Gathering Nuts is the second book in 'The Nut Shop' series.

It's 1993,

detox diets and Feng Shui are all the rage...

 

I

Chaos continues at The Nut Shop with shady goings-on in the new therapy room, a gruesome discovery in the gym and the arrival of the first Nut Shop baby. 

 Gathering Nuts - available at Amazon

Read the first chapter of Gathering Nuts below... 

CHAPTER ONE 

 I pushed my sleeve against the steamed-up shop window to clear a circular patch, and gazed out at the slow procession of drivers peering through their frosted windscreens as they edged along. An endless snake of traffic crawled along Station Road as commuters trundled into town, emitting great clouds of exhaust fumes that mingled with the icy mist. The frost had given everything a shimmering coating and had chilled the air until it was almost too painful to breathe.

'Looks like the Arctic out there,' I said to Lorraine who had lit the gas rings and was rubbing her hands together over them. 

'It's like the Arctic in here,' she said. 'I'm bloody freezing.'

The kettle boiled and she made lemon and ginger tea. I wrapped my fingers around the warm mug and sipped the scalding liquid. Lorraine looked perished. Her face was pale and her lips blue although she was bundled in layers of clothes and had not yet removed her coat and hat. She sat hunched on a stool behind the counter sipping her tea. 

'What time is Rick coming with that heater?' she asked.

'He said first thing this morning. He'll probably be here soon.'

Rick worked in the tool hire centre at the bottom of the bank and had offered us free loan of a Calor gas heater.

'Come on, we'd better get started,' I said, putting down my mug and moving towards the kitchen. Lorraine didn't move.

'It's too cold. I can't function.'

'It's one extreme or the other in here,' I said remembering the problem we'd had in the summer when the shop had been so hot we'd all felt permanently exhausted and our big display fridge had broken down with the strain of trying to maintain a steady temperature. Trying to sell health foods in an environment like a hot house had not been ideal. 

Lorraine followed me into the kitchen, removed her gloves, and after washing her hands at the sink, replaced them with a fingerless pair and began chopping onions and carrots to make soup.

'You can't cook like that,' I said laughing. 'You look like Fagin frying up sausages for the gang.'

'Wanna bet?' I'm not taking anything off. I'm freezing.'

Personally I wasn't too bad. I was wearing thick tights beneath my trousers and two tee-shirts as well as a jumper and could bear to take off my coat and hat. At six months pregnant I felt like I had my own little internal central heating system. It was just my fingers and toes that were cold.

Our part time assistant, Nadine, arrived cheerfully complaining about the cold.

'What do you look like?' she said, laughing, when she saw Lorraine swaddled in her many layers of clothing, scraping carrots with a scarf tied around her face.

'Yes, you may well mock,' Lorraine said good-naturedly. 'But I'm actually the only one doing any work.' We took the hint and went to help with the day's preparation, making sandwich fillings and chopping salad while Lorraine made soup. 

This was the beginning of our second year in business. Our first year had been fraught with a whole diversity of problems ranging from an infestation of moths, having our window smashed by a deckchair wielding drunk and an arson attack on the gym upstairs which then spread to our premises. However, with the help of family and friends, we had survived and I felt very optimistic and excited about the coming months and especially about our baby who was due to arrive at the end of March.

Rick arrived with the Calor gas heater.

'There you are, hinny. That should warm you up a bit. There's about half a bottle of gas left to start you off. When you're ready for a new one give me a shout and I'll give you a discount off the next one.' 

'That's great, thanks Rick,' I said and Lorraine gave him a carton of soup and a couple of bread rolls. When he'd gone I pondered on where to put the heater.

'Do you think we should have it in the shop front for the customers or in the kitchen for us?'

'In the kitchen for us,' Lorraine and Nadine said together and we pushed it through the gap between the counter and the big fridge into the kitchen. We were sitting in front of it waiting for the kettle to boil again when Nige our postman arrived.

'Morning campers,' he said depositing a pile of letters on the counter. He looked at Lorraine in her bundle of clothes and he laughed. 'Look at the state of you. Nanouk of the North! Looks like you've been overdoing it a bit with the whale blubber darlin'.'

'You want to see yourself,' she told Nige, who wore a Davy Crockett hat with earflaps and imitation beaver tail along with his favourite green and pink hand knitted scarf that was wound around his oversized raincoat. 'And if you think I'm making you a cup of coffee after that remark you can think again.'

'I'll get it,' Nadine said laughing, and as she got up to fill the kettle the door opened and Georgina arrived.

'By, it's cold enough to freeze the goolies off a brass monkey,' Georgina said as she put her shopping basket down.

'Coffee or lemon and ginger tea?' Nadine asked her.

'Ooh, lemon and ginger please.'

Nige and Georgina visited us every morning and we would start the day with a hot drink and the local gossip. Georgina was an artist and scraped together a living selling hand made pottery and jewellery and doing face-painting at fairs and parties. She therefore had plenty of spare time and spent quite a lot of it with us in the shop. Nige however, did not have plenty of spare time, yet managed to fit in time for coffee and a gossip every morning. I often wondered if his bosses at Royal Mail had any idea of how much time he spent skiving and how little work he seemed to do.

'How's bump?' Georgina asked.

'Fine,' I said, patting my stomach. 'Getting bigger every day.'

'Have you been to Barbara's yoga classes yet?'

