It was a warm summer day as
I walked along Rosemere Avenue on my way home.
Carol lived at number 25.
She had been a friend of mine, and my wifes,
for many years.
I looked towards her house,
and noticed Carol through a window of the kitchen
extension. She was clearly engaged in cooking
possibly creating one of the culinary
masterpieces for which she was well-known in the
village, and which were always irresistible
incentives to join her and her husband for dinner.
She glanced up, spotted me
and waved. Hello, Swan, she called
through the open window, come in for a
coffee, if youre not too busy.
I could spare half an hour,
and so I walked through her garden to the open
patio doors that led into the kitchen.
Put the kettle on,
she said, as I stepped into the kitchen.
Ill be finished in a bit.
I filled the kettle, placed
it on its stand and switched it on. I then found
some coffee mugs.
When all was prepared for
refreshments, I walked over to where Carol was
working, in order to watch a master chef in
There, on the work surface
stood a bag of flour, a jug of water and
tube of superglue??
Does superglue appear
in many of your recipes? I asked.
Just this one,
she replied. I tend to make it more often
at this time of year.
Carol had already mixed a
small quantity of flour and water in a foil
container. She then added a drop from the
superglue tube, and rapidly mixed the potion with
a cocktail stick. She then picked up an unopened
box of luxury biscuits and used the cocktail
stick to spread some of the mixture upon its base.
She then counted aloud to thirty, and wiped the
base of the box with a damp washing-up sponge.
What are you
doing? I finally said.
If you dont
know, and I tell you, Carol replied,
youll have to swear allegiance to the
rafflers code of secrecy.
Cross my heart and
hope to get stuck in a lift with Graham Norton,
I won this box of
biscuits at the cricket club raffle last week,
but it was five days short of its use-by date. I
want to donate it to the British Legion raffle on
Saturday, so Im going to have to reset the
date on the box.
But itll still
be outside its real use-by date, I
I know this box,
Carol replied. Ive donated it, myself,
twice before. I think its real use-by date was
back in the late noughties.
biscuits have gone off by now? I asked,
Carol replied. But its a raffle prize;
no one will ever open it to find out.
I looked puzzled.
What would you
do if you won this great big box of luxury
biscuits in a raffle? she asked.
Well, I said,
its a bit big for just me and Helen,
and, although it might be useful at Christmas, we
would probably never get round to opening it. I
think I would probably just put it quietly into
another charity raffle.
Carol, as she watched an imaginary light bulb
illuminate above my head. When youre
involved with as many charities as I am, you
realise that most raffle prizes are like that.
Anything alcoholic, and moderately sized packs of
chocolate, get consumed - everything else just
gets passed on to the next raffle. She
paused as if deep in thought. A few weeks
back, I was getting quite worried about some
handmade, lavender soaps that had been doing the
raffle rounds for years. I hadnt seen them
for months. I know this probably sounds silly,
but I missed them. It was a great relief when Mrs
Hodgeson donated them to the Children in Need
raffle. Amelia Roberts won them that day, so I
know theyll be safe until the Macmillan
I though back over the many
charity raffles for which I had bought tickets. I
had always half wondered what ultimately happened
to the packs of bath oil; the fragrant candles;
the big boxes of mixed cheese biscuits; the
ingenious kitchen implements, and personal
grooming products, that came in slightly damaged
boxes, suggestive of an initial unsatisfactory
trial by the original recipient; the pieces of
artwork that would be ideal in the correct
location - should an infinite number of parallel
universes ever generate such an environment; the
vases and ornaments that made one feel a certain
sense of aesthetic kinship with the person who
had chosen to be rid of them - all the items, in
fact, that I would either put back into
the raffle or, I had to confess, surreptitiously
donate to the next.
How do you alter the
use-by date? I asked.
The problem with use-by
dates is that theyre stamped onto the
packets, and so leave an impression. This recipe
came from Good Housekeeping, Carol
continued, pointing to the bottom of the biscuit
box. It fills and covers the indentations,
allowing a new date to be embossed on the top.
This box is white, but you can add food colouring
to match the colour of the packaging.
Carol opened a drawer and
removed a small date stamp and ink pad. I
might give this one another year, she said,
adjusting the dials. She then pressed the stamp
onto the pad and stamped the box. There are
quite a lot of these to do at this time of year,
she added. Prizes that entered the system
last Christmas are approaching their use-by dates,
and new dates are still needed for the older
The kettle clicked and
became silent. I returned to the other work
surface and made two mugs of coffee.
Do you want a biscuit?
asked Carol, as I passed one mug to her.
Has there been a
forensic analysis, including carbon dating, to
estimate their antiquity?' I asked.
I made them this
morning, she replied, opening the biscuit
In that case, I
said. I dont mind if I do.