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Authors: Christina Jones

Tags: #Fiction, #General

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BOOK: Hubble Bubble
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‘Why d’you want to do that, duck? There ain’t never anything of interest on there – not unless you want to go to a piano recital back in 1999, or think you might be eligible for free milk for your kiddies, or want to know how to stop thieves nicking your Ford Capri.’

Mitzi felt urgent questions needed asking, but as the ingoing crowd surged forward at that moment, she found herself suddenly propelled through the door in a sea of humanity, far closer to Trilby Man than she would have chosen, and popped out between Astrophysics and Astrology.

‘Notice board’s over there through the children’s section, for what it’s worth,’ Trilby Man said helpfully. ‘We’ll be beyond the Mills and Boons, round the corner by the returned non-fiction trolley when you’ve had a look. I’ll keep Mildred’s chair for you and get you a paper. What do you want? Mind, you won’t get the
or the
there’s always a waiting list for them – what about the

‘Oh – um – well, probably not, but thank you for the offer.’ Mitzi was touched by this show of friendship.

‘That’s all right, duck. We old-timers have got to stick together.’

Instantly incandescent with indignation and still fuelled by far too much caffeine, Mitzi growled under her breath and rather clumsily negotiated an adenoidal child who was stretched out on the floor with Jacqueline Wilson’s entire backlist.

Depressingly, Trilby Man had been right about the notice board. It clearly hadn’t been updated since Millennium Eve.

‘Excuse me.’ Mitzi had caught the eye of a very young lycra-clad librarian who was plodding round with an armful of returned celeb biogs. ‘Can you help me?’

The librarian who — if her smudged make-up, body glitter and thigh-skimming frock was anything to go by — had come to work straight from clubbing, blinked sleepily. ‘Yeah, of course. Well, I’ll try. Just, could you make it easy and like, not shout?’

Having seen Lulu and Doll in similar states on many occasions, Mitzi nodded sympathetically and lowered her voice. ‘It’s about the notice board. Do you put up information about clubs and activities?’

The librarian shook her head and clearly wished she hadn’t. ‘We would if we were asked, but no one asks so we don’t. There’s nothing going on in Hazy Hassocks worth advertising.’

‘So—’ Mitzi indicated the drooping posters attached to the board with solitary drawing pins ‘—this is the sum total of recreational activities available in the village, is it?’

‘Yeah. Reckon so. Sorry.’

It was all very gloomy. Mitzi murmured her thanks and being more careful not to trample on the youthful readers this time, wandered back into the grown-ups’ section. Sadly Trilby Man had spotted her.

‘Over here, duck!’ He waved the
above his head.
‘We’ve kept Mildred’s chair!’

With a huge sigh, Mitzi headed towards the table in the corner.

There were eight of them poring over the newspapers, and the one symbolically empty chair. They were all, with the exception of Trilby Man, probably about her age. And they all looked grey faced, slightly unhealthy, very, very miserable, and – Mitzi peered closer.

‘June? June Barlow? And Mick? And Sally?’

She felt almost faint with shock. She knew some of these people. They’d been friends in the village for years and were all, surely, still in full-time employment. They raised their heads and smiled at her in welcome.

‘Didn’t take you long to suss out the cosy corner, did it?’ Mick Thornton grinned. ‘I heard you were only pensioned off yesterday.’

‘But …’ Mitzi was perplexed. ‘Surely you’re still working for the Pru? And June is in the accounts department at Boseleys, and Sally—’

‘We’ve all been made redundant in the last few months,’ June Barlow said sadly. ‘Just like you. And for probably the same reasons – either replaced by younger members of staff who will take on three jobs for less money, or computers, or call centres in India.’

‘Not sure which is worse,’ Mick Thornton sighed. ‘They package it up as downsizing, of course, but it still hurts.’

Declining Trilby Man’s invitation to take up the recently deceased Mildred’s place, Mitzi looked down at them all with a sense of mounting doom. ‘And do you do this every day?’

‘No, of course we don’t.’ A thin-faced woman adjusted a pair of bifocals and carefully folded the
Daily Star
. ‘Not on Sundays. The library’s closed on Sundays. I do my housework on Sundays.’

