Unlocking – Mabel’s journey through the pandemic one coffee at a time

Mabel didn’t normally pick up shiny brochures. They were just junk, really, and ended up in the recycling. A lot of effort for nothing. She didn’t normally go into the library these days either. She had plenty of books on her Kindle and there was plenty to watch on the telly.  She’d just missed one bus and the next wouldn’t be here for another twenty minutes. She almost wished she hadn’t bothered coming into town. It was a bit scary after all of those weeks cooped up at home. And it was bitterly cold out there. But you had to make the effort, didn’t you?

You couldn’t really ignore that brochure, though; it was so colourful.

“Go on,” said the young girl who was sitting at the desk. “They’re free, you know, all of the courses. They’re just tasters. And if you like them you can join the full course later. They’re reasonably priced and there are concessions for people like…”

Mabel cleared her throat. “You mean for old ducks like me?”

The young girl smiled and blushed. But then she seemed to get herself back together again. “Why don’t you go and try our new café area? You can have a nice cup of coffee while you have a look through your brochure and if there’s anything you fancy you can come and book it here before you leave.”

Well, yes that was tempting. Mabel was only just beginning to go out again after the lockdown. It would be nice to have a few people around her. She’d had her booster now, over two weeks ago. She should be pretty safe, shouldn’t she?

She was soon seated in the café. A very pleasant young man came and took her order and she settled down with her brochure and started looking through it.

“Do you mind if I join you?” said a voice. “Only you haven’t taken one of the cards.”

One of the cards? What was that about?

A man she reckoned was about the same age as herself was smiling at her and showing her a sign that said Please join me and let’s have a chat.

“There’s plenty of room for us to keep our distance and still be able to hear each other.”

Well, she couldn’t really refuse, could she?

After a few minutes she was glad she hadn’t. The gentleman had explained about the cards you could take to say that you didn’t mind if someone joined your table. “It’s a way of getting people to actually talk to each other instead of being stuck on their phone or in their own heads.”

It did seem like a good idea. The only trouble was, she’d missed the next bus. Oh well. She’d just better order another coffee to drink while she looked though the brochure.

“Coming right up,” said the young man who’d served her before. He looked pleased with himself. What? Was he on commission? She’d better remember to leave him a tip. What was it they said? For every £1.00 of free travel the concessionary pass gave the old folk they spent £2.80, adding to the economy? Well it was looking very accurate today. The coffee aws £1.20 a cup. And if she added a tip….

The second cup of coffee arrived and she carried on thumbing through her brochure.

The first thing that caught her eye was about making bird-feeders. They did look rather good. You could attach them to a pole or a fence in the garden or even just to your front door. Would the birds come to the front door, though? Wasn’t that too much human territory?

She missed her little garden sometimes. The warden-assisted apartment where she now lived was very comfortable and it always felt safe. There were some pretty gardens round there as well, but she doubted whether they’d allow her to put her bird-feeder there. She could just imagine old Rodgers, the warden, – a decent chap but he could get on his high horse sometimes – saying “On no, no. It would probably attract the rats.” Same argument she supposed about putting one on her balcony. And they’d be working out of doors to make them. That wouldn’t be so good for her arthritis. No, better give the bird-feeder a miss, then.

She missed the birds, though, she really did.

Next there was a suggestion about making decorations for the home from items you could find in your garden. Gardens again. This would be a total non-starter for her. What would Rodgers say if he saw her snooping around taking bits of greenery? No, this would not do.

Mind you, the examples they were showing did look good.

The free session would be about making Christmas decorations for the home. Well, that figured; it was nearly the end of November.

Suddenly she remembered when she and her family had lived in the Netherlands briefly. There had been evenings in early December of sitting with other women making such decorations. Everyone had brought a long bits and pieces from their gardens and had shown each other their own particular tricks. And it was always accompanied by several glasses of red wine.

A nice idea. But not very practical for her, really.

What else was there?

Ah, now that looked interesting.  Making things for the home from what you might otherwise recycle. Fun for the grandkids. That would be something. Hopefully they would be able to visit this Christmas. Last year had been such a disappointment.

The sample session looked interesting. You were to take along used wine bottles, scraps of wrapping paper and decorative paper napkins. There were some pictures of some very attractive lamps made from these items.

Well, she didn’t have any empty wine bottles but Mrs and Mrs Beck next door always had wine with their main meals at the weekends. She could ask them to keep some bottles for her. And she’d certainly got some odd bits and pieces of wrapping paper and colourful serviettes. It didn’t matter if they were a bit crumpled, the brochure said.

Should she be encouraging Ann and Jeremy to make things from wine bottles, though? Would pop bottles do? Anyway, it did say something about home-made cards as well.

She looked at the clock.  Goodness. She’d just missed another bus.

Well, should she do this thing or not?

She slipped on her coat and started to make her way out of the café.

As she walked into the foyer she spotted the young girl who’d spoken to her earlier.

“Still here? Did you enjoy your coffee?”

“Yes thank you. It was very nice. They’ve done a good job with the new café.”

The girl nodded towards the brochure Mabel was still clutching. “Did anything grab your fancy?”

“Well, I was thinking of trying the one where you make lamps from old wine bottles.”

The girl nodded. “They’re good aren’t they? I know the lady who runs the class. She’s really nice. Why don’t you come on through? I can sign you up.”

“Well, I …”

“You can always cancel if you change your mind.”

Ah well. It looked as if she was going to miss another bus.

Two weeks later Mabel walked into the library again. She had four wine bottles in her beloved bright orange tote bag. The assortment of paper napkins and wrapping paper wasn’t quite enough to stop the bottles rattling as she walked. What would people think? Well, let them think what they liked. She was here to have a bit of fun and learn a few new tricks. She was, wasn’t she? Or was she just going to make a fool of herself? She suddenly remembered craft lessons from school when her little paper baskets had been so lopsided or her raffia mats had been all lumpy.

She took a deep breath and walked into the main reading room. A big table was set out in the middle of the room and on it were three of the pretty lamps. They looked even nicer in real life than they had done on the brochure.

“Do come in,” said a woman who was wearing a bright red jumper with a snowman on it. Her mask had a picture of a reindeer on it. Earrings that looked like Christmas puddings dangled from her ears. “I’m Maud and I’ll be your workshop leader today.” She nodded towards Mabel’s bag. “Do show me what you’ve got in there.”

Mabel put the bag down on the table and started unpacking.

“Oh, yes those are nice.” Maud was looking at the slightly crumpled tartan paper napkins. “They’ll turn out really well.”

“Nice to see you gain,” said a voice from behind. She turned to see the man she’s shared a table with in the cafe. “You can share my table if you like. We can still keep our distance.”

Yes, that would be nice.

Maud nodded. “We’ll get started soon. When a few more have arrived.”

People were coming in now and Mabel was surprised at how much she was looking forward to this. It would be a bit difficult to make a wine bottle lop-sided or lumpy, wouldn’t it?


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