Shepherd’s Pie, Winter Olympics & The Next Door Neighbor

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Thorsten Middleton thankfully let himself through the front door of which was once his family home and after removing his boots, he headed straight to the kitchen where he knew he would find his mother. She was just taking a tray of biscuits from the oven. After setting the tray down on the counter, she turned and greeted him with a warm smile.

“Brrr. It’s really cold out there,” he exclaimed, rubbing his cold hands together vigorously. He went over to her and they hugged.

“You look like you can do with a nice cup of tea,” she said. “Go and warm yourself by the fire and I’ll go get the tea for you.”

Gratefully, he removed his jacket and after throwing it over the nearest chair, he stood in front of the fire, warming his hands. Why he had decided to drive all this way on such a bitterly cold day, he had no idea. Still, he couldn’t let another week go by without dropping by to see his family.

“Thank you, Mother.” He took the hot mug from her and gingerly took a couple of sips. His eyes widened in surprise. The heavenly brew exceeded his expectations. “I think you’ve outdone yourself this time,” he said.

“Thank you. Now, all you need is something to eat.”

“What have you prepared for me this time?”

“Shepherd’s Pie.”

His face brightened at once. “You know I could never say no to your cooking, especially, when it’s Shepherd’s Pie.”

She smiled. “I’ll go and share it out for you.”

He was nice and warm now, thanks to the fire and the hot tea. He moved away from the fireplace and went over to the window to look out. The snow which had fallen a few days ago was almost gone. He heard his mother call him and he hurried to the kitchen.

Mrs. Middleton pulled out a chair for him to sit down. When he was seated, she set a large plate with a generous slice of Shepherd’s Pie with glazed carrots and mushy pies with two slices of Irish Soda bread in front of him. “I’ll make you another cup of tea afterwards,” she said, smiling.

He nodded with a smile and then turned his attention to the plate, his mouth watering at the sight and the smell of the food. “Thank you, Mother.”

“You’re welcome.” She sat down in the chair opposite him. “It’s nice to be off my feet for a while.”

“How is Father? Where is he by the way?”

“As I told you when we spoke last week, he had a nasty cold but he’s gotten over it. He’s at the community centre.”

“At the community centre? What is he doing there? Isn’t he supposed to be retiring?”

“Yes. At the end of the year. I don’t know what he’s going to do with himself when he’s no longer working.”

“Maybe he can help out more around the house.”

“No. He’ll only get in the way. Besides, he likes to spend most of his time outdoors when the weather is nice or watching the telly when it’s too cold outside.”

“And how is everyone else?”

“They’re all doing well. The Thornhills have another grandchild. The Burtons have moved to Wales and the Carters are getting a divorce. It’s so unfortunate because they have been married for such a long time. Their daughter, Jane asked about you just the other day when I ran into her at the post office.”

“It must be hard for her that her parents are divorcing.”

“Yes, I expect it is. It’s a pity you won’t be spending the weekend, Thorsten. I could have invited Jane. She would have loved to see you.”

“Still trying to play matchmaker for Jane and me, Mother?”

“What’s wrong with Jane?”

“Nothing.”

“So, why aren’t you interested in her? She’s a perfectly lovely girl and very smart too.”

“I agree but I’m just not attracted to her. She’s more like a sister to me.”

“You’re just saying that because you grew up together. You’ve been friends since childhood.”

“Perhaps that’s it.”

“Friends can fall in love. I’ve heard of childhood friends falling in love with each other and getting married.”

“I’m afraid that isn’t going to happen with Jane and me,” Thorsten informed her, noting the disappointment on her face.

“Oh, well. I don’t suppose it will,” she sighed.

“The Olympics began this morning. Did you watch?”

“No, I didn’t. Your father plans to watch the opening ceremony later on BBC or Eurosport. I don’t plan on watching the Olympics at all.”

“Why not?”

“They are being held in China which is a Communist country. The government there is intolerant of all religions, particularly Christianity. It is always watching its citizens. They keep churches under surveillance and have even promised to pay those who report any illegal Christian gatherings. In addition to persecuting Christians, they persecute the Uyghurs, a predominantly Muslim group. In an attempt to assimilate them, the government has detained them in re-education camps where they have been jailed, raped, sterilized, tortured and forced to harvest their organs. I believe in freedom of religion but in China, people are denied the right to practice their religion because their beliefs are different. As a Christian and an advocate for human and religious rights, I’m going to boycott the Olympics by not watching them.”

“I won’t be watching either. I’ve always preferred the Summer Olympics.”

“While your father is in the family room watching the Olympics, I will be in one of the snug rooms reading or knitting. It’s too cold to be outdoors.”

“When do the Olympics end?”

“February 20.”

“17 days is a long time.”

“Yes. I hope and pray that they will go quickly.”

Thorsten smiled. “I hope they do for your sake.”

“Enough about the Olympics. How do you like your new flat?”

“I like it very much. One weekend when the weather is pleasant, you and Father should visit.”

“We’ll do that.”

He swallowed the last morsel and then, dabbed his mouth with the napkin. “That was delicious,” he said.

“I’m happy you enjoyed it. Would you like to have another cup of tea now to wash it all down?”

“Yes, thank you.”

“I’ll bring it into the living-room,” she said, getting up. She took up his plate and carried it over to the sink.

He got up and left the kitchen. She joined him a few minutes later with a mug and handed it to him. She sat down on the sofa which was opposite the accent chair where he was sitting. “So, are you dating anyone yet?”

“No.”

“Why not? I’m sure that there plenty attractive single women living and working in London.”

“Yes, there are but I’ve been too busy.”

“Too busy to have a personal life?”

“Mother, if you must know, there is a woman whom I’m very interested in–“

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Mrs. Middleton smiled. “You’ve been holding out on me,” she said. “Who is she?”

“My new neighbor.”

“Your new neighbor. How convenient. Have you and she spoken to each other?”

“Yes. We’ve exchanged pleasantries.”

“Does she have a name?”

“I expect that she does.”

“You mean you haven’t gotten to the stage yet where you know each other’s name? What on earth are you waiting for?”

“She could be in a relationship for all I know.”

“And then, she might not be. How are you going to know if you don’t find out? The next time you see her, introduce yourself and invite her to have a coffee or something with you.”

“Mother–“

“The worst that could happen is she turns you down. It’s better than not doing anything. As your grandfather used to say, nothing ventured nothing gained. If he hadn’t summoned up the courage to ask my grandmother to the spring dance, you and I wouldn’t be here talking about your next door neighbor.”

Thorsten smiled. “You’re right, of course.”

“Of course, I’m right. Now if this next door neighbor of yours has any sense, she will say yes when you ask her to have coffee with you. Now, remind me to give you some biscuits to take with you. They taste really good with jam, marmalade or cheddar.”

Sources: Insanely Good Recipes; Great British Life; Open Door; Good Housekeeping

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