I can only sit here and hope it all works out for our Tiffs in Hungary, she's had a tough couple of years. As I said to Spats, finding Greg standing there in her favourite underwear was shocking enough, expecting her to stay with him through the sex change was asking too much. It's hard to imagine that you could spend so many years with a man, and yet not once suspect he had such inclinations. Of course, it's all very popular now to be trans-fluid and bi-polar. It's going to be very confusing for the twins, I said, even if they are all grown up, suddenly your dads a woman!
Though it's sweet that Tiffs and Greg still keep in touch. She said he seems much happier now that he's outed. The last time our Tiffs saw him was just before she left for Hungary. She told me that Greg looked really quite glamorous and that if he wasn't so tall and muscular he might have made quite a pretty woman. What's more, he's met someone else and she has no issues with the sex change. Maybe she's gender-neutral or a lesbian? Being lesbian is very on-trend as well.
Mums bearing up well and gathering in spirits since the funeral. What a fiasco that was! That idiot caretaker out back, pressing the button by accident. Father was in that incinerator before we even had a chance to get through the first hymn, and Sebs had such a lovely speech prepared. Still, mum felt that at that at least it hurried things along, which is no bad thing, she said, as most funerals are a crashing boor, especially for the deceased.
There was a great spread in the pub afterwards though, don't you think? The cocktail pasties were second to none and I wish I had taken more of them home with me while I had the chance.
If Spats and I ever tie the knot I will insist on keeping the food at the reception simple. Nothing wrong with some nice pastries to soak up the alcohol. Still, let's face it, the cost of even a simple registrar marriage isn't cheap these days.
Spats' little antique emporium, as he likes to call it (something of an affectation and exaggeration I'd say), is not at the best end of town, and I suspect he spends far more on his collection of vintage suits and hats than he ever actually makes. All the same, he does look very dapper and I do like a man who makes an effort to dress well. Thank goodness his mother likes to do his washing and ironing! If we were to marry would this excellent arrangement continue I ask myself? Not a small consideration. I hate ironing, especially shirts, and Spats is a broad-shouldered man who has to buy his crisp white shirts in extra large.
From: Tiffany Brewer <firstname.lastname@example.org
To: Eva Pettigrew <email@example.com
Subject: Gone to a convent!
It was good to hear from you and to be reassured that mum's well.
Just a very quick update as I am going out to the shop soon.
What a weekend I have had!
Klaus put his name down for a sponsored fun run organised by TOSH. The accommodation they booked for all the runners and their partners was in some old convent. Klaus had no idea of what to expect and took me along with him, thinking that I would have a fun couple of days. Ha!
Where to start! This was a true Eastern European historical convent building. The walls, ceilings and floors of each bedroom, were all stone. The beds were the kind of old hard iron beds you might find in an asylum. The bedding was filthy and there was no other furniture in the room. Shock enough, yet worse was to come. The showers and toilets were communal with only cold water to shower in! Imagine, men and women having to share their ablutions together.
I wanted to leave right there and then of course, but kept quiet as the Hungarian workers made no sounds of complaint, and for them a weekend away paid for by TOSH was, no doubt, a huge treat.
Klaus and I did get to go to a rather good restaurant and this again is something most Hungarians cannot afford to experience.
Still, with Klaus being management, rather than production worker, I was expecting four-star accommodation, certainly not a stay at some draughty old convent.
As the vast majority of people taking part in the marathon were not management, TOSH had obviously decided that they could get away with providing the most basic facilities possible.
However, with true Pettigrew resilience, I decided that I would just have to accept my lot and make the best of things. I didn't get a wink of sleep all night. It was so cold and bleak. Apparently, these days the convent is used mainly as student digs. How they manage in the winter when temperatures here plummet to minus forty I can't imagine!
Anyway, this led to Klaus and I having our first real argument. Klaus believes that putting up with hardship is good, as it makes you appreciate how lucky we are in western Europe. All very well, but I had been led to believe that I was in for a good time rather than a test of endurance. There I was, expecting all the luxuries a quality hotel would provide, only to find myself in a cell, having to douse myself down in freezing water with a bunch of total strangers.
