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Tuesday 2 January

Finally, Cousin Eunice departed, but not until well after three o’clock.  She had rung the hotel and they had said her room wouldn’t be ready until four.  She came with me to Miss Chatwall’s for I needed fresh milk and bread – if she had any under the circumstances.  Her milk isn’t from the Bowdlers so she had a good supply.  She also had her January sale, much to Eunice’s amusement.

The remaining Christmas stock was marked down by a miserly ten percent.

“Spoiled for choice,” Eunice said, as she perused the motley sales items – the same old Christmas cards (which will be on sale again next November at full price), the handful of selection boxes and various boxes of Turkish Delight, Newberry Fruits and Dairy Milk.

“Take your time,” Miss C. said, oblivious to the irony in Eunice’s tone.

“How about a deal,” Eunice said and, even though I couldn’t see her face, I could sense the naughty glint on it.  “How about if I take the Newberry Fruits and Dairy Milk for a fiver?”

“Sorry, the stock is as marked,” Miss Chatwall said stoutly.

Eunice looked at the fruits and said, “Their sell by date is the end of this month.  If you don’t get rid of them soon you’ll have to bin them.”

“They’ll go,” Miss Chatwall said flatly.

“I wonder . . .,” Eunice said and put them back on the counter.  “£5.50?”

“Done!” came the reply.  She had a satisfied air about her feeling she had scored a victory over Eunice but, in truth, the opposite was true.

As we walked home Eunice asked, “How on earth does the woman stay open?”

“It’s the convenience factor,” I said.

“Who for?” she mused in return.

I made us a sandwich and, while we were having lunch the phone rang.  It was Maureen Picklescott.

“I haven’t really seen you much over Christmas,” she said and I was wondering if you would like to bring your cousin for dinner tomorrow.”

I had to explain that she was leaving later that day.

“Oh, what a shame.  Never mind, you can come Cleo.  It will be nice for you to have a meal made for you.”

I accepted with thanks and told Eunice.

“I won’t get to see that mutt of theirs,” she said.  “That’s worth missing.”

Getting everything into Eunice’s pink Fiat proved difficult for, if she had come with everything but the kitchen sink, she had acquired a small utility room of purchases during the holiday which squashed into the small confines with difficulty.  There was barely room for her large form in the driving seat.   We kissed goodbye and I waved her off down the lane as she chugged laden into the distance and out of sight.

And then I sat and made a cup of Camp.  It felt odd to be on my own again after her exuberance.  Tomorrow, I shall take my decorations down, for I am not superstitious.   It’s been an interesting Christmas and strange to think it is all over, from Eleanor’s ‘Presentation’ to Christmas Day with the Greens.   The sun lingered just that little bit longer in the sky this afternoon before I drew the curtains for the days are starting to lengthen again.  Poor Sausage came and snuggled on my knee, relieved at Eunice’s absence no doubt, and I sat in the quietness of the room, grateful for the many kindnesses shown over the season and wondering what the year ahead will bring . . . . .

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New Year’s Day, Wednesday 1 January 2020

It was not a good start to the New Year for the electricity remained off when we woke.  I was unable to use the telephone to find out what was happening but thankfully I had the radio which uses batteries and the stove is gas plus I have the Rayburn.   Eunice found it great fun declaring it, “Like going back a century”.    However quaint it seemed I was worried that the freezer would defrost and was unhappy about opening the refrigerator which I had to as it contained our dinner.

We listened to the New Year’s Day concert from Vienna while we had our breakfast, the bread slightly stale as we couldn’t make toast.  Eunice gamely offered to take us out for dinner this evening should the electricity fail to come back on but the problem was knowing how far spread the power failure was.

Thankfully, just after one o’clock Preston and Chasity came round to wish us a happy new year and to see if we were all right.  I felt a little like a geriatric needing a home visit (“Are you sure you and Eunice are warm enough?” Chastity asked) but I did appreciate their concern.  It seems that a substation went on fire last night and has ‘outed’ the electricity as Preston put it.  There are going to be problems for the Bowdlers with the cows and milking and my money is on Miss Chatwall claiming a tidy sum for the loss of her freezer contents.  Given that she’s shut today and the freezer won’t have been opened she will probably escape if the electricity comes back on but I’ll be she claim anyway.

By half past four I was lighting the candles and Eunice was debating where we could go for dinner, for it would be well beyond the village and its environs.  “I can easily cook our dinner,” I said.  “I’ve had to open the fridge already so I can easily take it out” but she was like a dog with a bone and I half wondered if she wasn’t happy with faggots for dinner.

