Friday, 27 November 2009

Chapter 38 - A Big Decision

It is surprising how a good night's sleep can focus the mind and rev one up for the possiblity of a bright new future. Mrs Miggins slept well that night, despite the hefty cheese content of her pasty, the charcoal finish to her barbacue wedges and one too many scoops of butterscotch ice-cream. She stirred in her sleep, briefly, when Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe returned from their curry fest, giggling and shushing each other, and tripping over the pile of loo roll tubes that were on the stairs waiting to go into the recycling bin. Mrs Miggins was usually very particular about saving the inner tubes of loo rolls because they made excellent root trainers for her runner beans and peas come the spring sowing, but just before she had gone to bed, she'd had a magnificent idea for the future of herself and her friends, and that idea did not include the stock-piling of cardboard tubing.

And so it was that on the day Boom Penguin and his band would vacate her life once more, Laetita Miggins was up with sun, or at least the latest downpour of rain, and getting to grips with the Sunday papers and a goodly pile of toast and marmalade. By her side, spread open on the table, was a notebook and at the top of the first page a heading written in bold black capitals - 'MY LIFE PLAN'. The page was still blank, but the ideas were buzzing in Miggins' head; it was just that she didn't want to get marmalade on the paper.

Mrs Pumphrey appeared in the kitchen, her pink satin eye mask lifted just far enough for her to see where she was going. She paused briefly, to give herself a chance to adjust to the fluorescent lighting, and then shuffled her way to the table, where she slumped in a chair and smiled weakly, but gratefully, at Mrs Miggins who poured her a mug of strong tea with six sugars stirred in briskly.

'Good curry night?' said Mrs Miggins.
'Yes, indeed,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'You should have come. You'd have enjoyed it. Betty climbed a lamp post and couldn't get down, so we had to form a poultry pyramid, and then Boom and Dave got arrested for drawing a moustache on a policeman in green biro, but when the policeman recognised who they were he let them off and said he would never clean off the moustache, ever, ever...'

'I get the gist,' said Mrs Miggins. 'Where's Betty?'
'Asleep on the bannister rail,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'She sort of ground to a halt on the landing when we came in last night, and I draped her over the bannister to sleep it off. When I walked past her just now, she was wearing loo rolls on each leg. I'm not sure how that happened.'

Mrs Miggins sighed. It sounded as though things were getting back to normal already.

'Anyway,' she said, 'I've been thinking about our future.'
'Have you?' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'Well, someone had to,' said Mrs Miggins. 'I mean, we've got to fill our time productively whilst the Manor is being rebuilt. We can't sit around twiddling our wings and watching muscly builders push wheelbarrows of cement around and carry hods of bricks up and down ladders for the next few months, can we?'
'Oh, I don't know,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'Sound quite appealing to me.'
'We need to have a purpose,' said Mrs Miggins firmly. 'And I think I have found that purpose.

When Mrs Pumphrey didn't offer the expected words of encouragement, Mrs Miggins continued.
'We can't do any gardening or veg growing this year,' she said. 'So the 'Organic Hen Cafe' will have to close down for a while, because we'll be short on ingredients. But what I thought we could do was open up Cluckinghen Palace to lodgers. Turn it into a bed and breakfast. We could even offer themed holidays. For example, you could run a ballroom dancing week. We could get Tango Pete and Cha-Cha Lil in as the resident dance profesionals.'
'I see,' said Mrs Pumphrey.
'Of course, we'll have to decide who does what,' siad Mrs Miggins, who, having wiped her sticky wings clean, was now jotting down ideas in her notebook. 'There will be business accounts to keep, that'll be my job, and lots of laundry to do. Cleaning, as well, and getting up early to cook breakfasts. But I think we could do it. I think we three hens could pull together as a team and make this work. And then once the Manor has been rebuilt, we can take over the garden again, open up the 'Organic Hen Cafe' and everything will get back to how it was before.'

She looked hopefully at Mrs Pumphrey, who, for some reason, appeared less than excited about this plan.

