Saturday, 11 April 2020
The Shopping List . . .
Testing, testing, 1 2 3. Testing. . . . Ah-ha there you are! Welcome to our new post, which as some of you will note, is NOT attached to the Sunday Selfies. In fact, it's the Saturday NOT selfies. Well, it would be if there was such a thing.
OK, the reason we are here today, Saturday, is that Mrs H hasn't been able to take any pictures of me this week. Which sort of leaves us up the proverbial gum tree without a kookaburra – or some such phrase. Anyway, as penance, I left her to sort out our supplies of food and tissue paper and wandered off to find useful things to do.
Thirty minutes later, and with no mice to be found, or food to eat, or toilet roll to shred – we're saving the nation's supplies – I decided to fill the large gap by writing a short story.
Now a lot of folks don't have time for our longer tales, so I decided we'll post this on Saturday instead of Sunday. That way you can all enjoy a bottle of sparkling vino with your curry, read the story and still get to church on time the following day. Well, a virtual church that is, where you can attend in dressing gowns, nighties and beard stubble – not necessarily on the same person! 😊
So without further ado, here is the fourth part to our Lock Down adventure. This week's episode is called 'The Shopping List'.
"Finally. There you go, Mrs H, I've done this week's shopping list for you." Erin said one evening, sat in her favourite fireside chair and surrounded by multiple screwed up attempts at the Palace's weekly shopping list.
Mrs Hudson lowered her glasses and looked over from the sewing table where she sat. She'd been crocheting mittens for the kitten orphanage in the neighbouring town of Much Deeping-Hollow. Currently, she had a set of four lined up on the table ready for a final inspection and then the adding of little strings that linked each pair – so they didn't lose them.
"Well that is kind of you, dear, I shall be over in a second. Or maybe you could read it out for me?"
"Oh, ok. Let me see," Erin paused momentarily and then enquired. "Do you want it alphabetically?"
"If you like, thank you." Mrs H smiled. Erin had been taking her education seriously of late,
especially with the forced distancing from other cats and humans in the village. Home-schooling had become their daily morning activity and had expanded to include subjects like Menu Planning, Orienteering, and Route planning. It was in the last subject Erin had taken a particular interest and was now focusing on timing Mrs H's weekly shopping trips. She had, she informed Mrs H, one morning over her runny egg and soldiers, a scheme that she believed could shave many minutes off the weekly shop. All via some careful rerouting to, inside and from Mrs Singh's non-corner, corner shop.
A few moments passed while Erin rewrote her list. Then, having cleared throat, she started. "A, C, Divine, Ewww!, Finger-licking-great, H, Itchy, J, Nice, Nonstarter, Pongy, Sticky, U, Wiffy, Yucky and last but not least, Yummy." Erin looked delighted with herself. "And that's the list. Logical when you look at it. Plus I reckon by following your nose you should be able to get straight to where everything is and save valuable seconds in the store. What do you think?"
Mrs H nodded sagely and smiled while pondering her answer. She also had a sudden urge to forego the usual cocoa and opt for a double sherry instead that evening, as it was likely to be a long one! "Well, I have to say that all sounds fairly economical, but I am at a loss as to what each item could be? I think you best explain what it all means?"
"Of course," Erin continued, "Divine is for cream, so that follows C. Do you see, Mrs H?" Mrs H nodded but kept quiet.
"Next comes Ewww! That's for baked beans. Finger-licking-great is for those pieces of southern fried chicken you get from deli-counter. Itchy is the rice you spill that gets under my paws. Nice is for those nice mouse kebabs. Nonstarter is for those cream crackers you insist we have with the cheese. Pongy is for the sardines, and your pasta is Sticky, while that chilli is Wiffy. Brussels sprouts are undoubtedly Yucky, and finally, Cheddar cheese is Yummy."
"A rather impressive piece of reasoning, Erin, though I think that you may have failed to factor in one important thing."
