Chapter 5: The Harvest Festival Princess – Innit?
On the day of Wantha’s birthday in September, the sky was full of a week’s worth of Indian Summer barbeques. The folk of Whitefield had been hurriedly using up the last of the coals sold or otherwise supplied (stolen) from petrol forecourts all along Manchester road. Today, Patchouli and Toonan had taken a trip to Radcliffe market to get a tray of meat for ten pounds. And Edith had been preparing a whole plate of vegetarian goods from a vegetarian cookbook that a vicar friend of Edna’s left at Curmudgeon Avenue sometime in the 1980s. Edith had offered to put a ‘do’ on for Wantha’s birthday (much to my alarm).
I’m telling you this tale, I hope you remember Wantha? She first arrived at Curmudgeon Avenue when she and her sister, Toonan, were looking for a place to rent. It turned out that Wantha was the on/off girlfriend of Edith’s son Ricky Ricketts, and in any case, she could not leave her mother’s house after a near tragic event whereby Patchouli, her mother, left the hob on all night, Wantha is now her mother’s full time carer.
Patchouli and Toonan watched the gloved hand of the poultry stall load the ten-pound tray up, and then put his hand straight in the till!
‘I hope he changes his gloves!’ Said Toonan, while wiping her nose on the sleeve of her shell suit top. It might have been an Indian Summer this September, but Toonan had declared it was now shell suit weather.
‘And I hope your sister isn’t a vegetarian this week!’ Said Patchouli as they got in their taxi to Curmudgeon Avenue – well the nearest off licence to Curmudgeon Avenue.
‘Alrite Ediff!’ Toonan and Patchouli entered the scene via the back door, bringing their Jacob’s feast with them.
‘Hello, ladies!’ Edith did an excited wiggle of her hips as she said this ‘Where’s the birthday girl then?’ Toonan and her mother looked at one another with some confusion.
‘We thought she was here with you, Ediff!’
‘Oh, now wait a minute’ said Patchouli as though she remembered something. ‘It’s a secret.’
‘A secret?’ Ediff – I mean Edith and Toonan exclaimed in harmony.
‘Yes, a secret’ Patchouli confirmed. ‘No. No, not a secret, a surprise that’s what I meant.’
‘Oh, haha! Oh, well, how will she know?’ Edith said. ‘She knows it’s her birthday, doesn’t she?’
‘Yes, yeah she knows it’s her birthday.’ Patchouli went into the front room, sat down on the leatherette settee and opened a can of cider. Toonan and Edith looked at each other in disbelief.
‘Mum! Mum! Come back in here, how is Wantha getting here?’
Patchouli looked at Edith, she placed her forefinger on her lips, looked up to the corner of the front room and then her eyes widened as though the penny had dropped, pleased with herself, which resulted in the leatherette settee being covered in cider.
‘I know… Your Ricky is meant to be picking her up, and then driving around here.’ Patchouli said with squinted eyes and pointy fingers in Edith’s direction.
‘Oh, well there you are then, we’ll just have to wait for them to arrive then oh I’m excited!’ Edith let out a little squeal, clutched her floral skirt in-between her legs and then ran off to the toilet. Toonan looked all around the downstairs of Number One Curmudgeon Avenue.
‘Ediff!’ She shouted upstairs. ‘Where’s Harold?’
‘Oh, he’s in the front garden, he got his wisteria entangled with his honeysuckle’ Edith shouted through the bathroom door.
‘Oh! Well, that explains it!’ Toonan laughed. There was a flush of the toilet, and Edith was back downstairs – careful Edith, it might still be flip-flop weather, but you don’t want to fall down the stairs again…
‘It’s his garden now, is it?’ Patchouli nudged Toonan and winked at Edith, who immediately blushed.
‘Well, you know, erm he is tall enough to deal with those climbing creepers!’ Edith made an excuse for Harold as so often she did nowadays. Just then, Harold pushed past Edith with armfuls of greenery.
‘Oh, Harold!’ Edith slapped him on the arm and then rolled her eyes at Toonan and Patchouli ‘I’ve told him to go round the back to the compost bin!’ She then did an all-too-loud laugh and made for the kitchen to return to her vegetarian barbeque preparation.
‘Righty-ho Edith!’ Patchouli smirked.
‘Yeah, nice one Ediff, you keep your eye on that, Harold!’ said Toonan.
