Tag Archives: Chipping Norton

Going Greene at the Oscars

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One of my lovely readers asked, “If Going Greene were a movie, who would you cast in the roles?” Great question, I thought; but I’m not much of a movie expert. So I thought I’d ask y’all instead:

If Going Greene were a movie, who would play Simon Greene? The Exquisite Mary Robins? Tommy Higgins? Bubba? Send me your answers — maybe you’ll win the Oscar for Best Casting for a Non-existent Film!

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Going Greene: Valen Times

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Believe it or not, Chipping Norton has a covey of posh restaurants nestled together in an upscale section of the Main Street. I haven’t told you about them because I never dine in any of them, and neither does anyone I know. They are mostly for the tourists who come to town for its quaint antique shops and its picturesque mountain views. But today is Valentine’s Day, and I have made reservations for Mary Robins and myself at the best of the posh restaurants, a place called Harfleur.

Harfleur is meticulously cozy with a pleasingly fussy wait staff. It smells faintly of lavender and starched linen. I imagine for a moment that I should like to be a regular here and hear the hostess say, “Good evening, Mr. Greene! Your usual table?” But that is before the waitress hands me a heavy menu bound in supple leather and filled with descriptions of food I cannot afford. I sneak a quick glance at Mary Robins – who tonight is truly exquisite – hoping she did not see me grimace at the prices. I reckon I shall need to sell at least five cases of expensive organic energy drinks to pay for this meal. No matter – tonight is a very big night. We order drinks and Mary Robins settles into her seat contentedly, an enormous smile upon her face.

“What is it?” I ask.

“This is very nice,” she replies. “I can’t remember the last time anyone asked me out for Valentine’s Day! It’s one of my favorite holidays, you know. When I was a kid, I looked forward to it like Christmas. We would always have a big party at school, and everybody would exchange cards. I loved that part. That was back when we would make our own cards. It used to mean so much to me that my schoolmates would put so much of themselves into making those sappy little cards. I used to call it Valen Times. Silly, huh?”

Mary Robins looks off dreamily into a world of her own – a far away, nearly forgotten refuge of innocence and idealism. It had always seemed to me as though the Higginses lived in a sort of fantasy world, free from the cynicism and smallness of modern life; but I realize now that that isn’t true. There was once a world we shall never get back: we have lost it all, the good and the bad, forever. And it occurs to me that perhaps it’s a good thing, every now and then, to remember Valen Times, and pray that some part of it will return to us some day.

I watch Mary Robins as she drifts slowly back to Earth, her eyes soft and warm, her attention now focused pleasantly on me. She reaches across the table and takes my hands in hers. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my consciousness I hear a Vivaldi adagio. Perhaps a candle flickers. I reach into my shirt pocket and fish out a small, velvet box.

© 2014 Middlechurch Musings, LLC

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Going Greene: Pub Quiz

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There is a buzz in the crisp night air as townspeople file into Mitzi’s Bar and Taxes to participate in Bubba’s pub quiz. Bubba has cajoled, brow-beaten, and harangued nearly a hundred locals into coming to his inaugural event, challenging people to form teams with risqué names and wear crazy costumes. Mitzi herself has gotten into the act by creating a special menu of “pub fare” for the occasion, with dishes like “Catfish and Chips” and “Bangers and Grits.” The band Pickens and Grinnen are here for the festivities, too, offering rousing renditions of bluegrass tunes.

As always seems to be the case in Chipping Norton a lively party breaks out, and soon the beer is flowing, the good cheer is shared, and everyone is on the floor dancing, having completely forgotten about the pub quiz. It takes a Herculean effort, but Bubba, who has appointed himself emcee, quiets the throng and reads the first question.

“What is the predominant phosphoprotein found in fresh milk?”

Since nearly everyone in Chipping Norton is a farmer of some sort, the crowd groans at the easiness of this first question; but I have no clue. The animal husbandry questions go on for a while before Bubba switches to “Types of Food in Deer Plots” and “Virginia’s Presidents.” I am outgunned, so I make myself useful by checking to make sure people’s glasses are properly charged, especially my own. At one point there is a momentary lull in activity, so I take the opportunity to shout above the murmuring din.

