Friday 30 September 2011

The Magic Mixture


Susan Jones

Glynis rolled out the scone mix, cut the dough into thick round wedges and placed them onto the baking tray.  Geraint followed with the pastry brush painting egg wash across the tops of the deep scones.
Betty Juniper chief cook at the workhouse, opened the enormous Aga and filled the oven with the huge trays of cakes.

'Hey Glyn, where’s that barley?’  She had her head deep inside the pot, stirring the brew when she heard Geraint’s muffled voice.  Happy with the bubbling creamy mixture Glynis wobbled slightly on the tall stool she used to perform the daily jobs.  Turning with a quick twist she pointed the wooden spoon towards the larder.

‘Over there where we always keep it you goof.’

‘Okay, keep your knickers on, I only asked.’
‘Well I’m only telling.  Come on, hurry up!’  Geraint clicked his tongue with apparent annoyance as he retreated to the pantry.  Brothers eh? Glynis watched the way he huffed as he hauled the large sack of sweet smelling barley malt across the kitchen to where she was waiting.
‘Sis, why do we have to do this job every single day?’
 ‘Geraint, how can you say that?’  Glynis wiped her hands on her apron and jumped to ground level.  She drew her little brother to the stool and sat him down.

‘Look, I know we should be going to school, but we have to make refreshments for Dad and Uncle Terry, otherwise they wouldn’t be able to work like they do, would they?’ 
Betty bustled around the kitchen and began lifting the hot scones onto the large wooden table, followed by a plate of rock buns.

‘Hurry along children, time to go up to the gas works with lunch for the workers.
‘Glynis, is the mixture ready?’

‘Nearly, I’ve just got to add the barley.’  She heaved the bag up and tipped the contents into the pan.
‘Jeepers, don’t overdo it.’  Betty steadied the bag as Glynis mixed and whisked with her wooden spoon until a frothy topping began to appear around the pan.  While Betty was close to hand, Glynis took her chance to ask the question.

‘Betty, Geraint and me, well we were wondering...”

'Well we were wondering about our school work.’
 Betty’s jaw dropped.

‘What get educated y’mean?’  she said.
‘Mmm that’s what we’ve been thinking.  We’d like to learn to read and write to make something of our lives.  Have something to aim for like a career one day maybe.’  Glynis held her head as high as she possibly could, watching Betty, wanting her to know that this wasn’t just an idea; it was more than that It was everything. Glynis waited for as long as she could for a reply Maybe it was foolish to have brought the subject up.  Maybe she was wasting her time.

 ‘Tch, what d’you two need to learn things for eh?’ 
Realising the moment had passed, Glynis glanced across to where her brother was watching and shrugged her shoulders.
‘I tried,’ she mouthed silently.  

Betty clapped her hands. ‘Get along you two for goodness sake.’
They left for the factory, as they did every day, loaded up with malted barley drink, rock cakes and scones.  As they walked up the cobbled hill, Mr Knockjack pulled up in his Rolls Royce.  He was the factory owner probably checking up on his workers.  Glynis was immediately rather afraid of this skinny little man with bushy grey hair, who watched them intently through his half opened car window.

 ‘Children, what’s in those bags?’

‘We’re taking lunch to the workers.  Our dad and uncle are in there.’

'Could I try some?’  Mr Knockjack’s beady eyes seemed to bulge at the sight of the cakes; piled high.
‘Just a little bit, there’s only really enough for the workers.  I don’t want anyone to miss out.’  Reluctantly, Glynis unscrewed the cup of the flask and poured half a cup of the pale brown steaming drink.  Handing it to him, she nodded to Geraint. 

‘Pass him one of those.’  Geraint took a sugary cake with currants jutting from all sides.  Glynis nodded as he whispered.

 ‘You mean one of these?’

 'Yes, go on, quick so he can have the two together.’  Glynis began to get a little impatient.  It was almost break time at the factory.  But then Mr Knockjack made a most unusual sound.  Glynis wondered for a moment if he was having what Betty would have called ‘a turn.’  Maybe he was choking even? It was a cross between a gurgle and a howl.  His eyes glared, nostrils flared, finally he spoke.
‘Oh my life this is simply wonderful, magnificent.  No wonder my workers at this factory are so jolly every time I call.  I wondered what the secret was; now I’ve tasted it with my own tongue.  That drink is absolutely dreamy, and so creamy it makes me feel relaxed.‘
‘You like it that much?’  Her lips teased apart.  Glynis felt a well of pride growing inside her.  He liked it?  He actually liked something that she and Geraint had made.  She wanted to laugh.  Her breathing became short and sharp, her hands shook.  Here was factory owner Mr Knockjack reeling with happiness after tasting their offerings. 
‘We really have to get these to the workers, they’ll be waiting.’  She ushered Geraint through the double doors and along to the canteen area where they laid out the cakes and filled cups with drinks.  Mr Knockjack followed them.

