There was a definite spring scent in the air. A tantilising tang, a vital zest – odours of blossom, citrus and freshly-laundered washing. After weeks of winter fug and sludgey snow, there was sunshine and the prospect of spring. I sniffed and snuffled the air in some eager mole-like way. « This is fine » I said to myself, as I headed off on the Sunday morning bread run. « Hang the car – I’m walking » – and all along the way, the vital zesty of spring mixed with the odours of Sunday lunch – the delicious pong of meats, roasting and stewing, seemed to be wofting out of every house. Every kitchen window , every front door, had been thrown open to welcome in the first sweet smells of spring.
It was palm Sunday – this used to mean something. As a kid, we would go down to Church for the morning service. I don’t think we went out of any deep held religious onviction, it was as much to get the palm Sunday crucifix as anything else. I’m not sure who made them – those crosses woevn from palm leaves – perhaps i twas the nimble-fingered ladies of the Parish, though it was more likely to have been some Anglican missionary, getting initiating the local natives into the Puritan work ethic.
Anyway, on, Palm Sunday we would leave Church clutching our palm crosses, and more often than not, my Brother would go back for a second or third cross, for a mythical elderly relative or an ailing neighbour. Of course he didn’t need the crosses, i twas just because they were free. « Antything for free » – that was one of our family mottoes. Every motherring Sunday, the Church would give out small bunches of daffodils for kids to give to their mums. My Brother used to come home clutching four or five bunches. One harvest festival, the Church was giving out slices of pumpkin to make soup. My Brother and I came home with bags full of pumpkin. slices . « Oh, you won’t like pumpkin, » said mum. « It gives you indigestion » and with that she threw the pumpkin, and any hopes and dreams of pies or soups, into the dustbin.
Over the years, the family built up a collection of « freebies » – matchbooks, pens, plastic bags, balloons … all of which were never put to any practical use All this crap just sat at the back of draws and cupboards. And every time we went anywhere, mum would utter her immortal words – « oh look, they’re giving out free …… go and shove your face in and get some. » When we were small, mum would shove us to the front of the crowd or queue to get free stuff. If we only came back with one sample, she’d send us back for more. We learned fast never to come back with less than four, five, six or even seven samples.
If it was free food, we’d be stuffing our faces. There was that day down the freezer centre, when a lady was giving out slices of Black Forest cherry cake. Mum sent me round three times. « If you eat now, I won’t need to buy you any dinner. » – but I got dinner anyway. It’s no wonder I had a teenage weight problem.
When mum died, I cleaned out all those years of free samples. Big bag loads slung into the bin. Hundres of boxes of matches, hoarded on the pretext that hey were free and « might come in useful.
That was the day that I decided to stop hoarding and collecting and accumulating crap. On this Palm Sunday though, as I stood in the bathroom, contemplating a shave, I looked in one of the drawers and found hotel shampoo and shower gels – a whole damn drawful.
« I’ve paid for them, so I’m taking them. » I announce emphatically every time we stay in a hotel.
« You’ll never use the bloody things. » says the wife.
« They’ll come in handy when we go somewhere, or you can take them for a shower after swimming. » The wife points out that I never really go anywhere and especially never to the local swimming baths.
This Sunday morning though, I did go somewhere – my local supermarket. (It doesn’t sound exciting, but I always say that if you want an adventure, you have to start by going to the end of your street, as that is where all adventures usually begin.) – and , on my way past the Church, I noticed the faithful emerging from mass, clutching palm leaves. I felt a sudden pang, a sudden twitch – an urge to rush into Church for free palm leaves.
« And just what are you going to do with them ? » asks my conscience, in a voice not unlike that of my wife.
« Oh you’re right. I don’t need palm leaves. I’m jusy going to end up throwing them in the bin » – along with all the other rubbish that we accumulate in life. When it comes to the end, we’ve got to palm it all off on someone.