“Any of y’all need a beer?” I say with authority.

It is as if I have flipped a switch. My words invoke instant silence and two hundred incredulous eyes turn toward me at once. Tommy Higgins rises from where he is sitting and walks slowly over to me.

“What did you just say, Simon?” he inquires. I’m rattled and a bit confused, so I try my question again.

“I said, ‘Does anybody need a beer?’” I try.

“No, Simon,” says the exquisite Mary Robins in her angel’s voice. “You said, ‘Any of y’all need a beer?’”

“I most certainly did not!” I protest. Bubba drops the quiz cards he is holding and, his friend Mike in tow, rushes over to where I am standing.

“Too late!” he shouts gleefully. “You said ‘y’all’! You’re a real-live, bona fide Southerner now!” Bubba and Mike lift me to their shoulders to the whoops and hollers of everyone assembled, and parade me round and round Mitzi’s ramshackle restaurant. Pickens and Grinnen break into song. Dogs bark in the distance.

For the second time in six months my life appears to have made an abrupt change with the aid of an accident: first a fire, and now a slip of the tongue has literally placed me in a spot I’d never imagined I’d be. I never wanted to be Lord Greene. I only wanted to be like everyone else in this quirky, sleepy, little town. I think I’ll celebrate, too.

© 2014 Middlechurch Musings, LLC

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Going Greene: Musee des Beaux Arts

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The first crimson fingers of morning greet Chipping Norton as she cowers silently beneath a hoary frost. For the past twenty four hours a steady fall of snow has danced to the frozen ground, and virtually all commerce has ceased. The Greene Grocer, however, has been busier than I’ve ever seen it: my shelves were denuded of milk and bread hours before the first flake ever fell.

Bundled from head to foot against the cold, the exquisite Mary Robins and I walk quickly to Sieler’s Bakery at the corner of Agincourt and Main streets. We are off to replenish our stocks of bread before the morning barbarians reach our gate. As it is very early and very cold, the other shops in the Main Street are shuttered and mute, except for one. A light is on in Perkins’ Vacuums, and old man Perkins can be seen shuffling aimlessly about in his tiny, dingy, obscure store. Strangely, there is no merchandise in his shop. The heavy, ancient Hoovers and the rows upon rows of vacuum bags are all gone.

“Would you look at that barmy old bugger fannying around?” I chirp mockingly. I mean nothing by the remark, but Mary Robins glowers at me with a look that makes the frigid weather seem tropical by comparison. Without a word, she strides angrily toward the bakery, and I follow her like a confused puppy.

The bakery is warm and bright, and the heavenly aroma of fresh bread hugs us like a favourite jumper; but I barely notice. Mary Robins pulls me into a corner of the shop, her eyes ablaze with emotions I have never seen before.

“You know, Simon,” she says, “I’m very fond of you, but that was a really rotten thing to say about George Perkins. Do you even know him?”

I have to admit that I don’t. I’ve been in Chipping Norton for only a few months, but I must have walked past the Perkins’ strange little shop fifty times. Old man Perkins and his plump, white-haired wife were always there puttering around, but I never saw a single customer.

“George’s wife died last week,” says Mary Robins, softening her tone. “They were married for sixty-two years. George cared about only two things in his life, Simon: that musty old store and Sally Perkins. Now he’s lost her and he’s closing the store. He can’t manage it by himself.”

There are moments in your life when you die a little inside. I had said a dreadful thing; but worst of all, I had allowed another human being to bear incomprehensible suffering without even bothering to notice or care. I walk out of the bakery and down to Perkins’ Vacuums, where I rap gently at the door. Old man Perkins motions me inside and continues pacing wordlessly about the tiny shop.

“Mr Perkins,” I say. “I’m Simon Greene and I’m new to Chipping Norton. I just heard about your loss and I wanted to say…I wanted to say I’m sorry.”

George Perkins seems to stare at me for long, silent moment. His eyes are bleary and empty, as if all hope has left them. After a while, I realize that he doesn’t see me at all. Instead, his gaze moves slowly, purposely around his shop, lighting on every object as if he is searing the place into his memory. Then he walks unsteadily past me, through the front door, and out into the morning cold.

