“Milk, milk, milk, milk, milk.” Anthea sang quietly under her breath as she climbed over the stile, smiling as she heard her wellington boots squelch in the mud. The sun was shining, and the recent rain had left a fresh smell of spring in the air. A city girl born and bred, Anthea was unaccustomed to the countryside and was loving her new life here. She had moved from London to the middle of the Lake District with her husband of four years, Robert. His health had struggled in the city and the doctors had all recommended some time in the country. Never one to do anything by half, Anthea had boldly suggested they simply move to a new house rather than have to constantly worry about the air quality in England’s capital and the impact on her family’s health.
“We had always planned to move away from London once we had children, why not now?” This had been the sentence which finally convinced Robert to start looking at houses out in the middle of the country. A few months later and Anthea was packing up their London apartment and giving instructions to the removal men. Everyone had told her that moving house was stressful and difficult, but Anthea, being a stubborn creature by nature, had assumed and genuinely believed it would all be fine. By and large, she wasn’t too far wrong. She had the kind of practical mind which allowed her to organise everything with little stress or anxiety. Her husband, in stark contrast to his wife, was incredibly stressed and, to be honest, was more of a hindrance than a help throughout the whole process. In response to this, Anthea had sent her husband off to stay with his parents for a few days. Whilst this had made her life easier, she was looking forward to his return this afternoon. The house was now almost finished, with a couple of rooms needing tidying up and a little dusting required but even Robert would struggle to find things to stress about. At least, that was the plan. To help with this, Anthea had determined to welcome her husband to their new home with a plate full of freshly baked scones, always his go-to comfort food. If she had time, she might even whip up some of their favourite chocolate chunk cookies.
Anthea was thinking over this process and her plans for the afternoon but was suddenly awakened from her daydream by the sound of mooing. Startled at first, before giving way to a loud laugh, Anthea realised she had almost walked into a herd of cows.
“Well, you’d never get that in London!” Chuckling, Anthea moved back slowly and circumnavigated the animals, walking on her way. She was only going to the local store, but in their new neighbourhood, that meant a two mile walk across fields, or a 5-minute drive. Anthea had chosen the walk, thinking that she needed to get used to this new life, the life of a country girl.
Walking into the village, the new arrival attracted much attention. Her new home was one of those places where everyone knows everyone, and there had been much speculation about the couple who had bought the big house just down the road. They got plenty of visitors and strangers in the village, but Anthea’s make-up and smart city clothes, with her muddy wellies ruled out the chance of her being a walker. Anthea smiled and nodded at everyone who looked at her and answered those brave enough or nosy enough to come up to her and ask questions outright. Knowing she was being watched, Anthea headed to the biggest shop on the main street, which had a large red sign above the door: “General Store and Post Office”. She had the strangest suspicion that once she had left, the store keeper would be inundated with curious visitors. She had thought this type of village had disappeared in the mid-1900s and found it all rather quaint and charming. That being said, she looked forward to being a part of this community and getting to know her new neighbours.
“Oh, hello!” the store keeper greeted her loudly as the bell above the door announced Anthea’s entrance. “You must be the new lovely lady who has bought the house down the road. How can I help you today?”
“I think you might have me confused, I have just bought a house here, but it isn’t just down the road, it’s about two miles away. It’s called ‘River Side’, do you know it?”
“Yes, that’s the one. A couple of miles is nothing around here, dear. Don’t worry, you’ll soon get used to it.” The old lady smiled kindly, and Anthea got the feeling she was enjoying this conversation. “Now, what can I get you?”
“I’m just looking for some milk today. I want to make some scones for when my husband comes home today, I sent him off to stay with his family whilst I moved in. Far better that way for both of us!” Anthea laughed and her companion, once realising this was a joke, chuckled along with her.
“Makes total sense, dearie. Oh goodness, I haven’t introduced myself. I’m Dorothy Jenkins, but everyone calls me Mrs J. We haven’t had a new neighbour in such a long time, it’s become quite dull. One does run out of gossip and secrets when you’ve known everyone for so long!”
“Lovely to meet you, Mrs J. I’m Anthea and, well, I don’t know what we can do about secrets but I’m sure we can provide you all with some new gossip. At any rate, we can try! I’m looking forward terribly to getting to know everyone.”
“And we you, my dear! Now tell me, how long have you been married to your husband?”
“Oh,” Anthea was slightly startled by her forwardness, “just over four years now.”
“And any little ones yet? Or is that a plan for the near future perhaps?” Mrs J was certainly living up to the reputation of a nosy yet kindly old lady. Anthea laughed again, slightly awkwardly this time.
“No, none yet. I always wanted a large family but living in London, well, I didn’t want to bring up a child there. It’s certainly something my husband and I want to happen, we just don’t know quite when.”
“How lovely. It’s wonderful to see a family grow. I remember River Side when the last family lived there, and the two families before that too! I tell you, everyone was so excited when we heard it was being bought by a fancy couple from London. I daresay you’ll receive quite a few invitations before the month is out, everyone will want to get to know you both. It can be a little tiring, but people around here mean well and everyone likes to know their neighbours. We all have regular little dinners and get togethers, I see everyone at least once a month I’d say. Everyone gets so excited about a little party! Perhaps you’ll be throwing one, once you’ve settled in properly, to give us all the chance to welcome you to the village. Now, the last family that lived in River Side, we barely knew them at all, they never spoke to anyone unless they had to, never invited anyone over and never accepted any invitations, not even from the vicar!” Anthea got the feeling that refusing the vicar was close to sacrilege in this village. She also had the distinct impression that Mrs J could and would talk for England were she permitted to do so. “Yes, now a little party would be lovely. I imagine the vicar and his wife would hold one for you in the Village Hall, except its currently closed for renovations. But once you’ve moved in…” Mrs J paused, clearly expecting an answer.
“Umm, yes, well, I suppose we could throw a little get together. Robert and I socialised and hosted quite a bit in London, and I certainly don’t want to give that up with the move. I mean, I would have to speak to him first but,”
“Excellent! That’s all settled then.” Mrs J interrupted loudly and began busying herself with some papers. “I have plenty of recipes here if you’d like some ideas. I’m sure you’ll want to do the usual things, sandwiches, cakes, fruit, a bit of bubbly, some sausage rolls of course, ooh and cheese and crackers, some vegetable sticks, and little fairy cakes for the children and perhaps some mini quiches! I do love a quiche. I have everything you’ll need to buy here, let me help you find everything. Oh, this is so exciting!” Despite the lack of speech on her part, Anthea had to agree, the idea was getting quite exciting. She wasn’t sure what Robert would say, but she liked the thought of giving a little party, and certainly it would give her the chance to get to know everyone. Anthea smiled in a bemused fashion as she watched the dear old lady hurry about, muttering to herself and putting a wide variety of food stuffs in bags and baskets.
A good hour after she had entered, Anthea left the ‘General Store and Post Office’, weighed down with bags and wondering how on Earth she would get everything home. Slowly, she began the walk home, still smiling at everyone she saw and carefully balancing all her bags.
After a walk of what she knew to be two miles, but felt a good deal longer, Anthea crossed the threshold of their beautiful new home, kicked off her boots and put down the shopping on the kitchen counter. Reaching for her recipe book she groaned and pulled her boots back on, locking the front door as she ran back across the fields; Anthea had forgotten the milk.