Cricket Teas (June story)

Cricket Teas

20170522_141155Rosemary’s heart pounded. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. “What do you mean retire?” she said, eyes wide. “I bin doing Cricket Teas in Oakington since I was old enough to lift a kettle.” Anger swelled inside her. “There’s nowt wrong wi’ my teas. Famous they are. Famous.”

Ted stood in front of her twisting his cap in his hands. “I’m sorry Rosemary, it’s the Committee see…”

“The Committee be blowed,” she said glaring at Ted. “It’s them incomers isn’t it? Taking over the village they are.” She banged the teapot she was holding down on the table. “Well, we’ll see about that.”

Eyes blazing she stripped off her apron and pushed Ted out of the door. Twenty minutes later she was making tea for old Bill Hathaway, the former Captain of the Oakington Cricket Club.

“I bin helping wi’ cricket teas since the club opened nearly sixty years ago,” she said to the kindly old man. “Aunt Bessie did ‘em then. She weren’t never asked to retire, they wouldn’t dare.”

Bill nodded. “She were a formidable woman, your Aunt Bessie,” he said, smiling at the memory. “She wouldn’t let nowt disrupt her teas. Shortages and rationing were an anathema to her. Every summer, without fail she’d produce a spread the envy of the County. Them were the days.” He sighed.

Rosemary handed him a cup of tea. “Some say as how she’ll be making Cricket Teas in Heaven,” she said, “and what do I get? Retire. Retire -when I’m in me prime.”

Bill shook his head. “Nowt I can do lass, not since that Nick took over the Captaincy. Pushed out I was, pushed out for an electric scoreboard and new sight-screens.” His shoulders sagged. “’Course it’s his missus wants to run things. She’s even upset old George from the pub. Wanted him to serve macrobiotic lunches.” Bills chuckled. “George give her a right flea in her ear. He said, ‘They’s al’as had pub grub and pub grub’s what they’ll get.’” Now she wants to take over Cricket Teas.”

On the way home Rosemary thought about the coming season. Warmth flowed through her as she recalled her love of the game, the reassurance of the unchanging ritual, the smell of freshly cut grass, the crack of leather on willow. Making the teas had become her reason for living. Her family and friends laughed, but Rosemary didn’t care, on warm summer evenings, surrounded by appreciative men in white flannels, she was in seventh heaven.

Her thoughts turned to the incomers. Nick and Fiona had bought the Manor House and obviously believed that a fat wallet compensated for a hundred years of tradition. They had re-routed the right-of-way through the woods next to their property so walkers, ramblers, riders and anyone who wanted to enjoy the woods was now forced to take a lengthy detour along the main road. Then there was the business of the Helipad which had upset a lot of people. Now they had the Cricket Club in their sights. Rosemary shivered. Macrobiotic teas? Whatever next?

Rosemary had worked at the Manor House for years and still cleaned a couple of mornings a week. She’d noticed the disappearance of treasures that had been there for as long as she could remember. Fiona, the new Lady of the Manor as she liked to call herself, said she wanted to live in a home, not a museum. She’d asked Rosemary to help out a couple of times when she had dinner parties, confining her to the kitchen. Fiona didn’t want her to help serve in case she lowered the tone. Very keen on ‘tone’ was Fiona.

In the spirit of friendliness and being on good terms as well as not wanting to lose her place, Rosemary offered to help Fiona prepare the tea for the forthcoming opening match of the season.

“No, it’s all sorted,” Fiona said. “All done and packed away in the freezer. But I am having an ‘Eve of Match dinner’ for a few of Nick’s business acquaintances. Perhaps you could come and do kitchen duty. It’ll be something of dry run. I’m serving the same menu, Fried Soba Sushi in Broth, Aduki Bean Rice, Roast Pepper Couscous, Unprocessed sea vegetables and red cabbage followed by Pear Trifle with Cashew Nut Cream and Barley Cakes.”

Rosemary shuddered.

Fona smiled. “Oh, and we’ll be having Dandelion tea, so refreshing and much better for you than the caffeinated kind.”

The evening went better than Rosemary expected. The food Fiona described as ‘a balanced symphony of seasonal fare appropriate for their lifestyle,’ appeared to go down well with the slick city types Nick had invited, although Rosemary doubted the local lads would be quite so impressed.  The clink of glasses and hum of conversation, interrupted by burst of laughter, was heartening and Rosemary began to wonder if she’d been wrong about Nick and Fiona. Perhaps it was, as old Bill had said, ‘time to worship the rising sun instead of the setting one.’ Rosemary told him she’d always preferred the setting sun as it was more spectacular. Bill had laughed. “They’re young,” he said. “They’ve time to grow stunning.” Rosemary wished they’d ‘grow stunning’ somewhere else.

The morning of the opening match dawned bright with the promise of a fine day filled with sunshine. Rosemary smiled as she gazed out of the window. Perfect cricketing weather, she thought. The telephone rang. She hurried downstairs to answer it.

“It’s an emergency,” Ted said. “Can you do the cricket teas? Fiona, Nick and all their guests from last night have gone down with some sort of stomach bug. She’s had to throw out everything in her freezer. She won’t be doing cricket teas again. You’re our only hope, Rosemary.”

Rosemary sighed. “Oh dear, poor Fiona. Of course I’ll help, I won’t let you down.”

Her heart swelled with happiness at the idea of another year of cricket teas. She glanced into the dining room at the table laden with sausage rolls, pork pies, pasties, chocolate muffins, tarts, fancy cakes and scones filled with cream and jam, leaving just the sandwiches to do. She smiled. I knew Aunt Bessie’s laxative powder would come in handy one day, she thought.

(First published in Yours Magazine Yearbook 2016)

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