Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Neighbours

Rose Kelland

Double thick ice-cream chocolate milkshake with mini-marshmallows and sprinkles

With their children now all independent and away from home, Ruth and Don were relocating to their ideal cottage in a very pretty village on the east coast. The movers had done their bit and had left the couple to start a new chapter in their lives. After a good night’s sleep and waking up to the birds chattering, breathing in good, country fresh air (with a slight hint of cow manure!), and a celebratory breakfast of crispy bacon, eggs, beans, toast and freshly ground coffee, the week’s work began.

Having unpacked the necessary items to comfortably enjoy their new home, they decided that day three would be a ‘rest day,’ no unpacking of boxes or re-arranging of furniture, just a simple ‘enjoy-the-atmosphere’ day!

Ruth baked some muffins for her neighbour. She did wonder what the ‘accepted’ protocol was; should she be taking bakes to the neighbour and introducing herself? Or should the neighbour be bringing bakes to her door and saying welcome to the neighbourhood? Since this was day three, Ruth was determined to at least do her part, and with the perfectly risen bran muffins arranged on a small tray, she cautiously knocked on the neighbour’s red door.

“Sorry, we’re not interested…” was the first response almost before the door opened, but Clare’s voice trailed away as she realised this wasn’t a salesperson on her doorstep.

“I’m so sorry!” she said, sounding genuinely apologetic. “You’ve moved in next door haven’t you? Come in!”

Ruth’s butterflies settled and she followed her neighbour into the house. Clare prattled on about how happy they were in the village, how long they’d been there, what her husband did, where the good places were for shopping, and the ‘better’ hairdressers. They shared a pot of tea and had eaten a couple of muffins each before a bouncy young boy rushed into the kitchen, telling his mum about his school day before he’d even seen her sitting at the table with a stranger.

“Oh! Hello.”

“This is Paul, my son,” said Clare proudly.

“Hi Paul, I’m Ruth. You’d better have one of these muffins before your mum & I finish them!”

Paul quickly accepted, split one open and spread a good layer of butter and then a dollop of honey on top.

“Did I hear you say you enjoyed the science class, Paul?” Ruth asked.

“Yes, it was fun! We almost blew up the lab, but Mr Stane said that that was supposed to happen!”

“What? Blow up the lab?” Clare was making another pot of tea and was obviously quite used to Paul’s energetic and enthusiastic reports.

“Well, no, not quite! But now we’ve got homework on the table of elements and I really can’t get them right. The letters have no connection with the metals! How do they get Ag to be Silver?”

“There’s some things you just have to remember as they are.” A typical mother’s response!

“I was never good at science at school,” added Ruth. “I think I learnt more from my own children during their homework time than I did at school. Those abbreviations were one of the things we learnt together, but we made it a fun thing.”

“You made science fun?!” Paul sounded sceptical, but Ruth took it as an invitation.

“You want to know a fun way of remembering those names?”

“Sure!”

“OK. Well take Silver to start with. If you had a choice of having Silver or Gold, which would you go for?”

“Gold, definitely.” Paul was listening with big eyes waiting for the easy, fun button to learning.

“So, imagine you’re out with a friend panning for Gold and Silver. Suddenly you found something. ‘Hey You!’ you shout to your friend, ‘I’ve found Gold.’”

“Hey, that’s clever!” Paul had recognised the symbol for Gold so Ruth continued.

“Your friend finds some Silver, what does he say?” Ruth gently goaded Paul until the proverbial light bulb shone in his eyes!

“Hey G, I got Silver!” He seemed to know the Ag and Au symbols, it was just working out a method of remembering which belonged to which metal.

“How about: ‘Aah, gee, I only found Silver!’” suggested Ruth, putting on the dejected voice to emphasise the difference.

“That’s really clever.” Clare beamed with pride at her son.

“Yeah! That’s really cool! Do you know any others?” Paul was on to his second muffin, but no butter or honey this time, just a big bite.

“Let’s see, what have you got there?”

“Mercury.” Paul had unpacked his bag on to the kitchen table and found the paper with the symbols he needed to know.

“So where do you find mercury?”

“I dunno!”

