SUNDAY LUNCH by Dennis Patterson
Albert Lovejoy drained his glass and stood up. He looked round, wistfully, at the happy, chattering, Sunday lunchtime crowd in the 'Crown'. He turned, apologetically, to his recently acquired acquaintance, Oggy.
"Better be off, I suppose", he muttered. Oggy nodded understandingly.
"Yeah. Best not upset the Missus, Even so, it's not one-o-clock yet, bit of a tartar, is she?", he asked. Albert hastened to re-assure him.
"Oh no, nothing like that. Perfectly free agent, you know. No-one tells me what to do. There is no Missus. Trouble is, I have to go home and cook my own Sunday dinner, you see. Either that, or stay here and make do with a sandwich". Oggy stood, and patted his shoulder sympathetically.
"Run off and left you for a younger chap, has she?, he murmured. "They're all at it.
Better off without them, if you ask me". Albert frowned.
"No, there never has been a missus. If there had been, she wouldn't have run off, as you put it. Spent thirty five years in the Army, you see. Regimental Sergeant Major. Never needed a wife, the Army looked after me. In fact, from what I saw, wives can be a bit of an encumbrance. I left the Army ten years ago, been working for Security in a big insurance office since. Had all my meals in the canteen. But, now I'm retired, so..", he shrugged his shoulders.
"Ere, d'you want another pint or what?", asked the miserable looking barman, belligerently.
"There's other's want serving, y'know". Oggy waved him to silence, and leaned over the bar.
"Don't be too hard on him, George", he muttered. "He's got to go home to cook his own Sunday dinner. Otherwise, it's a cheese sandwich". George sniffed.
"So what?. I can't remember when I last had a Sunday dinner. Time I get cleared up here, its time to open again. Lucky if I can snatch a bite, sometimes".
"Gerraway", jeered Oggy. "That's not what your Ruby tell me. Now, there's someone I wouldn't mind snatching a bite...leggo!". George twisted his collar, grimly.
"You start that again, and I'll.... now d'you want serving or not?".
"Yes, two pints", snorted Oggy, indignantly. "Don't argue, you're coming home with me", he said to Albert. "He's paying", he said to George. Albert carried the drinks back to the table.
"I say..... I mean, I can't just walk in..out of the blue, so to speak..can I?".
Oggy waved his objections aside.
"'Course its all right. Our Ethel likes a bit of company. Make a change for her. Now then, you said you was in the Army....".
They made an odd-looking couple as they made their way through the run-down estate. Albert, tall, smartly-dressed, and of military appearance, trod very carefully, as if walking an invisible tightrope. The silly, fixed grin on his face slipped slightly as they neared their destination. Oggy, rotund, unshaven, and clad in a scruffy track suit, staggered along in front.
"You know who I blame, dont'cher?", he muttered. "You!. I promised Ethel faithful, two-o-clock. Look at the time, ten to three. All your fault. She'll go potty".
"But...you kept saying have another drink", Albert protested. "About eight times, as I remember". It was slowly sinking into his befuddled mind that it would have been far cheaper to go to an hotel for his Sunday lunch. Oggy brushed his protest aside.
"But, it was you buying them, wasn't it?", he replied, with devastating logic. "It was all at your instigation".
"Oh well, if you're going to be like that, I'll be off", Albert snapped indignantly.
Oggy grabbed his sleeve. He waved an admonitory finger under his nose. "Oh no you don't!", he snorted. "You ain't leaving me to face her on my own. In any case, we're here now. Where's that key?". As he fumbled in his pocket, the door was flung open by a large, clearly irate lady, clad in a voluminous pinafore. Even the metal curlers in her hair seemed to crackle with rage. She reached out with a brawny arm, and grabbed Oggy's collar.
"Get inside, you!", she snarled. "Showing me up. I said two-o-clock...and who's this?", she demanded, favouring Albert with a ferocious glare. "Another one of your good-for-nothing drinking pals, is he?. Come round here to cadge a dinner?. Well, he's unlucky, tell him to sling his hook ...." She took another look at Albert. He did look smart...dressed in a suit..and a trilby...realisation dawned.
