Monday 4 September 2023

Shirley Loves Fridays by Judith Skilleter, turmeric tea

Shirley loves Fridays. It’s her day off. From Monday to Thursday she looks after her seven grandchildren aged between one year and eleven years. She has three pre-schoolers who are with her during term time and the holidays and the four who are at school are with her during the holidays in various combinations. It is an exhausting commitment but Shirley loves it.

Will, the eldest at eleven years old and shortly to go to senior school, is getting a bit fed up of spending his holidays with small people, some of whom are not yet potty trained so an X-box and a computer are in the spare bedroom. That keeps Will occupied – for the moment. The baby, Anna, eats and sleeps and poos. As for the middle five they are noisy and naughty in equal measure.

Shirley doesn’t mind helping out. She knows that her children could not afford mortgages and childcare even with both parents working full time. And anyway she loves her children, she is even pleased with their choice of partners,  and her grandchildren are all adorable. Shirley would do anything for her precious family.

But Shirley also has a need to prove that she is the better parent, at least a better parent than her children’s father, her ex-husband. He left her ten years ago and is now living in Marbella with wife number four or is it number five? She last saw him a year ago when he reminded her of an old leather loafer, such was the state of his suntan. And she was not impressed by the partially undone shirt not concealing two medallions and a closely shaved chest. Did  he think he was going on Stictly?

However, Shirley’s willingness to look after her grandchildren does not include Fridays. Friday is her getting back to normal day .On Fridays she does her weekly shopping while her cleaner and her gardener repair the damage done in the previous four days by seven young people – even Anna can make a substantial mess.

After the help has gone and her home is as she likes it and after a large gin and tonic, Shirley feels she can relax for the weekend.

Shirley has a man friend. Gordon is a widower. He lives locally and is a keen gardener. He has an allotment and although Gordon never brings her flowers there is a constant supply of potatoes, cabbage, carrots and all sorts. This summer, their first together, he brought the most delicious tomatoes that actually tasted of tomatoes unlike the bags of water she buys in the supermarket.

Shirley’s family have met Gordon and approve of the relationship. They know her Friday and weekend time is off limits apart from birthdays and other special events and that these are times she is not Nanny but is Shirley.

Gordon has given Shirley happiness that she has not had in a long time; a happiness that is not dependent on others or the welfare of others. She finds it new and strange doing things and thinking about things that are primarily for her and Gordon’s pleasure. He stays over on Fridays and Saturdays and their warm, gentle and affectionate sexual relationship is a total delight.  Shirley thinks she might even be in love but that would be nonsense – she will be sixty next birthday; being in love is for youngsters.

But Gordon has a dream. He wants to buy a small house with a bit of land in Spain, probably southern Spain, not necessarily near the coast where the prices are bonkers but inland a bit and where he wants to grow new things. And Gordon wants to do all this with Shirley.

Gordon has shared his dream with Shirley and she knows he would like her to accompany him but her commitments to her children and grandchildren have always been an obstacle.  They need her. She does not want to let them down. She does not want to be accused of being just like their dad.

But recent weeks have been difficult.  Shirley cannot lift the little ones as well as she could in the past – back problems - and the older ones, well, they are difficult to keep amused and are just hard work – and sometimes unpleasant. Shirley knows that her commitment to her family cannot go on for much longer; she is getting too old and her bones are weary.

On this particular Saturday, Shirley and Gordon are at Gordon’s allotment. Shirley is sitting in a chair with a cup of tea just watching Gordon as he digs and hoes. He looks so good, and she is feels overwhelmed by her love for him. “Yes”, she admits to herself, “I am in love”

Gordon is turning over soil and lovely new potatoes are coming to light. “Could you collect these potatoes Shirl,” says Gordon as he unearths more from the soil.  “There is a riddle over there somewhere. We can have them tonight with halibut.”

“OK – and Gordon” says Shirley “ tell me about your dream again”.

Gordon stopped digging and leant on his spade “I want to go somewhere where the weather will let me grow things all year round, Spain perhaps. I am sick of cold wet English winters where so much rots in the wet earth, where nothing thrives. And I want to grow new things, more exotic things. I want to learn and make mistakes and learn again. I can do all this” Gordon gestures around him “with my eyes shut and upside down and it is becoming boring. I want to grow fruit and olives and figs and things I have never heard of - in the sunshine.”

There was a short pause. “This is my dream but it is only likely to become reality if you are with me.” And then came a surprise, “as my wife. I’m too old fashioned for this living together malarkey ”.

“There, I’ve said it. I want to be with you more than two days a week. I don’t count Fridays because it takes until Saturday for you to recover from the grandchildren,” he added and got on with his digging.

Shirley thought and thought, not so much about her feelings for Gordon but about the logistics of separating from her family duties which she had to admit were becoming harder. However, change was not impossible or, indeed, out of the question.  Will was already wanting more, the Xbox and the computer were being replaced by a mobile telephone and he was glued to that dreadful gadget all day hardly saying a word to her. Three more grandchildren would be starting pre-school in September and that leaves the baby who will need more company than an aging grandmother can offer when the company of the others moves on. Shirley thought she would pay for the baby to go to a good nursery where she would thrive with lovely new friends. As for the holidays, well, other people manage and so will her own children. And if necessary Shirley could help out financially there too.

“I like that dream very much and I would love to be part of it,” she said to Gordon.

Gordon just smiled at her, a smile filled with so much love. He nodded and said “I’ll just get some peas and French beans to go with the halibut and potatoes”.

“There is one condition, Gordon” said Shirley.

“What’s that” Gordon replied, as his eyes filled with anxiety.

“I’m not living anywhere near Marbella”

“Understood” said Gordon.

About the author

Judith Skilleter is new to writing fiction after a long career in social work and teaching. Her first children's novel The April Rebellion, has recently been published. Judith is a Geordie, who settled in East Yorkshire forty-five years ago and is married with three grandchildren. 


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