"Oh, what's that?" Erin looked disappointed that her planning had missed something, and as a result had not received the support she'd hoped for. On top of that, it looked like she'd now have to ask Mrs H to buy another new notepad and some Tipex!
"Well, dear, the one key thing is to remember that we don't all have the same taste. Whether it be music, hobbies, lifestyle, or as in this case, food, we all sense things differently. For example, I do like Brussels sprouts, so those would be Yummy on my list. And the mice kebabs are definitely Ewww! in my book. Sadly, as a result, I do think it will all get very confusing. And I can't imagine Mrs Singh will be able to keep up with the signage changes needed to describe the olfactory preferences of each customer." Mrs H held up her hand to forestall Erin's question about what a factory had to do with anything. "And before you ask, olfactory means the sense of smell. Nothing to do with musty, damp old warehouses."
Mrs H paused to watch Erin mentally digest what she had said and then continued. "But what about all the single letters? I couldn't help but notice that you haven't given a sensory explanation for them?"
"Oh, that's easy, they're the tins of spaghetti!"
"I don't understand. Why spaghetti, and why so many different letters?" Mrs H mentally checked off the different brands of spaghetti she bought, and Erin's reaction to the different smells and tastes, but still couldn't see the connection to the letters.
Erin smiled at having finally outwitted Mrs H, who usually was never short of a correct answer, or know where to find it. "I thought if we bought another five tins of spaghetti – alphabet spaghetti – I'd be able to find the last five letters I'm missing from my collection. For some reason, I just haven't been able to find the letters A, C, H, J and U. Let me tell you, supper time has been more frustrating than playing Scrabble when I get all the continents!"
"That'll be consonants," Mrs H corrected; but didn't want to linger on the subject as Erin always got in a huff due to not being allowed to use her variation of spellings. "How about we just redo the list for speed rather than smell and taste? That way, your work isn't totally wasted. And with any luck, I can shave a few seconds off tomorrows shop."
Erin smiled. Pleased to have something to do, she set about drafting a revised list based on the layout of Mrs Singh's shop.
8.00 AM the following day, Erin clicked the stopwatch and waved Mrs H off on the first leg of the weekly shop. It had turned out to be far easier to redo the list for speed, than smell and taste. Erin now felt confident that with the changes to the route to the shop via farmer Heap's field, and changes to the path around the store, the time could be trimmed by a whole ten minutes. All she had to do now was wait. With any luck, in approximately 1 hour 32 mins and 54 seconds, Mrs H would come cycling full pelt down the home straight (aka the drive) with panniers full of food.
By 10 AM Erin was getting concerned.
By 11 AM she was wondering if maybe she should telephone the RAC (Royal Automobile Club) of which Mrs H was a member, to see if she had broken down and needed a tow home.
By midday, Erin was hungry. The one thing worse than not having lunch, she thought to herself, was not having a friendly housekeeper there to make it. It was clear something had to be done, and fast, else she'd run the risk of missing her supper too! She trotted into the hall and was about to make a call to the police when she heard the sound of a tractor pulling up the drive. Shortly after the muffled sounds of voices could be heard, and then the tractor departed. A short silence was followed by slow and weary footsteps crunching across the gravel drive. After a long sigh, the front door creaked open, and a dishevelled, mud-stained Mrs H staggered into the hall.
"Ye gads!" Erin exclaimed as she studied the figure before her. "Mrs H, is that you? What happened?
Mrs Hudson dropped the shopping bags on the floor, stretched her back, and looked resignedly at Erin. "Well, it was all going rather well until that Satnav route of yours took me through the farmyard. I do declare these farmers should signpost the muck piles and slurry ponds. Farmer Heap was rather good about it all, and once the bicycle and I had been pulled out and hosed off, we shared a nice cup of tea. Quite therapeutic, I must say. He then gave me a lift into the village on the back of his trailer, and then a lift home again."
"Hmm, I don't suppose my route around the shop worked, did it? I mean we can't count the times to and from the store, but what about inside. Did we save any time there?"
