I arrived at my mother in law Joyce`s house at around eleven in the morning to take her out for the day. “What would you like to do today?” This was my usual question, always followed by her usual response, “I don`t know, you choose.”
“Well, is there anyone you`d like to visit?”
“Yes, I`d like to visit Jeannie and then I`d like to go for something to eat.”
Those few words `something to eat` always fill me with dread since going for something to eat with my mother in law is so fraught with obstacles to happiness and so instilled with indecision, it is generally a nightmare to manage. However being a bit of a Buddhist and knowing that Buddha teaches us to surrender to the moment, that is what I did and we set off for Jeannie`s house. Jeannie and Joyce are sisters.
Jeannie is a lovely woman, warm and huggable with a wicked sense of humour but when she and Joyce get together, they bicker like children so spending time with them can be rather draining. We set off in the general direction of Wythall as Jean had said she would like to eat at The White Swan a favourite carvery of mine. Joyce had said she would like to go there too. We were about half way there when Joyce said,
“What is The White Swan anyway?” And I said, “You know what it is Joyce, it`s a carvery, we`ve been there loads of times.” Jeannie said quite a lot in the back of the car about fresh vegetables and how Joyce should eat fresh vegetables.
Joyce said in rather a cross tone of voice, “Oh. Well I I don`t want to eat at a carvery!”
“That`s alright,” I said turning the car around, “we can eat at that little pub on the Redditch Road you both like so much, what`s it called, The Red Lion?”
We headed for the Red Lion but unfortunately there had been an accident resulting in a long tail back. I turned the car around again and said, “It`ll have to be The White Swan then I`m afraid or we`ll have a really long wait.”
Half way back Jeannie said, “Why don`t we go to The Peacock, they have lovely fresh vegetables there.” So I diverted the car again and drove them to The Peacock which is a really nice, traditional pub set in the Worcestershire countryside. When we got there I said, “You choose where to sit, I don`t mind,” so they chose a table in the back of the pub close to the balcony where the pretty French windows opened on to the lawn.
We started looking at the menu, “Oooh,” said Jeannie, “It`s a bit draughty! Are you sitting in a draught Joyce?” “It`s alright Jean, I`ll put my coat around your shoulders,” said Joyce.
I said, “Why don`t you find another seat where it isn`t draughty?” I always expect them to change seats at least twice and when all three sisters including Lillian are together it can take up to forty five minutes just to get them settled while they argue the toss.
We ventured into the far recesses of the dining room and eventually they found a table they both liked.
After we had decided what we wanted, a nice little waitress came over and asked for our order. One of the reasons why I don`t take Joyce for lunch very often is because she is so rude to staff, she speaks to them like they are flotsam and barely worthy of being flicked off her lapel. Take the last time I took her out, she snapped her finger and thumb at the barman and in a voice loud enough for the whole restaurant to hear demanded a clean wine glass, saying, “This one is dirty I can smell it, don`t tell me it isn`t I`m not stupid!” He was so polite and apologised even though he didn`t need to. I wondered whether he took the glass around the back of the bar, spat in it gave it a wipe round with his sleeve and returned it to her with a smile.
Anyway, to continue; “I want prawn cocktail,” she said to the waitress, “but I only like little prawns, I can`t eat the big ones, they make me feel ill, it`s something about the texture.” “But you like crayfish tails,” ventured Jeannie helpfully. “Don`t tell me what I can and cannot eat Jean!” said Joyce gritting her teeth and banging her little fists on the table.
“Thats alright madam,” the waitress said in a placatory tone, “Chef will make sure to use small prawns.”
I ordered breaded mushrooms with a blue cheese sauce, Jeannie had the prawns too which the waitress brought to our tables quite quickly.
“Those aren`t little prawns, I distinctly ordered little prawns,” said Joyce. “Take it back.” Jean and I were tucking in by now. My mushrooms were yummy.
The waitress apologised and enquired extremely politely what else my mother in law might like instead. “I suppose I`ll have soup,” she said with an expression that would have shrivelled a slug at ten paces. “Oh I think this is lovely!” said Jeannie, shovelling in the prawns. I ate Joyce`s cocktail. It was scrummy in a sharp, home made thousand island sauce served with rocket, my favourite. The balance of flavours was just right.
The waitress brought over some soup, it was potato, cauliflower and cheesy soup with warmed crusty bread and butter. Joyce took two sips and said, “It`s cold, I like my soup hot. I`m not at all happy about this!” And I said, “Let`s face it Joyce you`re not at all happy about anything very much.”
The atmosphere became thick enough to cut with one of the kitchen knives. Seeing the look of shock on Joyce`s face that I had the audacity to speak to her in this way, I sighed and placing down my knife and fork said, “Why don`t we ask them to put it in the microwave?” ” No it`s alright,” she said sniffily and ate a few mouthfuls, like she was some sort of martyr and then pushed it aside. Jeannie and I finished it, it was delicious.
For my main course I chose steak, well done, with chips, mushroom and vine tomatoes. Joyce had chosen rib of beef with mashed potato and green beans and Jeannie chose steak and ale pie with fresh vegetables.
Jean and I tucked in, our meal was great I really couldn`t fault it, the steak was cooked to perfection. After demolishing the contents of her pie Jeannie picked up the pastry case and ate it with her fingers. She was visibly enjoying her meal.
Joyce picked at her rib of beef, ate a bit, left the mash as it had horseradish in it and she doesn`t like horseradish, left her green beans, she doesn`t like green beans, so me and Jeannie shared what she had left. The beef melted in our mouths, it was heavenly, the gravy was a meaty melody on our tongues, the mash divine. Anything we couldn`t manage because we were so completely plodged, I wrapped up in tissue paper to take home for my lucky dog Alfie.
Joyce`s face maintained a thoroughly miserable expression as she attempted to put a dampener on the meal. It didn`t work.
Before leaving we ordered coffee. I walked to the bar and apologised for the rude behaviour of my mother in law, I told them they were quite at liberty to put a drop of Paraquat in her coffee. They laughed a little nervously and assured me it was quite alright and that she was, “an old lady,” and old ladies get a bit kranky, I said, “if ever I get like that in my old age I hope someone will shoot me.”
We drove home more or less in silence but I didn`t mind, I was so happily full I wouldn`t have to eat for a week!