Friday, 29 August 2008

The Storthes Hall Foxes

Freedom at last was Emily’s thoughts as she watched her parents slowly disappear behind the building to the small car park at the top of Storthes Hall. Giving Emily chance to walk into flat one alone, although not completely, as at least two other flat mates and their parents were busy shuffling cases, boxes, computers and TV sets into their own rooms.
Emily’s allocated room for the current academic year was right at the top end of the corridor conveniently near the flat exit and the kitchen. After giving a few weak friendly smiles to the strangers and their families in she went into her room and shut the door behind her.
Her room was surprisingly spacious. Her bed was on the right had side of the room which made more logical sense to her and gave her a good sense of familiarity to her old rooms layout back at her family home.
She sighed as images of the house she had lived in for most of her life tried to mirror themselves onto the place which would become home for the next forty two weeks. Of course neither matched the other but she knew that once all her little trinkets, photographs in nice new picture frames, posters and even her favourite cuddly toys were set in their rightful place it would at least feel like home. So that’s what she did for the next two hours or so, making her room as comfortable as possible to settle in for her first night as a university student.
Sleep came rather slowly that night as she lay in bed, after chatting away the hours with her two flat mates, two lads called Mike and Paul in the kitchen over tea, as her bedroom was on the ground floor, no steep stairs to climb, but it was turning out to be a rather noisy spot. Her room faced out into the rear car park so she was able to hear every engine that went past and the voice emanating from the speaker at the gate each time a car tried to go deeper into the flat complex. Not only that but the ceiling, she thought, must be quite thin too as she could hear every footstep coming from the flat above. But the most irritating thing of all was that the wall her bed was set against was in fact part of the stair well and each time someone went up and down the stairs causing the metal to rattle and creak she could hear it. The noises of her new room made sure thoughts of home kept tugging on her heart well into the night.

The following day the trio were joined by another three flat mates, two girls called Amy and Charlotte and another lad named Jack. All six were doing a range of courses from History which was Emily’s chosen subject to Accountancy and Fashion which was Paul’s and Charlotte’s.
Once the others had more or less settled in all agreed to go up to the D-bar for a first drink together but Amy had the unusual idea of going on a group walk around the grounds, ‘a mini adventure’ she had called it and gave them chance of some space away from the other students still moving into the flats above and around them.
At first they casually made their way towards the entrance of the park where the shop and reception were based and found themselves on the ring road and the bus stop. It was still quite light for September having only just turned six o clock and Amy got curious by the woodlands and so led them encouragingly down the track before spotting a smaller earthier track leading off to their left.
“Why don’t we go down there?”
“It looks a bit muddy to me and I’ve only got my sandals on.” Charlotte complained.
“It’s dry, you’ll be fine and if necessary I’m sure one of the boys will carry you on his back.” Amy replied with a grin leading them off once more into the unknown.
About ten minutes down the small ravine pathway between two slopes of trees, hawthorn and autumn leaves they met a broken building in a man made recess that was flooded with dark brown water and they could hear water still running into it from somewhere hidden from sight.
“Must be an old pumping house or something. I heard this place used to be a mental hospital.” Mike commented ominously.
“Hey what’s that?”
“What’s what?”
“That there, can you see it? Oh there are more of them.”
“What?” Jack moaned not making out what Emily was pointing at through the fence.
“Look at the mound near the tree just across from us. Can you see them?”
“Awww they look like puppies.” Charlotte shrieked but quickly got a hush signal from Amy to be quiet.
Indeed they did look like a few months old puppies but their big ears with dark brown tips and the same colouring on their paws gave away their true identity. There were about ten of them in all, sniffing, scratching, digging and tumbling over one another on the soil mound beneath a tree on the opposite side of the pumping station.
“They’re fox cubs. Actual fox cubs. They’re adorable. Look at them playing.” Emily whispered proudly, a big smile across her face and a strong feeling of excitement welling deep within her not just for this special moment they all shared but a new found optimism for this new place.
Whilst they all watched with baited breath and quiet laughter at the wildlife circus before them Emily felt happy to be there. Her mind had already started to wander what other surprises Storthes and Uni have to offer. Her first year seemed to be turning into a truly memorable part of her life. For her and the fox cubs life in the big wide world was starting off very well indeed.

Remember this September

September means many different things
To animals and humans alike.
Usually harvest time it brings
But to students the educational hike.

For first years it’s a whole new world
So far away and stocked with baked beans.
They gather on campus both young and old
Nervously to meet their department Deans.