"What's he been up to this time, officer?", she asked. "Has he been upsetting them ladies at the Bowls Club again?.... I'll see it doesn't happen again, officer..", She clouted Oggy's head.
"Get inside, you dirty little.... I'll swing for you...", Albert held up a restraining hand.
"No, no, nothing like that, madam", he explained, courteously. "It was my fault entirely. Oggy here invited me to Sunday lunch, and, without thinking, I accepted. I should have realised.....very thoughtless of me..". He raised his trilby. "I'll be on my way, madam, and once again, I can only apologise". Ethel eyed him, speculatively.
"No, no, its quite all right", she murmured. He did look smart...and so well-spoken.
"Aren't you going to introduce me to your friend, Horace?", she asked.
"He's Albert", snapped Oggy. "And, its his fault I'm late. This is Ethel", he added, grudgingly. She pushed him inside, and turned to Albert.
"Now then,..ah...Albert", she smiled. "I insist that you join us for lunch. No. I won't take 'no' for an answer". Albert sniffed..something very nice was cooking...
"If you are sure...er...Ethel", he murmured. As he stepped inside, she looked up and down the road before closing the door. That'd give them something to talk about, she thought, smugly.
"Straight through to the kitchen, Albert", she trilled. "We always lunch there
Now, if you will excuse me, I'll just nip upstairs and freshen up....". Oggy and Albert stared at each other as she pounded up the stairs. Oggy's eyes popped out of his head when she returned. The curlers had been removed, the pinafore replaced by a smart dress. There was even a touch of make-up on her face.
"Blimey, Eff, you going out?", he enquired.
"Shut up and wash your hands", she snapped. "if you would like to sit here, Albert, I'll dish up", she cooed. Twenty minutes later, Albert sat back in his chair. He looked at Ethel, reverently. He patted his stomach, and belched delicately.
"Pardon me. May I say..ah..Ethel, that that was the finest meal it has ever been my privilege to eat", he murmured. She went slightly pink.
"Oh, go on... it was over-done,.not my fault, of course".
"Perfection!", stated Albert, firmly. "Especially those roast potatoes. A cook is always judged by her roast potatoes, and yours were superb". Ethel flushed with pleasure.
"Very nice of you to say so, Albert", she whispered. "Nice to be appreciated. You do
have room for some apple pie I hope.". He blew out his cheeks.
"Couldn't possibly....well, perhaps, just a small piece", he murmured. She eyed him anxiously as he tried a small mouthful.
"Superb", he breathed. She smiled. "A meal fit for a king. Your husband is a very lucky man". She looked puzzled.
"Husband?. What husband?". Her face cleared. "What...him... you don't mean him? If he was my husband I'd have divorced him years ago. Horace is my brother".
"He's giving you a load of flannel, Ethel can't you see?", roared Oggy, irately.
"And I'm giving you the dish cloth, you're washing up", she told him, acidly. "Come along, Albert, we'll go into the parlour, put our feet up. No, he's not helping you, Horace", she snarled. "Albert is our guest".
The parlour, with the curtains nearly closed, was cool and shaded. Ethel indicated that he should sit on the settee, and pulled a long stool in front.
"You put your feet up, Albert", she said, tenderly. He did as he was bidden. "And, you might as well be comfortable, let"s slip your shoes off", she added. She went to the sideboard, and poured two glasses of port. She handed one to Albert, and sat beside him. She kicked off her shoes. "I think I'll join you", she giggled. "There, that's nice and cosy, isn't it?". Albert sighed happily. Ethel coughed delicately
"I understand that you are new round here, Albert", she murmured. He nodded.
"Yes, I bought a bungalow out near the park just a few weeks ago", he replied.
