Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Meals on Legs

Copyright: Janet Cameron

'Here you are, Sindy," says Mum. "Nan's dinner's ready."
Carefully, she places a dab of mint
sauce beside the lamb and adds a
little broccoli next to the crispy
roast potatoes.  "They're not too
crispy, are they?" she worries. "Do
you think Nan can chew them, or
should I put more mash on instead?"
            ‘They’re fine,’ I assure her.  Nan always covers them in gravy anyway.’
            So Mum pops the aluminium lid on top of the plate and hands it to me.  ‘And there’s yours,’ she adds, placing my dinner on top of Nan’s.  It’s exactly the same except there’s no broccoli.  I hate broccoli and, fortunately, Mum understands. 
            ‘We could all go round Nan’s with our dinners.  It wouldn’t make any odds,’ Mum pops a couple of serviettes on top of the dinners.
            ‘Don’t forget, Mum,’ I say, ‘We agreed because Nan says not to make any fuss.’
            Mum smiles her secret smile.  ‘She always was a proud old lady,’ she murmurs, ‘but then, we wouldn’t have her any different, would we?’
            ‘See you soon, Mum.’
            I whizz off round the corner to Nan’s.  Mum, Dad, Phil and I live in a three up, two down in Short Street and Nan lives in Three Meadows Close in a lovely bungalow  that’s just the right size for her with tiny, yellow roses round the window.  When I reach her buttercup yellow door, I ring the bell, three short rings and one long, so she knows it’s me and I make a mental note her front lawn grass needs cutting and the roses could do with a prune.  My young brother, Phil, always does it for her.  Nan has an idea that if you’re doing a tough job, you need lots of cups of tea, and is apt to get a little agitated if you don’t drink it.   So Phil spends more time drinking tea than cutting the grass.  Actually, sometimes I think she does it on purpose so she can have more time with him, but I know Phil doesn’t mind.  Like all of us, he adores the old lady.
            It takes a while for Nan to reach the door, although she’s pretty good for ninety.  (Actually, she’s my great-grandmother on Mum’s side, but Mum’s parents retired to Spain so we look out for her day-to-day, although Mum’s parents visit as often as they can.)
            ‘Hi Nan,’ I greet her.  ‘It’s Meals on Legs.’  Nan laughs.  It’s become our family joke and we always laugh at it, even though, with the constant repetition, it shouldn’t really be funny anymore.
            ‘Sindy, what a good girl you are?’   I follow her inside.  ‘Why have you brought me two dinners?’ asks Nan, bewildered.  ‘I can’t possibly eat all that.’
            ‘The other one’s for me.  I’m going to have mine with you, today.’
            ‘I told you I didn’t want any fuss.’  All the same, Nan sniffs appreciatively and then looks anxious for a moment.  ‘Now you’ll miss your Sunday lunch with the family.  You don’t have to do that, Sindy.  Now that I can’t get round to you anymore doesn’t mean I can’t eat mine on my own.  I know I’m lucky to get such a lovely dinner every Sunday.  After all, you always come round and have tea with me.’
            Dear Nan.  She’s so independent and always anxious not to be a burden, not that she ever could be.   Like everyone, she has her funny little ways, but she is the most unselfish person I know and a fountain of good sense when you need a listening ear.
            ‘But I want to eat with you, Nan.  I eat plenty of meals with Mum and Dad and Phil on weekdays.  Anyway, I want to talk to you.’
            ‘All right, my love.’ 
            Nan has already laid the table for herself, so she gets another placemat for me and a knife and fork then hands me a bottle of Rosé and a bottle opener.  ‘You’re a nice strong girl, Sindy, can you get the cork out?’ she says.  Secretly I think to myself, ‘But you didn’t want any fuss, Nan!’ although I daren’t say so.  Trying not to spill the wine, I manage to remove the cork.  Nan’s little rosebud mouth lifts up approvingly as the wine gurgles happily into her favourite crystal sherry glasses.   ‘That’s the ticket,’ she says. 
            She has lots of funny little expressions like that, from when she was a girl and sometimes it really cracks Phil and me up.  As we sit down, I notice she’d had her hair done yesterday and it sits in neat little curls on top of her head and around her ears.  And, am I imagining it, or has she had a silvery-blue rinse?  No, I’m sure I’m not.   Anyway, she looks great with her light hair and her sun-browned, smiley little button of a face.
