The Almost Heirloom

‘I had a lovely necklace once,’ said my grandmother. ‘It could have been yours.’

‘Was it stolen?’

‘No. In 1923, when I was fifteen, I sold it.’

‘Why?’

‘I could sit on my hair, but the fashion was for Eton bobs. When Father forbade it, I sneaked out, sold the necklace and went to my brother’s barber.’

I couldn’t imagine my grandmother, the perfect housewife, as a teenage rebel.

‘Was your father angry?’

‘Even angrier,’ she said, ‘when I started wearing skirts above the knee and pale stockings!’

She laughed, ‘keep annoying your parents, darling. It’s what youth is for.’

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Words and photograph copyright Paula Harmon 2017. Not be reproduced without the author’s express permission.

From a prompt in Thin Spiral Notebook

 

Missingness

I didn’t expect to feel this way.

Perhaps it’s because it’s been quite stressful recently.

Perhaps it’s because while I’ve worked for the same organisation for nearly twenty-eight years, I’ve changed teams and job roles three times in two (and twice in eight months). This has been largely by choice because the alternatives were worse. I haven’t worked with a team who are all in the same building or even the same town for the majority of the last eleven years. I’ve yet to get past acquaintanceship with the people in my new team. Three days a week, I work from home or sit in a side office, usually on my own. Twice a week I rattle along in trains full of strangers to meet face to face maybe only one or two members of my team. On those days, I work in a large office in a huge building full of people, the majority of whom I don’t know and am never likely to know. Of the work friends I’ve built over my career, many are, like me, rushing from place to place all the time. It’s hard to meet up.

Perhaps it’s because I’m under the weather. Everything has been overwhelming for ages. I feel as if I’ve been stumbling through undergrowth, step by exhausting step, not sure where the path has gone. Now, despite the fact that it’s July, I have a chest cold and virus.

Or perhaps it’s because my children are growing up. They both sat public exams this year. My eldest is eighteen today. My youngest is less than two years behind. When my son leaves home for university in the autumn, my daughter will be starting sixth form. I have washed my last item of ink stained school uniform. Sixth formers don’t wear uniform. The children can see that adult life doesn’t live up to the hype but are eager for it anyway.

I feel lonely.

I don’t feel alone. I have a lovely husband who’s my best friend. My children, when we’re all disconnected from electronic devices, still hug and chatter. They’re great company. My oldest friends and my wonderful sister, who know me best, live some distance away. But I have fantastic local friends and my mother lives nearby. It’s not the loneliness I suffered at school, alienated by bullying, nor in the first year at university, too shy to talk to anyone. I know I’m not alone.

But I still feel lonely.

Eighteen years ago, my son, my longed-for, long-awaited child was put into my arms. I was so conscious of his dependence on me that although he slept, I couldn’t for fear he’d stop breathing. Now, his dependence on me is nebulous. He can take care of himself if he has to, he definitely has his own opinions and can and does make his own decisions. (Although, somehow it’s still me doing the laundry.) We’ve encouraged his independence always: given him space within boundaries. We’ve tried to prepare him for adulthood. He is a wonderful young man.

My daughter is following right on behind. She is my lovely, lovely girl. But last night, we were looking at possible universities for her. She is flexing her wings ready to fly.

When my son leaves home, my daughter, no matter how much they fight and argue, will miss him. It’ll be just three of us for a while and then before we know it, just two of us.

Life with just my husband will certainly be more peaceful. I am looking forward to it. I am looking forward to welcoming the children when they come home, looking forward to visiting them when they have homes of their own, looking forward to watching them build their own lives and traditions.

But what will my role be? Where perhaps someone else would feel their employment defined them and would be lost without its focus, I don’t think I have ever felt that way. I have my career, but truth to be told, I think the real me is writer, companion and the mother.