What would the nuns who once lived here have thought? I wondered. I'm sure the idea of mixed-sex showers would have left them reeling. I will never decry a Travel Nook hotel again. Warm bed, en-suite and complimentary soap. So what of the décor and deafening air conditioning. Clean sheets are hardly asking the earth and I pride myself on being someone who generally likes to muck in with everyone else.
Remember that girl guide camping trip I went on during the drought of seventy-six? Many fled the scene after the midweek family visiting day, not me.
I said to our mother at the time.
The drinking water may be rationed, and we have all now resorted to using the woods rather than the portaloo, but I'm going to stick it out until Friday.
Klaus was extremely smug in response to my complaints, looking down on me as if I was some spoilt rich kid or something. I'm beginning to think he's just one of those middle-class voyeurs that suffer a constant guilt trip because it was all too easy for them when they were growing up. Pretending to be down with the workers when in truth they are management and earning far more than those workers could ever imagine. I was of course tempted to point this out, but thought better of it.
Oh, and let's get to the so-called fun run! It was a relay race, and Klaus was to be in the section that started at a fun park. I say, fun park, it could only be described as this in the loosest of terms. Think ancient rusty fair rides, stalls of cheap tat, strange foreign foodstuffs and a worn out train ride to the top of a hill. 'Health and Safety', I will never complain about it again. They can go as mad as they like, and you know how I have hated fairs, ever since I fell off that unicorn on the merry-go-round when I was ten.
Also, Klaus was unusually quiet and distant after the relay. He had slowed down the race by faffing around when the baton was handed to him. He's very competitive normally and must have felt he had rather let the team down. Klaus lost them at least two minutes. He just seemed to freeze up as if he had totally forgotten the whole reason for being there.
So, what an experience!
Klaus doesn't get home until about nine in the evening now. He's started going to the gym after work and seems to have become obsessed with physical fitness. He looks perfectly fit, to me. I think he could be borderline obsessive-compulsive, to be honest. You should see how tidy the house needs to be! Just immaculate, and everything in its proper place.
So, there's not much for me to do here at the moment. Just cooking and cleaning. Still, I'm sure that will all change.
Can't Skype just yet as I need to buy a webcam.
Love and hugs, Tiffs xxx
Well, I said to mum, who does this Klaus fellow think he is. I'm beginning not to like the sound of him at all. The impression I'm getting is one of a rather self-centred smug individual, and poor Tiffs, communal showers! What a culture shock.
I've had my doubts from the start. As I've said before, why a German? If you're going to go foreign, go for your hot-blooded Italian. So handsome the Italians. Wish I had married an Italian, instead of your father. As for communal showers, well, I can't think of anything more disgusting! Unless one was having a communal shower with Colin Firth that is. I must admit, I do have a huge crush on Colin.
I thought you had the hots for Tommy Lee Jones? I said.
No, it's Colin now. Having said that, if they were both in the shower that would be good too.
Images of my mother in a shower with Colin Firth and Tommy Lee Jones were not something on which I wished to dwell. It was time to head back to the shop and re-do my window display. My main mannequin, Pearl, had been wearing the oatmeal suede pant-suit and pink leather Fedora for long enough. Summer was well and truly on its way now, even if it was raining. Time to put her in the orange lame swimsuit and floral chiffon sarong. That should attract the eye of the discerning 'Fashionistas' of Penswithian.
From: Eva Pettigrew <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Tiffany Brewer <email@example.com>
Re: Gone to a convent!
Your weekend at the asylum sounds truly appalling and I hope Klaus is going to make it up to you! I can't even begin to imagine how I'd react if confronted with the dilemma of having to wash in a shower full of strange men. Klaus might think nothing of it, but we're British and it's just not done.
The local press is coming around in a while to take some photos of the shop for a promotional page on Penswithian's specialist independent shops. They are trying to highlight the importance of small-time traders and show what a wonderful world of retail therapy can be had if you just venture into town rather than driving out to the superstores.
I hope they don't want me in the photo foolishly grinning at the camera. They always insist you do that and it does make one look such an idiot. Spats is a bit miffed because he wasn't asked to be in on the promotion. I said to him, what do you expect if you get drunk and then tell the editor what a low opinion you have of his paper. Diplomacy at all times, I said, or your indiscretion may come back to bite you on the backside!
By the way, I did see the twins lining up outside the Barnacles nightclub opposite on Saturday. They looked well enough, if not rather cold in those very short dresses and low cut tops, I now think it might have been them in the hot-pants after all.