            We both taste a small piece of everything and have a sip of wine, then I say, ‘Nan, there’s this boy I like.  I don’t know if he likes me, and I’m not sure whether to…well, you know… do anything about it.’
            ‘Is he really a very nice boy and worthy of you?’
            ‘Well, yes, of course he is.  And he’s quite incredibly attractive and gorgeous with black hair and he always talks to me as though he likes me.  He loves dancing, just like I do.  It’s just that…well, I’m not sure if he’s really attracted to me, in a romantic sort of way.’  I trail off, starting to feel a bit daft, but I can see Nan is thinking about it very carefully by the way her head is nodding.   After what seems like forever, she looks me straight in the eye.
            ‘Then of course you should do something about it.  Of course he’s attracted to you.  Why shouldn’t he be?  I mean, Sindy, my sweetheart, just look at you…’
            I start to giggle.  ‘But you’re prejudiced, Nan.’
            ‘That doesn’t mean I don’t know what I’m talking about,’ says Nan firmly, spearing a piece of broccoli and inspecting it as though it holds the answer to the meaning of life, the Universe and everything in it.  Honestly, who needs therapy for self-esteem when they have a Nan like that!
            ‘You wouldn’t be here if I’d been lily-livered when I met your great-grandfather.’
            Lily-livered!  That’s a new one!  I almost choke on a roast potato.
            ‘What happened?’
            ‘He’d never have asked me out, let alone asked me to marry him if I hadn’t guided him very firmly in the right direction.  Young men don’t always know what’s best for them and need a little help in making up their minds.  But you needn’t worry because they won’t ever do anything they don’t really want to.  You just have to make it easy for them and let them think it’s their idea.  Never mind all these high-faluting new ideas.  Male psycho…, what d’you call it?... male psycho…ana…lology. well, that hasn’t changed a bit.’
            I think about this.  Suppose I mention to Ben, sort of casually, as though it was neither here nor there, that I’d really like to see that new romantic comedy with Hugh Grant, then perhaps he’ll offer to take me.  In fact, I’m sure he will.  The more I think about it, the more sure I am and I start to feel more confident and, yes, even empowered.
            For a short while, Nan and I eat in companionable silence, then I say:  ‘You’re right, Nan. 
            ‘Faint heart never won fair lady – or gentleman, in this case.’
            Again, she was right.  There was something gentlemanly about Ben, gentlemanly and respectful, although he was no shrinking violet.  Shrinking violet!  What am I thinking?  Nan’s jargon’s beginning to rub off on me!
            ‘That was delicious,’ says Nan at last, gathering up our plates, and, right on cue, there’s a ring at the bell.
            ‘Goodness!  Who can that be?’
            I don’t offer to answer the door for Nan, because I don’t want to spoil the second little surprise of the day for her.  Quickly I take the plates from her, pop them through the kitchen hatch and follow her to the door.
            ‘Well I never!’ says Nan.  ‘More meals on legs!’
            Phil, who is standing on the doorstep with three dishes with aluminium lids on top, begins to chuckle, setting me off.  We all troop back into the dining room with our desserts, Phil ducking his head as he goes through the door.  He’s growing so tall, he’s left me way behind.
            ‘It’s Mum’s home-made Bannoffie pie, your favourite,’ says Phil.  ‘And the cream’s here, somewhere, in my jacket pocket.’  It’s wedged rather tightly, so it takes him some time to extract, then Nan gets a little china jug and pours in the double cream and gets us some forks and spoons.
            ‘Yummy!’ says Phil.  Phil’s my younger brother and he’s just nineteen and as little brothers go, he’s pretty cool, although I have to remind him to take off his baseball cap at the table before Nan does.  
            ‘I said I didn’t want any fuss,’ says Nan.  All the same, she tucks in as though she’s never had Bannoffie pie in her life and has just discovered its naughty delights. 
            ‘You’ll need to cut Nan’s grass soon,’ I remark, by way of conversation which has been flagging rather since we started on the pie which, because of its excellence, demands our undivided attention.
            ‘OK,’ says Phil, pouring on more cream.
