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Thursday, June 30, 2016

SUMMER READING: from 'If the World Hadn't Changed,' by Kristen Stone: Chapter One

IT was Friday tea-time. The Smith family were gathered around the table in the kitchen-cum-scullery of the three up, two down back-to-back terraced house. The evening meal finished, the dirty plates were piled one on top of the other in the centre of the table. Martha, the mother, was busy counting out the money from the various pay packets that had been handed to her, carefully dividing the money into separate piles to account for the various bills that would be coming in.
“Rent, electricity, rates, water, food for this week,” she looked up at the expectant faces watching her. “Not too bad,” she added. “I reckon you can take Bobby to the match tomorrow.”
Bill, thick set and grey haired, looked at the few notes Martha had placed in front of him.
“Is that it?” he asked.  After working for 50 hours in the foundry he hoped for a bit more pocket money than the cost of a couple of football tickets.
“£15 is more than enough,” Martha retorted, although in her heart she wished it were more. “It’s more than the rest of us get. Anyway, things will get better soon. Annie is starting work on Monday. That will add to the pot a little.”
Annie pulled a face. She had just celebrated her fifteenth birthday. Maybe celebrated was the wrong word as the day had dawned with the knowledge that she was now no longer required to attend school and her older sister, Mary, had managed to arrange a job for her. Scullery maid at the home of Mary’s boss.
“I don’t want to leave school,” Annie said. “I want to stay on and get the chance to train as a nurse or a teacher. Mr Edwards says I could do it, no problem. He says I’m the smartest in the class.”
“Being the smartest out of that bunch of losers is nothing to boast about,” Bobby said. He was a year older than Annie and had already started work as an apprentice at a local engineering factory.
“Less of your cheek, young man,” Martha said. “Else I won’t let you have the money to go to the game tomorrow.”
“How do you expect us to pay for you to train as a bloody teacher?”  Bill asked. “We can barely survive as it is.”
Annie stared at the table top. She knew her father was right, but how she longed for a better life than that of a servant to a trumped up factory manager. Mary took her hand and caressed it.
“Don’t worry, Annie. The Palmers are a very nice family. And Mr Palmer has promised that if he is pleased with you, when there is a vacancy in my office you can have a job there. It’s quite good in the office, you know. Not nearly as noisy and dusty as where Mum works in the spinning sheds.”
Annie gave her a weak smile.
Mary picked up the money Martha had put in front of her and counted it. Like her father she was disappointed at the small amount. She sighed and moved the money around the table top as if that would increase the amount.
“I wanted to get a new pair of shoes this weekend. I’ve been saving up for weeks and just need two more pounds to get them.”
“What d’you want another pair of shoes for?” Bill asked. “You’ve got two pairs already. One for work and one for best. They don’t need mending, do they?”
“I want to get something more summery now that the weather is changing. I’ve seen a lovely pair of sandals in the Clarke’s shop.”
“Clarke’s!” Martha exclaimed. “Since when do the likes of us shop in Clarke’s. Go down to Shoefayre like the rest of us. You can probably get two pairs of sandals from there for the same price.”
“Don’t put ideas into her head, Martha,” Bill said, almost smiling. “At least something from Clarke’s might last a few years. And maybe that young man of yours will give you a discount.”
Mary felt her cheeks flush. Pete Starkey, the undermanager at the shoe shop, had been paying her special attention for the past few weeks. Bill wasn’t sure he approved. Working in a shop wasn’t a real man’s job, not unless it was his shop run with the sweat of his own brow, like the corner grocers’ shops that were scattered around the district.
“Here. Put this towards your shoe fund.”
This came from Billy, the oldest of the brood, named for his father. He was twenty years of age, on leave from the Army. He was tall and broad shouldered. His face was deeply tanned from serving in India, trying to keep the growing populace under control. The workers on the tea plantations were pushing for better working conditions which the plantation managers were loath to provide. His blonde hair was cut in the standard army style, close to his head, denying the natural curls a chance to grow. As a visitor he did not contribute to the pot, although he had given Martha money to buy his food. It grieved him to see his family struggle to pay their way but his own wages were equally poor and barely covered the things he needed. He knew when he had to leave the army in a few years’ time he would be reliant on any money he had managed to save until he found employment in civilian life.
“Thanks Billy, you’re a star,” Mary cried and jumping up from the table, she gave her brother a hug and a quick peck on his cheek. “I’ve got to go and get ready.”
“Ready for what?” Bill asked. “Where are you off to, young lady?”
“I’m meeting Pete. We’re going to the pictures.”
“Make sure you’re back home for ten thirty. I’ll be waiting. And no funny business. We don’t want you bringing disgrace to the family. We’ve enough mouths to feed as it is.”
Mary turned to her father, her cheeks flushed with anger and embarrassment.
“Honestly!  What do you think I am?  Your own daughter. As if I’d do anything like that.”
“Anything like what?” Annie asked as the sound of her sister’s charge up the stairs to the bedrooms filled the scullery.
“Never you mind,” Martha said.  
At that point Cathy, the youngest at ten, started to cough. It was a deep hacking cough that made her eyes water and nose run. Martha offered her a glass of water but the coughing fit made it impossible to take a sip. Bill and the boys looked on, concern creasing Bill’s forehead.
“Have you taken her to the doctor?” Billy asked. It was the first time he had seen his youngest sister like this.
“We can’t afford no doctor,” Martha said. “It costs just to get an appointment, then there’s the cost of any medicine. I’ll get some more linctus from the shop tomorrow.”
“That stuff’s useless,” Bill said. “You’ve been giving it to her for three months now and she’s still the same.”
Cathy sagged back into her chair. The coughing had stopped but the fit had left her weak and exhausted. She was breathing steadily but with much wheezing. She smiled weakly.
“I’ll be fine, Dad. Don’t go wasting your money on a doctor.”
“If I was a nurse I’d know what to give her,” Annie said.
“Well, you’re not and that’s the end of it,” Bill said.
Martha cleared the table, taking the plates to the sink.
“You can wash up, Annie,” she said. “And you can help her, Bobby.”
The pair knew there was no point in protesting. Billy was visiting and even Bobby accepted little Cathy was in no fit state to help. Reluctantly they went to the sink arguing about who would wash the dishes and who would dry them.
“It’s about time something was done to help us stay fit,” Martha said. “I bet them up in the big houses don’t have to worry about getting sick.”
“It’s them in the big houses that wants to keep us unfit,” Bill said.
“What’s the point of that?  We can’t work if we’re not fit.”
“No. But we die off sooner. Then we ain’t a problem for no one.”
Bill pushed his chair back from the table and stood up. In two steps he had reached the coat rack by the front door.
“I’m off out,” he said.
“Don’t go spending all your money in the pub,” Martha warned. “Don’t forget there’s the game tomorrow.”
“I’m not going to the pub,” Bill informed her. “There’s a meeting down at the social club. Some fella’s coming to talk about making the government give the workers the right to vote. Then maybe we can get some decent working conditions and cheap health care. It’s happening in other countries, you know.”
“Yeah, and pigs might fly,” Martha said. “What do the workers know about running the country?  Might as well give women the right to vote as well.”
“Now that would be stupid,” Bill said, laughing. He opened the front door and went out.
Martha gathered up the money from the table and put the individual piles into their own pots in the dresser drawer.
“And who does he think keeps this family afloat by looking after the money?” she asked no one in particular.
There was a clattering on the stairs and Mary burst into the room, her best dress topped with a short jacket, her ‘going out’ shoes gleaming. She swung her matching handbag by its long strap as she crossed the room to the front door.
“And don’t forget what your father said,” Martha reminded her. “No funny business. I don’t trust that Pete Starkey for one minute.”
“Oh, Mother!” Mary exclaimed. “I’m eighteen for heaven’s sake. Stop treating me like a child.”
Cathy started to cough again as the draught from the open front door filled the room. Martha closed the door and sat down at the table, drawing her youngest daughter onto her lap to comfort her. She was so light, there was no flesh on her. Martha held the girl against her breast, her troubled eyes closed tight in despair.
Bobby finished drying the last plate and put his hand in his trouser pocket.
“Here,” he said. “Take her to the doctor. At least find out what’s making her cough like that.”
He handed over the money Martha had given him as his share of the pot.
“That’s your footie money,” she said.
“I’d rather you spend it on Cathy,” he said and he gave his mother a quick kiss before running upstairs to his room.   
Martha sighed. How could she tell her youngest son that even with his pocket money they couldn’t afford to go to the doctor?

