This Sort of Thing...


The Spice of Life



I often wondered if dear old Joan had anybody in the world to talk to other than me and Torty, her tortoise. Before marrying a serviceman and moving to the West Country, she had lived in the North Riding of Yorkshire. Long after she had been widowed I would visit her once a month in her garden flat in the centre of Georgian Bath to remove stubborn corns from her smallest toes and she would entertain me with her thoughts on the strange goings-on in the world, all of which outraged her. She was an avid people-watcher and, barely pausing to take a breath, she would spout great monologues about what had gone through her mind as she’d waited in queues in shops or the post office on pension day, or at the bus stop.

Her great meandering sagas were dotted with ‘I thought this’ and ‘I thought that’, so I’ve put some of her thoughts into written words.



Just look at her! The Jezebel! I don’t know how she has the nerve. Shamelessly putting them there on the conveyor belt for all and sundry to see with her pouches of fancy cat food and her Vogue magazine that’s pure filth and her Findus frozen meal for one, as if to say, ‘Hey, look at me, I’m going to be fornicating tonight!’ Why do they have to sell condoms in Sainsbury’s anyway? It never happened in my day.

I don’t think we even had condoms then. Well the war had just ended and there was still rationing. Even if they’d put up a sign in a shop window saying ‘Get your gentlemen’s latex sheaths here!’ I’d have laid a pound to a penny that you’d never see a rush for them. Well, modesty prevailed, and there just weren’t the condom vouchers in the ration books. In any case, we had too many hungry little mouths to feed for us to be able to afford contraceptives.

To tell you the truth I don’t think we even had a Sainsbury’s just after the war. Not in Thirsk anyway, or even Northallerton which you’d be surprised at. They had them down south of course. I know this because Great Aunt Olive on Father’s side had lived in London during the Blitz. She took shelter in their premises in Kentish Town High Street as soon as she heard the air raid siren wailing but Hitler didn’t stop to think about the poor ordinary housewives running around on a Tuesday afternoon to keep their families fed and watered. It was direct hit by a bomb from a Heinkel that finished her. They found her near the bacon slicer, buried up to her eyes in tins of powdered egg. The cruel busybody of a neighbour thought it a great joke to say she’d been a victim of shelling. I can’t remember his name but there were very few tears shed when his pressure cooker blew up one Waterloo Day. He shouldn’t have been cooking anyway. That was work for Mrs whatever it was that he was called.

We got everything we needed from Mr Cooper’s grocery shop on the corner of Station Road and we were happy. A lovely man he was, despite his ear wax and his wife’s fondness for a bottle of milk stout. I expect it was the ear wax that drove her to the drink. She must have worn her fingers to the bone scrubbing it off his shirt collars. He wouldn’t have sold condoms to anybody. I think he was one of those Roman Catholics.

I wonder if she put them in her shopping trolley by mistake. Mark my words, she’ll have thought they were chewing gum or cough lozenges or something. Mind you, they do come in such a variety of gay colours. Very pretty. I’ve thought about buying some myself, the packets look so nice, but I wouldn’t know what to do with them. Mrs Gooding said they make them in all sorts of flavours too which I find a bit peculiar because they say they’re to stop you getting in the family way. What difference does it make if they taste of banana or raspberry ripple as long they keep the young ones out of trouble? The BBC Light Programme was what kept me out of trouble. Elsie across the street listened to Radio Luxembourg and regretted it for the rest of her life. All that jitterbugging! I blamed her parents.

What flavour has she got there? It looks like juicy fruit to me. Does it say sugar-free? She’s worried about her teeth rotting. The least of her worries, I’d say. Perhaps it is chewing gum. No it can’t be because it says ‘ribbed’ on the box and why would anybody want ribbed chewing gum? Why would anybody want ribbed anything for that matter? Though I bought a nice non-slip bath mat in British Home Stores the other day. That was ribbed. She’s going to be disappointed when she gets home and opens the packet. They’re not going to do much for her curry breath unless she’s bought Signal toothpaste with minty stripes flavour. How on earth do they get the stripes into the tube? Mrs Gooding said they have a machine.

If they are condoms, it’s funny she doesn’t let the husband buy them. He’s probably not her husband anyway and he’s probably too tired after a hard day at work to be bothered with all that sort of shenanigans but she loves him so much she’s gone out to buy them herself. Bless her! I wonder if she’ll use them before or after she has her boil-in-the-bag curry. She obviously doesn’t love him enough to cook him a proper tea, or even share her awful modern food. Don’t Findus do meals for two? At least she’s feeding the cat. I wouldn’t be surprised if she was feeding it to her man friend… feeding the cat food, not the cat, to him I mean. Curry indeed!

