Friday Flash Fiction – 707 – Coffee Break

‘Claire, Claire, where are you?’

The back door flew open to reveal my husband dressed in his bright holiday shorts and business shirt and tie.

‘Where did you think I was, I told you we were going to fill up the paddling pool.’

‘Nice to be some…’ said Tom.

‘Come and join us later, surely you’re allowed a break?’

‘Depends how long the conference call goes on for, I just came to tell you we’re out of coffee.’

Covid had a lot to answer for, especially the idea of working from home.

‘Can’t you get it, I can’t leave the little ones with the water. Why don’t you have a cup of tea or a smoothie for now?’

Tom spluttered in disgust.

‘A green broccoli smoothie is not going to get me through that conference call… anyway you know what we always get.’

‘Okay, you stay out here and keep an eye on the hose and the children… and put your phone away.’ I dropped my voice and mouthed  ‘it only takes a minute for a child to  D.. R.. O..W.. N.’ then raised it ‘Oscaar… hose in the paddling pool not on Daddy.’

‘Don’t be long’ pleaded Tom.

‘Do you want the variety box, latte, expresso, americano…?

‘Yes, yes the biggest box they do.’

 I went upstairs, pausing on the landing to look out the window and make sure Tom had not forgotten he was in charge. The hose was now snaking out of control across the lawn. In my so called office I logged in to Coffee Zone, repeat order, multi pack, check delivery times… Yes, coffee would be here in time for his bloody conference call. What did they actually do on conference calls? Probably played X Box like my forty year young brother. I had no idea what Tom actually did at work when he went to the office every day and now he worked from home I was still none the wiser. Whatever he did he had been head hunted a couple of times and with the amount he got paid I didn’t mind spoiling him. My on line upcycling craft business hardly brought in enough to feed the dog and the cat.  

I looked at my watch, twenty minutes to get ready for the coffee. I dashed back into the garden.

‘Tom, where’s the dog?’

‘You only told me to look after the children.’

‘ZEUS, ZEuus…’

 I waved a packet of dog treats and Zeus bounded out of the herbaceous border, he was soon locked in the laundry. The children would be harder to get under control.

‘Ten minutes then indoors.’

‘But we haven’t done paddling yet.’

‘Why don’t you come in and watch Octonauts and have some parsnip crisps while the sun is warming the water. Then you can come back out after the coffee has arrived.’

With the children safely indoors I still had to find the cat, but there was no time to look. Hearing Zeus’ frantic barking I rushed back in and locked the door, the dog always heard it before me. Keeping watch through the patio door I saw a glint over the trees. 10.45am, exactly on time. The Coffee Zone Drone circled, I hoped it’s aim would be better this time. My stomach lurched as, too late, I saw a familiar black and white shape slink across the lawn then freeze as the warning siren started. The drone was higher than usual when its undercarriage opened, the large bright orange box dropped down onto the lawn, narrowly missing the paddling pool. I dashed out, but as I got close my mouth went dry. Sticking out from under the hefty box was a black tail. I knew from previous deliveries the box was too heavy to lift on my own and I was thankful to hear Tom’s voice. I turned to see him holding the cat and laughing.

He’s a quivering wreck, he doesn’t like drones does he?’

My relief was short lived, had we killed the neighbour’s cat?

‘Quick, lift the box.’

I closed my eyes. When I opened them Tom was holding up the squashed body of the shabby toy cat the children had insisted on buying from the charity shop.

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Silly Saturday – Covid Community Caring Characters – Interview no. 2

Yes busy all day and a long day at that, we stretch ourselves to breaking point, but we know people won’t survive without us.

Why do I do this job? No day’s the same, never time to get bored, sometimes the load is very heavy, other times light.

We used to chat, but now we have to keep our distance. The good side of that is we can work quicker, we need to work quicker.

No I haven’t, I pride myself in never making mistakes, make sure I have read the instructions properly. We can’t afford to make mistakes, this is people’s lives we are dealing with.

I do ring the bell, I know some aren’t bothering now we don’t have to get a signature. It’s heart breaking knowing people want to talk, desperate to see another human being, they call out, trying to thank us, pitiful, but I’m already on my way to the next person.

No I don’t feel exploited and I certainly don’t want do-gooders boycotting the company. I need to earn money and I like being out on the road, by myself, out of the house.

Yes I have, four, the wife deals with all the home schooling, another reason I enjoy my work.

Vital? Of course, where would you all be without your Amazon deliveries?

