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I stare at the paper:

Where Refined People Live

All Sorts of Girls

Belly Dancers perhaps?

The theme of the quiz is sweets, or candy as Americans refer to it, and my 18yr absence from the UK and its associated sweets and chocolates market, is placing me at a distinct disadvantage. I have no idea what’s supposed to go in the blank ‘answer’ square alongside each statement.

To my left, Bridget reaches into the depths of her handbag and removes a medicine-style bottle filled with cherry-red liquid, along with a vacuum sealed roll of plastic shot glasses.

“Home brewed sloe gin,” she whispers. “To oil the brain cells.”

She pours three shots of the syrupy contents, one for each member of our little team. The sweet liquid slides easily down my throat leaving a zingy, berry taste on my tongue. Suddenly the list before me decides to reveal its hidden secrets.

Mars Bar, I write in the empty space next to the clue ‘Mother’s Local’, and Maltesers next to the clue ‘Inhabitants of a Mediterranean Island’.

“It’s working,” grins Bridget, replenishing our plastic glasses and neatly writing Turkish Delight next to the Belly Dancers clue.

The WI may not be as bad as I feared it would be. In fact, I’m beginning to quite warm to it.

I had first spotted the existence of a local WI (Women’s Institute) in Signpost, the small glossy brochure detailing events and news from around the surrounding villages, that gets hand delivered to our front door every month. I have never been to a WI meeting nor indeed, ever known of its existence outside of the movie Calendar Girls. If you had asked me a few weeks ago what I thought of the WI, the only thing that would have popped into my head would have been Helen Mirren with a broad Yorkshire accent telling Julie Waters

“I hate plum jam! I only joined the WI to make my mother happy.”

The little notice in Signpost said the local WI branch was in danger of losing its access to the Community Hall due to falling member numbers and it appealed to any local women who weren’t already members, to come along and support them. The carrot for that month’s meeting was a talk on making candles from beeswax.

Sure enough, a couple of days later our neighbour and friend, Caroline, popped her head into the open window and asked me if I’d like to accompany her to the next WI meeting.

Luckily Unfortunately we were due to be away so I declined but told her I would go with her the following month. The second Tuesday in October came around and once again, I was unable to go as Jack had some kind of stomach bug and I feared I may be contagious (conscientious and considerate individual that I am, ahem) but that I would definitely go to the next meeting.

“We really must go to the November meeting,” Caroline had urged. “Otherwise, we won’t be able to just turn up at the December one which is a party and usually rather good. We can bring the men to that one too!”

I promised faithfully to go with her in November.

That’s why I’m now sitting in a draughty Community Hall with a dozen or so other women, playing the sweetie quiz and imbibing sloe gin. At the table two teams away from us, a bottle of wine has been opened and is being poured between the three-woman team. Meanwhile, Bridget has passed the shot glasses and the sloe gin around the entire room. As the quiz goes on, the hushed whispers begin to raise in volume, accompanied by bursts of laughter.

And not a pot of plum jam, chutney or a Victoria sponge in sight.

Next month we all have to bring some home-cooked finger food – one plate of savoury and one of sweet. Someone is going to bring the music, and the hall will have its Christmas tree up. No doubt everyone will also bring some alcohol, I know I will. Unfortunately, due to Covid restrictions on the numbers allowed in the space, partners are not invited this year.

I wonder if Jack will be disappointed…or relieved.

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