A tale from Auntie Barbara's Cream Bun Cafe
By Rob McConnell
All characters in this piece are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons living or dead is purely coincidental
A tale from Auntie Barbara’s Cream Bun Café
Debbie said “It started with a sticky kiss and progressed to salt and vinegar.”
Emily and her daughter Debbie plonked their bags and themselves down at a window table in the Cream Bun Café. Debbie was home from England for a few days holiday and they had just hit the January Sales big time. Emily was in high spirits, apart from having her daughter to stay she had just managed to get the last item in the outfit she had first set her heart on, way back in September. The trousers and shoes had been purchased in the Mid Season Sale, the jacket at the Pre Christmas Event and finally in the January Sale a cream blouse with 50% off. She only bought in the sales! It was an in family joke that one day she would come home with an escalator because it was marked “Down”. Debbie had been keen to get to the sales to update her wardrobe as she had a new man in her life and things were starting to look up again after her divorce.
Emily was a regular at the Café and an old school friend of Barbara one of the owners.
Barbara called over, “Do you want the usual?”
“Yes, with double helpings of cream, we’re celebrating.”
By the time they had had a good rummage through their purchases and sorted out the bags Barbara arrived with the Coffee and the café specialty, Rhubarb & Honey Surprise absolutely covered in real whipped cream. Barbara wouldn’t use any of that synthetic aerosol stuff. Only the very best of fresh home- baked delights were good enough for the Cream Bun Café.
Emily stirred in the sugar and looked over at her daughter. “I can’t tell you how pleased I was when I picked you up at the airport. It's great to see that impish smile back. Am I right in thinking Paul has something to do with this?”
“Yeah Mum, he’s such a lovely man. He makes me laugh and is great to be with. Getting a transfer to the Company’s other office down in Kent was just the clean break I needed after the divorce. If I had stayed in Ipswich I was bound to keep bumping into Trevor. Someone else can put up with his bouts of drinking and violence”.
“Well are you going to tell me about Paul? How old is he, where did you meet? I want all the details!”
“Have you got an hour? His name is Paul Gribben, he is two years older than me. That makes him thirty and he is my Boss at work. He has his own private office and I work in the outer office with fifteen other girls on his staff. Six months ago, when I transferred, he interviewed me and he just seemed like any other manager. I wouldn’t say he was particularly good looking but he has such a nice smile. At that time men weren’t exactly my favourite species. I did go out to Discos a few times with the other girls but always turned down any date. We knew Mr.Gribben, as we have to call him, wasn’t married and occasionally one of the other girls would report seeing him with some girl none of us knew. He had loads of certificates on this office wall and we rather thought of him as ultra efficient. He certainly didn’t mince his words when disciplining someone for poor work or bad time keeping. Not that I was ever involved, I just kept my head down and worked away - you’ll be glad to hear."
"Anyway our first date, if you could call it that, was a bit strange. It was afternoon tea break and I was trying to persuade some of the girls to go with me to the Fun Fair on the old gasworks site. You know how we, as a family used to love going on all the rides and trying the side shows. I wasn’t getting any takers and finally I just shouted 'Will anyone come with me to the Fun Fair tonight?' There was silence and then this voice from the back of the office said' I’ll go'. We all looked round, and then they all looked at me. I didn’t know Mr. Gribben – Paul, was at the Photocopier. They looked back at him again and then back at me like a tennis match at Wimbledon. For what seemed like a lifetime I just stood there, then said, 'Fine, great.' Paul went back into his office and I saw him go to the Personnel records file and read something.
A few minutes later my internal phone rang.
“Do you still live at Flat 3 number 45?”
“No second thoughts?”
“Getting some verbal out here, but no. “
“Good. Pick you up at eight fifteen.”
“Fine, I’ll be ready.”
“Oh, and Debbie, I heard you saying how much you loved Fun Fairs – me too. It will be fun.”
And it was.
At exactly eight -fifteen he rang the bell. “Hi, taxi to the Fun Fair for Miss McDonald.”
“Be right down.”
