IN WHICH THE VICAR HAS A CUNNING PLAN

snailQuestion: What do you do if you suddenly find yourself in need of a part time job to top up the finances and have just roundly insulted the person who is advertising a post for which you are eminently well-qualified?

Answer: You go and see the Vicar: at least you do if the Vicar is a man of the kidney of Norman Ruskin and you know him to be on reasonably good terms with the aforementioned insulted person.

And that’s why I was slumped despondently in the Ruskin’s private sitting room drinking tea and eating rock hard ginger biscuits left over from the last Bring and Buy Sale. Jazz’s collection of porcelain pigs grinned smugly down at me from their shelves in a deeply irritating manner. Why do porcelain pigs always have to look so jolly, especially when you least want them to?

‘Well he IS an obnoxious man’, opined Jazz, testing a canine tooth on one particularly dark specimen of baking. ‘What DOES Winnie Simpson put in these biscuits? … He positively barged me out of the way in the chemists. It was only because I was mindful of my irksome duty as the Vicar’s wife that I didn’t retaliate in kind. I bet I can shove harder than he can.’

The Reverend Rusking raised an eloquent eyebrow.

‘I’m sure you can, but I’m grateful you didn’t, Pumpkin – believe me. But Professor Pilger is actually quite good company, once you get inside his defences. Honestly.’ He bridled slightly, seeing the looks this statement elicited from his audience. ‘He is. Granted he’s a bit lacking in social skills, but that’s not unusual especially, I imagine, in someone who has dedicated his life to the study of gastropods.’

‘Slugs and snails.’ I digested this information for a moment. ‘His specialty is slugs and snails?’

‘It is. And he’s writing the definitive guide to “The Gastropoda of Britain and Northern Europe” … which is why he needs an amenu ….’ he glanced up at me and hurriedly corrected himself. ‘ a shorthand typist.’

‘Oh crumbs.’

‘It’s a fascinating subject. Really it is.’

Jazz made a sort of snorting, coughing noise. As we turned to look at her, she went slightly pink, and said unconvincingly,’Sorry. Biscuit crumb went down the wrong way.’ She thumped her chest with her fist to make her point. ‘Carry on, darlling. You were saying how fascinating slugs and snails are, I believe.’

The Vicar harrrumphed and I just managed to get my face straight again before he turned his attention back to me.

‘So the situation is that you need the job and you’re well qualified for it but given the – um – little contretemps between you the Professor in the Post Office, he’s unlikely to let you into the house.’

‘Correct.’ I glared at a particularly annoying pig which was wear a red bonnet at a jaunty angle and carrying a shopping basket in its mouth. ‘I’ve done a pretty thorough job of foot-shooting.’

‘Not necessarily.’ He pursed his lips and looked at me thoughtfully. ‘I came in part way through the spat. Did you actually introduce yourself before you kneecapped him?’

‘No. I went straight for the kneecap.’

Jazz punched the air. ‘You go, girl!’

‘Jazz, please …..’

She smirked. ‘Sorry. But from what I heard, he had it coming.’

‘Possibly true, but beside the point. So as it stands at the moment, he knows your face but not your name?’

‘I suppose so, yes.’

‘Then the obvious answer is to apply to him formally, in writing, with a full CV. Impress the hell out of him. Convince him that the heavens have smiled upon him and sent the perfect candidate to his doorstep.’

‘And if he calls me for interview …?’

‘You’re a woman of considerable charm when you set your mind to it. The rest would be up to you.’

Giving up on the biscuit, Jazz sat forward in her chair and eyed me up in a critical sort of way. ‘Yes. In fact, if you made a bit of an effort – got your hair cut, put on some decent clothes instead of your usual shapeless sacks, put on a bit of make up – he probably wouldn’t even recognize you.’

‘Well thanks a LOT …’

‘Sorry, but you know what I mean. You’re not exactly a fashion plate, are you? Which is of course, why the ladies of the village consider you to be engagingly eccentric rather than a threat. The last single woman who moved here was very particular about her appearance, leading to half the Mother’s Union deciding she was making a pitch for their husbands. Mind you, knowing their husbands – that could have been wishful thinking on the part of some of them.’

I considered the suggestion for a moment, and began to see its possibilities. As my usual sartorial style can be summarized as ‘Deep Litter’, there was indeed a very good chance he wouldn’t even recognize a brushed-and-polished version of me, especially as we met only briefly and in very heated circumstances. The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. I would dazzle and seduce him with my qualifications and experience, then turn up in my general purpose weddings/funerals/job interviews suit and charm the socks off him.

‘I like it.’

‘Excellent! Have a biscuit.’ Jazz thrust the plate at me. ‘Have them all.’

‘Thank you, no. I have a CV to write. And it will be a CV such as the world has never seen. Norman. you’re a genius. You’re wasted in the church.’

‘That’s what she keeps telling me.’ He got to his feet to see me out. ‘I beg to differ, however. Any chance of seeing you on Sunday?’

‘Ah.’ I gave him my best sheepish grin. ‘How about I make you some decent biscuits instead?’

‘I suppose that will do. Would you like a second opinion on your CV before you send it off to him?’

‘Oh yes please. That would be much appreciated – if it’s no trouble.’

‘It’s absolutely no trouble at all.’ He smiled at me blandly as he opened the front door. “So that’ll be a couple of batches of biscuits and you’ll lend a hand at the Christmas Fair – yes? We’re a bit short-handed in the kitchen this year, serving the refreshments.’

I drooped. I know I did. I definitely felt bits of me droop as I stepped onto the leaf-strewn garden path.

‘Of course. I’d love to. Shortbread okay?’

‘Perfect.’

For a Man of God, Norman Ruskin has more than a touch of the devil in him.

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