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Saturday, 4 July 2015

Sweet scents in the afternoon

My reaction is all wrong. I know it is. I shouldn't be so prejudiced. But it all goes back to Jim Girvan, my best pal in primary school. 

I made the mistake of telling Jim, when we were about 10, that I fancied going to university to become a scientist. I hadn't a clue what a university was, or a scientist come to that. But I'd discovered a dusty, blue-bound book in my Aunt Mary's attic in Kirkcaldy. It had glossy black-and-white photos of spiral galaxies and far distant nebulae.

The size and beauty of the universe took my breath away. It really did. I forgot to breathe for half a minute, then I gasped. The book was called The Marvels and Mysteries of the Universe. My Aunt Mary said I could keep it. That made me happy.

But it horrified Jim. "If you go to university you'll get posh and never speak to your old pals again," he said. 

I assured him no such thing would happen, but our friendship was never relaxed after that. I tried too hard not to be posh around him and it made me stiff and uncomfortable.

I'm still trying. I can feel him in there now, disapproving. Which is why I'm less enthusiastic about the new supermarket than young Rachel. "It's a better form of business," she says, as we pass the adverts for Barbour jackets and cello tutors. "There's no shareholders and the staff get a share of the profits. And they treat farmers better than other supermarkets."

"Ah ha!" I say. "That's your ethical system right there, isn't it? What's good for farmers is good, period. That's because you're a farmer's wife. I'm not so keen on farmers. They pollute the atmosphere."

"You don't half talk shit," she says.

"Precisely," I say. "We had farmers' sons in our class, Jim and me. Sweet scents wafted off them in the afternoon. 'A fine healthy smell,' they'd tell us. But it wasn't. It was cowshit. Or maybe horseshit. I'm not a shit expert."

"You're a shit judge of shops," she says. "This one's lovely.

"Yeah, if you like buttercup petal tea," I tell her. "Or yak's milk cheese. Or quails' eggs dipped in dark chocolate, with a hint of mint. 

"Look at this!" I shout, picking up a long, thin can with a sea-green label, and getting a sharp glance from a couple of blondes of uncertain age and eyebrows. 'Octopus testicles.' That's appalling. What kind of pervert eats octopus testicles?"

She takes the tin off me and reads the label. "Tentacles, you fool," she says. "Octopus tentacles."

"That's just as bad," I say. "Poor old octopus."

"Listen, I know what you'll like," she says. "It's very satisfying."

"What?" I say.

"Charlie's marmalade."

"That's some kind of euphemism, isn't it?" I say. "'Let's invite the neighbours around for a spot of Charlie's marmalade.' I think it's disgusting what you people get up to."

"Put a sock in it," she says, taking a jar off the shelf and pointing to the label. 'Duchy Originals, thick cut orange marmalade.' That's the company Prince Charles founded."

I take a look. "Read the rest," I tell her.

"Rich bittersweet marmalade made with fine Seville oranges, hand-stirred in open pans for a chunky texture and robust flavour," she reads. 

"Would you like a slice of toast and mahmalade, my deah?" I say, in my southern stupid voice. "It's hand-stirred in open pans for a chunky texture and robust flavour."

I shake my head. "I got to get away from here."

Outside in the car-park I sit sadly on the fence and look at the sky. Blue all over with a little fluffy job in one corner and the sun in the other. A blackbird trills in a nearby sycamore. It's kinda peaceful.

Rachel walks across the tarmac and sits beside me, annoyance all gone. "Listen pal, I bet Jim Girvan lives in Bearsden now, drives a four by four, grows aubergines in his garden and has beautiful vowels." 

She pats me on the head sympathetically. "It was a long time ago," she says. "You're middle class now. It's all right. Honest it is."

I am not convinced. And I hate it when posh people pat you on the head. I really do.

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