We didn’t have those in my day either. Boil-in-the-bag curries. Mr Cooper would never have sold anything like that. Well there was no demand for curry. No, not in Thirsk. All the people who ate curry lived in India until Findus came over here. It’s an Indian word is Findus. Mrs Gooding said it’s the name of a river in India. She used to go on a lot of boating holidays before she lost her husband so I expect she’ll have read about it in the Hoseason’s brochure.

What I can’t understand is why Findus make frozen toad-in-the-hole as well as curry. Mrs Gooding said her granddaughter went to India on holiday. She took everything she owned in a haversack the size of herself but didn’t think to pack an iron. She must have looked a sight but, although I would never say anything to offend Mrs Gooding, I don’t think her granddaughter even bothers to use an iron when she’s at home. She’ll be buying condoms next, just you see. Anyway, she told her grandmother that while she was away on her travels she had toad-in-the-hole in the hotel cafeteria so it must be an Indian dish. I’ve always said I won’t eat foreign food because it pains me, but I do like my toad-in-the-hole. I open a tin of marrowfat peas with it. Mrs Gooding won’t touch foreign food either. She said her father was a prisoner in Burma during the war and the food was terrible.

You’d think they’d go the whole hog and make condoms in curry flavour, wouldn’t you? It would save people like her a lot of time and trouble. Killing two birds with one stone. I suppose she’d turn her nose up if they were toad-in-the-hole flavour. No, everything has to be exotic for today’s generation. I can’t understand why she doesn’t cook herself some normal food. If she’s got time to fiddle about with condoms she must have time to fry a chop. My husband would have insisted on a chop. I’m not the sort to blow my own trumpet but I can proudly say I kept a good pantry, so I knew he would always be content with what went on the table. He never was one for frozen food. Dreadful stuff he said it was, and he wouldn’t have thought twice about telling the likes of this trollop here where to stick her blooming condoms.

Funnily enough I’m having a chop for my tea tonight. They sell them individually now but you’ve to look sharp if you want one with a bit of kidney in it. You can buy the kidneys separately but they don’t taste the same. I bought some in a plastic tray once. They’re only really any use if you’re doing a steak and kidney pie but those things are such a carry-on to make I don’t bother anymore. Well the frozen ones they sell nowadays are so tasty and easy to do. Twenty minutes at gas mark five and Bob’s your uncle.

I think that’s why so many foreigners come over here you know. For the British food. I don’t expect they’ve got a Sainsbury’s in Calcutta and even if they have I bet they don’t sell steak and kidney pies. I wonder if Findus make their food in India and bring it here in lorries. Mrs Gooding’s granddaughter would know. She thumbs lifts from lorry drivers on the M4 when she’s going to see her chap in Nottingham. She certainly gets about a bit for someone so young. He’s at university there. A young man who looks like he’s never seen a hot iron either! And he rides a bicycle everywhere because he’s a vegetarian.

I wish I’d travelled when I was a girl. We went to Butlin’s in North Wales two years running when Father was doing the extra shifts on the railway. He moaned and groaned all the way to Pwllheli, saying that six hours on a train was no holiday for him and he might as well have brought his stoking shovel. Mother said, ‘Bert, there’s no need for language like that!’ Oh how we laughed. The second year we went the dog was sick which spoilt our enjoyment a bit. Well they were such small chalets for six of us and he was a big dog was Rusty. He would get very nervous on bin day (Thursdays, no I tell a lie, Fridays) so I’m not surprised he didn’t settle in Wales. Mother blamed it on the food but Father said, ‘Offal is offal no matter what country you’re in.’

I would have liked to have gone a bit further than Butlin’s. I loved to look at the photographs of the pyramids in Egypt in my history book at school, and Swanage always seemed such a bonny place in the pictures on the travel posters in the railway station. But they were so far away and I never really got the time. Well I had to help Mother look after the house and a stoker’s overalls don’t wash themselves you know. And after I was wed I had so many flipping kids to feed. But there’s not much you can do about that is there?


ABC 118 

Photograph: Joan’s reptilian friend, Torty. Almost as old as her but not quite as chatty.



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