Margaret Henderson Smith Margaret Henderson Smith
Margaret Henderson Smith
‘A kiss and a promise!’

Happy New Year! Happy new start! And Harriet’s got such a story to tell! I’ve got no choice but to get on with it. But before I do I must tie off the ends for 2009.

Christmas? Good! Brilliant! Well we might have had to struggle round a heaving supermarket and queue for hours just to check out a pack of mixed nuts and one turkey crown to supplement the sparrow that arrived; but we were well, if not inadvertently, compensated by the delivering supermarket. Just one of the army of bursting carrier-bags sat in the hall offered a last minute surprise! No, this was definitely the substitute season for them! Well there’s always the option to refuse, but who’s got time to even look at the list, never mind exercising the mind as to whether such polarities on the continuum of need are going to fit the bill? We were looking for the middle ground, like a well-balanced see-saw. But no! This sparrow of a turkey was certainly no match for the substitute Christmas pudding of all puddings! Such a lump! I’m reading the label. This is the ‘Rolls Royce’ of Christmas puddings! Long matured, exploding with fruit! Soaked to excess in Christmas spirit!

‘You’ve certainly gone over the top this year!’ My better-half’s saying. ‘What on earth did you pay for that?’

I’m looking at the list. I see it’s been price-matched! It’s virtually a freebie! My better-half’s smiling! This is definitely his thing! He’s weighing it up whilst I’m decanting the nuts into a basket. I’m asking where the nutcrackers went.

‘Oh no! Not those things again? No one ever eats them! They just get tossed. Every year they get tossed! He goes back to reading the label.

‘Eighteen months old. Top of the range, this one!’ He’s smiling.

‘Top of the range?’ It’s ringing a bell! No! I’ve made up my mind. I’m not even thinking of a silver Mercedes! A top of the range Christmas pudding instead is absolutely fine! I’ve made a resolution! I’m taking it into the New Year and I’m going to keep it!

It’s Christmas Day. No present from my better-half. Just a kiss and a promise. I’m puzzled!

We’re wining and dining, almost replete. Just  room for pudding. I’m gathering plates. I’ve stopped feeling puzzled, I’m feeling left out! So I’m thinking ‘Silver Mercedes’. I glance at the tree. To that angel at the top of the tree! I feel bad! I’ve started to weaken! I go back to my resolution. I go back to my better-half in the kitchen battling to remove this huge solid pudding from its bowl.

‘Just gently,’ I’m saying. ‘Here, let me gently ease it away.’

I’m doing gentle and the thing won’t budge. I’m changing tactics. I’ve got it upside down over the plate. I’m banging the top. I’m shaking it and then plop! Half on the plate! Half stuck to the bowl! I’m scraping away. It’s gone sticky and gooey! I’m getting told off!

‘How on earth am I supposed to light this lot?’ My better-half’s saying as he’s reaching for the brandy bottle.

I pretend I haven’t heard. I go back to the table. I’m avoiding the angel. I’ve changed my mind! A top of the range Christmas pudding is now not absolutely fine! I’ve abandoned it! That silver Mercedes has definitely weighed in. Tipped that pudding right off my metaphorical see-saw! I’ve made a decision! Oh! How I’ve made a decision!

I’m pulling in my chair. I’m missing a fork. I’m watching my better-half steering his way in with the pudding collapsed under leaping blue flames. He serves. I’m passing the cream along. It’s back to me. I’m being watched! All eyes on me! I’m lifting my spoon and thinking of Harriet and his silver Mercedes. Oh yes! Harriet got told off too! On Christmas day! I go for the pudding. I press down my spoon but it’s harder than diamonds! I’m pressing the middle. Just one last try! Up shoots the spoon just like a see-saw! Off goes the pudding! I’m all splashed with cream. As are near-by guests. Everyone’s laughing! Except the angel. And me! I’m feeling bad but in the face of no present I will not let go! No! I refuse to let go of that silver Mercedes!

In any case it’s become a must. Since that beautiful village was all snowed up. We went, but not in our car. Oh no! My better-half couldn’t risk it! Not driving on black ice and in thick snow. Not with the car pouring water from under. My better-half wouldn’t risk it even with his can of gunge in the boot. No! We went along with rosy apples and their mummy and daddy. Our cooperative car stayed put. Stayed put on the drive. Far too much snow for that! We arrived at brave rellies house. Their garden a Christmas card. Rosy apples’ very own pantomime in snow. Laughing, shouting, playing. Big apple lying on her back. Mouth open! Catching snowflakes! Wet hair!

