The evening was perfect, and a quite memorable and wonderful late spring evening. The weather was perfectly still and as good as it gets, and apart from a small noisy black cat racing around as if it were a race track. the house was totally silent. Our own two human pets had recently left for a month or so of judo camps and training in Portugal and Spain.
The Dragon Lady and I had just finished working at our individual projects for the day at precisely the same time, and together, and in need of relaxation we collapsed heavily in front of the TV to decide what to eat that evening.
“Chillies?” Said my wife with so much enthusiasm I wasn’t quite sure if this was a demand or a suggestion. Chillies is probably our favourite of Indian restaurants situated in a really pretty little village approximately 10 miles away across the Somerset levels although we hadn’t visited in quite some time. Getting there is a truly beautiful drive. However, the narrow lanes which weave themselves between deep reens on either side of the narrow track for drainage could be dangerous!
Over the years, we had witnessed many cars whose drivers we guess were probably seduced by the quite wonderful scenery, and as a result, had not paid the necessary levels of attention and ended up nose first and half-submerged in the crystal clear water. That, or alcohol was an element, or simply, they drove too fast
This was peat country, and even though the lanes on our route had been rebuilt and re-tarmacked just a few years earlier. Unfortunately, they were already collapsing again and it was an undulating and rough drive. Every few yards or so, the hard surface had broken and cracked and eventually deep potholes emerged which with every rainstorm, frost and vehicle which passed, grew a little wider, deeper and more hazardous. Driving along this long lane required your full attention as you navigated around these pitfalls which felt a bit like a drivers assault course. Luckily I have a PhD in driving this type of lane, PhD, in this case, being the abbreviation for ‘Pothole dodging’!
The decision whether or not to visit Chillies wasn’t a difficult one to make, their food was quite wonderful and we were extremely familiar with the owners. They were a husband and wife team that we felt we shared something in common with. Theirs also was a mixed Asian – English marriage.
The Dragon Lady must have been keen because she was shouting at me to leave within moments of making this decision. Usually, she would dillydally and cause hours of delay while she beautified, adorned and embellish her appearance to her full satisfaction and had changed her clothes at least three times.
My wife had just completed a particularly intense run of shifts at the hospital, and in between these she was completing ongoing training which meant she had just endured ten or twelve long days of work without a break. She, without a doubt, deserved this little treat.
“Come on Kev, get in the car, I’m waiting!” I truly wanted to please her, but slinky, our little cat was playing his favourite game. When he sensed we were going out and leaving him alone, he would stubbornly refuse to come back into the house. Being a warm evening he preferred to chase flies across the lawn and entertain me by jumping high into the air to catch them. He and the Dragon Lady have a lot in common. Not as I have ever seen her chase flies, but she has always been more stubborn than a whole clutter of cats.
“KEV, COME ON! My wife could be exceptionally impatient and annoying, especially when she was hungry.
“Okay, I’m coming,” I replied as I captured the wriggling ball of black bad temper fur, who was now gripped firmly in my arms and biting me in protest, he wanted to stay out. It seemed every one of my family, including the cat, could be more difficult than solving a Rubik’s cube blindfold. Slinky, was usually a very definite house cat, and for the majority of the time stayed inside our home. However, the moment he sensed we were going out or were in a hurry he became contrary and difficult. He instantly transformed into a more proficient escape artist than Harry Houdini.
Still biting me, I placed him on one of the seats and locked the summer room doors and I was ready to leave. I could already hear the Dragon Lady impatiently jingling the keys for the main door.
“Don’t let slinky out!” I shouted as I turned into our freshly painted mango orange coloured hallway. Too late, the little cat was already sitting outside behind her wearing a very self-satisfied mocking grin that almost shouted, “that’ll bloody teach you, pal!” This evening he was proving to be more difficult than the Dragon Lady.
“Kev!” She shouted at me in frustration, although she was the one who allowed him out.