‘Children, how long have you been coming here bringing such delights for my workers?’

‘We’ve been coming here for ages.’  Glynis was glad of a welcome seat while her father, Uncle Terry and the rest of the factory workers enjoyed the scrumptious homemade fare they’d spread in front of them.

She could see Mr. Knockjack behind them. He seemed to be marvelling at the scene as if at last something warmed his old, cold heart.  Glynis gathered up the flasks and gags, their work was finished for the day.  Geraint ran to his father and threw his arms tightly round his neck.

‘Go on lad, you go with Glyn.  I’ll see you tomorrow.’  Glynis took a deep breath and smiled bravely towards her father.  Since her mother died, there had been no other choice but the workhouse.  This job was a way that they could see him every day.  Blinking back tears that threatened to spill over onto her cheeks, she smiled and turned, leaving with the empty basket full of bags.
The walk home seemed longer than usual.  Geraint kicked a stone hard against the cobbles.

‘Don’t do that, you’ll wear your shoes out.   Being grumpy won’t do anyone any good.’
‘It’ll do me good.’  Glynis looked sideways at her younger brother, grinning.   ‘You should try it Glyn. How come you’re always cheerful?’  Glynis sighed.  If only he knew the  truth.  It was as she was thinking that the familiar Rolls Royce pulled up alongside them.

‘It’s that Knockjack chap,’ Geraint said.
‘Shush, Geraint, where’s your manners?’ 

‘Can we talk for a moment children?  I’d like to have the recipes from you if that’s alright?  You’ve given me an idea that I’d like to try.” 
‘What’s that then?’  Glynis said shifting from one foot to the other, staring at him, seeking clues.

‘The effect on my workers is touching on miraculous. It’s definitely something I want to expand to my other factories.’ 
Glynis watched him lean towards her thinking about what he said. He really liked it that much? But she had to keep calm. But really? He really wanted to expand? That’s when it came to her. Taking a deep breath, she wanted to sound controlled, considered. But so much for that-  it was like words spilled out like barley. And they kept on spilling.

            ‘Me and Geraint want an education Sir,” she said, crossing her fingers, twisting them behind her back.  ‘We really would like to read, write, and learn sums and countries.’  She felt her cheeks burn. Maybe what she was asking was impossible, but everyone had to dream, didn’t they?  Spurred on by Geraint’s excited little face she continued.  ‘If you had our recipes, then we’d have time to have books, pens pencils, I’ve always wanted to learn a language as well.’  
Mr Knockjack leaned back in his seat pressing the tips of his fingers together, the way she’s seen Dad do, like it was something that helped grown-ups think.

And she waited.
And waited.

She shifted, looked at her feet, then back at him who was watching her. Then she looked at Geraint saw the way he too was watching Mr Knockjack too, like this moment was now so big she might just fall inside it. What was she thinking? Dear God what if he told her dad- would be think she was begging? Would he send her to her room, would he....
That’s when he finally spoke.  He was leaning towards them, tapping his fingers together.

‘I could pay for your education until you’re both twenty one.’
Was that her gasping or Geraint? She daren’t look away from him.

‘Of course this would be In exchange for your wonderful cake and drinks formula,’ he said.  ‘You would have to show me exactly how they’re made of course.’ 
Glynis smiled when he said that, knowing how the mixture could vary slightly from one day to the next. But that was okay- wasn’t it? Because now she and her brother were being offered something that would change their life. Like really change it and all because of a recipe! What would Betty say to that? Oh she would be thrilled Glynis was sure.  Taking her brother’s hand squeezing it tightly, she nodded.

‘Yes, we have to go and tell Betty.  Definitely, the answer to your question is almost certainly yes.’  Mr Knockjack smiled and even as they turned and ran hand in hand along the cobbled street she knew if she turned her back he would still be smiling. But his smile could never match hers.     

 About Susan:
I am 51 years of age, live in Warwickshire and have recently joined twitter.
I have written articles for Words with Jam, My Weekly, Bella magazine and Take a break magazine.
Visit my website here.
I am blogging here.

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