Sunday, June 26, 2016

SUMMER READING: from 'THE BINGE: The Great Food Adventure from Ukraine to America with Numerous Detours,' by Maria K.: A Sizzling Substitute for Lunch

In a supreme case of irony, I now live in the sticks—namely in the mountains of Western North Carolina, where no one delivers. If you want pizza or Chinese, you have to go get it yourself, since no one is brave enough to come out this way and follow the scary winding roads into the realm of bears, skunks, and chipmunks. Since delivery is not available and weather in these parts is capricious, the old quick-fix cooking skills come very useful. I don’t know about you, but weather definitely impacts my culinary choices. In my world, cold weather is not conducive to eating cold foods. Maybe a little pasta salad or potato salad on the side. Maybe some sliced beets with onion salt and sour cream. But definitely not as the main meal. This is a good time for some sizzling substitutes in place of a regular lunch sandwich. You can pre-make them at home, wrap them tightly in wax paper to easily store in the fridge and then nuke them at work.

Use a length of smoked sausage big enough to go across a bread slice. Cut it lengthwise and fry on medium heat.
1.Layer with cheddar cheese and relish on your favorite bread. (I used my homemade zucchini relish, but Mt. Olive relish is great too.) Enjoy!
This one is for those times when you have two opened packages of lunch meat with a couple of slices left in each one. Let’s say, you have sliced turkey and smoked ham.
Sauté the lunch meat in a pan with coarsely chopped onions.
2.Just as the onions become translucent, add barbecue sauce to the pan, reduce heat to medium low and keep stirring, until all the lunch meat is covered with barbecue sauce.
3.Sandwich with cheddar or Monterey Jack.
You’ll need a hot dog bun or a hoagie bun for this.
Scoop out the middle of each half of the bun. Tear up the middles to bits.
4.Mix the crumbs with chopped onions and ham and sauté until the onions are translucent.
5.Get the mix out of the pan and mix with chopped cheese, dill, parsley and mayo.
6.Scoop the mix into the bun halves.
7.Bake at 350 deg F for 15 minutes.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

SUMMER READING: from 'Best Served Cold (A DI Frank Lyle Mystery),' by Juliet B. Madison

Note: In this scene, Sergeant John Wicklow investigates a potential crime scene.

