Thursday, August 30, 2007

All Donations Gratefully Accepted

Our neighbourhood has many elderly residents. The area even has one of those ‘Elderly People Crossing’ road signs. I was unnerved by this at first – thinking that I had ended up in a dormitory suburb ‘as it were, for life.’

With old people though, come old customs and manners. This is no bad thing - especially when one of the customs involves the giving of money.

The other day Maude and I took our first promenade with the new baby – Aurora. It was a sunny day so we did a circuit around the leafy, blooming lanes of ‘The Villas’. Maude’s mother, Augusta, walked 30 yards ahead and used her natural authority to divert any traffic or dog walkers from our path.

An elderly lady was busy dead-heading roses in her garden as we passed.

‘Oh, a new baby!’ She exclaimed and leaned precariously over her garden gate to catch a glimpse of the infant.

Maude proudly pushed back the awning on the pram to reveal Aurora’s sleepy face.

‘Oh, she’s absolutely gorgeous,’ continued the old lady. ’So good to see some new blood in The Villas – the next generation, as it were. Wait there.’ She then disappeared into her kitchen. Maude was slightly perturbed. Reappearing moments later, the lady rummaged in her purse.

I realised what was happening and whispered some reassurance.

‘It’s an old custom darling – some older people will give the baby a small amount of money for good luck.’

The old lady reached across under Maude’s watchful eye and pressed a shiny pound coin into Aurora’s tiny hand.

‘Good luck!’ She smiled and returned to her gardening chores. Maude thanked her and we moved on.

I had not seen the giving of money to strangers’ children for many years, but I was heartened to see the warm glow in the old lady’s cheeks as she made the gesture.

I have since resolved to brighten the days of as many of our senior neighbours as possible: early morning walks around the full extent of The Villas (including culs-de-sac) have been highly profitable. Hovering around the trolley return station at Tesco has also paid dividends – the elderly shopper is very likely to be easily distracted after retrieving their pound coin and before you know it another coin has dropped into Aurora’s university fund and the cockles of another old heart have been warmed.

A well-timed saunter past the post office as it opened brought in a remarkable pram haul of £7.59, some Werther's Originals and an Out-Patient appointment card.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

The wind that shakes the barley water

Someone told me that our local supermarket had a goodwill policy of offering new mothers a free shop if their waters happened to break on the premises. Maude is 3 days away from what has been described as her ‘outside due date’ – whatever that means. She is profoundly bored at home, so yesterday she took me up on the offer of a trip to the supermarket. I used the subterfuge of stocking up on a few of those last minute essentials for the hospital trip – snack bars and magazines, for me.

I thought it best to hover in aisles with supermarket staff in them. That way, the breaking waters would be witnessed and there could be no question of our qualification for the complimentary trolley dash.

‘Why have you taken over 10 minutes to choose flapjacks? You always eat those weird seeded ones there. You are a creature of habit. Just get them and we’ll go.’ Maude didn't seem to be enjoying the expedition.

I suggested that we move on to the alcohol aisles (remembering that those areas are always patrolled by vigilant staff).

‘This could be our last chance to get something to wet the baby’s head darling.’

Maude viewed me with mild suspicion – nothing new – and began to move, slowly. I helped her along from behind – massaging her back in line with the pregnancy help-books I had been reading. Maude had marked the most germane sections for me and left the books piled on my desk – together with a multiple choice test paper for me to fill in at my leisure (it’s so stimulating being married to a teacher).

‘If you don’t stop that I’ll use the last bit of strength in my body to send you flying into those shelves. Those shelves, there, with all the tins.’

I gathered that this wasn’t quite the right time to employ my new massage expertise. Maude joined me in the wine aisle a few minutes later. I’d taken the brief opportunity to gather a bewildering array of champagne, in the hope that we could linger over the choice and improve our chances.

‘That one will do.’ Maude grabbed the bottle with the prettiest label and began to shuffle towards the checkouts. As we were passing the soft drinks and cordials I was beginning to believe that the mission was doomed. Maude reached for her favourite flavour of barley water, but she suddenly stopped short and held the shelf for support. I was heartened and felt sure that we had a result. I raised my voice:

‘Darling, are you ok? Is it… it time? Oh god, imagine going into labour at the supermarket of all places, who’d believe it?’

A security guard looked slightly intrigued and approached from the end of the aisle. Maude remained silent until he was within five feet of her.

‘I wouldn’t come any closer,’ she suggested and I now felt pretty confident that we would soon be filling a family trolley with every product I could find from the ‘Finest’ range.

‘Just checking that everything is ok, madam. Would you like me to find a seat for you?’

A long, pregnant, silence ensued and time seemed to stand still as we waited for a response.

As the Tannoy system announced ‘a large range of bakery products at very reduced prices in aisle 7’, Maude broke wind with a volume I have never before witnessed and wouldn't care to experience again.

‘Oh,' she sighed, 'that’s much better.’ She then placed the champagne in my basket and made her way briskly to the car park.