"I have to say I was going to try your route but decided against it. One must remember, Erin, that besides having different tastes in food, we are also different sizes. Me running over, under and through small spaces in Mrs Singh's shelving really wouldn't work."
Erin frowned. Another failure to add to the growing list of failures. At this rate, she'd never get the Girl Guides' 'Route-Finder' badge.
"But," Mrs H continued, "I did manage to knock a whole fifteen minutes off the time inside the store. In fact, allowing for the length of the queue outside the store, I knocked a whole forty-five minutes off the time. Not bad considering." Mrs H's pleasure was quite evident in her broad smile. This smile was accentuated by mud stains that lingered around her mouth and eyes, giving her a sort of 'muddy clown' look.
"But how?" Erin asked, at a loss as to how so much time could have been saved. Whilst it was true she'd forgotten to factor in the time that everyone now had to spend outside queuing, village's housekeepers were sticklers for people not jumping the line. Gaining any time that way was improbable verging on impossible.
"Well, there it seems, today at least, Brussel sprouts and I – smelly as we are – had an advantage. As soon as I joined the queue, the way ahead became clear. Suffice to say it was like the parting of the Red Sea. Mrs Singh even volunteered to get the shopping for me; I veritably flew in and was ushered out ASAP!"
"Wow, that's brilliant. No chance you could do that again next week, is there?" Erin enquired.
"No, dear, I think it will take a fortnight to get the stains and smells from these clothes." Mrs H sniffed the algae-green stained and mud-encrusted fabric of her jacket and her nose wrinkled with displeasure.
"How about we do home shopping?" Erin asked, seeing an opportunity to bulk-buy some more spaghetti. "I believe the big shop in Much Deeping-Hollow delivers. And has good prices too. I'd seen on their website that they have pasta AND toilet paper."
Mrs H smiled. "I think that, whilst we can, we should queue safely and maintaining due distance. After all, neither of us is ill or immobile. And I am certainly not of the age that I should be staying safely indoors – though after that dunking in the farmyard I do wonder. Anyway, there are others far more in need of home delivery than us. And I don't think we require more tins of pasta, or toilet paper either. Mrs Singh says she has enough of everything to go around, just so long as we all act sensibly and buy only what we need when we need it.
"So, no more spaghetti then?" Erin asked.
"No, nor toilet paper either. Not until we've distributed the stockpile in bedroom 4. The same goes for your supply of long-life cream, cheese triangles, tins of tuna, mackerel, sardines and jam in bedroom 3. Not forgetting the extra sacks of kibble in your wardrobe!" Mrs H's frown was quite pronounced, and clearly, she'd discovered the results of Erin's late-night online ordering spree on Amazon.
"You said distributed, Mrs H. Does that mean we are going to have to . . . "Erin gulped, "give it all away?"
"Not give away, but distribute to those in need, without making a profit. Mrs Singh has agreed to take anything that is surplus to our requirements and, along with other essentials from her store, make some parcels of food and household cleaning items. The Girl Guides, Boy Scouts and the WI will be distributing them."
Erin's heart sagged. She'd so wanted to complete her collection spaghetti letters, as well as her route planning badge, but now it seemed all was lost.
"I know what you're thinking, Erin, but all is not lost. Mrs Singh was so impressed with your route around her shop, she suggested using your skill to create the routes for the parcel delivery. Of course, you'd have to avoid farmer Heap's yard, the village pond, Thicket Wood and the reservoir! As to your alphabet spaghetti, Mrs Singh said once the parcels are delivered, she'll have something special for you." Mrs H gave one of her renown knowing nods, which sent a small shower of mud from her hair onto the floor.
The following day dawned bright and clear, and with a new sense of purpose for Erin. It had been wrong, she realised, to store so many items – items that she wouldn't get to use for many, many months after the crisis had passed, if at all. As a result, she'd forgone her usual cocoa and bedtime story, and had laboured most of the night on her new routes. The following morning, Mrs H found her in the study, asleep on a neat pile of sketched maps, each labelled with destinations, distances and times.