We’re laughing and chatting, eating and drinking around a crackling fire. Three bright rosy apples come in for a warm. Wet hair! Still laughing and chatting. The stories move on. We’re talking of hair. Making mistakes! Hair turning pink! Blonde streaks lifting with caps! Terrible tales! Really not fun for some! I’m thinking of hair on the way home. I’m thinking of my hair. I’m thinking of different as we are sat behind cars slipping and sliding, nose to tail right to the motorway. I’m thinking of blonde. But would I be brave enough? Blonde streaks for our silver Mercedes. Silver Mercedes! Most definitely a must in weather like this. Rosy apples’ daddy steering us safely through weather like this and I’m thinking of brave. Brave enough for streaks? I’m feeling bad. He’s brave! Driving in weather like this!

Back to today. I’m thinking littlest apple and his mummy and daddy had even more snow than that. Littlest apple’s mummy was forced to brave the big hill all the way down. And all the way up to get back home with littlest apple and all the shopping for Christmas. Littlest apple’s mummy was lugging potatoes, carrots, sprouts up the hill; as well as all the ingredients for a couple of Nigel Slater’s Christmas puddings. She’s bringing one with her. One for New Year! My better-half can hardly wait! But I’ve been warned not to go near it! He can hardly wait for the pudding. I can hardly wait for the party!

We’ve made a decision! All girls together! we’re going to glam up! What to wear? No! most definitely not the dress with wings. I’m feeling like Harriet. Angelus delapsus! One fallen angel! Since I shot that Christmas pudding at the guests. And sprayed streaks of cream into my hair! I’m thinking of streaks again. Blonde for the silver Mercedes. Maybe a few? But then, maybe not! Suppose they turn pink? Or break off with the cap? Oh, I’ve been tempted before. Especially when The Big 40 sneaked in an odd silver one. Huh! Who wants those? Not me! It was just a couple. But just a couple too many for me! I’ll tell you about it.

I go to the hairdresser. He’s nice. Chatty and friendly. He snips and trims, but that’s all. That’s all he ever does. This day, I arrive in a pelt. I’m going to seek his advice. He’s standing in the window behind the counter studying his appointments book. In I go. I smile, say ‘Hello’. 

‘Ah! It’s Mrs. Robinson, isn’t it?’

Well, I’m nothing if not shocked! I’ve heard of that old film. It’s been out for decades. Just vaguely remember the hype. Something about that woman throwing herself at that poor boy! That poor boy barely out of university! Now I’ve just hit The Big 40 and I’m suddenly being called ‘Mrs. Robinson’. No! I’m not having it! I can’t just suddenly become an older woman at 40! And most definitely not one with a penchant for younger men! No! I’m most definitely not pleased. I shall not confide my miniscule streak of silver to him. Today!

I am correcting him. I’m telling him my name. I’ve been going there for a while. He well knows my name. He’s not listening. He’s smiling, ushering me towards the chair. He finishes. I can’t wait to get away! I rush out taking my minute couple of silver ones with me! I’m into the chemist. I’m buying a bottle. I’m buying a bottle of blonde. I’m getting it home. I’m reading the label. Every last chemical ever created! Too scary for me! It goes in the bin. I find a new hairdresser. I ask for some layers. Some more layers! She’s sure to catch those one or two silver ones. I come out with a bob. All the same length! It’s awful! She’d got it all wrong! I’m back to the chemist. It looks like mascara but it’s just meant for hair. I’m buying a tube with a brush. A brush in a tube full of blonde. I’m reading the label. It’s all full of chemicals. I’m lacking in courage. I throw it away. I’m stuck with a bob and my two or three silver ones. I just have to wait while it grows.

It’s starting to grow and I can’t wait for layers. I’m back with the guy I first used. I’m standing by the counter. He’s smiling away.

‘I thought it might be you when I took the call. It was when I looked in the diary. You always used to come on the same day as Mrs. Robinson. She’s just over there!’

I’m feeling bad and I’m feeling good! All at once! It wasn’t my two or three silver ones! It wasn’t The Big 40! It was me! He’s snipping away. I’m pointing them out.

‘Good heavens! They’re nothing to worry about. Anyway you’ve probably got the type of hair that won’t go grey.’