“Tess!” Was my reply and attempt to highlight the fact that the cat sitting outside and ready to play ‘catch me’ again was 100% her fault and had nothing to do with me. She just glared at me trying to intimidate me with her eyes, it didn’t work. So, she sat in the car while I spent another annoying ten minutes trying to get the cat to come back inside. Eventually, the front door was locked and I jumped into the white Toyota next to her.
“Why you take so long?” she accused in the most irritating of voices, “Now we’re going to be late!” I ignored her as we generally bicker constantly. However, tonight was too special to give anything less than a hundred percent to its enjoyment and the wonderful scenery which would soon be unfolding outside our window. We drove in silence just enjoying each other’s company. I drove slowly as not only did the road conditions demanded it, but also to allow maximum enjoyment of the tranquil drive. Twenty minutes later we arrived feeling relaxed and being aware of the Dragon ladies rumbling tummy had also furnished me with an appetite.
Due to the pandemic, it was a long time since we had visited Chillies and the outside of the building hadn’t seen to have changed at all. Delicious and enticing highly spiced aromas emanating from the kitchen tormenting our olfactory senses and called us to enter. Except for a pretty young part Asian girl behind the bar who I was certain I had known for the past thirteen years, the inside of the restaurant hadn’t changed one bit either. Apart from a young couple who sat in the far corner of the room trying to be romantic and invisible, the restaurant was empty.
“We are lucky to get a table here tonight,” I said in a low but sarcastic voice, and the Dragon Lady punched me. “I’m glad I called ahead and booked,” she punched me again and gave me one of her very special ‘I’m not going to tell you again looks’. We sat in our usual seats where we have enjoyed so many meals with our two now grown-up pets who at this exact time would probably be dining together also in Portugal.
Actually, it seemed funny without having them with us, but as my wife keeps reminding me. Who wants to spend their time with their parents, especially a brace of strange ones like the Dragon Lady and I? Until they became teenagers we were inseparable, but now, at the ages of nineteen and twenty-three, for them, spending time with us for more than fifteen minutes at a time was a painful thought, so it rarely happened.
No sooner had we sat down and began reminiscing than the pretty young lady was over to take our drinks order. As I thought she was the proprietor’s daughter, and still as lovely as I remember her at the age of two or three years old when she and her family lived in the flat above the restaurant. She was always there trying to get the attention of our children, (especially my then little boy). Even at that tender age, she had the necessary feminine skills to capture his interest and to get him to follow her.
A few moments later, the pretty girl was joined by her parents, and it was really nice to see them. Our food order was taken plus a starter of Popadoms with an accompaniment of herbs and onions, and wonderfully tasty spicy mint sauce was ordered. We chatted with our old friends as we waited for it to arrive when our friends dissolved and disappeared back to the kitchen.
It was at that precise moment that my wife’s head slumped forward so dramatically I could be forgiven for thinking she was experiencing an aneurysm. In fact, if it wasn’t for the fact her hand came up to meet her forehead, and she uttered the words, “DAM!” I would have been far more worried about her. In a pause which could be measured in microseconds, her eyes and a very worried expression came up to meet mine.
“What on earth is it?” I asked with deep concern.
“I think I’ve left the gas on!” Was her reply.
As she is constantly cooking beans, cassava and a whole pantry of other foods and recipes she brought with her to the UK from her home country of the Philippines, which all seem to take a long time to cook, I became worried also.
She could be so forgetful and had already done the same thing three times this year alone resulting in blackened pans that took nearly forever to clean and restore. As well as a home that smelled as though we had been experimenting with a bonfire in the broom cupboard.
“What shall we do?” Tess asked?
Suddenly, she had lost all of her usual authoritative nature and I become that masculine hairy-chested man of action of yesteryear. Images and my poor little cat leaping around trying to avoid flames began tormenting me, there wasn’t a moment to waste. I ripped the buttons of my summery shirt to expose my blue and red Lycra costume hiding below. The Popadoms arrived as I left, and the main course would follow closely behind, but I didn’t have time to explain, or even pay the bill.
