Harriet started working at the community centre almost immediately, there seemed little point in waiting and the work was straight forward. She could be in for about 7am and start vacuuming and mopping floors, dusting, emptying bins and collecting any stray washing up to put in the dishwasher. She didn’t need to wash up, the catering staff sorted that so that was a bonus, as was not cleaning the kitchens.
It was about ninety minutes or so if she was able to get on with the job unimpeded, and the early start helped with that. Then there was half an hour to an hour of moving furniture and equipment about to suit the day’s events. It could be clearing a room for an exercise class, or setting out chairs and tables for a training group or seminar, making sure the leaflet and information rack was full and up to date, topping up soap and paper dispensers in the toilets, and putting paper in the office printer and photo copier.
It wasn’t a big job, but it made a lot of difference to the running of the building, and it also meant that Harriet was back at her garage workshop by about quarter to ten in the morning.
Harriet was happy to put the miles in on her Brompton bicycle so that it was properly hers. And the few miles of commute were easy going. She even happily cycled past Café Marie a few times without thinking to glance in its direction. Café Marie didn’t open until 8am so at the time Harriet was cycling into work Marie would still be at home. By 9am the café would be busy and there would be plenty of people on the streets outside so that Harriet could feel ‘lost in the crowd’. She had pondered being seen by Marie, not that that would have meant anything, Marie had probably forgotten her or replaced her by now, but it also occurred to Harriet that with different clothes, different hair, a cycle helmet, high visibility coat, a buff around her face, and in among the many other people on bicycles, that she wouldn’t easily be recognised anyway. That knowledge let her relax into the commute and allowed her the luxury, on days that were less wintery, to just cycle around for the shear pleasure of it. Her time was her own on the whole.
Harriet began to rediscover the town with fresh eyes, all the years waiting tables during the long days had left Harriet with little interest in spending her own time anywhere near the same streets, shops, tourists, and local shoppers but now she could cycle around the streets noticing the displays in shop windows, delivery vans jostling for use of the loading bays, traffic wardens on patrol, the little yellow truck collecting recycling contrasting with the giant council bin lorry, the cargo bikes delivering packages, the last Japanese tourists of the year photographing themselves in front of the town hall clock. Even with winter fast approaching the town was still popular for visitors, though more for the hardy walkers and ramblers then the tourist holiday makers.
As the days crept into December and the weather became colder and wetter, and sleet was the order of the day, council workers were gritting paths and roads and putting up tinsel and fairy lights on the lamp posts.
Cycling was less fun on days like that and when it was really cold and horrible Harriet took to walking into work. It meant an earlier start in the morning, and not properly seeing the sun sometimes even on her walk home. Harriet chose to walk the other side of the street when passing Café Marie, partly to not be seen, and to not accidentally bump into Marie, but also the shops opposite the café were more interesting to look into.
There was a fishing and outdoor activities shop that displayed a variety of pocket multi tools in the window, the second hand bookshop that had a yellow screen behind the shop window to stop the books fading, and a tiny shop that appeared to just sell vacuum cleaners, but was just the back entrance door of a much larger hardware and electrical department shop that had expanded through from an adjacent street. The display of little red, blue, green and pink vacuum cleaners, all with their trade mark smiling faces always cheered Harriet when she saw them. She had used one at the café, and also at the community centre. Adam and Amanda had two, a low noise one on the top floor, and a wet and dry carpet washing one downstairs. It was a small sample size but they seemed to be popular in Theraton.
“How are you doing with the job?” Adam asked “You seem to be quite happy when you get home in the mornings, and I’m not even up when you head out.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t say it was my chosen career path, but it works well and isn’t demanding. Also not too many people about at that time so I can just get on with it.” Harriet replied “It’s good feeling useful and active, with a routine, and to have some money coming in again. I should treat you and Amanda to something nice, maybe take you out for a meal, or something.”
“Oh no need to worry about that, but the thought is appreciated.” Adam wanted to reassure Harriet that there was no expectation that she needed to pay anything back for her stay. “Do you have any plans for Christmas? You are most welcome to share it with us. Amanda will have her Mum staying, or if you had any one else you wanted to spend it with, that would be fine.”