©2014 Middlechurch Musings, LLC

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Going Greene: Mensa

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“What was your favorite thing to do in England, Simey?” Bubba asks, licking the frothy beer foam clinging to his moustache. I take a moment to ponder the question: it is difficult to select just one. I take a thoughtful sip from my own beer and answer, “Pub quizzes, I suppose.”

“What are they?” asks Bubba, his interest clearly piqued.

“Well, you and your mates go down to the pub and compete against other teams to answer a load of obscure questions. Whichever team answers the most questions correctly gets a prize.”

“Oh!” says Bubba with boyish glee. “Trivia night!”

“Alright,” I say. “Trivia night. I miss trivia night, Bubba.”

Bubba contemplates my response for a good while, taking long draughts of his beer as he considers. Before long the beer foam hangs on his moustache like glacial ice and his tall pint glass is empty. He pulls himself another draft and thinks some more.

“I think…” he says finally, ” …I think we need to have a pub quiz.” Without another word he fishes his mobile from his pocket and begins dialing. One by one his cajoles what seems like half of Chipping Norton into coming to The Greene Grocer to help him hatch his plan, and twenty minutes later my little shop is packed with the glittering intelligentsia of rural Virginia.

It will be tempting to imagine that I am joking by using the word “intelligentsia,” but I am most certainly not. Bubba, Mike, Tommy Higgins and the exquisite Mary Robins, and two dozen of their friends put on a dazzling display of intellectual firepower as they argue over which questions should be included in the pub quiz. Bubba insists there ought to be at least one question about the human genome project, and Mike says he won’t play unless string theory is a topic. Tommy and Mary Robins are embroiled in a Shakespeare recitation duel. Others argue over international monetary policy and plate tectonics. It is my opinion that they have begun to lose focus.

“Everyone,” I say feebly, hazarding a suggestion. “The idea behind a pub quiz is that you chose topics that are hard, but not too hard — to give participants a fighting chance.”

Everyone stares at me in momentary silence, as if no one has an earthly notion what I’m talking about. It dawns on me suddenly that, to this lot, these are the easy questions. Once again, I have fallen into the insidious trap of having stereotyped these country people, exposing my own shortcomings rather than those I had perceived in them. I realize that I have grown to love these quirky, crazy fruit cakes.

Bubba sees things differently. Sensing that the group has excluded me from what was once my favourite pastime, he quiets his friends and walks back over to me.

“Sorry, Simey,” he says  tentatively. “We kinda left you out. What questions do you think we ought to include?”

“How about Virginia history?” I say with a smile.

© 2014 Middlechurch Musings, LLC

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Going Greene: The Twinkie

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I have a confession to make: kids make me a little nervous. It’s not that I dislike them. They’re just fine from a distance. But up close they’re all fluids and stickiness and entropy, and I simply can’t abide any of that. In a moment of weakness, I consented to allow Sandra Bullock’s kid’s third grade class to come to The Greene Grocer on a school field trip and now I am a wreck. A squat yellow omnibus bearing the words “Chipping Norton Public Schools” in blunt black letters pulls up in front of the shop.

“The Twinkie is here!” exclaims Sandra Bullock as she fidgets with unbridled glee. “Twinkie” is her word for the ugly yellow bus outside my shop, which regurgitates its squirming, giggling, snotty-nosed cargo like an Armageddon of Cuteness. In an instant they are through the door and upon us, and Miss Armentrout their teacher is introducing them, and all sixty beady little eyes are upon me, and it’s showtime.

“Well, children,” I stammer, rivulets of perspiration flowing down my back and into my underwear, “welcome to The Greene Grocer! As you can see, we have several leafy offerings, from the common lactuca sativa to the more complex but utterly delightful ocimum basilicum…”

“Hey, mister,” says one of the cherubs, “you talk funny!”

“Are you really the Queen’s brother?” asks another.