I never expected to feel lost when the nest started to empty but I do. I thought we had helped them mature year by year until they were ready to leave and we were ready to let them go. And we are ready. We are. And yet…

We never thought we’d have a child and then, eventually, my son came along. We thought we’d perhaps never have another, but my daughter had other ideas. I remember that after she was born and she was no longer part of me, although I could hold her in my arms, I missed the company of her in my womb. I felt lonely for something that was gone, even though it was replaced by something better. My role to protect and grow a child under my heart was over. I had to learn something new.

So perhaps it’s not loneliness exactly.

There is a word in Welsh ‘hiraeth’ which has no direct English translation. In Cornish, it is ‘hireth’ and in Breton, it is ‘hiraezh’. Welsh, Cornish and Breton are derived from the same ancient British language. The closest English explanation is an intense longing for something lost (usually a home or a person) or for the memory of them, whether real or imagined. Apparently, Portuguese and Galician have a similar word: ‘saudade’. It’s been translated as ‘missingness’.

So I don’t know exactly why I feel the way I do at the moment. Perhaps it’s the weather, perhaps it’s the virus I’m enduring, perhaps it’s work, perhaps it’s my age, but I think, in truth, it’s probably because I feel ‘hiraeth’ for the children who are now young adults and who will soon be leaving home.

One of my friends, whose daughter is the same age as mine, recently said that she felt adrift. And I thought ‘yes, that’s it exactly.’

I too feel adrift, looking back at the fading lands of their receding childhood, wondering where the breeze will take me next.

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Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Father’s Day

I could not have asked for a better Dad; a less embarrassing one perhaps and maybe one who coughed up more pocket money. But love, acceptance, nurturing, support, guidance he had in abundance.

He didn’t believe in children contradicting their parents (even when the ‘children’ were in their forties) or in personal mental space and not much in personal physical space. This made him infuriating.

On the other hand, he had more than his fair share of hair-brained ideas and optimism. He also had much less grip on reality than he needed. This made him fun.

Here’s a true story to show you what I mean.

When my sister and I were teenagers, most of our friends had long slipped the leash and either holed up in their rooms with the radio-cassette-recorder OR if they had the bus fare, went to town. It was mostly the former, because friends were spread across several villages and the effort of getting to town wasn’t really worthwhile.

My sister and I were different. Dad felt that as long as we were still home and no matter how old we were, the family should spend all its free time together. This is probably why we both left home quite young.

Anyway, one day, I was about sixteen and my sister thirteen, Dad said we were all going to the beach.

I think it was summer, but you wouldn’t have known from the weather. It was cold and rainy. We looked at him askance.

‘And,’ he said, ‘which of you wants to do the filming?’

What did he mean? Had he resurrected the old cine camera? No. It turned out that he’d borrowed a trendy new camcorder from someone in the office. It weighed a ton but you could put a blank video tape in it and film. Then you could play it back through your TV. This was exciting. Half the people we knew didn’t even have VHS recorders to tape TV programmes, let alone the means to make their own videos. On the other hand…

‘Film what, Dad?’

‘Me,’ he said, ‘I’m going surfing.’

At the time, Dad was, to us, ancient; that is, he was about forty-two. Nowadays I think that forty-two is a perfectly reasonable age to go surfing, but back then in our view, it was akin to a centenarian going base-jumping. He was also very overweight and not terribly fit.

‘But…’ said Mum.

‘I’m borrowing Dave’s wetsuit and surfboard and you can film me. It’ll be a great new hobby and when I’ve got the hang of it, we can all do it.’

‘But Dad,’ I said, ‘I don’t want to.’

‘Nonsense, of course you do. Don’t be a wet blanket.’

On the beach, the rain had stopped but it was colder and the wind had got up.

We sat on the shingle in anoraks, drinking tea from a flask and wondering how long it took for pneumonia to kick in. My sister and I were given no option. While our friends were in the warm, nowhere near their parents and being trendy, we were sitting with Mum being blown to bits, watching our Dad be embarrassing. Even I, full of romantic hopes, knew the chances of looking attractive were nil. My long hair plastered my face in damp tangles and my make-up smudged. I had refused to exchange a summer skirt for jeans on the grounds of femininity. Now I feared that at any minute the goose pimples on my legs might start to ice over. If an attractive boy was about to enter my life, I hoped he wouldn’t pick today.