Second years return for even more study.
This time though each and every mark counts.
No more bar crawls or dares in the nudy.
Only after exams can they drink copious amounts.

For most third years it’ll soon be the end.
For come May they enter the world as employees.
Just one more final effort to drive them round the bend.
But soon they will finish in the early summer breeze.

All this and more will occur
During this September
And it will be for all I’m sure
A university year to remember.

‘Storthes Hall’

S tudents gather in great numbers at Storthes Hall one Saturday.
T earful mothers and proud fathers help carry the cases and boxes.
O ptimistic students lay claim to their rooms and limited kitchen space.
R etail raids harass the small shop for those essential supplies.
T hen just after four, parents leave all those students together yet alone.
H undreds then gather at D-bar to celebrate their new found freedom.
E veryone will drink away their doubts and fears well into the night.
S unday will soon arrive and bring with it an extra batch of flat mates to all.


H all life will soon settle into a routine, making it more of a home to its residents.
A s days become weeks and on into months, their tenancy too will eventually end.
L onely parents will return happy to pick up those that they missed.
L eaving as a family again for the summer but Storthes will be waiting, to welcome them back in the approaching September.

Monday, 4 August 2008

Brownies and Coffee - A Cafe Story

From the counter Sarah could survey The Coffee Pot café. Now that the lunch time rush had finished only people who enjoyed their afternoon tea came in. Either side of the door the three lattice-framed windows let in the early summer sunshine. Watching the odd dust mote float in its golden rays caused her to wonder about her daughter and whether she had enjoyed her break time that day, playing in such wonderful light. Sarah heard a sweet giggle from across the room and noticed how a young mother was playing the food train game with her toddler, who waved her hands in the air excitedly. Both were smiling. How long ago it was that I did that, Sarah thought, memories of years past replayed before her eyes in the beams of light cast on the empty tables.
Sarah checked her watch, it was ten to three. Making sure that no customers needed her immediate attention she popped her head around the kitchen door. There was Rachel busy scouring pans, utensils and baking trays in the giant sink, Johnny was stripping away the used baking parchment and putting it in the rubbish bags as well as wiping the surfaces. The kitchen was closing for the day. Her husband was wrapping up the day’s cooking in cling film and putting it in the two large fridges at the back.
“Michael, it’s ten to three,” she called to him from the door.
The man with mousy brown hair and sea blue eyes turned to face her with a tender smile. “Right you are, my love. I’ll just change and then I’ll go and pick up Amy.”
“She should have received a report from Mrs Norris today so double check she has it.”
“Will do,” he replied ripping off his apron at the neck by the Velcro tabs.
“Bye, Mike.”
“See ya tomorrow, Mike,” chorused Rachel and Johnny.
“Bye, guys, good work today,” Michael hung his apron on the side wall, put on his coat and headed towards the door. “I’ll see you at home, love. I’m making spag bol for tea,” he briefly explained as he met his wife at the counter. He did a quick mental count of the few small groups of customers whilst his hand sightlessly sought the car keys in a drawer beneath the till.
“Okay. Drive safely. I should be done by five so I’ll wait for you outside.” Sarah kissed him goodbye and watched him leave the café for the school run.
***
After the family managed to fill themselves on Michael’s delicious spaghetti Bolognese each took to their regular activities. Michael took care of the washing up, Amy went to her room to finish homework and Sarah took to the accounts of the day as well as organising future stock orders.
Michael remembered he hadn’t got Amy’s final primary school report and so he went upstairs to retrieve it. He met her pink flower and blue star decorated bedroom door and gave a gentle tap.
“Mum?”
“No, darling, it’s your Dad.”
“Oh.” Even from behind the door she sounded disappointed. “What is it Dad?”
“Erm, do you want reason one, two or three?” Michael replied playfully.
“Ugh, come on in then.” There before him sat Amy at her desk, hunched over a paper booklet full of questions and images; her pencil was already being chewed upon.
“So, how’s it going?”
“Okay. Just maths homework.”
“Good, no problems then?”
“Just a few with division but I managed to work it out.”
“Good girl. Now, your Mum says you should have a report from Mrs Norris?”
“Oh yeah, it’s in my bag.” Amy put her pencil down and went to her bag behind her bedside and pulled out a yellow sheet of paper. “Here it is,” handing it to her Dad.
“Thank you, your Mum and I will look over this tonight. So…are you looking forward to big school?” he asked sitting on the end of her bed.
“I guess so.”
“That didn’t sound very convincing Amy. You want to tell me anything?”
