Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Seventeenth Day of Christmas - Provisions and Trouble At The Farm

What with the unexpected arrival of Turtle Dave, Colin Bird and twelve Turkish Drummers, Mrs Miggins was beginning to think she ought to revise her numbers for Christmas Catering. And so she sat at the kitchen table and did a bit of totting up, and it wasn't long before she started running out of wings, toes and nuggets.

'Me, of course,' she started, 'and Mrs Pumphrey, Mrs Bennett, Mrs Slocombe and Mrs Poo makes five. I expect Tango Pete will want to stay, which is six. Then there's Colin and Dave and the twelve drummers, which adds another fourteen. That's twenty. And then Sandie Piper and his wife and their nephew Maris...phew, twenty three!'

Mrs Miggins leaned back in her chair and tapped her pen on the very long list. Little did she realise at this point that she had also to take into account the invitation Mrs Pumphrey had extended to Harold Angel and Merrily Onhigh. Luckily though, Miggins was good at allowing 10% approximations, so she said, 'I think I should cater for 25.3 at the very least, and add another 4.7 for a good round number. So,' she said, trying not to panic that the Christmas Food requirements had just shot up from a manageable five to a potential crisis thirty, 'I had better go out and do some more shopping.'

Mrs Miggins wasn't overly keen on using supermarkets, although she did appreciate their convenience when one was caught short for loo cleaner or pistachios. But for general purposes she much preferred to support local businesses, and so it was that she set off from  Much Malarkey Manor, and travelled through Titbury and out the other side to the local farm, which belonged to and was admirably run by Farmer Seed and his wife, Annie.

Now, when I say, 'admirably run' I refer directly to Farmer Seed who was an enthusiastic farmer, born and bred. His wife, Annie, however, was not a natural farmer's wife. In fact, she was to farming what Ann Widdecombe was to dancing, and whilst I am an ardent admirer of la Widdecombe, I am the first to admit her forays onto the dance floor with the admirable Anton du Beke made even me cringe sometimes. Annie would rather spend her days shopping for cruises or learning Zumba than schlepping around in wellies getting covered in pig poo. No rosy face, apple-cheeked, fine home cooking country girl was she. Cooking was something other people did; Annie could just about bring herself to take a lasagne ready meal from the freezer, remove the box, slam the foil tray in the oven and leave a note for her husband saying, 'Dinner in oven. Gone to Wine Tasting for Beginners.'

Anyway, Mrs Miggins arrived at the farm with several empty bags because at this time of year Farmer Seed sold a vast array of Christmas goodies from his pop-up Christmas farm shop. For the rest of the year, he sold his produce at the Farmers' Market in Titbury, but at Christmas the customers came to him. He hired in extra staff, and it was to the sound of him getting more than a little testy with these temporary workers that Mrs Miggins arrived at the farm.

She almost collided with Farmer Seed as he came storming from the pop-up shop.

'Oopsadaisy!' said Miggins. 'Steady as you go there, Farmer Seed.'

'Mrs Miggins!' said Farmer Seed. 'A voice of sanity, at last!'

'Problems?' said Miggins.

'Nothing the arrival of 5 p.m on Christmas Eve won't cure,' sighed Farmer Seed. 'You just can't get the staff these days. Anyway, come to do a bit of shopping have you? Big houseful at the Manor this year?'

'I should say so,' said Miggins. 'I need cheese, butter, pies, pickles, more veggies than you can shake a stick at, milk...'

'Don't talk to me about milk!' said Farmer Seed. 'And especially don't talk to me about people who say they are milkmaids when it becomes very quickly apparent they don't know one end of a cow from another. Certainly took the cows by surprise, I can tell you. I doubt some of them will ever fully recover.'

'Do tell,' said Miggins, as they walked slowly to the pop-up shop.

'Well,' said Farmer Seed, 'I called Titbury Employment Agency last week...'

'T.E.A?' said Miggins. 'I know it well...'

'...and asked for two experienced milk maids, to help me with the herd. You heard I had expanded my herd this year, did you?'

'Yes,' said Miggins. 'I heard about your herd.'