Your Amazon Order – Silly Saturday Story

She was not addicted, she was just adapted. Amelia’s grandchildren had told her to get on Amazon while she was in lockdown. She was not locked in, still allowed out for exercise and shopping essentials, but that was no help if she wanted a pair of slippers and the shoe shop was closed. But even going to the local food shops was an ordeal; wearing a mask, her glasses steaming up so she couldn’t see what she was doing let alone think what she wanted. Her dermatitis had flared up after putting the basket cleaning spray on instead of the hand gel. Then she couldn’t buy any cheese because she accidentally bypassed the dairy chiller cabinet and couldn’t reverse in the one way system. The final drama was getting in the wrong queue and ending up at the self service tills; waving to her nice young man on the real till she was accused of pushing in by a large woman with a scary red mask.

So here she was at the computer she used to only use for Facebook and emails. Amelia was now the proud owner of an Amazon Prime account and it was true, you could get anything on Amazon. Instead of two or three emails a week she now had half a dozen a day, kindly keeping her up to date with the progress of her deliveries. It was like Christmas every day.

It had started with slippers, some nice face cream and a big box of fruit and veg from that nice Suffolk farm; too much veg, she had to share with Doris and Ken next door. They were so impressed with her on line skills she offered to order things for them. Autumn bedding plants, then her son sent her links for the grandchildren’s birthday presents; more than she usually paid, but she wasn’t spending any money going out to the theatre, cinema or meals with friends.

When she couldn’t think of anything more she needed Amelia decided to give herself some presents, Covid Comfort… Self Care her granddaughter called it. Well Amelia did not want to plaster her face with green paste like that YouTube video, but she could improve her surroundings without even setting foot in B&Q. Colourful lampshades, amazing rugs and exotic plant pots arrived at her doorstep. Now she needed a new challenge.

Later, Amelia could not remember how the idea came into her head, but once it was there she was determined to see if Amazon could realise it. No more trips to the post office, she would have her own little drone to deliver letters and parcels and impress friends and family with her technical skills. She would probably have to practice first, a few tours giving her birds’ eye views of her neighbourhood.

It was rather expensive, no doubt because it was a high end model according to the description. Must be the latest model, there was only one review so far. The five to seven days passed slowly, but at last came the email Your package with 1 item will be delivered today. She waited for the doorbell to ring and her parcel to appear in the porch. Glancing out of the front window to see if a white van had drawn up yet, she was surprised to see a huge truck turn into her little road. Someone must be having building work done, though the equipment on the back of the lorry looked very strange. Paul across the road had come out to look and the sound of the strange vehicle being unloaded, like one of those huge rubbish skips, brought the children and other neighbours out. If they were being nosey, so could she, but before she could get to the front door there was a frantic ringing of her doorbell.

A huge chap in a yellow jacket and black mask stood back from the doorstep; what little she could see of his face was frowning.

‘Is this number forty six?’

‘Yes.’

‘Mrs. Amelia Dawson?’

‘Yes that’s me, have you brought my Amazon parcel.’

‘Hardly a parcel, but it’s all unloaded. I presume you have a licence from the Ministry of Defence or the Civil Aviation Authority…’

‘Pardon?’

‘Never mind, not my problem, I just deliver things.’

Amelia closed the door and crept upstairs to look out the bedroom window. The lorry had already gone; surely that monstrosity parked outside her front gate, on the residents’ parking only lines, couldn’t be for her. She slipped into the little back bedroom to check her emails. One new, 11.51.

Hi Amelia, your package has been delivered.

How was your delivery?

It was great Not so great

A photo of your delivery location.

She looked at the time on the computer, 11.59, then looked at her order again, peering closer; she had assumed the measurements were in centimetres not metres…

Silly Saturday – Cyber Shopping

If you have recently come out of isolation, albeit briefly before we’re all in lockdown again, you will have noticed that shopping is now very different. Perhaps you will look back nostalgically to those months of cyber shopping. I got an email yesterday from the Co Op ‘We have missed you, please come back.’

https://www.coop.co.uk/coronavirus/updates-on-our-delivery-service

I have been back, but they didn’t recognise me in real life; even with a mask on I am not quite the anonymous self who ordered twice a week. On line shopping with our local Co Op was fun, not at all like the big supermarket chains, more like a game. At the start you had to spend £15 to get free delivery, but could not have more than 20 items, this gradually increased to 30 items, but still delivered by scooter. There were always plenty of delivery slots and I though smugly of all those people staying up till Sunday midnight, desperate to get any slot with Tesco or Sainsbury in the coming week. Of course, with the limit on number of items the cosy Co Op was not likely to suit those needing a big family shop. The website was a challenging computer game; you could always get chocolate, but not necessarily what you needed for dinner. It was vital to think outside the box. Type in baked beans, no luck. It was weeks before I discovered that typing in Heinz revealed beans and such Covid comfort food as tomato soup. The website did improve over the months, with the layout involving less scrolling down, but keeping the fun of guessing whether you should tap onto ‘Get Inspired’ ‘Food Cupboard’ or ‘Bakery and Cakes’. If you forgot to check your emails with updates on how your order was progressing, there was the fun of not knowing if you would get everything on your list, or perhaps an unwanted substitute.

