“You’re not very brown,” I tell Tony when we are alone together.
Let’s just say I have been taking the opportunity to admire the muscle definition he is building up working in their garden this summer. Not too much, just enough. Not a full-on muscle puppet some think they need to be. I’m not as scrawny as I was either. I started doing some exercises in May after the Civil War thing in the park and I saw my picture in the local paper. Tony hasn’t commented but I know he likes what he sees.
Although it’s only few days since I last saw him, it’s has only just struck me that he is not as brown as I might have expected.
“With all this good weather we’ve been having, I thought you’d have got a good tan by now,” I add in explanation of my comment. “Working outside with your shirt off.” I smile and waggle my eyebrows, but he’s not looking at my face.
It has been hot and sunny for weeks now. We haven’t had any rain for over a month. I’m envious of Tony working outside while I am inside at Dad’s company.
“Huh! I’m still browner than you!” There is an element of fake umbrage in Tony’s tone.
Before I can reply that that is hardly surprising, given that I am working indoors all day, Tony continues.
“But you’re wrong. I haven’t had my shirt off that much. I tried, but most days the sun has been too strong. I can feel myself burning after only a few minutes, so I keep my shirt on. There has been very little cloud, so no respite from the sun in their passing shadows. At least Dad has found me an old straw hat to keep my head cool. It works, too. Wearing my long work shorts, only my lower legs and ankles are exposed.”
I can see his point. Where we live, it’s unusual to have such a long spell of hot dry weather without any cloud, never mind no rain. We’re not used to it like they are in other parts of the world. However, with climate change, we can expect more exceptional weather in future.
Something else I can see, but in my mind’s eye, there’s a vision of him in his gardening gear and his dad’s straw hat. I find that scarecrow look quite a turn on. I save that thought for later and ask something else.
“Shouldn’t your hands be brown, though?”
We put our shirts on and go downstairs, heading for the garden.
As we go through their utility room, I ask what he has been doing in the few days since I last visited his house.
“Not much to see,” Tony replies. “Mostly watering — trying to stop everything dying in this heat. Especially the vegetables. You know how obsessive Dad is about his veg patch.”
We step out into the area between the utility room and the garage. This part of the garden looks scruffy, but at least it’s hidden from public view.
“I see you haven’t started on this bit yet. Do you know what you are going to do with it?”
“Mum still wants to use it for hanging out the washing. So we’ll probably widen the path and redo it with paving flags so she doesn’t have to stand on the grass to reach the line. Otherwise I don’t know. Dad can’t decide if he wants to rebuild the garage — Mum says it’s unsightly with its tin roof. Dad is worried about the cost. He also says we might need planning permission. It’s old — almost as old as the house — and we’re in the conservation area here. Until he’s made up his mind, there’s no point in doing much.”
I have been looking around the area while Tony has been talking.
“They weren’t here before,” I say, pointing at an old table and some stools that are on the grass.
“I dug them out of the garage. We’ve been eating our meals out here. It does save me having to get changed at lunchtime. Mum won’t let me eat in the house in my gardening gear.”
Tony’s parents are a bit more formal than mine, so that doesn’t surprise me. It does give me an idea to wind him up.
“Even when you’re outside, I bet she still insists on a tablecloth!”
Tony’s grunt and his body language tell me I’m right.
Raj, Naveem and I are with the uncles in the kitchen of the Indian restaurant.
“Boys, we need to be extra careful making sure the bins are closed,” one of the uncles says as we are having a pre-service chat. “We’ve seen a squirrel on the roof of the outbuildings several times. Occasionally it drops down into the yard and investigates. It was on the bins this morning.”
“It needs to be careful. Merkin will have it if she sees it.” Naveen comments.
“She’ll not find it easy. Squirrels can climb better and higher than her,” Raj retorts. The uncle shuts the brothers’ conversation down.
“Never mind the cat,” he says. “We don’t want squirrels getting in the bins. They make a terrible mess, spreading stuff around the yard.”
We finish our snacks and get ready for opening the restaurant.
It is another busy night and in this weather it soon gets stiflingly hot in the kitchen. I must be sweating a lot as I’m drinking gallons of water and yet never need to take a leak.
Whenever any of us get the chance, we go into the yard to try and get some fresh and hopefully cooler air.
Nav is taking a turn by the door, when he calls out to us. “If you’ve got a minute, come and have a look at this.”
I go across to him and look out into the yard.
“There. What’s that squirrel up to?” Nav points in the direction of the nearest outbuilding. On the stone slab in the doorway a squirrel is laid out, front and back legs spread out. It doesn’t seem to be taking any notice of us. “Do you think it’s all right?” Nav asks.
Tony and I had seen a squirrel doing this in the park the other day. Of course Tony knew the term for it.
“It’s splooting,” I reply. “Trying to cool off.” I look at where the sun is shining in the yard. “That part of the yard doesn’t get as much sun so the stones must be cooler.”
Raj and the uncles take it in turns looking at the squirrel.
“I could do with doing that,” says one of the uncles. “I think it’s hotter here today than when I was taken to see family in the old country.”
“When was that?” I ask. He picks up an implied meaning I hadn’t intended.
“When I was about your age. I’m no more acclimatised to the heat than you are.”
After clean-up, we sit down for our usual review of the session over a staff curry. I’m going to have to cut out evening meals at home because of all these staff curries and snacks.
Raj is reading through the kitchen tickets.
“Thought so,” he says. “Every order had at least one portion of chicken tikka masala. They say it’s now Britain’s national dish.”
Tell me about it. I’ve done that many, I think I could cook it in my sleep.
“It might be popular but it’s not a traditional Indian dish,” one of the uncles comments.
