Brenda sat at the kitchen table gazing ruefully at the tatty piece of paper in her hand. The annual spring clean underneath the fridge had yielded the usual variety of mouldy peas, fridge magnets and important reminders that the former items were supposed to keep fixed in place. This particular note announced her New Year’s resolution, one that had lasted … oh … no more than a week in reality but a more respectable month when talking to anyone else. The memo said ‘I WILL cut out chocolate’ – an instruction happily ignored by her other hand which was absent-mindedly dunking a biscuit heavily coated in the forbidden substance into her coffee. Brenda sighed, her chocoholic habit had ensured any clothes-shopping trips were restricted to stores that dressed ladies of a certain size.
“There you go, Mum.”
Marion, her youngest daughter, threw a folded newspaper down in front of her. Red biro circled an advert in the ‘Wanted’ column.
EXTRAS TO APPEAR IN CHOCOLATE HEAVEN’S NEW TELEVISION COMMERCIAL. NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY BUT MUST LIKE CHOCOLATE!
“We thought of you straightaway.”
“We?” asked Brenda.
“Yeah, me, Tash and Jan. I stopped off at Dad’s on the way home to pick up a book Tash’d borrowed and Jan showed me this.”
“I’m sure she did,” said Brenda trying to keep the sarcasm out of her voice. Jan was her daughter’s sylph-like stepmother, an expert at subtle and not-so-subtle innuendo. It took a lot of self-control but Brenda was able to hide her resentment for Marion’s sake, although one day she promised herself, she would get her revenge.
“And Jan said they pay well,” her daughter continued.
“And she said you’d probably get all the chocolate you could eat.”
“And did she say anything else?”
Marion opened her mouth but the look on her mother’s face made her pause.
“She was just trying to be helpful. She knows money’s tight,” she said.
It was all Brenda could do not to scream. The only reason money was tight was because her ex-husband was behind with the maintenance yet again, pleading poverty whilst splashing out on foreign holidays and a brand new car for Jan. He’d recently bought Marion the latest iPhone which certainly kept her daughter happy but didn’t pay the bills or put food on the table. Brenda just about managed by combining her job at the supermarket with an evening stint as a cleaner. Sometimes her life felt like one long monotonous grind. Regardless of Jan’s little dig, perhaps doing something a bit out of the ordinary might be fun; not that she’d say anything to Jan. Brenda had no intention of leaving herself open to any more barbed comments.
The next day, with Marion safely at school, she called the agency and was told to turn up on Friday at Mayflower Country Park and to wear comfortable clothes and trainers. This suited her perfectly as Friday was her day off and Marion was spending the weekend at her father’s. A slight thrill ran through her as she put the phone down, surprised at her own daring. It was going to be hard getting through the rest of the week without telling anyone.
Friday morning dawned and spring sunshine flooded her bedroom as she opened the curtains. The trees outside were covered in blossom and the clumps of golden daffodils gave her spirits a lift. Brenda dressed quickly and went downstairs to find Marion already half-way through her breakfast. Her daughter wanted to leave early so she could drop off her overnight bag at her Dad’s on the way to school.
“You’ll be OK on your own, Mum?” asked Marion anxiously as they hugged goodbye.
“Course I will, sweetheart,” said Brenda, touched as always by the fourteen-year old’s concern for her adult mother.
Once Marion had gone, she made one more trip to the toilet, nerves were beginning to get the better of her – grabbed her bag, jumped into the faithful rust bucket that passed for her car, and headed off to the park. It was a place well-known to her, family picnics and nature walks taken when Marion was small. And, also, by coincidence, the place where she’d discovered her husband’s adultery.
Although early, she only just managed to find a space in the car park and then followed the signs that led her and swarms of others to the visitors’ centre where a small team of efficient, and, very young-looking, women took their details. They were all given a number and a basic outline of events and directed up to the Round Hill where filming was to take place. Once there, they were handed plastic ponchos in an indescribable shade of brown and told to sit down in rows of ten abreast. The aim, according to a harassed-looking little man running up and down the hill, was to make them appear like a human river of chocolate.
