Community Spirit – Episode 40

JEANNIE thought better of her idea to ask Tasha to help her, as she needed everything to run smoothly if she was to deliver the complex menu in time.

By six-thirty everything that could be prepared had been and Jeannie was just wrapping the last plate of hors d’oeuvres when Pamela arrived at the door.

They loaded her car with dishes before driving to the other side of the village. Jeannie was soon ensconced in the kitchen, pulling together the main dishes and filling the house with the smell of fragrant herbs.

Pamela’s husband, Bernard, pulled up at seven with his business associates.

Jeannie flourished when she had a cooking challenge to meet, and she kept the guests supplied with a constant stream of light bites and small courses, while Pam and her husband kept the conversation flowing.

“I see that little pub on the green is limping on,” one of the businessmen, Harry, said.

“Hard to see where the business model lies,” another added as Jeannie placed a bowl of buttery potatoes on the table. “Surely the other pub picks up all the passing trade.”

Jeannie caught Pamela’s eye and could tell she was itching to say something.

“Not all trade passes,” Pamela told them, “and the locals need somewhere to call their own.”

“But there?” one of the wives put in. “It looks so forlorn.”

“It has been a bit unloved,” Pamela replied, “but there has

been a new landlord installed and he seems to be just the ticket. Don’t you agree, Jeannie?”

Jeannie, caught unawares, nearly dropped a plate on to Harry’s lap.

“Oh, quite,” she said. “He knows what he’s doing.”

“It would take a good fifty to see that place brought up to spec,” the third businessman declared.

It took Jeannie a while to realise he meant fifty thousand pounds.

She and Pamela stared at him open-mouthed, both knowing the brewery would never put up that sort of money for the Mucklebury Arms, which must surely mean its imminent closure.

Jeannie thought of Nate leaving and didn’t like the lurch her stomach gave.

“I’m not sure all is lost yet,” Bernard told them. “There’s a big shindig on the green on Saturday and the Mucklebury Arms is taking part, isn’t it, Pam?”

“Yes, it’s the WI annual summer fête.” Pamela recovered herself with a bright smile as Jeannie went to get the vegetables. “We’re hoping it will mark the revival of the pub. Nate, the landlord, is hosting a stand with some interesting ales, and he’s sponsoring a charity bowls match, too.”

With the main course served, Pamela chatted about the fête and steered the conversation away from the Mucklebury Arms.

“Will you be contributing to the fête?” one of the wives asked Jeannie.

“I’m sure I’ll bake a few cakes for the stall,” she said.

“Surely not,” the reply came, taking Jeannie aback.

“I’m sorry?” she asked.

“Surely you’ll have your own stall on the day? This food is exceptional. We always have a savouries and pastries stall as well as the cake stall at our summer fair,” she said. “A tureen of this goulash would go well.”

“That’s very kind of you to say so.” Jeannie smiled.

“So you’ll do it?” Pamela asked, never one to miss an opportunity.

“I don’t think I could,” Jeannie stuttered before escaping to the kitchen.

As she cleaned the pots and loaded the dishwasher she ruminated on the idea.

She’d love to, of course she would, but she had no money to hire a stall or to buy ingredients on the scale she’d need.

As the idea caught her imagination, she wondered if there was anything of value at home she could sell to raise the initial cost.

Alison Cook