So what is it like at real shops now? Don’t forget the mask… the rest of the rules seem to vary from shop to shop; another game to play, with arrows to follow and circles with footprints to stand on. Don’t mix up the bottle for sanitizing your basket handles with the hand gel. Move out of the way once you have swiped you card  ( cash is out, except at the greengrocers ) to make safe space for the next person. But that little row of chairs where you used to sort out your bags and make sure your purse was put away has gone; don’t have a medical incident, that was where shoppers who had a funny turn were seated as they waited for the ambulance!

How will you get on at shopping centres? Those benches where husbands were parked while waiting for wives to finish in the shop or come out of the Ladies are gone. There is nowhere to rest your heavy bags and meet up at the arranged time. In town will department stores ever be the same again? Restaurants and toilets closed, no meeting friends or relaxing with coffee and scones while you check you phone, or if you are a writer, do some people watching and scribbling.

It is nice to once again see what you are buying, but will you be going on line or out to the shops in the near future?

Just ( NOT ) Popping To The Shops

One of my earliest memories is of being seen across the busy road we lived on and walking by myself to the corner shop. I was well known by the two ladies who worked there. One of them was called Dolly, which seemed a very strange name for an old lady. Among the sweets they sold were Dolly Mixtures which I assumed were named after her. Mum could watch my progress and return ready to signal when it was safe to cross back. What I actually bought on these solo expeditions I have no recollection and I assume it was because my baby brother was asleep indoors, but it was the beginning of a lifetime of popping to the shops – until now…

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Unless you are subsistence farmers or have a team of servants, someone in the household has to go shopping. Whether you live in a beautiful Mediterranean town and gaze down from your geranium filled balcony to the daily market selling freshly caught fish and newly picked vegetables or do a huge weekly supermarket shop with no idea where the food has come from, shopping is an activity or chore that never ends – until now…

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Photo by Magda Ehlers on Pexels.com

When my parents bought their first house, on a new housing estate, there were no shops nearby, but we were not likely to starve. The milkman brought a boxful of groceries, there was a greengrocer’s van and the butcher’s boy came on his bike. It was a long walk to the new shopping centre for my mother with a baby and toddler as well as me. Her friend from round the corner had six children, so it was quite an expedition with the added excitement of a route through a large cemetery. Mum used to be amused by another neighbour who would dart back and forth between Fine Fare and Tesco checking the prices. Even in these small shops our mothers would be complaining that they were ‘always moving things around’. Needless to say there was often some vital item forgotten and I would be sent on my bike to another housing estate where they boasted a parade of shops.

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When we emigrated to Western Australia in 1964 all three of us were sent up a sandy track, the unmade section of our road, to the corner shop and later Tom The Cheap Grocer. The shops closed for the weekend at noon on Saturday, so on Saturday morning Mum and Dad would make a frantic dash in the car to stock up at the bigger shops in an older suburb. A far cry from today’s 24 hour shopping.

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Things have come full circle; having your shopping delivered is popular again, especially with busy working families. When someone says they are off to do their Tesco shop they probably mean they are going upstairs to the computer. With the advent of The Virus and isolation, Grandparents are being smugly told by their offspring that they should have learnt how to do on line shopping.

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Our local shops are so good that we had no need for on line shopping and a typical Saturday morning would be a walk along the cliff top, coffee at the Ludo Lounge, then stroll over to the greengrocers – until now…
Anyone with a 12 week sentence ( the medically very vulnerable told by the Prime Minister and the NHS to stay indoors ) or those shielding them, is dependent on supermarket deliveries or family, neighbours and volunteers. But with the sudden popularity of on line shopping you have to log on at one minute past midnight to try and get a slot.
The fun of bargain hunting has been replaced by the excitement of not knowing for sure what you will get in your delivery. Six weeks into our lock down and I think I have cracked it. The poplar local greengrocers which only takes cash, has engineered a major delivery operation using only the phone and Facebook. The free range, outdoor reared and expensive butcher up the road takes orders and payment on the phone. My latest discovery is a website for deliveries from local Co op shops. They seem to have plenty of slots, but this might be because you have to spend a minimum of £15 with a limit of 20 items and an eclectic limited choice of what is available. Type in cheese and you will find cheese. Type in baked beans and up come green beans, jelly beans and coffee beans. Put in peanut butter and up comes butter. With some outside the box thinking I did find Whole Earth Organic peanut butter and it appeared on the shopping list, but the next day showed up as unavailable in the polite e-mail update. The deliveries come by motorbike.
How have your shopping habits changed recently?