He was really impressed, he explained later, normally when he called for a girl they would say “give me five minutes” and he could hear the shower in the background and they take another half hour.
I just wore my jeans, polo neck sweater, trainers and the wee black leather rucksack you gave me last Christmas. He opened the car door and I could smell a nice aftershave as I brushed past into the passenger seat. He got in and we looked at each other and smiled sort of nervous smiles. He told me I was looking good. He was also in jeans and I said he cleaned up nicely and I preferred him out of the horrid business suits. He said I was to call him Paul.
"Well, before we drove off I said there was something serious I wanted to explain. I knew he knew I was divorced but I felt I should give him a little background. Not every detail, just that I had been knocked about a bit and had moved away to get a new start. He was really nice and understanding. I explained I had been out with the office girls a few times but had always turned down any men who had asked for a date. I was apprehensive and wasn’t sure if I could handle a relationship just yet."
He thanked me for explaining and said he wasn’t sure what to say. Funnily enough, he then suggested that since he hadn’t asked me out and I hadn’t asked him out it wasn’t a date, more an arrangement between two people who loved Fun Fairs. Why didn’t we just go and have fun and worry about relationships some other time? He said if it made any difference I could pretend to be his sister for the night.
I didn’t take him up on the sister bit but I was a lot happier having got that off my chest.
So I just said, “Hit the road and burn some rubber, Mr. Schumacher.” Which we did.
On the way it was unanimously agreed we’d go on every ride and try our luck on every Stall.
He managed to get parked not too far away and the Fun Fair was in full swing when we arrived. Roll up, Roll up, all the fun of the fair – flashing lights, loud music, space ship rides, roller coaster, Dodgems, Ferris wheel. It was all there. Happy family memories!
He said, “Which ride first? Ladies choice” So I opted for the Octopus.
Before I knew it we were flying round up and down being thrown together and then apart. Next the Big dipper and the Space Blast Off. We both just seemed to come alive laughing and acting like teenage kids.
Next we tried the sideshows. I asked if he was any good at shooting and he said he had been a Sergeant and a marksman in the Army Cadets. I said “Prove it Mister Sergeant Sir. Win me a Teddy Bear” He explained that the sights on the air rifles had probably been tampered with so they didn’t shoot straight and he needed me to stay close and try and spot where each shot went so he could adjust his aim. I watched each shot. The first was right and high, the second left and low and on the third shot he put a duck on its back. I selected a dark brown Teddy Bear with sticky up ears and decided he should be called Paul.
He grabbed my hand “Lets try for a Coconut; we’ll both have a go.”
He threw first but missed. I could throw well enough but missed with my first three balls. Then I turned around and noticed the Stallholder in the corner bending over getting more coconuts. His jeans had slipped down to leave more than a big bare expanse of skin. I just lobbed a ball at the gap and didn’t miss.
He turned round quick as a flash “Who the hell did that?”
I put on my little girl act.” Oh dear I’m so sorry I don’t have a very good aim.”
He was raging and shouted, “Give me those balls, clear off and don’t come back. I don’t care if you are a woman you won’t take the Mickey out me. Clear off.”
Like school kids we ran off hardly able to control our laughing. Paul couldn’t believe I had just done that but I think he was quite impressed.”
Emily tut tutted “Debbie that’s awful! Your Dad and I never encouraged that sort of behaviour.”
“Give over, Mum it didn’t hurt him; no harm was done. I assume you want to hear the rest of what we got up too?”
“We went on a few more of the rides and then hit the Dodgems. We got the last two cars and were well apart when they switched the electric on. After a few minutes I noticed a boy of about fifteen was singling out females and deliberately giving them a hard banging. His next target was me. Paul moved into position and rammed him hard. Next I hit him. We looked at each other, we didn’t need to speak, we just knew we were going to take this guy out. The poor boy was suddenly changed from chaser to being chased and didn’t like it. We forced him down against the bottom side of the rink and jammed him there. He spun the steering wheel to try and escape but the car wouldn’t move. Finally he jumped out and ran off. Paul cruised past and we exchanged a high five.
