The old lady smell

“They smelt of pubs and Wormwood Scrubs and too many right wing meetings”.

That is Paul Weller complaining about a bit of hassle down in the tube station at midnight.

I spent a day helping out at a fete organised to raise funds for an old folks home.   Specifically, the home in question caters for “widows and female dependants of those who have served in the Armed Forces of the Crown”.  If you close your eyes and use a fair bit of imagination it can be imagined as a geriatric dating service for Chelsea Pensioners (and those of you outside the UK who have never been to London will just have to go and google them to see what they look like).

To be fair, none of the residents smelled of Wormwood Scrubs and there was also an absence of Teen Spirit, so Kurt Cobain would also have felt a bit left out.

I was in charge of (wait for it), roll a penny.  In truth, because of inflation and previous incompetence from a variety of British governments the board has gravitated to “roll a ten pence”.   It’s a cash cow for fetes because (and don’t tell anyone I told you this) people give you a pound for change and you give them ten 10p coins back.   They then use all of the 10p coins because they don’t want a purse/pocket full of shrapnel.   It also seems that when you give out the prizes in 10p coins they just put them straight back on the board.   Like I said, it is a winner.   If only we had a £5 coin then the possibility of early retirement would be greatly enhanced.

I had a side line of handbags to sell.   Second hand ones of course.   You can imagine that thirty or so ladies who have reached a decent age have accumulated many and varied handbags and were more than happy to offload a few in the name of making a few bob to aid their current care home.    I think it fair to say that I’m not a great handbag connoisseur so I started dealing with queries about the price of any bag with my tried and tested “Well just how much would you like to pay for it”.   You can generally then double the price and get beaten down by 25% and everybody is happy.    It became quite challenging to keep both stalls running slickly at the same time so we ended up with a market stall cry of “All handbags are two quid”.   I suspect that some people got a real bargain.

My little emporium was set up inside what is presumably at other times a dining room.   I’m basing this assumption on the fact that my seat was actually an electric powered hostess trolley and that at various stages during the day some of the more interesting residents queried whether I’d be bringing out their cottage pies at some stage soon.

Which brings me back to “old lady smell”.   Anybody visiting an aging aunt (especially one who is living on her own) will know it.   There’s a hint of camphor in there somewhere, a soupcon of overcooked cabbage and lingering aftertaste of parma violet.   For the less fortunate (and I hasten to say that this was not the case where I was) there is also a suspicion of incontinent pet in the air.   It’s generally not a bad smell at all, but it is always there, just at the back of your throat.

A break for lunch led me to the garden and an eclectic set of accompaniments to a bread roll being barbequed to within an inch of still being described as food.   There was also a young and very stressed lady in charge of a bouncy castle.   I offered to give her a break and become (for a brief moment in time) the East Molesley equivalent of Phineas Barnum.

I suppose you may be wondering what the clientele of a bouncy castle at a home for elegant elder ladies may look like.   It wasn’t until I sat down with my barbequed ferret and aubergine (or something similar) that it occurred to me that there might need to be both a minimum and a maximum age.   The previous defender of the castle had told me that all who bounced on her (the castle, not the young lady) needed to remove their shoes.   She didn’t mention whether it was okay to take a Zimmer frame aboard.    I had a brief but chilling vision of a set of 400 denier American tan stockings being ripped asunder by an out of control walking stick and having to break up a slow motion version of something out of Kill Bill.

Fortunately, my eldest customer was in her late 50’s and said “I just want a quick bounce because I’ve never had one before” – Well, what can you do?  I took a pound off her, she whipped off her Crocs and was legs akimbo and showing her bloomers before I even had the chance tell her not to climb on the walls.

The majority of the custom came from kids – grandchildren and great grandchildren of the residents.   I have to say it was possibly the worst 25 minutes of my life.   Put a child on a bouncy castle and immediately all sense of right and wrong goes out of the window (or at least up and over the walls).   Ye Gods.  They were like monsters and the noise was deafening.    I suspect I made a bit of a mistake when I started throwing things at them in a crazed attempt to try and keep them under control.  There was no way I was going to de-shoe and get on there myself.   I’ll risk my life like the next man but I reckon that my chances of survival were less than if I’d tried to break up a fight between an angry tiger and a black bear with a hangover.

I was saved by the return of the young lady.  I gladly gave her back the money belt and hastened inside for a refreshing cup of tea and a slice of lemon drizzle cake.  I did feel for her a little when a glance out of the window showed an irate parent questioning how little Tiffany had got covered in bits of bread roll and barbeque sauce.   Never again.

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