Gary – who could not say no, and Tracy – who could not make decisions, pulled off the M4 at the Reading services, parked up and walked towards the main building. He was hungry, but didn’t like to say anything in case she wasn’t, whilst she wasn’t sure if she was hungry or not, but would eat something if he did. They had factored in 45 minutes for this stop, and certainly no more than an hour. Underneath, Gary thought 30 minutes was plenty, though did not like to disagree with his wife who wasn’t sure if 45 would actually be enough if their previous 2 trips to Peter and Cheryl’s were anything to go by.
In the end over 30 minutes was taken up with the AA man alone, who canvassed them at the entrance to buy motor breakdown services. As Gary was an existing member of both the RAC and Green Flag and what’s more was a competent amateur car mechanic, he really did not see the need for additional protection, but naturally could not say no. On the other hand, Tracy was unsure of the finer points of their existing cover and thought that perhaps they should consider buying it in case they did not have the ‘Home Start’ feature that the AA man considered so valuable and would certainly be included within his company’s proposal.
Gary signed the direct debit making a mental note to cancel those of both the RAC and Green Flag, hoping that their agents would not call him when the next due payments failed to turn up. Tracy was not sure he had done the right thing after all and washed her hands of any potential backlash.
Back on the road after a small pastry each ; a good compromise between eating and not eating, they re-joined the M4 headed for Newbury. The SatNav had been an inspired purchase made since their last trip. Tracy had frankly been hopeless with a road atlas, often uncertain as to which direction they were travelling in relation to the orientation of the map. She was also undecided as to whether to take the more straight forward motorway route, or maybe go cross-country; across the Hogs Back after Guildford and then past Odiham. Last time, she had dithered over Gary’s suggestion that whilst it was true that the motorway route was more miles overall, the scenic way maybe actually be quicker as he predicted heavy weekend motorway traffic at the time they would be travelling. Not wanting to enforce his views on Tracy who was clearly struggling to compare the merits of these two options, the motorway it was, and inevitably the matrix signs soon took them from 70 through 60 down to 40mph. He felt frustrated by this of course, but neither of them said anything as he felt that there could just have easily been a hold up on the narrow country roads, whilst she just blamed the bad luck that always seemed to accompany their journeys. No, SatNav had removed all of this decision making, its polite yet firm voice being reassuringly decisive as to which option to take.
Having left so early, they still reached Peter and Cheryl’s at just gone 5pm. Their invite had said to arrive ‘between 5 and 6’. Tracy was undecided about just what ‘between 5 and 6’ actually meant and Gary was not going to contradict whatever Tracy’s final thoughts were on the matter even though underneath he felt that at just gone 5pm they would have fallen within the prearranged parameters, and had frankly they already used enough diesel for one half of the trip. So they drove on to Hungerford and back to kill some time, making their actual arrival time 5:40.
Peter and Cheryl met them warmly at the door as old friends would, and led them through to the back garden, via the side alley of course as Cheryl did not want to risk them dirtying their hallway carpet. However Peter did walk through the house (shoes off) as he was allergic to the honeysuckle which climbed over the side fence. Cheryl thanked Tracy for bringing both chicken and lamb to supplement the barbecue food, noting silently to herself that she and Gary would avoid the chicken with its potential salmonella contamination as well as the bloating that Peter sometimes succumbed to after consuming poultry. She made light of the fact that she would now have to sterilize a second plastic food container, individually rinsing and damping down both sets of meat with separate sheets of kitchen roll before boxing and placing them to remain chilled on the shelf in the refrigerator reserved for raw meats, under the vegetables and salad of course.
The late afternoon sun over Newbury was delicious and golden as they sat in the garden and chatted. Tracy wasn’t sure if she wanted to drink alcohol nor if she was prepared to stick to soft drinks all evening and drive back, but kept to juice for the moment – just in case. Gary couldn’t say no to a glass of beer though Peter could not join him having developed suspected wheat intolerance of late. Cheryl thoroughly enjoyed her ready-mixed G and T poured from the can, safe in the knowledge that its components had been combined in the hygienic environment of a drinks factory which all but eradicated the chances of cross-transference of germs possible in a household blending scenario.
A couple of very pleasant hours of idle banter passed. Gary could not say no to a second beer, or even a third and Cheryl continued to find the G and T to her liking. Whilst the girls removed their shoes and went in the house to prepare nibbles, Peter showed Gary his new vegetable plot in full production, though his choice of crop had been somewhat limited by his allergies. Gary had to agree that to produce that many carrots was both a thrifty and engaging hobby whilst doing his best to express interest at Peter’s methods to thwart the pernicious and damaging carrot root fly. Privately he feared that the forthcoming nibbles would consist entirely of 8 different carrot recipes.
The girls opened the vacuum-packed M&S canapés and Cheryl donned disposable gloves and used her tongs to transfer them to individual paper plates. They talked and laughed about how dirty their mutual friend Suzy’s house was and how hard it was to decide where to go on holiday.
Canapés consumed, the boys went to the back of the garden to light the barbecue. Peter had not realised that Cheryl had scrubbed the grill with quite so much white spirit after its last use. As he applied the flame to the gas, the residue caused such a fierce blast that the flames leapt to engulf his face and ignite his hair whilst the prickly heat swelled up angrily on his arms.
Cheryl was distraught as the ambulance pulled away; the operatives had not even thought to remove their shoes as they ran through the house and back with the stretcher. She knew that she should have gone with him, but there was food and dirty plates all over the kitchen and garden table and they just had to be dealt with immediately else vermin would doubtless move in.
Shaking as she was as she disposed of the untouched food, she refused help from the anxious Tracy who had been in two minds as to what to offer anyway. Gary stayed in the garden awaiting instruction, quickly drinking a fourth and fifth beer to help calm his nerves. Dish washer on and all surfaces sprayed, Cheryl was now ready to visit Peter at the burns unit of the Royal Berkshire Hospital. She could not take the car – she’d had too many G and T’s and in any case, Peter had not had it valeted for more than a week. Tracy, whilst sober, felt she was probably in too much of a fluster to drive – though said she would if she had to, but then she would probably get lost of course, so they shouted out to Gary, now half way through his sixth can. Of course he knew he shouldn’t drive, he was probably twice over the limit, but this was an emergency so how could he say no?
The burns unit there is a marvel of modern medical technology and despite the problems the NHS faces, really provides a top-rate level of care. Much of Peter’s charred face had been doused with some kind of aqueous substance and dressed, the gauze itself causing skin irritation even to the un-burned parts. His eyes were thus bandaged over though one of his ears remained undamaged enough to hear that a number of beds had been wheeled onto the ward.
Nurse Willard told him there had been a bad accident with a car leaving the road on a bend on the A339, the resulting flames seriously burning the three occupants. She thought it best not to add that they had to be cut out of the car, and one of the passengers had died in the ambulance, though preliminary investigations of the others suggested their injuries were not considered life threatening. Both survivors were currently being sedated. Peter asked if his wife had come to visit him yet and was disappointed to hear that she hadn’t.
And that is the end of this modern day fairy story and we are left with the morals of the tale. They are to never be afraid to speak up for yourself, have the courage of your convictions, do not drink and drive, that between 5pm and 6pm means exactly that, a little bit of dirt never hurt anyone and even if you don’t suffer from allergies, it’s probably best not to play lightly with barbecues.
I hope you enjoyed that story. If you have 2 mins spare, add a comment to let me know what you think, if you have 5 minutes, add that comment then find another story on my site – there’s plenty to try.