We ventured into the near dark just after five, using the torch to light the path and drove off in her Fiat, the headlights sweeping down the dark lanes ahead of us.  It must have been three miles before we were back into an electrically lit area and I kept my eyes peeled for dining places.  A lot of the inns we passed did not provide food, or they looked a bit rough.  Eventually we saw one, The Cocky Pheasant, with a board offering meals and which looked more ‘us’.  We parked up and went in.  It was quiet, with just a couple of locals sitting with pints.

“Let’s have a drink while we order,” Eunice said, with what felt like a hint of starving desperation in her voice both for alcohol and food.  We have hardly been deprived of food over the past week.

She ordered a glass of white wine for me and a large gin and tonic for herself from the girl behind the bar and then asked for the menu.

“I’m sorry,” the girl said, “we’ve only got a limited menu tonight.  Our regular chef is off and we’ve had difficulty finding a replacement with it being new year but I can rustle something up for you.”

“What can you do?” Eunice asked as though the girl was a contestant on some television cookery competition.

She said she’d check what was in their fridge and let us know.  We sat for what seemed an age and eventually she came back and said she could do us a choice of either pulled pork burgers with oven chips, toasted sandwiches or, as she put it, “If you want something a bit more substantial I can do you faggots with Cheddar mash.”

Of course, we both burst out laughing and I had to explain why – something she saw the funny side of.  And so, several miles from home, we sat and ate faggots and mash.  Eunice still packed away another large gin, much to my consternation and then we drove home, plunging depressingly back into the stygian black as we neared the village.  We picked our way back up the path by torchlight and I headed for the matches to light the candles.  Just as I did – the lights came back on!

“At least your freezer will be all right,” Eunice said.   “Now – being my last night, I think a little drink is in order.  I’m afraid her faggots weren’t a patch on yours.”

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New Year’s Eve, Tuesday 31 December

Forty eight hours and my misery will be over.  We were down at Beyond the Fringe for eleven o’clock.  Ky looked at Eunice as though she was a gorgon, a rare moment of astuteness for her.  Eunice removed her coat with a flourish and handed it to Ky firmly as though she was a maid and, surprisingly, Ky took it.  Maybe there is something to this.

Of course, it was all air kissy kissy between Acton and Eunice who loved the Gloria Gaynor Christmas theme.  I felt like some Victorian companion between the pair of them.  “You need conditioning,” he said to her, “and then, depending on what you’re wearing tonight, maybe a colour to match?  I’ll see to Cleo while you think.”  I felt decidedly second class; the village spinster having her trim while he gave the five star salon treatment to some cheap celeb.  Of course, she’s wearing the new vermillion dress, so he gave her what he called a holly berry red rinse that will wash out.  By the time he was gone her hair was a translucent rust shade.  I thought it had a whiff of pantomime dame about it but she was delighted and so was he.

I made us omelettes for dinner knowing there would be plenty to eat at the Bowdlers later.  Even if Eunice could manage a man sized dinner as well as scoffing her way through their bounty, I certainly could not and I wasn’t giving her the opportunity.  She disappeared for her bath and preparations and we walked up the lane around half past eight.   There was already a good crowd there, including Eleanor, Chastity and the other Gubbals while Daisy was in full flow but not so much as to not see our arrival.  She looked at Eunice with distaste, recalling the time she got the better of her, but then saw the red hair atop the large vermillion outfit and her eyes widened.  I was determined that Eunice was not going to make more of a spectacle of herself than she already was and collared Graham and Faith and said, “If possible, can you try and make sure Eunice doesn’t have too much to drink please?  You know what she’s like.  I’m rather afraid everyone else does too.”  They were very kind in their response.

I was talking to Chastity when I saw Daisy leading Adam and Marcus march up to Eunice and say, without so much of an excuse me, “Why is your hair that funny colour?”

Eunice looked at her with a smile so charming it was deadly.  “Now, what colour do you suppose it is?” she asked genially.

“It’s a sort of red,” Marcus ventured.

“It’s a weird red,” Daisy said fixing a scrutinising look at it that would shame any professional hairdresser.  “But why have you made it that colour?”

“I haven’t,” Eunice said.  “Somebody else did.”

“Who?”

“He did,” Eunice said, pointing to Acton who had not long arrived with Woods.  He saw her beckoning to him and came sidling over.

“Our young friend here wants to know why you coloured my hair this shade this morning,” she said.  Sensing what was going on, Acton said flamboyantly (even by his exuberant standards), “Because she is a darling who needs to shine in the firmament of celestial radiance.  Grey is for the hinterland of humanity but holly berry red brings out the passion in her soul.”

Three pairs of wide, uncomprehending eyes stared in bemusement.

“Ciao my little ones,” he said with a flashing smile and, taking Eunice by the elbow, escorted her away to Woods.  “I like it Acton,” I heard her say.  “Touché darling,” he replied. “Our little Madame Bovary has a lot to learn.”