The rollers were worthy of Hawaii. But the weather wasn’t. And nor were Dad’s skills.

In the borrowed black wetsuit, Dad looked like an elderly orca failing to catch a youthful penguin. He appeared and disappeared in crashing waves. He got on the surf board, lay down, fell off. He got on the surf board, lay down, got up on one knee and fell off. He got on the surf board, lay down, got up on one knee, almost stood up and… fell off. And repeat. We took it in turns to film him, swapping when our fingers went blue and started to shake. Although given the weight of a 1980s camcorder, they were shaking anyway. We finished the tea. After a while, my sister, never one for weather of any description (hot, cold, wet, dry, even now she takes it as a personal affront) refused to film on the grounds of potential frostbite.

We really wanted Dad to succeed. At every attempt we leaned forward and tensed, the camerawoman holding the camera steady against the wind. Then he fell off again.

After what felt like about a year but was probably about two hours, Dad gave up.

He emerged from the changing area dressed normally and more buoyant than he had been in the water.

‘Did you get it all on film?’ he said.

‘Yes, but Dad,’ said my sister, ‘you never actually surfed.’

‘At least I tried,’ he said, ‘which is more than you did. You three look like MacBeth’s witches after they’ve been through a car wash. You might have left me some tea.’

He patted the camcorder.

‘Can’t wait to see the footage,’ he said, ‘but first, lunch! And I’ve been thinking…maybe we won’t take up surfing as a family. Maybe we’ll take up hang-gliding instead.’

That was Dad.

I didn’t escape this sort of thing till I got a boyfriend and even then Dad wanted to come to the cinema with us. Not, you understand, because he wanted to protect me from any improper advances, but because he thought we could all watch the film and chat about it afterwards. He was rather hurt when I said no. When my sister got to sixteen, she just quietly did her own thing regardless and he never seemed to notice. Younger sisters get away with everything.

(NB the photo below is NOT from that long lost video. These are hardy young surfers at Bournemouth in January. Dad didn’t look as svelte by a long way, but probably it’s how he visualised himself and good on him. Perhaps if we all spent less time worrying if we should or could, we’d have more fun finding out!)

SurfersWords and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

 

 

Instructions for turning a teenager into an adult

The Dream

  1. Find Teenager hard at work, studying.
  2. Show him/her how to load a washing machine
  3. Show him/her how to unload a washing machine and hang/dry the contents
  4. Show him/her a cookbook. Discuss a nutritious menu covering all food groups with healthy ingredients.
  5. Send him/her to shop with sufficient money to buy ingredients.
  6. Oversee cooking and serving of food.
  7. Discuss how to decide what to do with the change. How much to save, how much to spend, how much to give to charity.
  8. Have a cheerful conversation.
  9. Send him/her to room to study.
  10. Say goodnight as they turn out the light ready for at least eight hours’ sleep

The Reality

  1. Find Teenager. (NB This may involve forcing door open, wedged shut by dirty clothes. Teenager may be found in one of several places: in bed, glued to computer, under the clothes, in another room on a gaming device, in someone else’s house.)
  2. Argue with teenager about clothes. Spend half an hour creating a Ven diagram with the clothes on the floor – some definitely clean, some definitely dirty, an intersection including ones which teenager is not sure about. (NB the easiest way to make them define the status of those in the intersection is to make them smell each item.)
  3. Ask teenager to sort clothes into colours. Go and have a cup of tea to calm nerves.
  4. Go back and explain colours. Wonder why this was more fun when he/she was a toddler.
  5. Show him/her how to load washing machine.
  6. Look for teenager in order to teach them how to unload machine and hang/dry the contents (NB see point one)
  7. Give up and dry/hang clothes oneself.
  8. Show him/her cookbook. Discuss a nutritious menu covering all food groups with healthy ingredients.
  9. Buy pizza
  10. Have a glass of wine to calm nerves
  11. Explain at length why studying is more important than playing video games
  12. Explain at length why not everyone becomes a millionaire by playing video games
  13. Remember all the things your parents said which you said you’d never say and then repeat them.
  14. Wonder if the door hinges will withstand all that slamming.
  15. Have another glass of wine
  16. Go to bed, saying goodnight through the teenager’s door and asking them to keep the noise down.

teenagers

Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Contraband

I smuggled her home in a basket. The girl said I was saving her from drowning.

