Not surprisingly the interior of “Thomas Delicatessen and Fine Foods” was as spotlessly clean as the exterior. Lining the right hand wall of the shop were shelves, tidy and well stocked with a wide range of tinned and packaged foods. The left side of the room was the food preparation and serving area. The domain of the shopkeeper, separated from the customers by a barrier of fridges and freezers.
The fridge nearest the front door was a “Deli-bar”. About one and half metres high and three metres long, it had a sloping glass front ideal for displaying cheeses and smallgoods. Beside it was a small counter on which stood the cash register and electronic scales. Next to the counter was the “Merlin”, an old style freezer cabinet with a top of sliding glass panels that allowed access to the ice cream and other frozen goods it contained.
Thirty or more years ago this type of freezer had been very common. Dean could still remember the first time he was big enough to open a Merlin by himself and get his own ice cream. It was during the summer holidays at the end of his first year at school. The Merlin was in the kiosk at the caravan park where the family spent every Christmas and he chose a choc wedge, the most expensive ice cream on offer.
Madge Thomas did not share her husband’s nostalgic fondness for the Merlin. It regularly froze up, and unless the ice was chipped away every few days customers found the wire display baskets an impenetrable barrier between them and the frozen goods stored underneath. Since the day they opened the deli, Madge had been keen to replace the old “ice chest” with a modern upright freezer.
Wielding a large knife with almost reckless abandon, Dean began attacking the build up of ice in the Merlin. Never one to let an opportunity pass, his wife seized the moment.
“It’s an antique.” Madge declared. “It was so old when we bought this place Peter Kosta didn’t even include it in the price. He thought we would just dump it.”
Dean stopped hacking away at the ice and looked up to his wife. “This is a Merlin,” he said reverentially. “Built to last a lifetime; The Rolls Royce of freezers in its day. Not like those modern uprights. Lucky if you get more than a year out of ‘em.”
“Stop exaggerating,” Madge said with a smile. “You know it comes with a ten year warranty.’The Rolls Royce of freezers,’ I don’t believe the way you go on about that thing, you’d think it was irreplaceable. It leaks, and the noise it makes, sometimes I think it’s about to blow up. And, what about the ice?”
“You got to expect a bit of ice.”
“A bit of ice! Every two days it’s like a snow drift in here when you get going.”
“I don’t mind,” Dean said laughing. “It’s kind of fun doing it.”
“Scott of the Freezer cutting his way into the food store. I hate to spoil the boys-own adventure, but it was the customers I was thinking of. An upright freezer with glass doors would make it easier for them.”
A rap on the front door interjected before Dean had a chance to reply. Madge opened the door.
“Nice to see you again Mrs Thomas,” The weasel-faced Health Inspector said with casual charm. “Just got to have quick look around. Hope you don’t mind?”
“No, please come in. Its Mr Curran, isn’t it?” Madge asked as she opened the door.
“That’s right”. Mr Curran stepped into the shop. Madge looked to her husband. Dean shrugged his shoulders and turned his attention back to the Merlin. Although they were both curious about the sudden appearance of the Health Inspector, neither expected anything other than a brief formal inspection. On his only other visit to the deli about six months earlier, he had found nothing wrong, no breaches of the health regulations at all. Before leaving he had complimented them on how clean the place was, sampled some of the marinated goat’s cheese, and joked that he might be forced to make a return visit in the near future, but as a customer and not the Health Inspector.
Not anticipating any trouble, Madge alone accompanied the Health Inspector on his tour of the premises.
Dean continued his struggle with Merlin. Hacking and scooping, the ice from the freezer tumbled into the bucket at his feet. Each bucket of ice would then be strategically spread across the pavement in front of the shop. In summer the ice melted quickly away, but at this time of the year, Dean set himself the goal of an ice-white lake of slosh the width of the pavement. A challenge that could only be met with speed, good timing and a careful flick of the wrist when emptying the bucket so that the ice was spread at just the right thickness.
The Health Inspector was meticulous. Starting out the back he found that the drains were clean and the rubbish bins all had lids that fitted. As the plumbing inside also passed close scrutiny, Mr Curran became more officious and when the cool room was found to be without fault he became positively punctilious. Madge maintained her calm throughout, but was under no illusion. This was not just a routine inspection.
With his check-list full of ticks and not a cross to be seen, Madge ushered Mr Curran back into the shop just as Dean was using the large knife to remove the last of the ice from inside the Merlin.
“A problem with the seals Mr Thomas?” The Inspector inquired.
“Yeah, they’re not too good,” Dean replied as he straightened up, the knife still in his hand. “But it’s customers who leave the lid open that are the main problem.”
“Still, it’s time you got some new seals,” Mr Curran said crisply as he made a note at the bottom of the list on his clip board.
“What!” Dean reacted, pointing to the seals with the knife. “They’re okay.”
“You just agreed they weren’t too good, Mr Thomas, you can’t have it both ways,” Curran said in a calm irritating way. “Now put down the knife, otherwise I might think you are threatening me.”
“I’m not threatening you with this,” Dean shouted as he slammed the knife down on the counter. “But, I wouldn’t …”
Madge interrupted Dean by putting her hand on his shoulder. “We’ll look into it Mr Curran,” she said calmly.
“That would be good Mrs Thomas and please keep me informed. Here’s my card,” the Inspector said putting his business card down on the counter. “And, don’t forget the cracked tiles; they’ll have to be replaced.”
“What tiles?” Dean asked, struggling to restrain his mounting anger.
“Those,” Curran replied pointing to three cracked tiles on the wall behind the electric bacon slicer.
This was just too much. Dean attacked. “Why you jumped up pen-pusher, those tiles have been cracked for years and no-one’s worried about them before. So why now?”
Ignoring Dean, Mr Curran turned to Madge. “I’ll be going now Mrs Thomas.”
“Answer my question why don’t you?” Dean demanded as he advanced on the retreating Health Inspector, driving him backwards to the door. “You said nothing about any of those things on your last visit, so why now?”
Madge was not surprised by her husband’s sudden outburst of anger. He was always over-reacting to situations but this time she agreed. Seething with quiet rage, Madge snatched up the Health Inspector’s business card and stormed through to the family kitchen behind the shop.
Different people exorcise the anger and frustration they feel towards those who cause them grief in different ways. Some resort to violence and some to drugs, but for Madge the freezer compartment of the kitchen fridge had long been an effective means of consolation.
In the next episode, “Strike One”, the Health Inspector goes for a slide and the appearance of Sky Crystal cause Elliot Price to smile; But why?