The party continued in jovial fashion and Eleanor, looking smart in a slightly anaemic green dress, came over to chat.

“What resolutions have you made for 2020 or are they secret?” she asked me.

“I never bother,” I said.  “How about you?”

“I’m afraid mine are secret,” she said annoyingly, making me wonder why she bothered to ask in the first place.  Nevertheless, I suspect she has ideas up her sleeve for some entertainment or other.  Well, two can play at the secrecy game.

“There is one thing I will say,” she said, but what that was remained unknown for suddenly, the whole room was plunged into darkness.

There was a cry of surprise followed by Graham letting out an oath before saying, “Hang on everyone.”

But the room remained in darkness for the lights hadn’t fused and it appeared there was a power cut. We all stood in the dark clutching our drinks unable to see beyond our noses.  Eventually, Faith, Hope and Graham came in with candles and a couple of paraffin lamps.  There was no music but, in the candle and lamp light and without the ubiquitous modernity of background music something charmingly old fashioned came over the room and, somehow, the conversation seemed to flow and we all felt so comfortable.

Before we knew it, midnight was approaching and Graham, together with Daisy and Co, was going outside to let the New Year in.  Faith switched a transistor radio on and we heard Big Ben chiming the first seconds of 2020.   We managed to form a large circle and sang Auld Lang Syne, or that part of it which people knew and then Faith and Hope came round with champagne.  Eunice, who, for her, was sober, clinked glasses with me and with Acton and Woods and we continued to make merry.

We stayed until quarter past one when I felt it was time for home.  Then I realised that, without a torch, it would be almost impossible to get home.  “Glennie and I will give you a lift,” Acton said.  “Can you stay another half hour?”   We did, and I was glad to stay if it meant we could get home easily.  When they dropped us off, I suddenly realised that getting into the house in such blackness wouldn’t be easy but Acton drove the car back a bit so that the headlights floodlit the door while Woods came with Eunice and I in order to use his mobile phone as a torch inside. 

“I’ve got candles in the kitchen,” I said and formed a small party feeling our way in the faint light of the phone’s glow to the kitchen where I groped and found them.   

“Isn’t this fun?” Eunice said after they’d driven off.  “It’s a bit like being in the war.”

“As long as the power is back on by tomorrow,” I said.  “We’ve become so dependent on electricity.”

I boiled water on the stove for a cup of tea and we sat in the candlelight talking while the occasional shaft of headlights flickered over the curtains as another of the Bowdlers’ guests (I presume) drove home.  And then, feeling like something from a Bronte novel, the pair of us made our candlelit way to bed. 

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Monday 30 December

And so the circus continues.  Eunice is treating tomorrow’s gathering like some gala event.  She rang Acton and managed to get us booked in for tomorrow, despite the fact that I had thought of going on Friday, after she had gone home.  I’m just grateful that she hasn’t latched on to Mae and Stanton’s spa, otherwise she would have had us down there slathered in mud and goodness knows what else.

“Guess what Cleo?” she crooned as she put the phone down.  “The boys are coming to the Bowdlers tomorrow night!  Glennie bumped into Faith and mentioned they were on their own and she invited them.  Isn’t that grand?”

‘Grand what?’ I thought to myself.  Grand opportunity for misbehaviour no doubt.  Just two more full days excluding today before she goes.

Around one o’clock there was a knock at the door and, to my amazement, Quina Brooks was standing there with an enormous bouquet of flowers. I invited her in, bitter in spirit that Eunice was there to hear whatever she had to say and no doubt put her ridiculous spoke in.

“You’ve not my cousin, Eunice?” I said by way of introduction.  They both sized each other up immediately I saw.

“These,” Quina said with a flourish, “are for you Cleo.  It is simply to say thank you for all your help with the trial.  I take you know that Lee has been found guilty?”

“No.  No, I didn’t,” I said taking the extravagant arrangement of luxurious looking red roses and large white chrysanthemums blooms bedecked with exotic greenery, in my arms.

Eunice was all eyes as well as ears and I explained as tactfully and briefly as possible what had happened.

I offered Quina a hot drink but she declined, saying she couldn’t stay long as she was driving to York to spend the New Year with friends.  He has been found guilty on all twelve counts and will be sentenced early in the coming year.

“What do you think he will get?”  I asked.

“It’s hard to say, but I hope he might get around ten years, which means he will serve five for good behaviour,” she said.

 As she left, she kissed me lightly on the cheek, an unexpected gesture but warmly delivered.

“Thank you again,” she said on the doorstep.  “I really am most grateful to you Cleo.  You’ve helped and trusted me when others wouldn’t have done.  I wish you and your cousin a very happy 2020.”

“And you too, Quina my dear,” I said.  “I’m quite sure that, after the year you’ve had, the year ahead can only be good.  I do hope so.”