Ethel's eyes shone. On top of everything else, he clearly had a few bob. "As a matter of fact, Oggy.... I mean, your brother Horace, is the first person I've really spoken to", he added. She patted his hand re-assuringly.
"Never mind, there'll be others, Mr...er..er".
"Lovejoy, Albert Lovejoy", he said. "I moved here for my retirement". She patted his hand and moved slightly closer.
"Ooh, I wouldn't have thought you old enough", she murmured. "And, did I hear you mention something about a miltary career?". Albert nodded.
"Thirty five years", he said, proudly. "Finished as a Regimental Sergeant Major".
"Oooh, I say", she breathed. "I suppose.being in the Army all that time...and being so high up...they look after you all right..pension-wise, I mean?". He nodded.
"Can't complain", he admitted. "And, of course, I get a small pension from the insurance firm I worked for. Head of Security, you know. Then there's the old age pension. All in all, I could be said to be very comfortable. Very comfortable indeed".
"Just imagine three pensions", she breathed. She took Albert's glass and re-filled it.
She sat even closer. "And, you say, there is no Mrs Lovejoy?"
"Never needed a wife before", he explained, drowsily. "The Army always looked after me. Very good of you to invite me to dinner. Marvellous cook, Ethel. I told you that before, I think, but I cannot repeat it too often". He yawned, and closed his eyes.
She took the empty glass from his hand. "That's it, Albert, make yourself comfortable", she whispered. "And..er...don't mind me, loosen your top button if you like". Albert nodded gratefully.
"If you wouldn't mind, Ethel...shouldn't have eaten that apple pie....couldn't resist it of course", he mumbled.
"That's it...you have a little nap", she murmured. "And, don't forget, you are always welcome any Sunday...or any other day, of course". His head slumped sideways. Slowly, carefully, she lifted his arm around her shoulders. She settled back. The door crashed open. Oggy!
'Ere, what's going on? he can't come in here and ...". He quailed before Ethel's malevolent scowl.
"Clear off!", she mouthed. She settled back in Albert's arm, and smiled happily.
"Er..Albert, love". He awoke with a start as she shook him gently. "Only, it's gone six..I thought I'd better wake you". He gasped in horror and removed his arm from around her shoulders.
"Ethel....what can I say...I can only apologise ...can you ever forgive me?".
"Quite all right, Albert", she murmured. "No need to stand on ceremony. And, I feel as if we are old friends. You must have some tea before you go".
Ethel insisted upon coming to the door to see them off.
"Don't forget, Albert, you are welcome any time", she cooed. "And, don't forget what I said. Mrs Right could be waiting just around the corner. Then, all your problems would be solved". Albert took her hand and looked into her eyes.
"May I repeat, Ethel, how much I appreciate your kindness", he said, earnestly. He lifted her hand to his lips, and left, accompanied by a silent Oggy. Starry-eyed, she watched them walk off into the evening gloom. They turned the corner, and Albert found himself confronted by a savage Oggy.
"Listen you", he hissed. "I know what your game is. You're at it, aren't you?. With our Ethel, I mean. Well, I'm warning you, cut it out".
"I don't know what you mean", said Albert, smoothly. "If I have upset you in some way...". Oggy practically danced with rage.
"Upset me!", he howled. "First of all, you eat half my dinner. Going on about roast potatoes, I never had any, you ate them all! Then you sit in my parlour, on my settee, drinking my port, canoodling with my sister, while muggins here does the washing up! You've got a nerve, you have. Well, it won't work, see". Albert drew himself up.
"I can assure you, Oggy, that I have never canoodled in my life", he said, stiffly. "And, furthermore, if I should ever decide to do so, it would not be with a charming lady such as your sister. She is obviously far too refined to canoodle" Oggy nearly had a fit. He shook his fist under Albert's nose.
"I heard you! I listened at the door. Trying to turn her head with all that talk about having three pensions! Sprawling on my settee with your arm around her, and your top fly button undone. And then, to crown it all, kissing her hand like that! She very nearly jumped out of her tights! She's probably planning her trousseau right this minute. You're dangerous, on the loose, you are. A bloke like you should be married". Albert looked very thoughtful.
