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Further Writing by Swan Morrison

Raffle Prizes

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 wife’s, 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 you’re 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. ‘I’ll 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 action.

There, on the work surface stood a bag of flour, a jug of water and… a 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 don’t know, and I tell you,’ Carol replied, ‘you’ll 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 replied.

‘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 I’m going to have to reset the date on the box.’

‘But it’ll still be outside its real use-by date,’ I said.

‘I know this box,’ Carol replied. ‘I’ve donated it, myself, twice before. I think its real use-by date was back in the late noughties.’

‘Won’t the biscuits have gone off by now?’ I asked, naively.

‘Well, probably,’ Carol replied. ‘But it’s 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, ‘it’s 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.’

‘Exactly,’ said Carol, as she watched an imaginary light bulb illuminate above my head. ‘When you’re 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 hadn’t 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 they’ll be safe until the Macmillan Coffee Morning.’

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 they’re 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 stuff.’

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 tin.

‘In that case,’ I said. ‘I don’t mind if I do.’