Sally Carey shrugged. ‘You’ll soon find out that the days seem to go on for ever once you get to our age, Mitzi, and you’ve got no career left. Things like dusting and
hoovering and ironing don’t hold you in thrall, and there are no jobs for the over forty-fives – unless you want to go to B&Q in Winterbrook, and they’ve got a three-year waiting list. You can’t spend all day every day making a cup of tea last for hours in Patsy’s Pantry.’

‘And a couple of pints in The Faery Glen soon stops being a pleasure and becomes part of the routine,’ Mick nodded in agreement.

Mitzi exhaled. ‘But if there was anywhere else to go or anything else to do, would you do it?’

‘Of course we would,’ June said vigorously. ‘But there isn’t. There’s no evening classes any more, not even in Winterbrook, since the cutbacks. There’s nothing at all. Unless you count the WI – but then that’s only on once a week and isn’t any use to the boys … so, we meet up here and—’

‘Wait for death?’ Mitzi was appalled. ‘Surely there has to be more to the rest of our lives than this? What about voluntary work? Or, well, I don’t know – but there has to be

Trilby Man laid down the
and narrowed his eyes. ‘You’re not a bit of an agitator are you, duck? I wouldn’t have offered you Mildred’s place if I’d thought you was going to stir things up.’

‘I’m not stirring things up,’ Mitzi said crossly. ‘But there must be even more of us than this hanging around wasting time and being unhappy in Hazy Hassocks. Surely we can do something about it?’

They looked at her expectantly. She whimpered under her breath at the futility of it all. Were they really that apathetic and despondent now? These people who had all held responsible positions and been vital members of society? These people who were still
And were they, by the way they were looking at her – God forbid – for some reason expecting her to be their salvation?

‘I can’t help you … I can’t even help myself …’ she shook her head. ‘No, what I suppose I mean is, we have to
help ourselves. I came in here to find out what was on offer in the village for me. Clubs, societies, things to do during the day. Maybe, as I said, even voluntary work – but there doesn’t seem to be anything at all.’

‘Kids like your Lu have even snaffled the low-paid charity shop jobs,’ June said. ‘I’ve had my name down at Oxfam for months – and I’m prepared to work for nothing just to get out of the house. And there aren’t any clubs or anything. I’d love to learn to dance properly, you know …’

‘My brother in Bournemouth, he’s older than me,’ Mick leaned forward, ‘and he belongs to an over-fifties football team. There’s a league. And they play competitive cricket in the summer. That’d be great …’

‘A film club or a reading group would be lovely too,’ Sally said quietly. ‘But they’re all out of the question.’

‘Why?’ Mitzi frowned. ‘They all sound like great ideas to keep people like us occupied and fit and interested. And we could surely organise stuff like that in the village. I’m surprised no one’s thought of it before.’

‘They have,’ Mick said. ‘We have. But it never gets anywhere.’

Mitzi frowned. ‘Why on earth not? There must be funding available somewhere if money was needed, and premises – the village hall is ideal – and there must be more than enough people who want to do things. So what’s stopping them er – you?’

The group round the table looked at one another, then at Mitzi, and answered in unison, ‘Tarnia Snepps.’

Mitzi sucked in her breath. Tarnia Snepps. The self-styled Lady of the Manor. Hazy Hassocks’s answer to Margaret Thatcher, Joan Collins and Cruella de Ville all rolled into one. ‘What the hell does Tarnia have to do with any of this?’

‘She’s chairman of the parish council. The village hall is on her land. She runs the village.’

‘Yes, yes,’ Mitzi said impatiently. ‘I know more than
enough about the Botox Queen – but you mean she won’t allow the village hall to be used for any of these activities? She turns things down when they’re suggested at council meetings? Why on earth would she want to do that?’

‘Search me,’ Mick said. ‘But she does. And I know you and Tarnia have crossed swords more than once, Mitzi, but if you’d like to have another word or two with the old bat …’

Mitzi laughed. ‘Oh, it would give me great pleasure – no, seriously – I certainly will, but in the meantime has anyone got a pen and a piece of paper?’

There was a lot of scrabbling in bags and pockets, and eventually a sheet of Basildon Bond and a dryish felt tip were produced. Mitzi scribbled her poster quickly, watched by eight pairs of doubting eyes.