“Come in Delta alpha,” Jennings’ voice was clear
“Send ambulances to the Baronets Arms in Quay Street, Inform CID and wait further instructions over.”
“Is it bad? Over.”
“The building has been destroyed, over. Fire brigade already on way. Over.”
I walked into the remains of the building, taking care not to disturb broken glass. There were several walking wounded with bleeding cuts from remnants of glass.
I looked around although visibility was limited owing to the dissipating smoke. The floor was covered with rusty nails and broken glass. I stopped to reassure a couple of distressed women and saw two uniformed officers at the entryway. I sent the women to them, letting them know that paramedics would be there to check them over.
I strained to see, the smoke stinging my eyes. I could smell the smoke and also the faint almond smell of Semtex. I wondered if this was an IRA attack, although we would need to wait as they always claimed responsibility by phoning someone in authority, usually at Whitehall. Other terrorist groups did not. However I had a feeling that this was a lot more personal; not abstract violence for violence’s sake.
Then I heard a voice I knew well, that of DI Redfern.
“Come on Thomas,” he was saying, “I need you to stay awake.”
“DI Redfern, it’s Sergeant Wicklow.” I called.
“Sarge, DS Fox is hurt real bad.  I’m trying to keep him awake but he’s in a right mess.”
“The paramedics are coming,” I said. I went and found him. The sight of DS Fox lying inert, chest soaked with bloodied glass, chilled me to the bone. DI Redfern covered him with his coat.
“He’s struggling to breathe,” Redfern wiped his sleeve across his face and in the pale light I saw that his face was tear-stained.
I looked over and saw the inert body of a man with heavy Semitic features.
“Who’s that?” I asked.
“It’s Abraham Cohen, Sergeant. He’s the security guard who was on duty at the council offices yesterday at the time Dr Bradley believes Councillor Driscoll was murdered. We came to interview him and got this for our pains.”
Redfern’s voice sounded distant and he was shivering. I guessed that he was in shock as I was one of Ashbeck nick’s official First Aiders.
“Can we have some paramedics in here, now?” I yelled as loud as I could. I put my coat around Redfern’s shoulders. He had cuts to his legs and hands as he had obviously been thrown by impact and presumably crawled around in the smoky darkness looking for DS Fox.
I shook Cohen and he fell forward, He was cold and had no pulse. I wondered if the shock had given him a heart attack.
Two paramedics came in and straight over.
“I think the old guy is dead,” I said.
One of the paramedics took Cohen’s wrist and felt.
“No Sergeant, there is a pulse but a very weak one.” He put Cohen on a stretcher and two more of his colleagues came over. They immediately began attending to DS Fox. They placed an oxygen mask over his face and applied bandages to the bleeding wounds on his chest. He was still breathing, just.
“I think it’s a massive haemothorax,” the older paramedic said to his companion who nodded.
“What does that mean?” I asked.
“It means that blood is filling his chest cavity from a puncture wound somewhere in the lung or chest wall,” the younger female paramedic said. Redfern and I watched as they made a small nick in Fox’s chest and inserted a hollow plastic tube which ran into a sterilised plastic container with a lid.
“This should ease the pressure until we can get him to hospital and get a proper look.” the lady paramedic said.
“What’s his name and rank?” The older male paramedic asked me.
“Thomas Fox, Detective Sergeant,” DI Redfern said before I had a chance to answer, “His uncle is Dr Barry Fox, the District Coroner.”
Thomas’ eyes opened momentarily and he yelped, obviously in pain.
“Thomas, can you hear me?” The female paramedic asked.
He tried to speak but the words were nonsense. He had tried to pull away when they had nicked his chest to insert the drain.
“GCS score 8, are we agreed?” the male paramedic asked. The lady nodded as she noted his observations on a carbon copy form.
“You’d best get yourself checked out too, Sir.” One of the paramedics said to DI Redfern.
“I’m not leaving DS Fox.” Redfern said stubbornly. Another paramedic put one of those silver foil blankets around him.
A reporter from the Ashbeck Courier stood outside along with a guy from local TV who was already panning the area with his video camera. I hated press vultures with a passion; they had no respect for human decency even if it increased their circulation. I gave the young reporter a frosty glare and said “No comment, go to Ashbeck police press office.”
I waited at the scene until the ambulance carrying DI Redfern and DS Fox screeched along the road, blue lights flashing. The siren rent the still winter air.

SUMMER READING: from 'The Scattered Proud,' by Gev Sweeney: The Debtor's Daughter