“You stay here, I’ll be back as soon as I can!” I said I’m always good in a crisis.
Although now, and since C19, I generally walk with the aid of a crutch or stick because I have become unsteady on my feet, I now felt different. Motivated by impending potential disaster too dark to even consider, I got to my car faster than Usain Bolt on a good day. Now, it’s funny, on the way to the restaurant I don’t think we had to slow down, or stop or wait once for a vehicle going in the opposite direction. Now, however, it seemed as though the entire population of our local seventy thousand strong town had all chosen that precise moment to use the same narrow unkept lane, and were travelling in the opposite direction.
In the first part of the lane which was probably 5 miles in length, without exaggeration, I guess I had to stop and wait for long queues of oncoming vehicles at least twenty times. Still tormented with the thoughts of a barbecued black cat I felt severely disturbed. I drummed my fingers impatiently on the steering wheel, and for my own benefit sourly shouted, “come on, come on, COME ON!” It didn’t help. I was noisily road raging for my own benefit and my levels of frustration and stress grew. In the same way, a watched kettle seems to refuse to boil, the journey that took a gentle twenty minutes, (perhaps twenty-five to get to the restaurant). Now took an exasperating forty minutes in the opposite direction.
As I approached our little village and home I scanned the horizon for plumes of smoke, but thankfully there were non- nor could loud sirens of fire engines, or other emergency vehicles be heard. The village, and particularly our little cul-de-sac was as serene and sleepy as we had left it an hour and a half before. I still wasn’t convinced and drove my car onto the driveway with the enthusiasm of a boy racer before locking the brakes and screeching to a halt, and the neighbours appeared at the windows in concern.
I unlock the door with the speed and dexterity of a professional housebreaker, and a little black flash shot past me with the speed of a small missile. At least he wasn’t on fire! I ran into the kitchen to discover it was a false alarm, and all the flames on the stove were off. At the same moment, my past forty minutes of high stress began abating and subsiding back into my normal relaxed state of existence.
Now I could go back and enjoy the rest of my evening with my lovely wife, well, as soon as I got the cat back in that was. With the fast-approaching dusk, the little bugger spent a fun fifteen minutes playing ‘give dad a hard time’ before I eventually caught him. Under the firm impression that this was a game, he gave me another painful bite on the back of the hand which then bleed as profusely as a freshly slaughtered bull.
Unsurprisingly, the traffic I had encountered on my return journey, now, and having enjoyed a lovely spring evening drive around decided to return home, and met me coming in the opposite direction in the same lane. I had to stop and wait just as many times as I did before and my levels of stress and anxiety again rose like mercury in a thermometer, I really had enough of this game. What a waste of an evening! I eventually arrived back at the restaurant an hour and forty-five minutes after leaving, and now I had a case of indigestion which was so concentrated I felt certain you could have almost taken a photograph of it.
“Where have you been, and why are you bleeding?” Asked the Dragon Lady in obvious concern.
“Well, after getting home and discovering the gas wasn’t on, I felt hot and sweaty, so I decided to take a nice warm bath and then a short nap to recover. Then as I climbed back in the car I was attacked and bitten by a savage dog,” I playfully replied.
“No you didn’t, you being sarcastic AGAIN!”
So, as I sipped at my now extremely warm and almost flat beer, I told her the step-by-step story of my short odyssey.
“Would you like your food serving now?” The young lady asked, but my throat felt as if I had just drunk a gallon of extra strong battery acid.
“We’ll take it to go,” replied my wife who also had lost her desire to eat, and she went to the car while I settled the bill.
£47 for two curries and two drinks, my GOD, prices had gone up! It may be some time before we come here again I thought.
It was black and almost 10:30 pm by the time we got home and the cat no longer wanted to escape, and had already retired for the night and was sleeping peacefully as only a cat can. I headed straight for the Galveston indigestion tablets to discover an empty packet had been put back into the box. So, for most of the night, I suffered. It’s funny how a nice relaxing evening with my nearest and dearest transform so quickly into a night of pure indigestion.