'No not yet.'

'You really should go, you'd enjoy it and it would do you the world of good.'

Barbara was a high-spending customer who shopped with us every Friday. A committed vegetarian and passionate about the local community she refused to shop in supermarkets preferring to support local businesses. She ran yoga classes at her home, to which Georgina was a frequent participant. Barbara had suggested I go along and had promised to show me exercises that would strengthen my abdomen and therefore make giving birth easier. I knew I should give it a go, not only for my benefit and the baby's, but to show support to Barbara who was such a loyal customer. But memories of past experiences of formal exercise put me off.

I'd never been one for exercise classes. I'd been to an aerobics class with a friend and hated it. I'd jumped about, frantically trying to keep up with the woman at the front who was barking directions, but no matter how hard I tried I couldn't seem to move in the same direction as the rest of the class. As my embarrassment increased, so did my lack of co-ordination, until I'd completely lost the ability to distinguish left from right and become a whirlwind of flinging arms and legs. My friend thought it was the funniest thing she'd ever seen and was disappointed when I vowed never to repeat the experience.

I was the same at the gym. I would cling to the hand bars of a treadmill as my feet were constantly swept from beneath me, struggling to keep my balance as I fought to keep my legs striding, aware of others next to me jogging along rhythmically as they watched the overhead television screens.

I couldn't see the point of the television screens. I mean, how were you supposed to keep up with Coronation Street when your ears were pounding and a red haze had descended in front of your eyes? The weight of my bottom bobbing up and down was very uncomfortable and I wondered if others were suffering in the same way. Hanging on tightly I'd turned my head to sneak a look at the women next to me. They didn't seem to be having the same problems at all. For a start they were upright and running at a steady pace. There were no sweaty red faces, just a lot of make-up and swishy blond hair. And none of them had buttocks big enough to wobble never mind bounce.

'Why not come with me tomorrow?' Georgina suggested. 'There's a class at six. You could come to mine after closing and we'll go from there.'

I hesitated.

'Exercise classes aren't really my thing. I prefer keeping fit by walking or riding my bike.'

'It'll be good for the baby.'

'I think you should go,' Lorraine said and Nadine agreed with her.

'You'll enjoy it, it'll be a laugh.'

'You mean it'll be a laugh for you when Georgina tells you how rubbish I am at it,' I said.

'Eh, I can just imagine you having to be carried out with your legs tied in a knot around your neck,' Nige laughed.

'Thanks for that Nige,' I said. 'Oh all right I'll go. But just once. Just to say I've been. It's not going to be a regular thing.' 

Business was quiet during the morning but surprisingly busy at lunchtime. I'd thought it would be too cold for people to leave their offices to come in search of a take-away lunch, but the rush began as usual just after twelve. Our hot food was popular; luckily we had plenty of home-made soup in the freezer as it seemed to be selling by the gallon. Having the cooker on for most of the morning as well as the Calor gas heater had raised the temperature in the shop quite considerably. Lorraine was able to remove a few layers of clothing and now looked closer to her usual size.

'Another four vegeburgers please,' she called from the counter and Nadine added them to the pan. I felt my stomach rumble, they smelled delicious. I made a mental note to have one for lunch.

Lorraine and Nadine often teased me that I must be carrying a baby elephant judging by the amount of food I put away but I couldn't help it. I felt hungry all the time and working with food all day was just too tempting.

The vegeburgers were my biggest weakness. We served them in the most deliciously soft sesame rolls  with crisp salad and creamy mayonnaise. Or you could add mushrooms or grated cheese or coleslaw. Or if you were a greedy pregnant woman you could add all of these and a fried egg on top too.

The lunchtime rush always stopped at two o'clock as dramatically as it had started when we would sit and eat our lunch, taking turns to get up and serve customers.

I went to put the kettle on to make our hot drinks and Nadine went to the kitchen to see what was left in the tubs, clearing the empty ones to the sink.

'What are you having?' she asked. 'There's plenty of egg mayo left and cream cheese.'

'Egg mayo'll do for me thank,' Lorraine said.

'Egg mayo and salad all round?' Nadine said, then seeing my face said, 'Or do  you want one of your usual egg-mushroom-cheese-salad-coleslaw-mayo-burgers?'

'Oh go on then, I'll force myself,' I said. 'I'll cook it.'

'No I'll do it,' Nadine said. 'You go and get your cup of tea darlin' and I'll make you one.'

As she was piling it all into a huge wholemeal stottie, a girl entered the shop wearing paint spattered jeans and a sweatshirt.

'God it's freezing out there,' she said, then seeing Nadine piling mushrooms on top of my towering burger said, 'Mmm, that looks nice. Could you make me one?'

The girl told us her name was Janice and that she was busy painting walls in a flat she'd just moved into further down the bank with her five children, who ranged in age from eight months to seven years.

'Five kids!' Nadine said. 'You'll have your work cut out.'

'I can handle the five kids,' Janice said. 'It's the five fathers that cause the problems.'

She went to look around the shelves and selected some packets of biscuits, organic chocolate bars, cartons of fruit juice and a family-sized carrot cake.

'A few treats for the kids,' she said as she handed over a twenty-pound note. Nadine packed the purchases in a carrier bag and handed over change and Janice left whistling cheerfully.

'Five men,' Nadine grumbled as she watched Janice strut cockily down the street. 'One would do me.' 

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