After breakfast, he pair cycled down to the village hall. On arrival, they helped the Vicar and Mrs Singh oversee packing the baskets of supplies, and the distribution of Erin's route plans. Some of the village's wealthier inhabitants – as well as a few of the noted hoarders, – seeing the charity of others, opened their cupboards and added to the piles of tins, packets, and frozen produce donated by Mrs Singh and some of her suppliers.
By 3 PM, all was done and dusted. And, except for one flat tyre on a Scout's bicycle that had crashed through a newly planted hawthorn hedge, and some bruises where the WI cyclist had gone too fast over the village's speed-humps, no injuries were sustained.
"My, that is quite an achievement, Mrs H, Erin," said Mrs Singh, ticking the last name on the list and closing her notepad. All jolly good. And the mysterious donor of all those toilet rolls, tins of fish, and cream; I wonder who they could be?"
"Indeed, Mrs Singh," the Reverend Prayhardy added. "I would like to shake their hand. But ours is not to wonder why at such benevolence, only to realise God works in mysterious ways – and apparently has an account with Amazon Home Shopping, too! But no good deed goes without thanks, and I know there are people in this parish and beyond that will see a proper meal tonight, along with their companions. Yes, God does indeed work wonders."
Mrs H gave Erin a very discrete wink and then turned to the Vicar. "Indeed so, Vicar. On a different note, I understand you may have something for Erin?"
"Ah, indeed I do, Mrs Hudson, indeed I do. Thank you for reminding me." The Vicar turned to face Erin and the small group of Guides, Scouts, and WI ladies that had now gathered around the table on which Erin sat. "Erin," the Vicar continued. "In recognition for your services to planning this whole day, your time and most generous donation of cheese and cat food, as head of the Scouts and Guides for the parish, I am proud to present you with not only your Route Planners badge but also your 'Event Planner' badge. And, I am pleased to award you this special feline size neckerchief – with a woggle, on which Mrs Hudson can stitch your badges."
The Vicar delved into his cassock pocket and withdrew a cat-sized folded neckerchief, a woggle, and two badges which he laid on the table before Erin. "I think three cheers are in order; Hip hip!" A resounding "Hurrah!" echoed through the hall, three times. As the applause died down, and the chattering crowd dispersed, Mrs Singh approached Erin and offered her a small parcel.
"I think wanting this you will be, Erin. A little gift from Mr Singh and me for your help. Plus, I believe it may save Mrs Hudson carrying so many of my tins of spaghetti in future. Not that I don't appreciate the business you understand." She winked at Mrs H and handed her a list of the upcoming in-store special offers. Then, having blessed Erin for her selflessness, she left to get Jumbo's feet ready for stamping out that evening's supply of pizza bases – a full 14-inch thin-crust shaped like an elephants foot.
Once home, Erin sat in her favourite chair and opened the parcel from Mrs Singh. "Wow, it's a pasta-making machine, with letter attachment! Looks like I'll get to complete my collection, after all, Mrs H."
"So it does, Erin, but you'll need to make them first. To make your own pasta and eat it is way more fun than opening a tin. There, all done." Mrs H held up Erin's neckerchief and showed off the two badges that sat neatly besides Erin's only other badge, the First Aider badge. "Now, who's for a game of Scrabble, pasta style?"
Erin didn't have to be asked twice. She knew Mrs H already had plenty of eggs and flour in the house, so the sticky part she could attend to. Making the letters was what she really wanted to do, and for once, she'd make sure there were more vowels on her plate than continents. Erin pulled herself up short. Mrs H had said they were consonants, and who was she to argue. If Mrs H said Asia, Africa and Europe were consonants, then it was all right with her. Erin made a mental note to write to the National Geographic in the morning to advise them of their typos.
The End . . . . see you all next week to find out!