‘There!’ She held it up. ‘Now I’ll stick this on the notice board and see what response we get – and I’ll give Tarnia a ring, too, and find out what her particular problem is. No, no thanks—’ she beamed at Trilby Man ‘—I don’t want Mildred’s chair or the
Daily Telegraph
. I’m not stopping – but I’ll be in touch and let you know what I’ve managed to achieve.’

Before any sort of self-doubt could creep in, she practically bounded across the library and pinned the impromptu note on to the board:

Calling All Hazy Hassocks Baby Boomers!
Bored? Lonely? Time on your hands?
Feeling that your talents are being wasted?
Want to learn/teach something to put the oomph back in your life?
Ring Mitzi Blessing on HH 501 and find out more.

Enduring the same sort of crush getting out of the library as she had experienced getting in, Mitzi eventually staggered out into the high street. She sighed with satisfaction. God
only knew whether her poster would bring any responses and what she’d do if it did, but at least she’d tried. And having a showdown with the despicable Tarnia Snepps was something she’d relish. Now all she had to do was go home and make a start on the life-laundry and today’s tasks would have been more than satisfactorily completed.

It was growing cold in the loft. Up to her armpits in early 1970s memorabilia that had belonged to her newly married days and had elicited much oohing and aahing and some shrieks of solitary laughter during the course of the afternoon, Mitzi’s life-laundry hadn’t progressed very far. Richard and Judy had negotiated the loft ladder behind her, and were curled purring on top of a jumble of orange and brown geometric curtains that had once graced the living room and were now on the lopsided charity shop pile.

Mitzi stood up, brushed the dust and cobwebs from her jeans, and stretched.

‘Another couple of boxes, then we’ll go down and have something to eat.’ She peered at her watch in the dim light of the single 40-watt bulb that dangled unattractively on a twisted flex above her head. ‘And I suppose Lulu will be home soon, if she hasn’t decided to return to Niall, of course.’

Richard and Judy made little snorting noises of disgust at this suggestion.

She hadn’t intended to clear out the loft at all. She’d intended, after the library, to start on her bedroom. It was only while walking home, with the rain drumming on her umbrella, thinking about June and Sally and Mick and the others, that she’d realised an hour or so of throwing clothes out of her wardrobe simply wasn’t going to kill enough time. And as she really didn’t want to spend all her days reading papers she didn’t like in the library simply to while away the boring hours, she’d decided to go for the clearing out in a big way. The whole house. Organised. Top to bottom.

The loft had always been Lance’s province. Over the years he’d put things into it, and very rarely taken things out, and Mitzi had seldom ventured up the aluminium ladder. Mainly because of the spiders. This afternoon, she’d stoutly ignored the cobwebs in the dark corners and opened each box at arm’s length just in case something the size of a dinner plate scuttled over the lid.

There was stuff up there which would stay forever, of course: Doll and Lu’s toys and baby clothes, the slithering piles of old photographs, the oddments of furniture which had come from her parents’ house and wouldn’t fit into hers but had far too much sentimental value to be thrown away.

She crouched down again and blew the dust from a cardboard box which proclaimed it contained 24 packets of Rinso at
Most of these boxes, she knew, had come from her parents’ and their parents’ before that. They contained the sort of personal paraphernalia that was worthless to everyone except the family concerned. Boxes and boxes of memories. It seemed sad, she thought, that by the time they’d been passed to Lu and Doll and their children, these people and their possessions would be merely remote, unknown, historical figures and have no sentimentality attached to them at all.

Mitzi lifted the lid of the Rinso box and gave a little cry of pleasure.

Granny Westward’s treasure trove!

There were necklaces and bracelets of jet, strings of faux pearls, paste diamond brooches in the shape of lizards, piles of once-white lace doilies, postcards and letters, shells and pebbles collected from long-forgotten beaches: they’d all kept Mitzi amused through many a childhood illness.

‘Mum!’ Lulu’s voice wavered from the landing. ‘Are you up there?’

‘Come on up, love, and see what I’ve found …’

With a lot of rattling, and to the amusement of Richard and Judy, Lulu hauled herself through the loft hatch.

‘Wow!’ She looked at the pile of discarded curtains. ‘Cool.’

Mitzi laughed. ‘I had a feeling you’d like them – and there’s a lot of other tasteless stuff you can look through in a minute. How have you been today, love? Feeling better? I wondered if you and Niall—’

BOOK: Hubble Bubble
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