            ‘How’s Amanda?’ asks Nan suddenly and both Phil and I freeze.  Poor Phil – he broke up with Amanda last week and he’s absolutely gutted.  I told him he should ring her, because it only sounded like a silly lovers’ tiff to me and I was sure she was suffering too.  I was so upset about their quarrel and trying to think how to help get them back together.
            Phil has gone quiet so I answer for him, whispering as though it would make it less awful, ‘Nan, they broke up.’
            ‘Why don’t you do that thing on your little machine,’ says Nan.  ‘That funny little machine like a writing telephone.’
            ‘You mean, text her’ says Phil. 
            ‘Yes,’ says Nan, ‘test her.’
            ‘It’s text, Nan, not test,’ I say, thinking about the strange irony of Nan’s little mistake.
            ‘Text,’ repeats Nan.  ‘Good gracious, you children do have some funny expressions!’   And, in spite of the sadness, that set us both off again into fits of laughter.
            ‘Talk about the pot calling the kettle black,’ I remark, pleased with myself for remembering that one from when Nan told me not to criticise Phil for being untidy.
            We are all sorry when our desserts are finished.  Nan gathers up the plates and Phil excuses himself for a few minutes then they both come back and sit down.  Phil is looking decidedly smug with himself.
            ‘What’s up with you?’ I enquire.
            ‘I tested Amanda,’ he says and winks.  I lean over and squeeze his arm in sisterly empathy and he says, ‘Gerroff!’
Then the doorbell rings again.  Neither Phil nor I get up and Nan looks at us a little perplexed.
            ‘There’s someone at the door,’ says Phil.
            ‘What’s the matter with you?’ Nan says severely.  ‘Got lazyitis?’
            In any case, she gets to her feet and answers the door and Phil and I linger behind her, bristling with expectation.  There on the doorstep are Mum and Dad, beaming fit to bust.  Holding an enormous cake with pink icing and all lit up with ninety gleaming candles (you need an enormous cake for ninety candles) was Mum.  I peered over Nan’s shoulder and could just make out, beneath the tiny candles, the words ‘DEAREST NAN’ in a darker shade of pink.
            ‘Let us in, Nan, this is heavy,’ says Mum.
            ‘I said I’d carry it,’ says Dad, ‘but she wouldn’t let me.’
            ‘You might have dropped it,’ says Mum and it’s true, our Dad, lovely as he is, can be accident prone with anything remotely related to cooking.  Mum won’t let him carry anything fragile, especially since he dropped a Coq au Vin once when she was having a special dinner-party.  Perhaps the lovely smells that emanate from Mum’s cooking send him off-balance.
            ‘I told you not to make a fuss,’ cries Nan, but there is a beautiful smile on her face and her blue eyes are glowing.  ‘I told you and told you but you don’t ever listen.’
            ‘We only came round for the entertainment, ’jokes Dad.  ‘We want to see you blow out all the candles by yourself.  Now, come in and sit down, Nan.’
            Quickly I get out some more glasses and serviettes and Dad places all the presents on the floor by Nan.  One or two candles have gone out, but they’re magic ones and Nan is intrigued when they light themselves again. 
            ‘Oh!  Oh!  Oh!  Just look at that!’ she keeps squealing.
            We all fall about as we watch her try to blow them out and she tells us we’re a crateload of monkeys and she doesn’t know what she’s going to do with us all.  What did she ever do to deserve all this? 
            Then, ‘We love you Nan,’ says Phil suddenly and there’s an instant hush and we all stare at him as he reddens and stares into the cake.  You see, Phil is such a loving bloke, but like many young men of his age, he’s slow in expressing his real feelings. 
            Dad saves the day.  ‘Yes, we do all love you Nan.  You’re the best.  Happy, happy birthday!’
            Then there are kisses and hugs all round, although we remember to be gentle with Nan.
            ‘You know it’s my ninetieth,’ says Nan.  We assure her, we all know that and that’s why she has ninety magic candles.  ‘Why don’t you count them to make sure?’ suggests Phil, cheekily.
As she cuts the cake, with enormous pride, I can see she’s almost bursting with the excitement.  Even so, she just can’t help commenting: ‘I told you I didn’t want any fuss.’

Copyright Janet Cameron
Published by People's Friend as I don't want any fuss, 16 September, 2006.











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