In my bedroom she emerged: little more than a kitten, silky black but for one white star.

I called her Magic.

Outside, the family cat growled.

I confessed to my animal-loving parents. They wouldn’t mind.

“We can’t keep her,” said Dad.

Days later, I overheard him: “So sad. Full of kittens. They put her down. Couldn’t re-home them all.”

Oh Magic, all these years later I remember your trusting eyes and know that by rescuing you, in the end, I betrayed you.

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Words and photograph copyright 2017 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

This is a true story. Many years have passed but it still makes me sad. Prompted to write it down by this week’s Thin Spiral Notebook prompt.

Candy Haikus

Apologies to all real poets and Haiku writers. These are from a prompt to write horrible Haikus about candy. Brought on a wave of nostalgia. As you can tell from the first few, I had a misspent youth whenever I had the opportunity.

As you can tell from the last one, any coins left in pockets because people can’t be bothered to empty them before putting clothes in the laundry, become the washerwoman’s (e.g. my) reward…

Marathons, spangles,
A penny for four blackjacks:
A candied childhood.

Spittly Gobstopper:
Spat out wet and examined.
Slurping through rainbows.

Dry out licked toffees,
Wrap them with tongue-stuck-out care:
Gift for my sister.

Oh Flying Saucers:
Rice paper glues my palate,
But my tongue fizzes.

Opal fruits are wrong
When called Starburst. My childhood
Winces in anguish.

Laundress collects coins:
Lazy family pays for
Housewife Pick ’n’ Mix.

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Words and photograph copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Hot Cuisine

“So,” my Scottish great aunt asked my husband, “is she a good cook?”

Sensibly, he affirmed.

“Ah that’ll be the English in her” said my aunt, probably one of the few times when ideas of Englishness and good cooking have been put together.

I was somewhat surprised at my great aunt who was usually quite modern. But maybe she thought it was still the sort of thing you asked a relatively newly married couple.

“The Scots can’t cook” she informed my Welsh husband.

“Granny Mac was a good cook” I argued (Granny Mac being her older sister).

“Uh-huh but that’s unusual, perhaps it was all that time living in England.”

Fast forward a few years, and my Welsh mother-in-law tells me that what I’ve just cooked couldn’t possibly have been welshcakes because I didn’t use a bakestone but a frying pan. In the end, I told her they were English and therefore King Alfred cakes, if partly because in the absence of a bakestone and as we were all hungry, they had got a little scorched in my hurry. Using the same sort of logic, my mother might possibly argue that I can’t cook scotch pancakes because I don’t have a girdle. Linguistically speaking this all boils down (if you’ll pardon the pun) to localised words for the same thing. A girdle is the same thing as a bakestone is the same thing as a smooth cast iron griddle. Call it what you will, all I have is a heavy bottomed frying pan. And if I eat too many of my mother-in-law’s delicious welshcakes I will need one of the other sorts of girdle.

My mother is a good plain cook. When I was about six she taught me to make scones. This was a great idea. Come home from school and hungry? Make some scones. I mention this to my daughter now when she rings me at work to complain that she’s just come in and there is NOTHING IN THE HOUSE TO EAT (having ignored the fruit bowl and vegetable basket). I tell her that when I was in the same predicament, faced with either fruit or having to do some baking, I made scones but she says “yeah but that was then, I want a packet of crisps.”