When Edith arrived in her kitchen, she saw the all too familiar sight of her son’s head in the fridge.
‘Want a beer, Harold?’ He said, cracking two cans open without waiting for an answer.
‘Thirsty work all this gardening!’ Said Harold.
Edith stood there agog at the menfolk of Curmudgeon Avenue.
‘Oh getting rid of that Ivy plant are you? Parasitic life sucker is Ivy, Harold’ Said Ricky Ricketts as though he knew what he was talking about. Of course, Harold had done no such thing. He had simply started on some light pruning of Edith’s favourite flowering climbers. After watching a few episodes of Gardeners’ World, Harold thought he knew everything. At his mother’s house in Bronte Crescent, Radcliffe there was no room for such fancies in the back yard.
‘I won’t be tackling that one, no, that Ivy plant is holding up the fence between our house and the neighbours’ Harold said, he slurped the can of lukewarm lager and smacked his lips together like an elastic band.
‘Erm. Excuse me! Aren’t you forgetting something?’ Edith said in high pitched tones, the roundness of her face blushing with sudden assertion. Harold and Ricky Ricketts looked at one another with playful accusation.
‘No’ Ricky Ricketts said. ‘Harold got the beers in, and I’m drinking them.’
‘Yes, and I’ve made a start on the garden. I didn’t hear you say thank you, Edith, so I think it’s you who has forgotten something. YOUNG LADY!’ Harold has the most annoying self-righteous habit of expecting thanks, where gratitude was not due. After all, he is now a fully paid-up member of Curmudgeon Avenue (much to my disgust), and so should be taking his goodly turn in the garden and cleaning duties. Toonan and Patchouli had now entered the scene at the kitchen door, they were just on the way to the fridge to replace their empty cider cans but thought they might as well listen in to the conversation.
‘I’m talking to you, Richard!’
‘Oh, Sunday name!’ Patchouli whispered to Toonan.
‘Huh?’ Ricky Ricketts bared his horrible brown teeth.
‘You’re meant to be collecting your girlfriend Wantha, and bringing her here for her surprise barbeque. And you’re meant to be setting the barbeque going, Harold!’
‘No… I…’ Ricky Ricketts looked at Toonan and Patchouli, both standing with their arms folded in the doorway of Curmudgeon Avenue’s kitchen. It secretly dawned on him that he had been asked to deliver Wantha to the secret birthday party that Edith was preparing for her. He looked at Harold, everyone’s favourite scapegoat. ‘Yeah, well, that’s nothing. I’ve just heard Harold calling my grandparent’s house his house.’
‘Oh, yeah, he did, and he said it’s his garden too, he said’ Patchouli and Toonan were nodding at one another interspersed with sideways disapprovals toward Harold. Edith thought about this. Yes, Number One Curmudgeon Avenue rightly belonged to her, and her sister Edna (who is missing, presumed to be living in France). Yet, this is Harold’s home… He pays rent, we are living together. Living in sin! Harold has neither proposed nor declared his love, and now he appears to have pruned all the favourite wisteria and honeysuckle from the front garden! She looked at her little twerp of a son, who has neither collected his lover on her birthday nor made any kind of a commitment to her.
‘It’s your girlfriend’s …’ Edith looked at Patchouli, ‘which birthday is it of hers? How old is she?’ Patchouli shrugged with faint guesswork. Toonan shut one eye, looked to the ceiling, and then started counting on her fingers. ‘Never mind, you’re meant to be treating her like a princess today, and bringing her here!’
‘Yes, for a slap-up vegetarian do Ricky!’ Said Harold, who leapt to Edith’s side. They both looked through the window at the strange sight of the pruned wisteria and honeysuckle that Harold had unsuccessfully dumped on top of the compost bin making its way to the back door… Then Wantha appeared like a bedraggled forest goddess. Garden clippings intertwined with her glorious yellow afro hair. She did not look happy.
‘Oh, here she is! Here’s my first born on her birthday!’ Patchouli warmed the scene with motherly fondness ‘And what have you come as, love? You look like the Harvest festival princess!’
‘Innit!’ nodded Toonan in agreement.
Join me at the same time next week when we find out what Gemma Hampsons did to Wantha Rose. Happy reading, Samantha xx
Thank you Lyndsey Prince for the illustration 2019 https://ellepeablog.wordpress.com