Apologies for being gorn so lorng... as usual, life had to interfere. But... I'm back! Praise the Lawd and hide the cake!
"It happens that a large number of us are in love. That we are in love with cake comes as no surprise to anybody. Many of us it so happens practise occasional magic."
So I was told by Mrs Laverne one day over elevenses. I was surprised, for given her slim figure I could not quite believe that she was quite so fond of cake. That she and the ladies of the local Womens Institute practised occasional magic, of course did not surprise me in the least.
Mrs Laverne herself had known me when I was much younger and she had taught me music at school. Now retired and widowed, I admit that I was still fond of her. When I was younger I had been highly impressed at her skills with guitar, piano and violin. Because of her I had learned the guitar, though I was not quite good enough yet to play the piano.
She had been a slim woman of medium height who was known for her cardigans, skirts and especially her shoes, which the girls had often seen as a style to emulate. Mrs Laverne had changed little. Her hair was now silver-grey but still long and bound up in a chignon that was most becoming. She was still fond of her various skirts, cardigans and now flatter shoes.
I had been telling her how I felt impatient to learn the piano faster than my agonisingly slow progress. She smiled amused and shook her head.
"Take your time my dear. You have plenty of time. Nobody will die if you learn the piano slowly. It took you time to learn the guitar too and it will take you time to learn the piano," she said sipping her coffee.
I grinned and agreed, she was right it had taken me time to learn the guitar, but I had wanted to learn it very much. Perhaps I needed to want to be good enough at the piano to practise more.
"Impatience is the enemy of learning an art," she told me momentously.
"You may not have heard of the March of the Mixers, but it was impatience that led to it," she said.
I ordered more coffee and cake before sitting comfortably and asking her to tell me about the March of the Mixers.
She smiled and put down her coffee cup.
"You just want a story," she laughed, wagging her finger at me.
I grinned and admitted it. I can't help it, I love a story. She ordered more coffee and sat back in her chair holding her coffee cup in both hands with a reminiscent air about her. Outside the sun had been veiled by dark clouds that had finally had enough of being ignored and now rained heavily. Rain bounced off the road and off the large windows of the cafe. It darkened all it touched; dresses, the road, the colours of the cars too became darker somehow. People came into the cafe gasping with the shock of the rain. Hair bedraggled and limp, umbrellas dripping, opening the door quickly and sidling in to keep the mischievous rain out.
"I do hope that isn't Phyllida being cross," Mrs Laverne said softly.
She waited until our fresh coffee had been brought and made herself comfortable. With an impish grin that belied her years she asked,
"Are you sitting comfortably?"
I smiled at that, it showed both our ages that we remembered the radio show.
"It was some little time before you started school, I believe," she began,
"There were a few of us teaching at the school then, it was much smaller. All of us were interested in using occasional magic and were studying it. One of our number, Miss... well perhaps I shall not bring her name into it, she is still around. Let us protect the innocent. Still, she was the youngest of us and most impatient with wanting to do things with magic. She did not fully understand that as much magic as you use comes back to you. She also did not I'm afraid fully understand all the spells, charms and incantations... and you needn't look at me hopefully because I am certainly not teaching them to you. Learn the piano with patience my dear!
One thing she was very fond of was baking. In fact she was and still is one of the best bakers in town. One morning she had decided to bake some cakes for the children to mark the end of their exams. I suppose that making all those cakes must have been quite time consuming. In any case, after the sixth or seventh she was hot and flustered and let herself be a little impulsive. She cast a spell and being so hot and flustered she said one part of it wrongly without even realising it.
All the ingredients were ready to be mixed and she had several mixers in several bowls. They were all hand-mixers in those days, luckly not electric mixers which would have been disastrous. It was bad enough, though at first it did not seem so. All the mixers began to mix up the ingredients as she wanted them too and she made a cup of tea.
You may imagine her surprise when one of the mixers leapt from the bowl to 'stir' her tea sending tea everywhere. It had not occurred to her at that moment that her spell might have been miscast. She thought it the action of one rogue mixer. A bad one in the bunch as it were. But she suddenly found that she could not get the mixers to stop mixing. And that was when she made things worse again by mistake. She cast another spell in a panic and suddenly the mixers leapt from the cake bowls and grew. She screamed and ran out of the house looking for another practitioner. I mean practitioner dear, we don't like the word 'witch' it has unfortunate implications.
The mixers followed her and began to well march... as much as mixers can be said to march. They were now as tall as a small tree and moved at quite a pace too. The lady concerned was caught up in their blades, which fortunately were not sharp and she was flung dizzily over the Waterson's garden hedge, narrowly missing the dog. She was not badly hurt, mostly bruises to her legs, hip and pride, but she was also terrified. Mrs Waterson had seen the mixers and called one of us older practitioners to tell us what had happened. Ms Weston and young Hazel went out to deal with the matter. In the meantime, people fled from the high street in horror. Builders who had stopped to look found their cement being rather vigorously mixed than they wanted, not to mention their vans being caught up in the mixers' blades and damaged. Dogs barked and ran at the mixers, children threw things at them, but the mixers kept going along the high street with no apparent destination in mind.
Young Hazel who was and still is a very fine practitioner (sometimes known unfortunately as Witch Hazel by the schoolchildren) stood her ground at one end of the high street and let others run around her. It was chilly that day and she pulled her cardigan about her shoulders and glared at the mixers. Ms Weston approached the mixers from the other end of the high street. Young Hazel sighed and murmured three quick spells in succession (I did say she was very good) and the mixers seem to shudder and halt. For a moment they seemed to consider running from her, but then without warning they stopped mixing and shrank to their original size. Ms Weston murmured her own spell and they vanished to the washing up bowl of their owner.
Without a word both women sighed and went back to their tea and knitting. Did I mention that Ms Weston is an excellent knitter? Hazel is quite the knitter too, she has a lovely amethyst coloured angora cardigan she knitted. Well as I was saying, the baker was summoned that evening to Mrs Cattermole's house along with the rest of us and she was told a few things about using occasional magic - preferably occasionally and not when hot, flustered and tired. I don't believe she has practised magic since. Ah the rain has stopped. Will you excuse me, I must, ahem, powder my nose!"
Mrs Laverne arose from the table and I sat back and marvelled at the apparently ordinary town I lived in with it's Victorian church and houses; it's usual shops and cafes and the apparently ordinary people. The wise women and occasional practitioners of magic like Mrs Laverne and Hazel and Ms Weston who one never thought to cross or to anger, not because of fear but because one could not help but love them.
Still I could not help mischievously asking Mrs Laverne when she returned if she'd like more cake.
"My dear, I do believe you are tempting me. Perhaps next time, I have some errands to run. Would you mind helping me?" she said.
Of course I did not mind in the least. I gave her my arm and as we turned to the door of the cafe, I saw the rain had stopped and sunlight glinted on the hard wet surfaces of the road and the cars. Mrs Laverne smiled and took sighed.
"How lovely to see the sun again," she said.