My father had a great love of food and a fascination with cooking, the more exotic the cuisine the better. Unfortunately, he also had no patience. Crispy fried eggs, undercooked potato in Spanish omelette, burnt apple pancakes anyone? Fortunately I had left home a long time before he started experimenting with making kim-chi. The only thing I ever remember him refusing to eat (apart from a Guinness cake made by my sister, which was still liquid after three hours in the oven but too revolting to drink) were “eggs cooked in vinegar” which he had found in a Middle Eastern cookbook and should have left there.

He and I had a fairly longstanding battle over food if it involved my not wanting to eat what was in front of me, particularly soft boiled eggs, but we did agree on the delights of good cuisine and his interest and curiosity led me to being willing to try most things at least once, even if we’re abroad and I’m not entirely sure what it’s going to be. A plate of gizzards wasn’t one of the best of these choices.

My husband is a great cook, although defaults to putting extra-hot chillies in everything. Both my children can cook if they can be bothered. The least said about my sister’s cooking the better.

Although Granny Mac was indeed a good plain cook, her real creativity flowed into painting in oils. Granny D however, expressed her love through sewing, knitting and cooking. I suspect that if she hadn’t married a frugal man with plain tastes, her table would have groaned under mad experiments with rich flavours. I imagine she would have loved the cornucopia of ingredients available nowadays and would have lapped up all the cookery programmes on TV. As it was, my happiest childhood memories are being in her sunny kitchen as she gave my sister and me delight after delight. We were given segments of orange and powdered glycerine for dipping so that we got that little bit of extra sweetness just for a little snack. In the days before anyone thought about sugar or salt as bad things (especially by Granny’s generation which had put up with wartime and post-war rationing), we were spoiled with blackcurrant squash and yeast extract spreads on the grounds they must be good for children, and fed up with biscuits, melt in the mouth macaroons and when the home made bottled plums finally run out or it was a special time, we had Yum-Yum cake for Sunday pudding.

Many years later, when my parents were moving from the family home to a bungalow, I found the notebook where Granny D had written down recipes from the radio or TV or magazines. In it, I found the recipe for Yum-Yum Cake, which according to her note was taken from Jimmy Young’s radio programme in 1968. She can’t have been the only person who noted it and passed it down because I am sure I saw a very similar recipe on “The Hairy Bikers: Mums Know Best” TV series once.

Granny D taught me dressmaking and an instinctive method of cooking. I learnt how to make a roux for a bechamel sauce by eye rather than measuring and I can do the same when making pancakes if, on Pancake Day, it all seems too much of a faff to measure out. At a push, I can just about do this with scones too. On those mornings when I remember we’ve run out of anything suitable for breakfast, I get up to make some Bad Mummy Cheese Scones (which don’t need rolling out) and put them to bake while I’m showering. I have no idea how long these would keep for as they barely have time to get cold before they’ve all been eaten.

Looking at Granny D’s terrible handwriting in her notebook fills me with nostalgia and longing for her. More years than I care to remember have passed since she died, yet I still remember the smell of her perfume and make-up, the softness of her face and her hugs. I don’t recall one negative word from her. She sat patiently and watched as I learnt to cook and sew. And as each attempt, however wonky was encouraged and supported by her, I learnt to be brave enough to try and try again when things went wrong. Perhaps that’s the greatest thing she taught me in her gentle way.
Here are some recipes for anyone who’s interested (NB Granny D’s measurements were in imperial so the conversion is the closest possible. I learnt to make scones using imperial and my electric scales can be changed from metric to imperial so I tend to use imperial. I’m not even going to try to convert to cups!):

JIMMY YOUNG’S YUM YUM CAKE

2oz (50g) brown sugar
3oz (75g) butter
2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla essence (and a little less of almond essence)
6oz (150g) flour

Mix butter, sugar, essences, yolks well and add flour. When rather crumbly, put into oven dish and press down slightly and level top.