Silly Saturday – Guide Lines for On Line Shopping

Before Covid 19 you may have had a weekly supermarket shop delivered or ordered the occasional item from Amazon. Perhaps you supported your local shops and never went on line. Now many of us are adding excitement to our isolation by exploring what can be bought on line. You may not want to sell your soul to Amazon, though if you are an author who self publishes on Amazon Kindle you already have. But there is a reason why Amazon is so successful; people look for what they want, find it, buy it in a matter of seconds and it arrives when predicted, or much sooner. If you have nothing better to do, you can track the progress of your present to yourself. Then the magic moment arrives when the door bell rings and there is a real human being come to visit you, the only human you have seen all week and they have left you a parcel on the doorstep. If you are lucky, as they rush back to their white van, they will turn and acknowledge your existence as you open your front door waving frantically and thanking them profusely.

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You have bought a bright red microwave and some luxury toiletries to cheer yourself up, you can’t get a delivery slot with any supermarket, so can you actually buy food on Amazon? The only essentials that are readily available at a normal price are Tassimo pods for coffee machines. I did buy a fruit and veg box from a farm with British grown vegetables – contents may not be the same as in the illustration – I hoped we would get the bag of potatoes but NOT the boring iceberg lettuce. When the box came it was EXACTLY like the illustration, the lettuce will still be going when isolation is over…

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But be careful you know what you are getting when you order food. Fancy a tin of Ambrosia rice pudding, a bit of comfort eating and it’s only £5.99 ( what! ) for a 400 g tin. It might be handy to read customer reviews – 1 star customer review
…whilst we are facing an international crisis and people are facing tragedy, you are profiteering. You should hang your head in shame
Did they not notice the price when they ordered? To be fair, you can order a dozen tins for £24… and at least it is real food.

Here is what else you might find at your door.
Ambrosia rice pudding can earrings.
A genuine replica Heinz Baked Beans tin to hide your valuables in.
Nice fresh farm eggs that are polished wood in a toy egg box.
Rubber pork chops for a toy shop – a shop that is plastic, not a shop that sells toys…
A basket of fruit – made of marzipan.
A breadmaker instead of a loaf of bread.

What surprises have you had ordering on line?

Take your mind off shopping and pandemics with some short stories.

A second anthology from the author of ‘Dark and Milk,’ including recent prize winning short stories. As you would expect, some tales are light, others very dark and you will not know which are which until it is too late! Visit places you may or may not find on a map, discover the Hambourne Chronicles and meet people who may not be what they seem.

Friday Flash Fiction – Shopping Delivery

Tom turned into the quiet road and parked outside number nine. An old lady was standing in the front garden wielding a pair of secateurs, the only sign of life in the street. He wondered if he had the right address, there was a lot of shopping for one old lady living alone and how was she going to carry all those bags inside? Well, not his problem, Tom was just glad to have a job. What a lark, this coronavirus thing was a blessing in disguise. People assumed he had lost work because of the world wide pandemic, not because he was a loser who had never held down a job for more than a year or managed to float a business successfully. What he did have was a clean driver’s licence and enough muscles left to heft trays out of the van.

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‘Good afternoon.’ The woman stood firmly behind a large bush as if that would shield her from the virus.
Tom nodded as he pushed his barrow up the garden path.
‘Just ring the doorbell, my son will be down in a moment. I hope we have free range eggs this time.’
As Tom retreated to the front gate the door opened and a tall fortyish chap stepped out. Tom chuckled to himself, imagine being quarantined with your mother at that age, but he looked fit so surely he could get the shopping for her. The mother was still talking.
‘How many deliveries have you done today?’
‘This is my thirtieth’ he lied.
‘Oh wonderful, a true hero; not that I need a delivery, quite capable of doing my own shopping.’
‘Er hmm, well we have all had to change our routines Madam.’
‘How wide an area do you cover?’
‘The whole town… anyway I must…’
The son was hovering on the doorstep, obviously waiting for Tom to get back in his van and remove the threat of infection.