“Do you have a thermometer?” This question was directed at Clare as much as Paul. Ruth was very aware that Clare might think she was taking over her job as mother and homework-helper to Paul. And having been in this home for just over an hour, she didn’t want to cause bad neighbourly vibes. Ruth had nothing to fear, she was already practically a member of the family! Clare rummaged in the bottom drawer and fished out the old, dusty thermometer.

“The mercury in this thermometer rises as the temperature rises. The mercury goes higher.” Ruth emphasised the words to try and hint at the answer Paul was looking for.

“Higher ….. Go?” asked Paul as he looked up the symbol in his book.

“Hg. How are you going to remember that easily?” said Ruth, still spurring him on to find his own method of remembering.

Clare offered another cup of tea, but it was time Ruth left them, so she thanked Clare for the warm welcome, and started making her way to the door.

“Ruth?” Paul’s voice was hesitant but in the short time they’d spent in that kitchen, a trusting friendship had begun.

“Could I come across to your house if I’m stuck with homework some time?”

Ruth smiled, but quickly looked questioningly at Clare; she wanted to be very sure that she wasn’t stepping on any toes or causing any tension in this family home.

“I certainly wouldn’t mind Paul coming to you, Ruth. I just don’t have the creative mind you obviously have, and it’s been fascinating just listening to you. I might come for some lessons myself!”

Clare’s words were honestly spoken with eyes sparkling and a broad smile lighting up her face. Ruth knew that she’d done the right thing approaching her neighbour – with muffins!

Paul did pop around and they worked together through science, maths, history and cultures. One cold November afternoon, Paul trudged up Ruth’s path and she opened the door to a very downhearted young man. While drinking hot chocolate and chomping the latest batch of twirly-whirly custard biscuits, Paul told her of a big assignment which had to be ready in two weeks.

He had to present something unique to his history class, showing that he understood the story around a particular event they had studied over the last term. The teacher had suggested writing a poem or story, or presenting a book with pictures – all of which involved a lot of writing, something Paul did not enjoy. Ruth tried to cheer him up with quips, but he remained negative and unable to think of any ideas.

“What do you enjoy the most, Paul?” she asked, trying to get him to move away from the pit he’d dragged himself into.

“Football.” It was an expected answer, so Ruth probed more.

“What else? What do you do in your spare time, when not playing football?”

“Music? Movies?” It was more of a question than an answer.

“What’s the topic of the assignment?” Ruth was wondering how to fit an historical event into a unique presentation involving football, music and movies, and how to get Paul to think of it himself!

“We picked out of a hat. I got Thomas Becket.”

“Wow! That’s going back a bit!” Ruth had very little knowledge of the story of Thomas Becket except that he had something to do with the church and the King of England a long, long time ago. But her creative mind soon found the plot.

As they searched the internet sites for information on ‘Thomas-the-Bucket’ as they nicknamed him, Paul got more excited and animated. As a one-man-show he would act out the story as the narrator, putting in some comedy bits, which would not only bring interest and fun to the presentation, but would also help him remember the names.

‘Thomas-the-Bucket’ of Canterbury became the hero of his drama. King Henry Too – King Henry II – was first the great friend, and then the unintended enemy. The reason for the conflict was condensed into a memorable piece of ‘soap-opera’, and the assassins were called in with trumpets blaring!

One of Ruth’s suggestions to help Paul remember a list of names, was to associate their names with something else, so Hugh de Moreville, Reginald Fitzurse, Richard le Breton and William de Tracy, the assassin knights, became ‘Hugh–who-wanted-More-Ville’, ‘Reginald-Fetch-The-Nurse’, ‘Richard-The-Briton’ and ‘William-Dick-Tracy’. Edward Grim, the eye-witness who recorded the story in the original Latin, needed no change in his name as he witnessed Thomas-The-Bucket unceremoniously having his brains squashed out of his head!

It turned out that Paul was quite an actor. The presentation to the class went off brilliantly.

“Ruth! Ruth!” He came rushing up the path, knocking on the door and trying the handle – he couldn’t wait to tell her his news.

