Its 1982 and I’m working for the electrical contractor in Newcastle in the job of my youth.
I’m seconded to our Birmingham office and in an attempt to save money on my lodgings they’ve found a room for me in Elsie from accounts house where, for a meagre remuneration Elsie from accounts, a huge barrel chested and barrel fisted brute of a woman, would provide me with clean linen on my bed once a fortnight, a cooked breakfast, a packed lunch and an evening meal.
Her house was shit.
Elsie from accounts had a husband and as is the case in many of these relationships, he was a skinny man, a skinny man with slicked-back greasy hair and black heavy lens’ed national health spectacles with the obligatory sticking plaster holding the arm to the frame, he was so insignificant in the house that I can’t even remember his name, I doubt that I ever spoke to him anyway.
On the contrary Elsie from accounts never stopped talking, like a shark which will die from drowning if it ever stops swimming, Elsie would die from lack of oxygen if she ever shut her mouth, and so she talked all of the day and all of the night and her husband and I sat in their smelly lounge all night long wishing that we were somewhere else.
Their whole house smelled, in fact it fooking stank.
They were chain smokers, a permanent fog hung in the lounge of their house and my meals were liberally coated with a bloom of ash from the cig that was surgically attached to her lip and which danced like the magic magnetic robot and sprayed grey clouds of ash as she talked about nothing in particular.
I stank from living in that house, I smelled like a 200 a day chain smoker just because I lived in their house, I have never smoked but in the short three months that I lived in their house I absorbed enough contagions to shorten my life by several years.
The wiry husband had a secret, not that he made it much of a secret, in fact he made it bleedin obvious – he had a fancy woman.
He had somehow managed to concoct a business from selling miniature signal lights for model railway enthusiasts, he made them himself out of plastic bits that he had manufactured and tiny, tiny little 12 volt light bulbs called “rice bulbs” that he imported from China or some other faraway place – he seemed to have cornered the market in model railway signals as he made and sold them full time and I can’t imagine that anyone else in the whole world would ever dream of specialising in such a thing.
Except his fancy woman.
His fancy woman who, according to him, “lived on the other side of Birmingham” had, according to him, invested some money in his silly little business and, according to him, helped him to manufacture the model railway signal lights – late at night.
Most nights of the week he’d let Elsie from accounts make and serve his evening meal and when he had finally scraped the last of his pudding from his bowl, licked his lips and checked his shirt front for renegade bits of pudding that may have lodged in the many creases of his oversized shirt, creased as it was on his sparrow-like frame, he’d then rise and declare that he was “going across town” to “see about that order” or “collect some paperwork” and that “he’d be back very late so don’t wait up for me” and sometimes, “I’ll be back very, very late so I won’t come back at all tonight, see you tomorrow”.
He may as well have hung a cardboard sign around his neck and crayoned “I’m shagging this other woman” on it, it was that obvious, but Elsie from accounts never saw through his subterfuge, or if she did then she let him continue with his Percy Filth liasons perhaps happy in the fact that if he was jumping the fancy womans bones then at least he wasn’t trying to climb aboard hers.
And now the point of this story…
I was eventually moved back to Newcastle and on the last night of my sojourn at the house of nicotine Elsie from accounts bought some chocolate eclairs for pudding.
I haven’t yet mentioned that the woodbine twins had a glass topped table in their dining room as was the latest fashion in 1982 and Elsie from accounts thought that it was beautiful, her pride and joy she would spend all night long cleaning the many fingerprints and cigarette marks off it and each night when we’d finished our main course she would wipe the table down before serving our stodgy pudding course.
She’d done that on my last night there and returned to the kitchen for the big plate of chocolate eclairs, I reckoned that we’d get at least three each, four if I was quick and nicked one off Elsie from accounts and as we waited for her return we faced each other across the table and chatted idly about model railway signal lights, a topic of conversation that, and I must be absolutely honest here, I have never found exhilarating.
Elsie from accounts returned and placed the big plate of chocolate eclairs right in the middle of the glass table and so, in our haste, myself and the husband who stayed out most nights leaned on our respective ends of the table and reached across for an eclair each.
There was one loud snap.
And the table split into two perfectly symmetrical halves, each (now) semi-circle of glass dropping down at each end onto our knees.
We sat and stared at each other across the now perfectly broken glass topped table, gaped at each other wondering which one was to blame and thinking of some way to pin this on the other, “it wasn’t me” was all I could think of and apparently it was all he could think of too because he actually voiced those words.
And while we sat and stared at each other in horror and waited for Elsie from accounts to burst into hysterical mourning for her beautiful glass table something else happened…
Elsie from accounts hadn’t quite placed the chocolate eclairs in the absolute middle of the table, possibly due to the fact that I was the paying guest she had placed them closer to me than the husband who stayed out all night and now that the table was inverted in the middle like Tower Bridge in London raised to let the ships through, the big plate of eclairs slid slowly down my side of the glass towards me, and with a plop landed in my lap – how fortuitous.
She did burst into hysterical mourning for her beautiful glass table top, the husband who stayed out all night took both pieces outside and dumped them in a neighbours skip and then disappeared and stayed out all night.