“No,” adds the other uncle. “It was invented by the chef at an Indian restaurant in Glasgow to suit local tastes.”
“Nobody can deny it’s British, then.” I say.
Raj continues his report.
“You need to order more beer tomorrow. This hot weather is making the punters drink much more.”
So it’s not just me drinking gallons.
Dad’s company has me working in the hottest part of the process plant this week. It would be hot enough in winter, but in this summer’s heat it’s sweltering. To add to my discomfort, I have to wear a boiler suit. Normally I would wear overalls over my working clothes but in this heat I strip down to my underwear to put my boiler suit on. I soon learn not to be embarrassed when changing. Even with reduced clothing, I’m still lathered. It’s hotter than the kitchen at the Indian.
The section foreman, who looks even older than Grandad, keeps reminding me to drink plenty to avoid dehydration from sweating so much. He also tells me that when he first started work, they had a beer ration for hydration and electrolyte levels. None of that now. “ ’Elf an’ Safety would have a fit,” he says. “Water and salt tablets just aren’t the same.”
Today is particularly hot and muggy and, when I go to join Dad in his office at lunch time, it seems to be getting worse. As I pass a window, I also notice that the sky looks heavy.
“I got us meal deals from the supermarket today,” Dad says as he hands me a pack of sandwiches, a fruit yoghurt and a soft drink. They all feel close to freezing. “They keep the sandwiches and drinks in chilled displays. The sandwich shop makes up their sandwiches to order so only the fillings are chilled. I thought you’d prefer the colder ones today.” Good thinking!
Dad he has bought me egg mayonnaise sandwiches. Not because they are the cheapest but because I asked him to. I find them cool and easy to digest in this hot weather. Dad doesn’t agree. Each to their own, I suppose.
“What’s it like out?” I ask Dad as I tussle with the sandwich packaging. Dad uses one of our family clichés when replying.
“A bit black over Bill’s mother’s. I think we’re in for a thunder storm.”
Even though Dad has the light on in his office, it seems to get darker as we talk and eat our lunches. I have just taken the last bite of my first sandwich when there is a flash followed almost immediately by the rumble of thunder and the sound of rain outside.
“Pretty much overhead,” Dad remarks.
I mumble agreement through my mouthful of egg mayonnaise. He has told me before that you can estimate how far away the storm is by the time lag between the lightning and the thunderclap. Roughly six seconds per mile.
We listen to the sounds of the storm as we eat. Judging by the flashes and bangs, it seems to be moving away quite quickly. I mention this to Dad.
“Yes. Moving in the direction of home, I think. Won’t be long before it hits there.” Dad looks out of the window. “The rain has just about stopped.”
The storm was quite intense but can’t have lasted more than ten minutes.
I have just finished my lunch when I hear Dad’s mobile ping for an incoming text.
“What’s he want?” Dad asks himself as he opens his phone and sees who the message is from. I’m intrigued when I see him start to smile.
“Who is it from?”
I don’t get a reply and I can’t read his phone upside down as Dad is holding it leaning towards him. He stabs at the screen. I guess he is opening an attachment. Dad looks at it and starts laughing.
“He’s a daft bugger,” Dad says when he has calmed down enough to talk.
“Why?” I give Dad some side-eye in Tony’s defence. “Who’s that from?”
“It’s a picture from Bert; well, his missus actually. He’s just forwarded it. Come round here and have a look for yourself and then tell me he isn’t daft!” As I walk round and start looking at the picture Dad continues his explanation “Bert says Tony and his mum were just about to have lunch in the garden when the storm hit. They whipped the washing off the line — leaving half the pegs by the look of it — and into the house. Then Tony took his gardening gear off and went back out!”
The picture shows Tony sitting on the garden table in just his underpants in the pouring rain. Letting it wash over him. I study the picture for a while before I comment.
“Not daft. He’s just enjoying the rain. We haven’t had any for weeks.” My tone must be wistful as Dad picks up on it.
“Yeah. I wish I could have been there and done it myself.”
Dad goes pensive.
“I don’t think I’ve stood out in the rain like that since before you were born. It’s nice, isn’t it? As long as the rain isn’t too cold.”
You know something? I think Dad is jealous too!
“He shouldn’t have done it though. Not in a thunderstorm.” Dad has moved into teaching mode.
“I suppose not,” I reply. “You should get inside, shouldn’t you? And if you’re out, don’t stand under a lone tree in case it gets zapped and gets you. They say squat down with your head between your knees, don’t they?” I think of something else that gets me worried. “Tony is okay, isn’t he? Bert wouldn’t have sent the photo over if he wasn’t, would he?”
“I think he’ll be all right.” Dad reassures me. “The speed the storm front was moving, it had probably passed over by the time they got the washing in and Tony got undressed and back out. Even then the garage with its tin roof is likely to have attracted any lightning still around and kept it from barbecuing Tony!”
“Thanks for that thought,” I grump at Dad.
“Having said that,” he continues, “they shouldn’t have messed about getting the washing in. They should have gone straight indoors.” Dad looks out of the window. “It’s brightened up. They could have left the washing and it would soon be dry again.”
I get my phone out to call Tony. Dad starts chuckling again.
“Don’t bother,” he says. “Dressed like that he won’t have his phone with him.”
It’s time for me to get back to the process plant. As I get up and move towards the door, Dad has to have the last word.
“Here’s a thought for you,” he says, grinning like the Cheshire Cat. “Out in the rain like that, Tony’s underpants will have got soaked. If he goes back to work in the garden this afternoon, he’ll probably be going commando!”
It is a thought though. One that’s with me all afternoon.
Copyright © Pedro, July 2023
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