Topping
1oz (25g) chopped walnuts
1oz (25g) chopped cherries
4oz (125g) caster sugar

Whisk whites stiff, add 2oz sugar, whisk again, fold in other 2oz sugar and lastly the cherries and nuts.
Spread over mixture in dish and bake for about 30 minutes on second shelf at No 4 [180°C (350°F Gas 4)] Perhaps the oven could be at 6 [200°C (400°F Gas 6)] for quarter of an hour then turned down. This depends on oven. Delicious hot or cold.

*****

BAD MUMMY CHEESE SCONES

8oz (250g) self-raising flour
2oz (50g) soft spread or butter
4oz (125g) grated strong cheddar
1oz (25g) mustard (dry or made)
3-4ish tablespoons of milk (you may need more or less depending on the flour)

Put oven on to 200°C (400°F Gas 6) and line a baking tray with greaseproof or oven paper.
While oven is heating up, mix the flour and rub in the spread or butter. If using dry mustard put it in before spread and mix with flour, if using made mustard add it after you rubbed in the spread (if you get it wrong the world will not end but someone might end up with a bit more mustard in their bite)
Mix in almost all the grated cheese.
Mix in the milk, bit by bit until you have a soft ball. If it’s a bit wet add some flour, if it’s too dry, add some milk.
Divide the dough into six or eight and roll each section into a ball and put onto baking sheet.
Flatten each scone slightly and sprinkle on the remaining grated cheese.
Pop in oven for ten minutes. They are done when the bottom is slightly brown and you can “knock” on them.
Best eaten hot from the oven with butter.
Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

yum-yum

 

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Here’s a block of butter, marked in 25g sections
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Here’s the butter measured as 1 oz on my digital scales which can be adjusted to ounces or grammes. It’s impossible to get it to read exactly 1.  It comes out as 0.99 of an ounce or 1.02 of an ounce, but I don’t think that’s going to make a huge difference somehow!
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And this is non-digital scale which also measures in ounces (along the outside of the circle) and grammes.

 

Lunchtime (or “to see ourselves as others see us”)

Carlos breathed out and started to put things away. The morning was over and the boats were pulled back up onto the shore ready for the afternoon trade.  Now it was too hot to be out on the lake.  Too hot to do anything.  He could hear his wife getting the table laid on the balcony above and smell lunch being prepared.  There would be salad and good bread, hearty wine, cheese and ham and she had gone down early and got prawns from the market, prawns fresh up from the coast – and she would be cooking them with garlic.

Carlos’s mouth watered.  He reached up to the sign, ready to flip from “Abierto” to “Cerrado” when he spotted them.

Oh no, talking of prawns.  Here they came – two families who looked like prawns – both types – the raw and the overcooked.  Why did they always choose to ignore the big notice which said 12:00-14:00 CERRADO?

The family who looked like raw prawns came inelegantly down the slope.  They were even paler than usual.  The parents wore matching polo shirts of some depressed greyish sky colour and droopy jersey shorts of a slightly darker bilberry hue.  They had flat sensible sandals which let plenty of air in and let feet spread out.  The parents had sad little beanie hats in washed out cotton; the type that are really useful because they fold up to be stashed in bags.  (And in Carlos’s view should stay there.)  The father had socks on.  The mother looked so slopey shouldered, so bosom-less and her hair was pulled back into some sort of stringy bun, that it was hard to imagine that she had ever been desirable enough to breed with.  On the other hand, she had married a man who wore socks with sandals. The teenage daughter looked as if she was in training to be her mother but was young enough for her to have made some sort of effort with clothes and hair and to look as if the baseball cap she wore was only on because her mother had nailed it on.  All of them were pasty white to the point of blueness – enough sun screen on to withstand the heat from the gates of hell no doubt.  They were lugging a huge bag of food.  It included a flask of (probably) tea.