"Funny you should say that", he mused. "Ethel gave me the same advice".
"I don't mean to Ethel" raged Oggy. "You can't marry her. Because, if you did, I'd be out! It would be me looking for a bloke to invite him to Sunday dinner. And having to buy his beer. You leave my Ethel alone, find someone else!"
Albert walked along the road, a grim faced Oggy at his side.
"It's not a bad idea, though, I give you that", he said, thoughtfully. "Needs planning, of course. No good rushing in headlong. I can see your point, though. If I married Ethel, that would be the end of your easy life. All the same...."
"Now, don't start", pleaded Oggy. "Don't even say it, even as a joke. I meant it about you getting married, but not to Ethel. She is strictly out of bounds to you. A no-go area". But Albert did not hear, he was thinking hard.
"Of course, besides the cooking, she could do the housework", he mused. "Women like that sort of thing, I understand. And then there's the garden. An active, healthy lady could be quite an asset. I shall have to give the matter some serious thought, and, if necessary, draw up a proper plan of campaign".
"Don't be daft", grinned Oggy. "You don't plan to get married. It just sort of creeps up on you!".
They sat in the front room of Albert's small, neat bungalow. Oggy looked around, impressed.
"Not a bad place", he conceded. "You won't be looking for a wife for long. When word gets around, you'll be fighting them off. Especially with three pensions". Albert went to a drawer and found pen and paper.
"Right, first, a good cook", he muttered. He wrote down 'cook'. "Let's see. what comes next?". Oggy reminded him about the gardening. "That's it", said Albert. "No garden. She must live in a nice flat. I'm fed up with gardening". Oggy stared.
"But, who's been doing all the work out there?", he asked.
"Me", Albert replied. "But, that's because I like Neat. And Tidy. Different thing altogether from gardening. Let's see, number three. No pets".
"What, you mean cats and dogs and things?", asked Oggy.
"Anything, especially dogs", said Albert, firmly. "Nasty, unhygienic creatures. And budgies, their cages smell. Number four, fit and active". Oggy stared.
"What, you thinking of entering her for the London Marathon?", he asked. "Because,
if you decided to give them a medical, I'll willingly lend a hand".
"I don't want any smut", Albert reproved him. "This is serious. Five, must have right temperament". Ogy looked bewildered.
"Must respond to training", Albert explained.
"Take your Ethel. Got you right under her thumb. So, she gets into the habit of bossing everyone around. Basically, she's a very nice woman, who'd respond to the proper training. Need a firm hand, that's all. Two big drawbacks, I'm afraid. A
great big garden and you for a brother".
"And a cat", put in Oggy. "A great big smelly cat". Albert nodded.
"So, at this stage, she is ruled out" said Albert. "She won't be on my short list. I suppose the best plan would be to take my list to a matrimonial agency, and let them get on with it. They do it with computers, you know". Oggy shook his head.
"You're barmy, you are", he observed. "If any lady decides to marry you, you'll have no say in the matter. They pick you. You don't pick one from a catalogue. At this very minute, some lady might have you on her short list". Albert smiled.
"Not a chance. They haven't got trained military minds, you see. Logic, that's the secret. The Battle of Waterloo was won because Wellington used logic".
"What about Napoleon?", demanded Oggy.
"Probably thinking about Josephine at the time", explained Albert. "That's the trouble with the French, easily sidetracked. So, it seems I've got two options. As I see it, I can either take my list to the Matrimonial Agency, or enrol in the cookery class at the local college".
"Don't be daft", scoffed Oggy. "You're chickening out. I could find you dozens of women who could pass your requirements. Well, some of them, at least. And, you don't have to go to a Matrimonial Agency, they cost a bomb. I'll take you down to the Darby and Joan club tomorrow, introduce you. At your own risk, mind. Been the ruination of many a happy bachelor, that club!".