot of sitting down and watching the internet. Then once we have done that we can have even more fun."
"OK, so long as my imagination and I get an early lunch, then I'm in. No chance of popcorn is there?"
Mrs H's frown was the only answer Erin needed. Popcorn, she had frequently advised her, was all excess calories. And very messy, especially the way Erin played with her food which meant Mrs H was vacuuming up popcorn from under the sofas for weeks after.
Two hours later. . . . .
Two hours later. . . . .
With the curtains drawn and the study's lights dimmed – to give the effect of a cinema – the two settled down to watch a comedy play from the National Theatre, that was being screened free of charge on YouTube. The was even an intermission in which Mrs H donned a small waitress hat and came round offering small trays of treats, paper cups of tea, and some excellent feline sandwiches with the crusts cut off. By the end of the performance, Erin and Mrs H were weary from laughter. But not so tired that as the curtain came down, they applauded loudly, whistled, and gave a standing ovation. Erin's call for an encore meant Mrs H had to rewind the video feed, but it just added to the fun.
"Well," Erin professed, as Mrs H pulled a black towel over the computer screen to mimic the curtain falling. "THAT was the best piece of homework I have ever done. I feel all 'cultured up'."
Mrs H smiled. "I thought you'd like that. Comedy lifts the heart and makes the time fly by. Now, hows about a little exercise to round the day off? If we'd travelled to London to see that play live at the National Theatre, we'd be able to walk back along the south bank of the River Thames and then to the train station."
"You're not suggesting we go down to the village stream, are you, Mrs H?" Erin was most concerned as at this time of year the geese were out and were likely to try and chase her.
"No dear. Nothing like that, especially as we need to be social distancing and that would count as an unnecessary journey. No, what I have in mind means that we just need to stop at home and do a tour around the palace. If you would like to take a break and have a clean up and then a nap – maybe for an hour – then we can begin."
Wondering what on earth Mrs H had planned, Erin agreed to meet by the front door in an hour and thirty minutes. From there they would begin the next part of the day's entertainment.
Ninety minutes later. . . . .
"Now, if you'll follow me, and do keep your eyes open."
"What for? There better not be any geese around. It's one thing feeling peckish but being pecked by a Canadian goose is NOT on my list of must-have things for a Saturday afternoon. And aren't Canadians supposed to be very polite?"
"Canadians are polite, dear, but geese do not fall into the same sphere as humans. They see felines and humans as predators and threats. No, what I want you to look out for is anything unusual in the grounds. The more things you spot, the more points you get. My only clue is that they will be related to either the play, a trip to London, or the flora and fauna of our land and the current season. There are three bonus items too, so be extra vigilant. And the more points you get, the more things you get to choose. Like what to have for supper, or what to listen to on the radio. Or what book you'd like me to read to you."
"And what treats to have?" Erin was beginning to like this new sort of game very much. Treats would be topping on the cake, though Mrs H always metered out treats as they were very fattening."
"If you spot everything unusual, then yes, there may well be a treat or two in store." Mrs H winked but would expand no more on the matter of prizes. Buoyed with the prospect of treats, as well as the many other items offered as rewards for spotting things, Erin set off around the palace grounds. There was, however, one caveat: Erin could not just blurt out anything she saw. Wrong guesses would mean a point taken away and given to Mrs H.
"So if you aren't careful with your choices, and don't consider whether something is or is not unusual, you may end up owing me a penalty. The range of penalties includes: cleaning the silver, dusting, washing up, and letting me pick the evenings entertainment. The more points you lose, the more time off from doing chores I get." Mrs H gave Erin a knowing smile and a raised eyebrow which usually meant she was serious.
The rest of the afternoon was spent outdoors looking around and under hedges and in the plant borders. Erin even looked at the palace itself and was rewarded by finding the three bonus items: a wheelbarrow on the parapet, a sock on the weather vane, and some cutlery dancing across an upper window. For those three Erin was awarded a small treat there and then. Mrs H had, with the help of old Ned the gardener, placed cardboard cutouts, pictures and various other items around the gardens. There were likenesses of buildings that would be seen when walking along the River Thames. Of course, the trick was to spot items that would NOT be found on the Thames.
In her eagerness, Erin initially said many things were out of place. She had pointed out the sparrows that should have flown off when they saw her but didn't. As a result, she lost quite a few points, and Mrs H took the lead. But she soon learned to think back to the play, her history, geography and natural history lessons to find out what was actually out of place. A colour image of a kookaburra – clipped out of the National Geographer Magazine almost had Erin fooled. Then she realized that it wasn't a Kingfisher, a native UK species, and managed to get her final point of the day.
"Go on Mrs H, tell me how many points I got." Erin pleaded as they sat down for a well-earned cup of tea a short while later.
"I am pleased to say, dear, that you did very well. Though you didn't get all the differences. Your biggest mistake was thinking the kangaroo was a hare. they may both have big ears, but there is a substantial height difference. Saying that it was up a tree was not going to wash. And thinking the leaning Tower of Piza was the Post Office Tower was quite adrift of the mark. Even on the bright pollution-free days that we now have, Italy is too far to see. Another clue would have been the fact that the Post Office Tower doesn't lean, well the real one doesn't. I think Ned may have stuck that picture in askew.
Mrs H smiled most warmly at Erin, pleased that they had achieved so much. "That aside, I believe congratulations are in order. Your prize is that you get to pick tonights movie. I, however, get to pick supper."
"Brilliant. Just so long as it's not cabbage and mashed potato themed, again!"