'So,' said Farmer Seed, 'last week these two girls arrive. Introduced themselves as Holly Prickle and Ivy Creeper, which should have been a warning if ever there was one, but I was in the Christmas zone by then, so I showed them the cowshed and told them to get on with it.'

'And what happened?' said Mrs Miggins.

'Well,' said Farmer Seed, 'I went back after an hour to see how they were doing, and do you know what I found? I'll tell you what I found, Mrs Miggins. I found two so-called milkmaids playing gin rummy in the back of the milking shed, with real gin I hasten to add, and sixty five fit to bursting cows. The noise was terrible!' 

'Why didn't you send them packing?' said Mrs Miggins. They were at the door of the pop-up shop now, and coming from inside Mrs Miggins could hear giggling.

'Small print in the contracts from the agency,' sighed Farmer Seed. 'Always read the small print, Mrs Miggins. Always read the small print. But enough of my problems. Let's get you some shopping.'

The pop-up shop was a veritable cornucopia of Christmas deliciousness. Truckles of 'Whiffy McGee's Best Vintage Cheddar' stood cheek to cheek with bottles of 'Old Twinkie's Best Apple Boomer' cider. There were jars of the award-winning 'Whooza Pickle' chutney, and the biggest parsnips you've ever seen in your life, all the better, of course,for having been harvested after a frost. And behind the counter stood two giggling girls, hunched over their mobiles phones and doing their best to deliver the worst customer service ever.

'My apologies,' sighed Farmer Seed. 'Just ignore them. It's best.'

And so Farmer Seed himself helped Mrs Miggins gather her produce, and he helped her load it into the panniers of her Vespa scooter. And just as he was poking four stalks of Brussels into Mrs Miggins' top box, there came a loud crash from inside the shop, akin to the sound of, oh, I don't know, many eggs hitting the concrete.

'That's it!' shouted Farmer Seed. 'I don't care about the contract! Holly! Ivy! You are both FIRED!!!'

At the sound of his roaring anger, the two girls emerged from the shop.

'Oh no, please don't fire us!' they begged. 'We can't 'elp bein' part of a failing edjucashun system in a deprived society...'

'What are they wailing about?' said Miggins, watching in appalled amazement as the two girls turned into snivelling, grizzling wrecks.

'This is the first job we've ever 'ad,' wailed Holly, wiping her snotty nose up her sleeve.

'Yeah,' said Ivy. 'That's right, guv'nor. Our families is depending on us for money for Christmas. I've got eight brothers and sisters and an incontinent grannie.'

'Yeah,' echoed Holly. 'And our Beaujolais Rose is 'spectin' an X-box in 'er stockin'. If she don't get 'er X-box she'll kick off.'

'I'll give you an egg box in a minute,' yelled Farmer Seed, 'and it won't be the kind you need to plug into a socket!'

Suddenly, Mrs Miggins felt very odd. She felt sorry for these two girls, which was unusual as she never normally felt sorry for anyone. Call it sympathy, call it philanthropy, call it down-right stupidity, but before she could say 'Many Contrafibularities Of the Season Everyone,' she blurted out...

'Come and work for me at the Manor. I'll need some extra help in the kitchen.'

And Holly and Ivy fell upon her with thanks and gratitude, and so did Farmer Seed because he was on the verge of getting out his 12 bore shot gun which would not be very Christmassy at all. 

'Two more for Christmas,' sighed Miggins. 'Better add another bag of potatoes, Farmer Seed.'


rusty duck said...

One LESS for Christmas now. Mr Miggins has just moved out.

Denise said...

Aahhhh, if only there was a Mr Miggins...they have very complicated domestic arrangements, do chickens. Well, the ones here do anyway!

Olly said...

I don't know how you are keeping this up, but it's great - keep going!

Denise said...

I'd like to say it is a heady cocktail of champagne, chocolate and lounging on a chaise longue a la Barbara Cartland, but it is sheer fear and dogged determination! And it is always motivating when one knows people are enjoying the writing, so bless you for that,Olly!

Countryside Tales said...

Lovely kind Mrs m, what a star she is.

Denise said...

Very out of character, too. She must be growing soft in her dotage!