The family who looked like over cooked prawns were bouncing down the slope. Bouncing in all senses.  Where the raw prawns were scrawny and/or saggy and devoid of sex appeal, the cooked prawns looked as if they had once had too much sex appeal and were now like overblown roses.  The father was bursting over his shorts and the mother was oozing out of her bikini top and despite the fact that her belly was now pillowy, a navel piercing sparkled from the cosy maternal flab.  Their son, still young enough to have a flat stomach and firm arms, was bouncing behind them in indignation, glaring at his phone/ipod/whoknowswhat.  The parents were both beyond bright pink.  Hatless, they looked as if they were frankfurters which had been boiled for slightly too long and with any more sun, they would burst.  The son was not quite as bad, presumably because he spent more time indoors on his electronic device.  They had a huge bag of food too.  It included a bottle of (probably) beer.

All of them arrived at the door at the same time.  They looked at each other out of the corner of their eyes.  Carlos had noticed similar exchanges before.   The pale family thought the others were crass and foolish; the sunburnt family thought the others were boring and didn’t know how to have a good time.  You’d never know they came from the same country.

“Cerrado,” said Carlos firmly.

“We just want to hire some boats, mate,” said Cooked Father, “then we’ll be out of your hair.”

“Cerrado,” repeated Carlos.  “Abierto TWO O’CLOCK.”

“Tell him we just want to hire some boats” whispered Pale Mother, “tell him it won’t take him long.  We just want to take the boats out and find somewhere to have lunch.”

“I can’t say all that in Spanish dear” Pale Father complained, “Er, quiero er, bateau, no that’s French… Emily, can you help?”

His daughter rolled her eyes, caught the smirking glance of the sunburnt boy and blushed.  “No Dad. I do German remember.”

“Cerrado,” Carlos stated.  He could speak perfectly good English and French and German, but not at lunchtime.  He turned the sign over, locked the door and went up to the balcony to join his family.

The two families stood there for a while.  On the other side of a thin bit of chain was the beach and the boats and the view.

“We could just climb over,” said Pale Father.

“We could pay when we get back,” agreed Burnt Mother.

Her son rolled his eyes. “There’s probably some boring safety talk he’s got to give us.  Anyway, looks as if they’re chained up.”

The girl chose the moment when everyone was looking at the boats to haul her cap off and puff up her hair.  She looked down at her feet and tried to will them to look smaller.  She pulled her iPod out so that she could check herself out in selfie mode.

Tomorrow she would buy some lower factor suntan stuff.  Surely she wouldn’t die of cancer if she was just a little bit brown.

The boy asked her: “have you got a signal?”

She jumped.  “No, have you?  I’ve just been listening to stuff and watching things I downloaded.”

The boy said, “me too.  What you got then?”

They wandered off under the trees where it was cooler and they could see their screens more easily.

The parents stood around in silence for a while.  After a bit, Burnt Mother said “we could sit under the trees and have our picnic.”

Pale Mother said “yes I suppose we could.”

There was a pause and both said “what have you got for your lunch then?”

Carlos on his balcony sipped his glass of tinto and looked down on them through the railings.  The two teenagers were sharing earphones and laughing at something on a tiny screen, their shoulders nearly touching.  The two sets of parents had settled down and were sharing things out between them, starting with two bottles of wine, one white brought in a flask to keep it cool, one red at slightly more than room temperature. They would all be firm friends by two p.m.

He dipped his bread in the garlicky oil in satisfaction and smirked.  Social Engineer. That’s what he was.  Social Engineer.

canoes on the lake

Copyright 2015 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission

Kitchen Haiku

Hungry teenagers:
Spurn gourmet, demand junk food.
I weep as I cook.

Keep your head down low
Get outside quick and breathe deep
Dad’s frying chillies

Would it count towards
My five a day, if I ate
Vegetarians?

Dishwasher broken!
Husband! Disembowel it!
Mend it or wash up!

[2 hours later]

Bother Drat Bother
Dishwasher completely dead
Guests come tomorrow

Exotic cuisine
Without right ingredients:
Optimistic Dad

The scent of orange,
Cherries and almond essence
Recall Gran’s kitchen

Tell me to do it
To cook just like your mother
And I’ll add hemlock

bowl

Copyright 2016 by Paula Harmon. All rights belong to the author and material may not be copied without the author’s express permission