I'm not sure whether the green dyed hair really suits them that much either. I know all the girls, and quite a few boys, seem to be colouring their hair in rather vivid and ultra-unnatural shades, these days, it's just a shame, those girls had such beautiful golden blonde locks before.
Still, it's that sort of age isn't it, late teens? If you can't experiment at that age, then when can you?
They did seem very jolly, though, waiting out there to get into the club with a large crowd of boys. I considered staying up to see what sort of a state they would be in later, when they left the club, then I remembered that it doesn't close until five in the morning so thought better of it.
Don't you worry though, I shall be watching out for them, mark my words, and with their new shade of hair they shan't be difficult to spot. Well, au revoir for now.
Thinking of you! Eva xxx
From: Tiffany Brewer <firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Eva Pettigrew <email@example.com>
Subject: Hugs from Hungary!
This week I met some of the other ex-pats out here as Klaus' boss and his wife invited us over for dinner. Olga, the wife, said that she and some of the other management wives meet up twice a week, once for Hungarian lessons and once for lunch. So, that all sounds very civilised and I was invited to join them.
Next week I start lessons in Hungarian. Hopefully, these lessons will at least allow me to converse to some extent and make shopping a little easier.
Last night I was invited to a British club held here in Hungary. It is not as it sounds, the club was mainly made up of local Hungarian people who like to speak English. I decided to pitch up and say, “Hello!”. They were so pleased to have someone from England visit the club as it meant that they could practice their linguistics on them.
How my life has changed. From hardly venturing over the Cornish border to sitting here in Miskolc drinking with Hungarians who speak English. So bizarre!
Klaus was not home in time to join me, though I know that in truth he thought it might be some awful ex-pat experience. Full of your English, he said, all complaining about the hardships you are having to endure, like not being able to buy your favourite teas and biscuits.
TOSH has offered to fund a residential CELTA teacher training course for me in Budapest. I have been told that if I do my CELTA then Miskolc university may give me a few hours work each week as they really need native English speaking language teachers.
Klaus is working such long hours. Apparently there's a large backlog to catch up on. We did go out to eat the other night, but as it was not until nine O'clock and by the time the food arrived at ten, for me it was just too late, I was so tired and so was Klaus.
We sat there spooning the goulash into our faces in, a not so companionable, silence
Give mum my love.
We need to organise a good old video chat as I miss seeing your faces.
Thanks for reporting back about the twins.
I've told them before about short dresses and high heels! I used to say to them, two words, varicose and veins, that's what you will end up with if you're going to spend your teens tottering around on stilettos. Also, I said, it sends out all the wrong messages. Certainly not the sort of image one would wish to cultivate if one was seeking a nice dependable young man from a respectable background who could hold down a decent job and get the mortgage paid.
They never listen though. Those girls think it's all about living for the moment, what is it they call it? Being in, 'the zone', living for the here and now.
Keep them under surveillance Eva! That nightclub has such a bad reputation, as you well know. I don't recall a Saturday that ever went by at Barnacles without the police having to get involved.
The twins seemed to relish telling me all the details. Who got into a fight with whom, the goings on in the car park opposite, which friend of theirs got wasted on drugs.
I think they just enjoyed hearing the shock and disapproval in my voice. It somehow enhanced their amusement.
Miss and love you very much.
Big kiss and hug
From: Eva Pettigrew <firstname.lastname@example.org
To: Sherri Cummins <email@example.com
Subject: Homesick in Hungary.
I'm sensing our Tiffs is getting really rather homesick.
I said to mum.
I've had an idea, we need to send a special parcel with things that Tiffs just cannot get out there in Hungary, things that would remind her of home.
Mum suggested a nice smelling deodorant, maybe English rose, and some Cornish lavender bath salts.
She does so miss the point sometimes.
Deodorant will hardly remind her of Cornwall in particular will it? In fact, quite the opposite, if you're standing in a queue at the Co-Op of a Saturday evening, with all those old men lining up for booze and cigarettes, the smell of unwashed clothes and neglected personal hygiene is quite overpowering. I'm thinking more along the lines of the local delicacies that she might be missing out on. Saffron Cake, that sort of thing.
