Adrian Sturrock: ‘I notice her knuckles whitening around her wine glass as she surveys the batter and flour wasteland that used to be our kitchen.’

I’ve managed to get home early from work so I’ve decided to use my time constructively by doing nothing productive whatsoever. I’m not very good at this so I’ve decided that some self-discipline is in order.

     I’ve chosen a movie, which is sitting in its case on the kitchen unit beside me, and am currently making a quick snack to go with the cup of tea that I’m about to put my feet up with. As I prepare this, I flip on the radio. The DJ is playing a retro montage of ‘70s songs. At the moment, ‘How deep is your love?’ is filling the room.

     After a few choruses, I feel compelled to confront this quite frankly disturbing line of questioning. ‘Mr Gibb,’ I say, turning to address the radio as I take the milk out of the fridge, ‘I really don’t know how to answer your question. And, more to the point, I’m really not sure I want to.’ I leave a space for the significance of my words to sink in before adding, ‘Oh, and … Hashtag: ‘Me-Too?’

     His response is not unexpected: ‘How deep is your love, your love, how deep is your love?

     I fear he’s taunting me. ‘Does your wife know that you go around pestering innocent people with your inappropriate questions?’ I ask this as I pour hot water onto the tea bag in my cup. I’ve decided that I’m not going to shy away from his harassment a moment longer.

     ‘Who are you talking to?’ asks a voice behind me.

     I jump and spin around, pouring hot water across the work surface and onto the floor. ‘I … um … I didn’t hear you come in,’ I say.

     Nat looks at me and then down at the mess I’ve made. ‘Could have been worse’, she says, ‘I could have phoned you while you were ironing.’

     I subconsciously touch my ear as I reach for a cloth to wipe up the mess.

     ‘Anyway, hello,’ she says, before repeating, ‘Who were you talking to just then?’

     ‘Barry,’ I say.

     ‘Barry?’

     ‘Gibb. Barry Gibb. Off of the Bee Gees. He seems to have taken it upon himself to start asking me unbefitting questions. Quite honestly, he was getting a little creepy just before you walked in on us. I was just letting him know that I’m not that kind of guy and that I don’t appreciate his approach.’

     Nat rolls her eyes. ‘His “approach?” You do know that it’s not all about you, right?’ She smiles at me as she takes off her shoes.

     ‘That’s the problem with celebrity,’ I whisper, covering the sides of the radio with the palms of my hands, ‘It so often goes to people’s heads. To be honest, I think he might be stalking me.’ I remove my hands and continue to dry off the last of the water on the floor.

     ‘I bet he’ll have forgotten all about you by tomorrow,’ says Nat.

     ‘I hope so,’ I say. Would you like a cup of tea?’

     ‘Did you just say wine?’ she corrects.

     ‘I think I might have,’ I say.

     Barry eventually desists, and we go into the lounge, in order to … lounge.

* * * * * * * *

‘Why are you home so early,’ I ask, realising that my movie-watching afternoon is now seriously in jeopardy.

     ‘I thought I’d take a few hours off,’ she says, ‘so that we can make pancakes together.’ She points to a small bag of ‘stuff’ that she has brought home with her.

     ‘Pancakes?’

      ‘It’s pancake day,’ she says. ‘Shrove … thingy.’

     ‘Tuesday?’

     ‘Why not.’ She replaces my tea with a glass of wine and a smile.

     ‘Thank you,’ I say, returning the smile but keeping the wine. ‘What’s a shrove?’

     ‘It’s the past tense of “to shrive”,’ she tells me.

     I pause. ‘Nope … I’ve got nothing from that,’ I say.

     ‘It’s old English. It means to confess.’

     ‘So, once a year, on a Tuesday, we all confess our … pancakes?’

     ‘Exactly that,’ she says. ‘It’s a crazy, mixed-up world, isn’t it? But, these days, the “mixed-up” comes in a handy-sized packet.’ She pulls out a batter mix sachet from her bag.

     ‘Don’t you just love convenience,’ I say, admiring the wine bottle.

* * * * * * * *

Not everything is convenient, however. Apparently, the highest ever successful pancake toss was achieved in New York, in 2010, at 9.47 metres. Unlike New York, though, our kitchen has a ceiling. This ceiling comes in at just under 3 metres, which is why, as I explain to Nat, my pancake tossing doesn’t seem to be going so well.