“I’ve been asked to do Thomas-The-Bucket at the prize giving evening next week!” The words spilled through the house as he made his way to the homely kitchen table. Clare was not far behind and eventually the whole story came out with three excitable people jumping up and down, smiling, hugging and generally feeling really good about themselves. But Paul wanted to add something to the drama. He wanted to look the part. So it was decided that he would be dressed as a court jester narrating the horrific story. Clare would buy a pair of red tights and a pair of yellow tights and cut the top off one leg of each, and then she rummaged in a trunk in the attic and found a faded red and yellow jesters hat with its bells still on, which had been made for her by a school friend’s Mum, when they did a play in their primary school days. She also offered Mike’s fancy, ruffle shirt, which would reach down to Paul’s knees, but would definitely look the part.

The next few days were frantic, with a running backwards and forwards between houses, until the day of the prize-giving evening. Clare had got permission from the school to invite Ruth and Don as non-parents, and the two families walked nervously down to the school for the 7.30pm start.

There were speeches from the Head, awards for sporting and academic achievements and then the history head introduced Paul’s drama as an example of the material they had covered in history classes. With giggles from his classmates at his luminous attire, Paul proudly stepped into the spotlight with his bright red and yellow tights, the tinkling of the bells on the jester’s hat and the introductory trumpet sounds of Indiana Jones!

The audience sat enraptured by the clear story of Thomas-the-Bucket and King Henry Toooooo – which Paul emphasised to the delight and pantomime spirit of all! The climax was certainly Paul’s favourite piece as he told of how wicked Knight Hugh-Who-Wanted-Moreville leapt suddenly upon Thomas-The-Bucket, cutting off the top of his archbishopric’s crown, and how Reginald-Fetch-The-Nurse delivered another blow to Thomas-The-Bucket’s head.

“It seemed,” said Paul in an obvious aside, “that Reginald-Fetch-The-Nurse, was perhaps not the strongest of the four, or perhaps he was just a little afraid of what a bang on the head might do to Thomas-The-Bucket, as his blow did not cause Thomas-The-Bucket to waiver or sway.”

There were a few giggles, before Paul continued.

“Richard-The-Briton delivered the blow that brought Thomas-The-Bucket to his knees.” At which point Paul dropped dramatically to his red and yellow tighted knees, but with his head held high he continued the story, in a clear sharp voice.

“William-Dick-Tracy delivered the fatal blow.” There were still people laughing uncontrollably over the names, and fathers repeating the name ‘Dick Tracy’ while their bellies wobbled with laughter!

“By his stroke the crown of Thomas-The-Bucket’s head was separated from his head in such way that the blood, white with the brain, and the brain no less red from the blood, dyed the floor of the cathedral.”

Of course at this point, one could see grimaces and pulled faces as the picture of brains and blood was so deliciously gruesomely spat out by young Paul on his knees before the audience, jester’s hat bells ringing with suspense.

“Clerk-The-Gable swished up to the bleeding Bucket and placing his foot firmly on his neck, scattered brains and blood further across the courts and on those courtiers looking on.”

As Paul said these words he lunged forward with outspread hands as if splattering the audience with the gruesome blood and brains. It brought the required reaction as the front rows automatically jumped back in their seats with squeals of horror!

“This Bucket will rise no more!” At these final words Paul fell forward on to the stage in the characteristic chalked out position as in a TV homicide police series. The spotlight went out and the crowd cheered, clapped, stood to their feet, and wolf-whistled as Paul stood, bowed extravagantly jester bells still ringing, smiled and waved. The Head had to step in, raise his hands and request the audience to sit down, but Paul’s performance had most certainly been the highlight of the evening and was recorded in both the school’s annals and the village’s newspaper for future history dramatists.

Fifteen years after the school drama, Clare and Ruth are still neighbours. On a grim November morning they are sitting in Ruth’s warm kitchen with tea and muffins, as Clare shares Paul’s latest email from his new home in South Africa. He’d qualified as a primary school teacher and excelled in bringing lessons to life. With tears of laughter rolling down their cheeks, they read of his Thomas-The-Bucket history lesson to a class of eleven and twelve year old South African children!

What memories they both have! What a friendship this has been.




Rose has been writing short stories and poetry for four years since buying a writing mag for her daughter - who is now studying creative
writing! Her first published articles are to appear in an 'eclectic' writing magazine later this year. Otherwise she just keeps looking at life and expanding what she sees into stories!
www.roseinlondon.blogspot.com

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