Admittedly, I was rather hard pressed at that point to come up with anything else that one could send through the post. Who knows how long a parcel takes to get from England to Hungary? Could be up to a month, so that rules out all dairy and our famous pasties for starters.
In the end, I decided on, saffron cake, Hevva cake, a packet of Cornish Fairings, some Cornish wafers, and a tin of pilchards in oil. These cakes have quite a long shelf life, so should still be edible on arrival and they can always be freshened up in the frying pan, so, good choice I think.
I wrapped them all together in a lovely Cornish tea towel depicting typical scenes of Cornish culture, the eating of pasties, what makes up a classic cream tea, the baking of the saffron cake, pressing of pilchards, and brewing of Ales with amusing names like 'Big Knockers'. Then I placed this in a sturdy box with a card and note.
So that's winging its way to her as I write!
Apart from that, not much news from my end.
Mum's sold another painting and she's thinking about buying a sports car.
I said to her, get your cataracts done first, until then you're just a danger.
Mind you, she's a danger anyway, the worst driver I know. Maybe they didn't have a proper test back in her day.
Love, Evie xxx
P.S Will you be down over Christmas?
I had put a note in with the parcel I sent to Tiffs, it read:
It is such a shame that you met someone working over here and then in no time at all they go and get transferred all that way away over there! Why couldn't he have just been sent somewhere more British for a start, where they at least speak the language?
Anyway, enough of that, we do of course miss you tremendously too.
I bumped into your friend Rita only the other day (or as mum and I like to call her, old lemon face), she said to say hello and told me she thought it was a shame you felt you had to leave Penswithian in the first place, though she did understand, what with Greg being a woman and all that.
You may know this already, but apparently, he's decided to change his name. Well, you would, wouldn't you? Now he's calling himself Greta.
He's still doing the lorry driving though, and he told lemon face that the other drivers had all been really supportive.
I told her that you had met someone new and are now over in Hungary. She was, of course, desperate for details. He's most handsome, I said, and he's German with a good job and everything. She wished you luck, said you wouldn't catch her going out with anyone other than a Cornishman. You know where you are with a Cornishman, she said.
I thought, yes, you do, at home, at the sink, with the children hanging off your hips while he's down the pub. Ha!
In my opinion, she looked rather haggard. I asked her if she had been ill or something. I
told her that she looked shockingly run down, her hair a bit lank. Not much else was said, she went rather frosty after that and hurried off home with her leeks and brisket.
Thought you might like a parcel of goodies from 'die Heimat!' Stuff you wouldn't be able to get out there.
Much love Eva xxxx
The post office was understaffed as usual and now they are trying to make us use these dreadful self-service machines. What's the point though? Even when you have grasped the wherewithal to figure out how to work the damn things, you still have to wait for one of the staff to come and put in a code and swipe a card. It was a long wait for the counter service, but I don't think the self-help would have been any quicker. What happened to customer service and what a price postage is now? It seems to me that cost of posting anything even in this country has almost tripled since the privatisation. I realised the Hevva cake might have been a mistake as it probably accounted for half the weight of the parcel. Still, all in a good cause.
I just hope the gesture doesn't misfire and end up making Tiffs even more homesick.
From. Tiffany Brewer,<firstname.lastname@example.org>
To: Eva Pettigrew <email@example.com>, Sherri Cummins, <firstname.lastname@example.org>, Tamara Smalls <email@example.com>, Sebastian
First, thanks Eva for the parcel and enclosed postcard. Lovely seascape. That's another thing I miss terribly, being by the sea.
The Cornish fairings hadn't fared so well, but I used the crumbs as a cheesecake base, Klaus' favourite, so it was all good. How I long for a Cornish pasty!
I miss everyone very much and get a little tearful from time to time.
Hopefully, I shall be able to come home for a short visit in September.
Sill, mustn't complain, I did keep banging on about wanting to travel! Admittedly, Hungary was not top of my list, but hey ho! Here I am.
Klaus is keen that we should soon explore some of the bordering countries such as Serbia and Croatia.
I do feel safe enough here and the house is secure. Living in a village is preferable to the fenced off accommodation in Miskolc which a lot of the firms' workers have chosen. The house is alarmed and I feel in no danger. I do however avoid walking anywhere too lonely and Klaus said that he would get me an attack spray just in case I need it.
Love to you all!
P.S. Are any of you thinking of coming over for a visit?
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