“Oh, you know, I hadn’t even thought about that!” Harriet paused to have a think. “I haven’t spent Christmas with anyone but Marie for the last, what, nearly ten years, I don’t even know what other people do for Christmas any more. I’ve not spent any time with Mum since she moved away. I don’t think she has really accepted me ‘coming out’ and still thinks of me something to be ashamed of. I think she expected me to grow out of it by the end of my teens, ha, fat chance.
If you are happy for me to be here, I mean it is your family time after all and I don’t want to impose….”
“But you are family!” Protested Adam! “You should be with us, if you have nowhere else you’d rather be. I think not having you here would be like turning away my big sister!”
That had been a long running joke between Adam and Harriet, Harriet was only 5 days older then Adam, but Adam was more then twice Harriet’s weight and towered a good head and shoulders above her.
So it was settled, Harriet had a Christmas with ‘family’ to look forward to. She had a job and income, she had a workshop in the garage, and a workshop soon to be hers for the princely sum of a peppercorn, she looked more like herself then she had done in years, she was happy and contented and her self confidence was returning.
As December rolled on Daisy couldn’t help but be grateful that she still hadn’t managed to ride the trike with any degree of skill nor fitness. The two rounds she had tried resulted in a lot of pushing the trike around and eventually swapping back into Beryl after a morning struggling. But she was getting there. The weather was less then pleasant now and the pre Christmas purchases meant that the quantity of mail order packaging was increasing. Likewise the number of wine and beer bottles.
“I would have thought the bottles and packaging would be greatest after Christmas.” She said to Steve as she dragged a particularly heavy recycling box back to Beryl.
“Oh, it gets worse after Christmas. I don’t know if people save up all the bottles for the first collection after Christmas or if they really do drink that much in a week! Then there is all the wrapping paper that has foil or plastic on it that we can’t take! Then there’s the cooking foil, often half the turkey is still attached to it!”
“Oh yuk!” Daisy pulled a face “Aside from the mess I couldn’t stand the waste! I’m one for scraping everything off the foil and licking the plate clean, even before I started this job!”
They finished off the morning round and headed back to the compound to unload. The compound was where all the skips were kept. As all the recycling was sorted at the curb side this was a quick process. The huge builders bulk bag of paper was dragged over to the gantry crane where a chain hoist hauled it up to the top of a ‘big hook’ skip and tipped it out. The same was done with the cardboard, the plastic bottles, and the cans. The cans were already separated into steel and aluminium, and jam jar lids were added to the steel skip. The bottles were also categorised in terms of green glass, brown glass, clear glass, and a select collection of the more valuable blue glass.
“Have you heard about the thing in China?” Linda asked, as they all sat down for lunch. “Apparently people are dying!”
“What’s this about?” Tom asked as he made the teas.
“Apparently there’s another virus that’s made a jump from animals to humans, a few people have died and they don’t know how to treat it.”
“Oh, like swine flu?”
“Apparently worse, it’s not a flu thing. Six people have died within days of becoming ill, they are talking about completely quarantining a whole city!”
“Surely not, it can’t be that bad, can it?”
“That’s what they are saying, a place called Wuhan. They are going to just stop everyone from leaving, they have the army out to enforce it.”
“So everyone just stays there with some plague? That can’t be right!”
“No, I think they are quarantining everyone in their own homes. No one allowed outside so they can’t spread it among themselves.”
“Lets hope they know what they are doing. Anyway, I’ve had my flu jab, so hopefully I’ll be ok for this winter.”
Daisy listened to the conversation about the virus outbreak and wasn’t sure how seriously to take it. It was in China, the other side of the world. Other dangerous diseases, like Ebola, didn’t spread all around the world, but bird flu and swine flu did.
“Is it something we need to worry about, do you think?” She hoped the more educated team would have some idea about it.
“No idea.” Tom said, “It’s a few people thousands of miles away, but who knows at the moment. We’re probably fine over here”
“I wouldn’t be so sure.” Linda added, “People are travelling around the world all the time so who knows who has it and where it has got to. How many people are going to travel home or visit relatives for Christmas? I guess we can only watch the news and see.”