     In her attempt to encourage me to take a full part in our ‘shrovery’ (I just made that word up), she says nothing, though I do notice her knuckles whitening a little around her wine glass as she surveys the mess I’m making.

      ‘Um … Not a problem,’ I say as I hand her the first of the pancakes that haven’t attached themselves to light fittings or kitchen appliances. ‘Fourth time lucky?’

     ‘Apparently, in medieval times, the first three pancakes cooked were sacred and were marked with the cross before being set aside to ward off evil.’

     ‘I’d clearly make a good Christian,’ I reply, ‘though other religions are available.’ I say this as another piece of pancake slips past us from above, and lands limply on the floor for the cat to survey. This is the point at which I realise that I will probably have to forego any idea of relaxing with a movie, in favour of cleaning up the batter and flour wasteland that used to be our kitchen.

     Behind us, through the radio, the familiar voice of Barry Gibb continues to harass me: ‘If I can’t have you, I don’t want nobody, baby, If I can’t have you …’

    ‘See,’ I say, ‘Absolutely relentless. He just won’t take no for an answer.’

* * * * * * * *

 

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Adrian Sturrock: In my opinion, the Von Trapps were rather shoddy in their taking up of references

Forty kilometres north of Salzburg is the small town of Fucking. Honestly. That’s its name. My wife tells me we’re not going there. Somehow, this doesn’t surprise me. What does surprise me is that, despite its name, the town’s total population comprises of only 104 inhabitants. One of life’s ironies, I suppose.

I’m told that the only crime in Fucking is the ongoing theft of the town’s signage. In 2004, there was a vote to decide whether the town should change its name in order to rid itself of its growing notoriety. The townspeople quite rightly chose to hold on to their 800-year-old tradition, and the name stayed. As the town’s Mayor pointed out, “Everyone here knows what it means in English, but for us, Fucking is Fucking – and it’s going to stay Fucking”. This puts me in mind of Theresa May’s “Brexit is Brexit”. I’d argue that this particular F word remains valid here too.

‘It says here that the ‘u’ is pronounced ‘oo’, as in ‘book’’, Nat tells me.

‘Fook. Fooking.’ I audition the word for myself. ‘Isn’t that what people from Manchester do?’

‘Just keep driving, dear,’ she says,

* * * * * * * *

Today, there is no Fucking for us. Instead, we are driving an hour and a half south-east of Salzburg, to the small lakeside town of Hallstatt, reputedly the oldest still-inhabited town in Europe, even pre-dating Rome. Much of the drive takes us through immaculate countryside, past villages, hills and forest. We have time on our side this morning, and so we decide to drive leisurely, to take it all in.

‘What was the name of the family that Mary Poppins nannied for in ‘The Sound of Music’,’ I ask Nat.

At this point, we’re sitting at the side of the road, having taken a break to stretch our legs. We’re sat on the warm ground, looking across at large open fields opposite, which are dotted with occasional wooden houses, and cows.

‘Mary Poppins was a separate film,’ Nat tells me, as she hands me some water.

‘Yes, but same nanny,’ I say.

‘Yes, but different name.’

‘Same face though?’ I hand the water back to her.

‘Yes, but different name,’ she repeats.

I consider this for a moment. ‘… It’s good that more vigorous ID checks are done these days,’ I say.

‘What?’

‘Well, if a nanny feels the need to change her name, professionally … well, that screams of trouble.’

‘It was a different film,’ says Nat, smiling.

‘The principle still stands. A nanny moves from one family to the next but with different identities? Some basic questions need to be asked. In my opinion, the Von Trapps were rather shoddy in their taking up of references. What did Mary Poppins call herself while with the Von Trapps?

Nat sighs. ‘Maria.’

‘Mary. Maria. Not a great leap … Hey, it was during the war. Do you think she was a spy?’

‘What?’

‘A spy. You know, using nannying as a way of infiltrating Nazi-occupied Europe. Now that’s something that the movie didn’t document.’

‘Well, I …’

‘That’s the trouble with populist journalism, it very often does little more than scratch the surface of an issue. In fact, in this instance, it didn’t even do that. If I had been in charge …’

‘Get in the car,’ says Nat, standing up and brushing herself down with the palms of her hands.

‘If I was in charge …’

‘I said get in the car.’

* * * * * * * *