Amy looked up, worry in her eyes. “It’s just…well, I hardly ever see Mum any more. I know I see her at tea and in the mornings but…she hasn’t even taken me shopping for my new uniform yet and…well, it was you who took me for the open day not her. It’s always you taking me down to Brownies. Mum’s always busy.”
Michael felt a sense of relief not to hear the word bullying. “Oh, darling, come here, let me explain something to you.” He opened his arms and lifted her gently up onto his knees. “Listen, Amy, you know Mum and I run the café, don’t you?”
“Yeah.”
“Well it’s actually quite complicated to run, it’s not just about making food and selling it to customers. We have to control money, stock orders, calculate everyone’s wages at the end of each week, ring people up about orders and all sorts. The café can’t work unless either I or your Mum does the more complicated stuff. Also your Mum can do it a lot better than I can. As for the open day you know your Mum wanted to come with you, she really did. But Diane, fell ill at the last minute so your Mum had no choice. It was an unfortunate one off. If she didn’t go in, the café wouldn’t open and that café is what earns the pennies to pay for all your pretty clothes and things.” Michael paused, rethinking his discussion plan. “Look, I’ll have a word with your Mum and see if she can at least pick you up from Brownies each week, hey? And I will remind her about taking you shopping for your new school uniform. Would you like that?”
“Yeah, thanks Dad.” Amy gave him a big rewarding hug.
“Just remember, darling, that your Mum and Dad do love you, very much, even when we’re not around.”
***
Later on, when Amy was in bed, Michael rejoined Sarah in the kitchen.
“How’s it going, love?”
“Erm, do you want the good news or the bad news?”
“Good news.”
“Well, we’ve made a slight increase on our income since last month.”
“Okay, and the bad news?”
“With the rising cost of eggs, flour, milk and so forth it just about manages to cover the cost of our next order. I think we may have to consider raising our service price next month if we’re going to cover costs of ingredients. I haven’t even considered our energy bills in all this yet until I receive them through the post.”
“Okay, so what does this mean in the long term?”
“Well, we either raise service prices, lower wages or simply become unable to make enough food each week to cater for the numbers we serve.”
“Sounds to me like we need an extra small income to cover the costs you’re talking about.”
“I can’t think of what other services we could offer. We don’t have enough staff to operate a delivery service let alone a spare car and that would bring in fuel costs which have already gone up.”
“Don’t worry love, we’ll think of something.” Michael laid a comforting hand on her shoulder. “Oh, by the way, would you mind picking up Amy from Brownies tomorrow night? It’s just, you’re starting to spend more time with these figures than her and she’s feeling a bit neglected.”
Sarah gave a weary sigh, resting her head in her hands. “I know, I know, but someone has to do them otherwise nothing works. But you’re right; I’ll try and make a bit more of an effort.”
“Good, well you can start now whilst we see how our daughter has done in her school report,” Michael offered with a pleased smile waving the yellow paper in front of her.
***
Standing by the family car the following evening Sarah waited with other parents for the Brownie group to finish. Beside her was Kim, whose daughter Fiona, also a Brownie, was best friends with Amy. Just as a pause began to evolve in the conversation the town hall doors opened and both mums looked out across the small car park. A group of young girls emerged wearing yellow jumpers and brown body banners, most coated with badges for completing tasks. Amy and Fiona were deep in conversation when they made it across.
“It’s just so awful,” Fiona whined openly as each girl hugged their parent, Amy more animatedly than usual and with a big proud smile on her face.
“What is?” Kim asked, slightly dubious.
“The council, they’re a bunch of big meanies.”
“Why what have the council done?”
“They’re closing down the hall. They’re going to renovate it totally which means no Brownies over the summer. It means no Brownie camp!” Amy answered miserably.
Sarah began to cuddle Amy closer in an attempt to hug away her sadness at this loss and agreed that the council were meanies chucking out such a favoured and popular local group.
***
“Right girls, let’s all welcome the latest member of our group, Amy’s Mum, who will be known as Snowy Owl. She has kindly offered to host us in her café throughout the summer. This means that we may yet be able to prepare for our summer camp in August. A round of applause please for Snowy Owl.” Everyone gave an excited clap towards Sarah who stood quite timidly behind the counter.
“Thank you all so much. Now, tonight girls I am going to teach you how to make a fruit smoothie.” Amy beamed a big smile at her Mum who grinned back, equally happy.
So the Brownies were held at The Coffee Pot and when autumn came agreed to remain there even after the town hall renovations had finished. The café was safe from financial difficulty and so was the relationship between a daughter and a mother, who was lucky enough to find that balance between family life and business.

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