We reckoned it was my turn to win something and I decided to try the Hoopla. A long box standing on its end was selected for attention. I told him to hold my waist so I could lean as far forward as possible. The third throw and the hoop settled neatly over the box. It turned out to be a salt, pepper and vinegar set. The vinegar bottle was in the shape of those Spanish wine drinking bottles with the long spout, but smaller. It was just what I needed for the Flat.
There was only the Ferris Wheel left. We paid our money sat close together on the open seat as it slowly climbed above the crowd. The view was spectacular; the whole town spread out below. It was getting dark and the lights made it looked like a fairyland. It had been a fantastic evening; he moved in even closer and I sort of knew he wanted to sneak a kiss. To be honest if he hadn’t kissed me I’d have kissed him. You know what it's like to have that warm feeling towards someone and you want to show it by squeezing their hand, a quick hug or just something?
He had hardly touched my cheek when he jumped back. All surprised he announced “There’s Candy Floss all over your cheek”. I gave him my hankie and told him to wipe it but it wouldn’t come off. I told him to spit on the hankie. You remember Mum how you used to do that to clean our faces when we were kids? Well Paul’s Mum did it to him. When you think about it I suppose all Mums do that sort of thing.”
“That’s not important, just get on with the story,” said Emily.
“He told me to hold still and that I was one Mucky Duck. Well I took a fit of the giggles and started repeating in a baby voice “I’m a Mucky Duck Quack Quack, I’m a Mucky Duck Quack Quack” He was laughing and said “No more candy floss for you my girl” and I just went on saying “I’m a mucky duck quack quack.”
By this stage we were laughing uncontrollably and hugging each other.
“Ok you two break it up.” It was the attendant; we hadn’t noticed we were back at ground level. “Run along and do your canodoling somewhere else”. We bowed our heads and ran off laughing. Suddenly we stopped and found ourselves standing opposite each other holding hands. We kissed a very gentle just touching kiss. It was so right we just flung our arms around each other and this time it was long lingering and passionate. It was if we were putting a seal on a moment we both knew was the start of something we both wanted.
After that we just wandered around holding hands. There didn’t seem any need to talk, we were just happy to be together. The crowds were thinning out and the next thing we were standing beside one of those Mobile Chip Shops. Paul offered to buy a poke of chips and I said I loved chips and promised not to be a Mucky Duck. We found a seat and quietly worked our way through the chips talking but not saying anything important except that you never got enough salt and vinegar.
We drove back to the flat hardly saying a word. The only CD he had in the car was Katie Melua so it was slotted into the player. The first song started and I suddenly realised it was rather appropriate and hoped Paul would too. And he did.
“I won’t spend my life
Waiting for an angel to descend
Searching for a rainbow without end
Now that I’ve found you
I’ll call off the search”
As we parked outside the flat Katie was singing her number one hit Crazy. By the second chorus we were both singing at the top of our voices.
“This is the closest thing to crazy I have ever been
Feeling twenty two acting seventeen
This is the nearest thing to crazy I have ever known
I was never crazy on my own.”
When it finished, I stretched over and turned it off and said it had been the craziest best night of my whole life. I think I sounded so serious he was stuck for words because we just sat there. I wasn’t sure whether to ask him in for coffee or what? Then he leaned over, kissing me very gently on the cheek and whispered “Can we have a proper date tomorrow?”
“Yes please” I gave him one big hug and a nice gentle kiss on the lips and jumped out the car.
“But what’s all that about salt and vinegar,” questioned Barbara who had been evesdropping.
“Trust you to remember that. On the third date I asked if I could keep something in the car. There were bound to be nights when we would have chips on the way home so could I put the salt and vinegar set we won at the Fun Fair in the front pocket. I’m sure it was then that we both knew we were an item and it would be coffee at my place or his. And it was.”
Well that’s the news from the Cream Bun Café, where, if it's not one thing, it’s another. Oh, I forgot to mention, the Rhubarb & Honey Surprises are all sold. More tomorrow.