The woman next to her muttered they looked more like the present her incontinent dog had left her on the carpet that morning.
“Still, getting paid eighty quid for sitting on your backside isn’t to be sniffed at,” she added.
“Unlike your carpet,” said Brenda and both women started to laugh. “Have you done this sort of thing before?”
“Yes, quite a bit actually. I’ve got my name down as a regular with the agency, so have half the others here.”
Brenda looked around at her new colleagues, most of whom did indeed seem to know each other and were chatting away like long-lost friends.
“See that woman down there, the one in the bright pink tracksuit? We were a couple of cherry tomatoes in that daft ad for Maddison’s Supermarket. We did a ‘salad’ version of Henry V, you know that bit ‘Once more unto the breach dear friends, once more …’?” Her new friend, who introduced herself as Sue, chuckled at the memory. “You should’ve seen the cucumber. They had to withdraw the ad because people complained it was too suggestive.”
By now Brenda had begun to relax, the day was warming up and the directions occasionally bellowed their way were not too difficult to follow.
“Right everybody, let’s take a break for half-an-hour, then back here and SAME POSITIONS PLEASE!”
At this dismissal, Brenda and Sue accepted the offered coffees and bars of chocolate before heading off to join the ‘cherry tomato’ and her friends.
Warm hellos and further offers of biscuits, cakes and a nip of brandy came their way and the time passed swiftly as each of the group sought to outdo each other in their re-tellings of past experiences, from haggis to tutus to the respectable peak of a drink in the Rovers Return. Once you’d made that breakthrough, a whole new world opened up, from being the back end of a pantomime horse to standing-in occasionally for a talking tree. They were interrupted by one of the film crew’s gofers.
“Now then ladies, time to get back in position if you please. We’ve another hour or so of filming and then we’ll be done. And if any of you are interested, they’re taking names for the next Supa Dupa Noodle advert.”
“Up for it?” asked Sue.
Brenda laughed and nodded as she once more donned the brown poncho and returned to her place; she was beginning to feel like an old hand.
The next hour was spent writhing around on the ground as they simulated melted chocolate before they all leapt up and waved their chocolate bars at the camera.
It was all over. Brenda returned home and unloaded the two heavy boxes of Chocolate Heaven bars she’d been given. On top of these she placed the signed photo of the actors who’d apparently been doing a Romeo and Juliet at the top of the hill while she’d been rolling about further down; she’d been surprised at how normal they were. In front of this little pile of loot, she placed the cheque, her wages. Eighty pounds for a few hours’ work. This had turned into quite a day.
The door opened behind her and Marion entered the room, followed, unusually, by Jan.
Her rival came over to the table.
“Someone saw you at the park. We couldn’t wait to find out how you got on,” smiled Jan.
Then Marion squealed, “Wow, mum, all that chocolate! And you’ve got Brad Raven’s autograph, and Jennifer Lords!”
Brenda smiled. “They were quite sweet really, very friendly.” She couldn’t resist a glance at Jan’s disbelieving face.
Marion squealed again. “Eighty quid. Cool!” and hugged her mother.
“I must say the job certainly seems well paid,” muttered Jan. Then she rallied. “But seeing as this was a one-off at least you’ve got all this chocolate to comfort you.”
“That’s where you’re wrong,” said Brenda smugly. “I’ve signed up for another job next week and there’s quite a bit more work in the pipeline, in fact enough to give up my cleaning job plus I’ve agreed to meet up with some of the other extras for a night out. Actually, I doubt I’ll have much time to eat all this. Here, why don’t you take a box?”
The sour look on Jan’s face as she left the house said it all.
“Good going,” whispered Marion, as she kissed her mum. “I’m really proud of you.”
Grinning, Brenda unwrapped a bar of Chocolate Heaven and took a small bite. She ate slowly, savouring the taste and wallowing in the sweetness of this, her perfect moment.