‘Mother, let the poor chap get on his way.’

11
James sighed, he supposed his mother’s only social life these days was shopping deliveries. She had practically raced to the front door when his Amazon parcel arrived, eager to wave and thank the bloke before he slipped out of the front gate and into his white van. Perhaps he should order some things on Amazon for her, just for the fun of getting parcels of her own, though he couldn’t think of anything she might want or need with a house full of books and CDs, a bedroom full of clothes and a bathroom full of toiletries. Maybe Cassie would have some ideas.
‘There’s enough shopping for a year, James.’
‘We might need it, I couldn’t get any more delivery slots, you’re not vulnerable enough.’
‘I am not vulnerable and you know I prefer to do my own shopping.’
‘We could order some things from Amazon, they never turn you down and you can get absolutely anything.’
‘I can’t think of anything I need.’
‘How about something fun for your birthday, as I can’t take you out for dinner or the theatre.’
‘James, you have never taken me out to dinner or the theatre on my birthday… or any other time.’
‘Erm, no, not when Dad was still alive.’
‘…and you were still married…’
‘Next year then, in the meantime you could take up a new interest.’
‘I have plenty of interests, or did until we all went into lockdown.’
‘Something you could do indoors, I could help you set up a vivarium for example.’
‘You may be forty four, but I can still see through you; the only one who wants a vivarium around here is you, but surely even Amazon can’t deliver geckos.’
Not for the first time James felt himself descending back into childhood, he had to get out of here, get his own place, but when were things ever going to return to normal? He envied Cassie her solitary life in her little house with the large vivarium; it sounded as if she had always been single, though she hadn’t really said. But she would laugh and sympathise with his predicament. Strange that neither of them knew where the other lived; perhaps it would spoil the on line nature of their friendship, put pressure on a perfect relationship. He looked at his watch, an hour till he could log off from work and log on for a Facetime chat with Cassie.

Silly Saturday – Sensible Shopping

All of us are under quarantine, but some are more quarantined than others. We’re all isolating, but some are insulating – a combination of being insular and isolated and some of us are incarcerated. Wherever or however you may be, you still have to eat and if friends or neighbours have offered to ‘get a few things’ for you don’t turn down the offer, they may not offer again. Here are a few handy hints to make it easy for you the shoppee and they the shopper.

When they say ‘a few things’ they actually mean at least two hefty bagfuls of shopping.
If they say it’s no trouble, they mean it’s a whole load of extra fun which will fill their empty hours of isolation.
Do be polite and grateful for their help with such phrases as
‘I never shop at Tesco.’
‘I never shop on line, I like to see what I’m getting.’
‘Wednesday’s no good, couldn’t you make it Tuesday?’
‘Make sure they don’t put anything in plastic bags, I’m a plastic free shopper.’
‘Make sure the Sainsbury delivery van doesn’t park outside my house.’

You will need to make a list and it is important to remember that on line some items may not be available and if they go to the real shops, some items may not be available. Make your list clear, it’s not easy shopping for someone else. Here is an example of a helpful shopping list.

One loaf of Happy Fields medium sliced multi grain organic gluten free bread.

One pack of BRITISH butter, unsalted from Daisy Dairies, Somerset.

Two outdoor reared ( in Dorset or Surrey ) pork chops, the ones without the bone in.

A free range chicken, woodland, not corn fed, between 1.5KG and 1.74KG.

A bag of Lincolnshire potatoes, not too big, not too small either, potato size, not the bag…

Bunch of bananas, green, so they will keep.

Ten tins of Heinz Tomato soup, must be HEINZ.

Six tins of Ambrosia rice pudding – full cream NOT Lite.

Two packs of Green Grass Farm Extra Strong Mature Irish Cheddar, the pack with the green stripe and picture of black and white cows, not the red stripe and picture of auburn cows.

Three packets of Fair Trade breakfast tea leaves, NOT tea bags, not the supermarket own brand, the blue and purple box, not the green and red.

Seven packs of Tassimo L’OR Latte Macchiato Coffee Pods, not Costa latte and NOT caramel latte, six or five packs will do if they haven’t got enough.

 

When the day of expected on line delivery arrives, don’t forget to helpfully remind your kind neighbour that some of the shopping is for you by phoning or texting every hour to ask if it has arrived yet.
When at last they phone or message you to say the six shopping bags are now outside your door, reply quickly with a grateful message such as
‘I hope they are not too heavy for me to carry inside’ or ‘I hope they had everything.’
Finally, they may be too embarrassed to mention payment straight away, so don’t you mention it either.

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