'It all sounds,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'But, well, it also sounds a bit, well, dull, too. Don't you think?'
'Dull?' said Mrs Miggins. 'DULL??'We'd be meeting new people all the time, we'd be on the go from six in the morning until ten at night, we won't have time to think about dull.'
'And maybe the fire was meant to be,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'Perhaps it happened to show us that there is a bigger world out there, and sometimes you have to move on and leave the past behind. Perhaps it is our time to grow in a different direction away from the Manor.'

At that point, Mrs Slocombe appeared in the kitchen, looking decidely chipper for a hen that had spent the last few hours asleep on a bannister rail with her legs in loo roll tubes.
'Have you told her?' she said, plonking herself at the table and helping herself to the last slice of toast.
'Ssshhh,' hissed Mrs Pumphrey.
'Told me what?' said Mrs Miggins.
'About us going on tour with 'Boom Penguin',' said Mrs Slocombe, excitedly. 'Cor, it'll be great. All the glamour, the fame, the celebrity, the telly appearances, the free jelly beans in the dressing rooms...'
'You're doing what?' said Mrs Miggins, feeling suddenly faint.
'It's not really been decided properly,' said Mrs Pumphrey, shooting Mrs Slocombe a warning look which Mrs Slocombe studiously ignored because she was beak-deep in butter and marmalade.
'We're leaving later this morning,' said Mrs Slocombe. 'Poulet Nous are going to be famous!'

* * * * * * * * *

'So you're really going?' said Mrs Miggins.

She was standing in the rain under her 'Waterlilies by Monet' umbrella, watching as Dave and Boom loaded cases onto the tourbus. Cases that carried the clothes and personal effects of her two best and closest friends in the whole world.

'It's a golden opportunity,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'And you can come with us. See the world. Spread the tunes of Abba across the globe...'
'I think Abba have already done that quite effectively for themselves,' said Mrs Miggins tersely.
'You know what I mean,' said Mrs Pumphrey. 'Please come with us. Please.'

Mrs Miggins looked back at the space where Much Malarkey Manor had once stood. If she squinted, she could just see the blurry outline of the Manor's phantom spirit, for the essence of the building had been strong, its character built from years of tradition and love and family, and not even the raging flames of an intense inferno could destroy that essence. Or perhaps it was a combination of Mrs Miggins' imagination and the tears that were stinging her eyes as she prepared to say farewell to her friends.

Turning back to Betty and Gloria, she shook her head, slowly.

'I'm sorry, 'she said. 'I can't leave my home. This is where I belong.'

The tour bus was loaded and ready to go, the equipment lorry impatiently revving its engine, keen to make tracks to Margate. Dave was standing by his limousine, holding open the back door. Boom was already inside. He can't even come and say 'goodbye', thought Mrs Miggins. Once again, that bloody kakapo has broken my heart.
'Go, go,' she said, shooing Mrs Pumphrey and Mrs Slocombe briskly with her wings. 'Have fun. Knock 'em dead. Break a leg.'

'We'll phone. Every day!' called Mrs Pumphrey over her shoulder as she and Mrs Slocombe ran to the limousine, their best 'Poulet Nous' high heels schlepping through the mud.
'Of course you will,' said Mrs Miggins, softly. 'Of course you will.'

She stood and waited, waving until the last vehicle in the convoy disappeared from view, and then slowly she turned and faced Cluckinghen Palace. Already it seemed forbidding, full of the ghosts and echoes of a friendship now gone, of the memories of laughter and madness and a busy, happy life. Perhaps Mrs Pumphrey was right. Perhaps things were never going to be the same and it was useless to try and make it so. Perhaps the best thing to do is to move on to new things, and to leave the past where it lay - in a smoky, blackened, charred mess of a muddy field.

A hand rested gently on the place where a hen's shoulder would be if hens had shoulders. It was Andy.

'Denise says come and join us in the caravan,' he said. 'For a cuppa and a muffin.'
'What flavour muffin?' asked Mrs Miggins, her eyes still misty and fixed on the Manor gateway.
'Triple chocolate chip,' said Andy.
'My favourite,' said Mrs Miggins.
'We know,' said Andy.

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