Call me Mrs. Robinson! I’ve just fallen in love with this younger man! This man is the complete antidote to The Big 40! This man knows how to charm a girl! How to charm a girl with knowledge and truth! 

Back to today. Still only a kiss and a promise. Just a kiss and a promise so I’m thinking of cars. I’m cleaning up and I’m thinking of cars. I’ve collected a whole bin-liner of rubbish and I’m thinking of cars. Well, just one car really! I’m resting my rubbish at the end of the sideboard. I’m looking at the basket of nuts. The basket of nuts sitting on top. The basket of nuts untouched! My better-half was right!

‘I told you they wouldn’t get eaten!’ he says.

‘Of course they will! We’re not half-way through the holiday yet! Anyway the party! What do you think about a few blonde streaks?’

‘No, I wouldn’t suit them!’ He’s laughing.

I’m laughing, too. I’m leaning back against the sideboard laughing. I put my hand behind me. I catch the edge of the basket and press down hard. It shoots up like a see-saw, firing the nuts at us both and then into the bag of rubbish propped against the end. My better-half’s still laughing.

‘You seem intent on sending everything flying this Christmas!’ he says.

I look at the angel on the tree.

‘Everything flying but us! We’ll be as static as her if we don’t get a new car!’ I reply.

‘You’re probably right! We’d better start looking,’ he suggests.

‘A silver Mercedes?’ I have to ask the question.

‘We’ll see,’ he says, bending down, collecting stray nuts from the floor. His head’s down. He’s mumbling into the carpet. Suddenly I can hardly believe what I’m hearing!

‘Robinson?’ I’m asking. Bad memories this! ’Did I hear you say something about Mrs. Robinson then? Huh! There’s no way I want to be sitting next to you in a silver Mercedes if you’re calling me Mrs. Robinson. From what I remember I’m never as old as her and you’re never as young as he was! Anyway you’re older than me! By quite a bit!’

Silence! And I can’t leave it there!

‘Right that’s it! I’m having some blonde streaks! I’m most definitely having some blonde streaks!’

He’s on his way up.

‘What on earth are you talking about?’ He stands, rattling a handful of nuts. ‘I said, “Yes, we’re going to have to do something about it. I suppose it is all turning a bit Heath-Robinson!” ‘

I get a kiss and a promise. That’s it! I know we’ve as good as bought a silver Mercedes!

‘And no! Don’t touch your hair! I like it just the way it is!’ My better-half finishes.

We hear the doorbell. I go. I see the postman with a special delivery parcel. He’s waving an electronic signature thing at me. He’s pressing the buttons. He passes it over.

‘Just press ARD and sign your name there,’ he’s instructing, pointing to the clear rectangular screen at the bottom.

I’m scanning all the buttons. I can’t find any that say ARD. He’s hopping from one foot to the other.

‘Where is it? I can’t find it anywhere?’ I’m asking. He doesn’t answer so I sign it anyway. No signature appears.

‘It’s because I haven’t pressed the ARD button,’ I’m telling him, panicking. ‘Where is it? I can’t see it?’

‘No you won’t see it unless you press ARD.’

‘But that’s what I meant. I can’t see an ARD button anywhere.’ I’m trying to explain.

My better-half’s arrived. He’s over my shoulder.

‘No press very ARD,’ insists the postman. ‘Write it again and press VERY ‘ARD!’

I get it now! I’m trying to say sorry but he grabs his electronic thing while the signature’s still there. He’s  rushing away as my better-half laughs and closes the door.

‘You should know how to do ‘ARD,’ he’s saying. ‘You’ve been pressing hard all Christmas!’

‘The silver Mercedes you mean?’ I’m feeling bad.

‘Yes and that too!’ he replies. ‘Not to mention the Christmas pudding and the nuts under the sideboard! They’re all over the place!’

He’s holding the package. A kiss and a promise! He’s disappearing upstairs.

I’m gathering nuts from under the sideboard. Excited! A kiss and a promise of a silver Mercedes. A kiss and a promise of something else!

I’ve just read the words. I’ve just opened the box. I’ve just fallen in love with this older man. This man is the complete antidote to The Big 40! This handsome man not only knows how to charm a girl with knowledge and truth! This handsome man knows just how to make a girl sparkle! This man has just lifted me sky-high! Higher than the angel at the top of the tree! Sky-high on my metaphorical see-saw! Sky-high into the New Year! I hope it’s the same for Harriet!’ But when did a kiss and a promise ever come right for her? I must get on with it. I’ll let you know!


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