"I can absolutely assure you that there is NO cabbage involved. Potatoes in the form of crisps, yes, and I am of a mind that a nice cheese dip – low fat, would go well too. Accompanied by a nice fresh salad and fresh salmon."
Erin was delighted with her prize and even helped with the washing up afterwards.
The following day, Mrs H had another surprise in store, and insisted they both smarten up and meet at the study door after lunch for a very special on-screen presentation of. . . .
"A ballet, Mrs H. Wow, I have always wanted to see Swan Lake." Erin was not keen on swans for the same reason as she disliked geese. But, unlike geese, swans were far more elegant, and she loved to watch them float regally down the river throughout the summer days.
"I thought you would, though alas this week they are not showing Swan Lake. The National Ballet of New Zealand is presenting a broadcast of a live recording of Hansel and Gretel. If you recall, that's the story with all the cake and biscuits in it."
Erin's eyes rolled with delight at the thought of a gingerbread and candy house. Come the designated hour, this time it was a matinee performance, the two arrived at the study door. Inside, an orchestra could be heard warming up. Mrs H dimmed the lights, and the pair settled into their seats to watch a full two-hour performance of a great tale. Come then end, Erin and Mrs H once more rose to their feet and applauded the dancers who appeared to take a bow.
"Wow, that was wonderful, Mrs H, wonderful. They are true athletes as well as performers. Each one could be a feline for they had the grace stamina and poise. I feel in awe and weary just watching them."
"I thought you'd like that one. There are many other organizations out there sharing plays and ballets. All for free, though you can give them a donation to keep them going till after this crisis is over. Had it not been for the crisis," Mrs H continued, "I'd have taken you to the Much Deeping–Hollow cinema where they screen live performances."
"What about today's homework, though?" Erin asked, concerned that this could not be considered anything other than a delightful afternoon of entertainment. "There has to be a downside to this surely, maybe some sort of test as to ingredients for gingerbread?"
"No dear, noting quite as mundane. Though that would be a good idea for another day. No, later on we will reconvene in the palace gymnasium, or the playroom as you like to call it."
After a deliberately light afternoon tea, Erin sat waiting for Mrs H by the playroom door. She noticed on arrival that the door had a sign tacked to it that said 'Dance room, soft shoes only.'
At the chiming of the hour on the hall clock, the 'Danceroom' doors swung open and there stood Mrs H.
"Welcome, dear. I hope you are ready for a little piece of gingerbread magic?" She smiled, and swung her bare arm inwards and invited Erin to enter the transformed room. Where there once she would have seen shelves of nicknacks, and boxes of toys, there were now rows of mirrors. Placed in front were two wall to wall wooden handrails, one set at 42 inches from the floor and the other, 12 inches.
But it wasn't the barre, to give it the proper spelling, or the mirrors or the mats on the rooms polished wooden floor that was the most surprising feature of the room, it was Mrs H herself. Gone were the drab housekeeper's items of uniform, instead were the clothes and dance shoes of a teacher. Pale pink tights and dance slippers and a black leotard now adorned Mrs H's seldom-seen figure. The one thing unchanged, Erin was pleased to note, was Mrs H's unruly hair was still secured in a lop-sided bun.
"Now, as you found the ballet so exhilarating, Erin, I thought we would do a little workout. And then, all being well over the coming weeks, we can maybe work up to a little performance of our own. How's that sound?"
Erin was initially flabbergasted. Speechless in fact, though once her jaw closed and she thought about it, the more she 'relished the chance to dance'. "I think that sounds brilliant. Will you be the wicked witch and me Grettel?"
"I think that is a grand idea. Though alas I could not get Ned to be Hansel. He did say that in his day he had a few good moves of his own. Alas, since the incident with Jumbo, his back isn't up to a 'sauté'. Well not unless it's in a frying pan!"
Erin didn't realize that 'sauté' referred to a jump. Instead, she had images of Mrs H twirling around with a hot frying pan full of sausages, fried egg and mushrooms; none of which she could recall from the ballet.
Having explained some of the terms of ballet, including 'saute' Mrs H took them through some stretching exercises to warm the muscles and calm and focus the mind. Then, with some background music playing, she demonstrated what she had learned as a girl. As she progressed she picked up the pace, and towards the end, it transitioned from warm-up into dance proper.
Erin clapped in awe. There was far more to Mrs H's skill than just cleaning; though she began to understand how she could move so quickly when she worked and could pop up here and there without a sound.
"That, my dear Erin, is what we can achieve, even when rusty. I have to say it is wonderful to be back at the barre. Ned did a great job installing it, them, for us. But what we need to do now is just have fun. The workout we will get is the actual work bit of this. The treat will be having more energy and vitality and to sleep in longer and better in the mornings." Mrs H blew a curl of hair that flopped over her forehead and now dangled before her left eye.
"So no actual treat then, or points and prizes?" Erin asked, a little disappointed by lack of something tangible at the end.
"Oh, there is. For one, the more energy we expend here, the more we get to eat. Calories burned here mean we can have more for supper. More of your favourites too, like salmon and chicken. Plus I shall award points for style and progress. The better we do, and you note I include myself in that, the more we get at the end. Most of all, the fitter we stay. The village dance mistress, Miss O' Fling, has said she will do a one-off exam for us, from afar, in the village hall. There we will have to give a small performance. Certificates will be awarded and medals given. But not before we have got to a certain level. Now, how does that sound?"
Erin liked the sound of the medal, and a certificate was always welcome on the study wall. Best of all, was the keep-fit angle. ANYTHING that meant she could get to eat more chicken or salmon and didn't involve real-life geese or swans was good for her.