“Why don’t I take it from here?” Mary Robins says gently, separating the group into two. She assigns one group to herself, the other to Sandra Bullock, and relegates me to the till, where I retreat with no small relief. I must admit that I am much happier grumbling to myself about the noise and the grubby little paws all over my candy bins.

The door bells chime and — for the first time ever — Dog Walker saunters into the shop. Clutching a tin of dog’s food from one of the shelves and plopping it down at the till, he fishes a wad of grimy bills from his pocket to pay. He is regaling me with an unintelligible story, gesticulating with delight at every indecipherable phrase. I am enrapt by his language-less narrative, and therefore unaware that one of the third-graders, seeing Dog Walker’s pack of dogs waiting patiently for their master outside the shop window, has opened the shop door to invite them inside. Chaos ensues.

Children squeal, dogs bark, produce flies, and I panic. I run to the meat cooler and grab a steak hoping I can lure the curs back out the front door, but they are uninterested, choosing instead to abet the children in wreaking havoc on my shop. Dog Walker makes a sudden, shrill whistle and every living thing inside The Greene Grocer freezes in place. He makes another whistle and his entire menagerie of dogs sits on the spot. Walker picks up his tin of dog’s food, grins a coffee-coloured grin and strolls out of the shop, his pack of companions in obedient tow.

© 2014 Middlechurch Musings, LLC

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Going Greene: The Rime of The Greene Grocer

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Everything in the shop looks as if it is wilting. The stalks of celery lie flaccid and pale in the veg bin, and once tidy bunches of red lettuce and chives droop in sullen, unruly heaps. The boxes of cereal and macaroni and nappies are covered with a thin sheen of dust. What meats remain in the cooler are gray and unappetizing, like the refreshments at a wake. For nearly a week now The Greene Grocer has wallowed in an odd malaise, a ghost ship foundering in a windless sea.

Perhaps it’s time to call it a day and start again tomorrow. I gather my things, turn out the lights and head for the rear door; but I’ve forgotten to lock the front door and flip the “Open” sign. As I turn to retrace my steps, the door bells chime and the exquisite Mary Robins Higgins walks into the shop. She is radiant and beautiful – a pleasant and unexpected contrast to the dreary miasma in my store.

“Hello, Simon,” she says in her dulcet drawl.

“Mary Robins!” I fumble. “I was just leaving – I mean, hello.”

“Well, then,” she replies with a smile, “my timing is perfect. What do you say we get some dinner?”

“Right,” I manage to say. “Yes, that would be nice.”

I lock the front door and she grabs my arm, guiding me toward Mitzi’s Bar and Taxes, the saloon next door. Mitzi, a certified public accountant by day, serves delicious American fare by night in her colourful and seedy establishment. The proprietor herself shows Mary Robins and me to an appropriately secluded Naugahyde booth. Mary Robins orders two watery, tasteless beers and stares tenderly at me for a few moments. I get the hint.

“Sorry I haven’t called since New Year’s, Mary Robins,” I offer. “I’ve been so busy in the shop. But of course, I’ve thought about you every day. I’m glad you came by.”

Marys Robins continues to smile, but she says nothing. Instantly, it dawns on me why I have worn an albatross round my neck lately: I am depressed, and it is because of her. I must admit that my visit to the palatial Higgins home at Jericho on New Year’s Eve has dampened my spirits. I hadn’t realised precisely why until now, but seeing Mary Robins has enlightened me. I no longer believe I am good enough for her.

But I must also admit that I have cocked things up royally. I really should have called.

“Simon,” says Mary Robins, breaking her silence and reading my mind. “I am the same person this year that I was last year. Nothing has changed. I like you, and I want to spend more time with you. Forget about the house and everything else you’re hung up with, and focus on me. Can you do that?”

Deep in the recesses of my mind a fresh wind begins to blow. It is faint at first, but it soon gathers strength until the ghost ship I had been stranded on for the past several days picks up speed and sails blissfully out of troubled waters. Before long, Mary Robins and I are engaged in delightful conversation, and everything feels like it did before. Time flashes by and all too soon it’s time to go. Mary Robins leans close, a mischievous grin playing around her lips.

“Now,” she whispers puckishly. “What’s this I hear about a case of condom mints?”

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