The following fine prose is what I writ in an as yet unpublished (partly because its unfinished) biographical novel based on the life and times of Bob Beck, one of my dads lifelong mates, the following tale is absolutely true as recounted on many drunken evenings in the golf club by Bob himself, the rest of the novel might not be entirely true, but this bit is…
The rest of the day progresses well, Foxy completes the ground floor pipework just before lunch and they sit in Mrs Azids kitchen with their potted beef sandwiches and two wedges of a jam sponge cake that Bob has liberated from the cafe, whilst drinking the first of four cups of strong tea from Mrs Azids best Denby earthenware, and for amusement Bob watches the filth and solder flux on Foxy’s hands gradually migrate to the bread on his sandwich then disappear into his mouth, in all their years together Bob has never known Foxy to wash his hands for something as inconsequential as a sandwich, not even on occasions they’ve been working on foul water drainpipes.
Which reminds Bob of an incident that happened on a job last year and inbetween a mouth full of potted beef and bread, Bob laughs out loud at the memory of Foxy chasing him down a terraced street of houses in Harehills. They’d been asked to unblock a toilet in a rented back-to-back house by the landlord of the property who used Bob and Foxy for all sorts of odd jobs, neither of them wanted to do the blocked toilet job but the landlord gave them lots of work, small jobs that usually only took a few hours but he paid good rates and he paid in cash, so when the call was made to Bobs house one morning he didn’t hesitate.
When they’d arrived at the house they’d found the upstairs toilet completely blocked with turds (goldfish was the polite term that Bob and Foxy used in front of the clients) and almost full of at least four days worth of excrement, but out in the street the drain was empty, showing that the blockage was somewhere in the foul water pipe between the toilet and the street. It was Foxy’s turn to get the sweet end of the stick for a change and he had a good laugh at Bob as he watched him struggle into his pair of dirty overalls, the ones that they both saved for these sort of jobs, then pull on a pair of rubber gauntlets and start to screw a large rubber plunger onto a four foot long length of broom handle.
The procedure was quite simple, Bob would pump the plunger up and down inside the toilet bowl in an attempt to get the obstruction to move and Foxy would wait outside observing the drain to make sure that the blockage flowed away properly, when and if Bob could shift it. foxy’s part of the job really only involved him standing above the drain manhole with a pole just in case the blockage needed breaking up some more when it reached him, but Foxy loved mucky jobs and so as Bob disappeared into the house he took up his position at the manhole laid down on the pavement with his head inside the hole, and gradually shifted his way down until only the bottom part of his legs were visible from the pavement and his head was almost level with the drainpipe at teh bottom of the hole
There was nothing to see down here, not even a trickle of water in the bottom of the pipe, this was a bad blockage and Foxy suspected that it wasn’t in the toilet bowl at all but somewhere down at pavement level, perhaps where the drainpipe turned at ninety degrees before it emerged into this manhole. Foxy heard a dull thud from the pipe, then another, then several in succesion, Bob was pumping the plunger up and down in hte toilet bowl but nothing was emerging at this end, just as Foxy suspected, this was a bad blockage and if it was in the toilet it would have shifted by now.
Then on Bobs last plunge, Foxy heard something moving in the pipe, there was still no water coming through but something was definitely moving towards him and twisting his head level with the pipe he thought he could see something white (or something that had once been white) but it seemed to be firmly wedged in there now. Lifting himself clear of the manhole he went to the boot of his car and took out an old wire coathanger to hook the object with and drag it out but before he stuck his head down the hole again he shouted up at the bathroom window to tell Bob not to plunge anymore while he had his head down the hole.
A muffled shout from the bathroom indicated that Bob had heard and so Foxy took up his position again, head first down the drain, no-one else but Foxy would have done this, even when he had the clean end of the job, even when all he had to do was stand and watch, Foxy couldn’t resist getting his hands dirty. He was wedged into position, right down in the three foot deep hole with his head turned towards the blocked pipe, arm halfway inside the blocked section trying to get the coathanger hooked into the blockage when he heard the dull thud start up again,
“What the fu…” but before the question left his mouth a blast of foul air came from the pipe straight in his mouth followed by an awful gurgling sound and then four days worth of backed up excrement rushed towards his face and emerged into the open manhole bubbling and boiling, unfortunately unable to escape out of the opposite side of the manhole due to Foxy being in the way. Within seconds he was submerged and his eyes, nose ears and mouth plugged with goldfish and semi-fermented toilet waste, kicking and struggling and all the time trying to curse like he’d never cursed before Foxy managed to extracate himself from the hole and knelt on the pavement desperately trying to wipe the slime from his eyes whilst coughing and hacking up brown gunge from his lungs.
It was that sight that had greeted Bob as he came downstairs to find out if Foxy had seen what was causing the blockage, he’d seen everything drain away from the toilet bowl after Foxy had shouted up at him to have one more go and had flushed the toilet a couple of times to clean out the bowl, and now the sight of Foxy sprawled on the pavement spitting out goldfish was too much for Bob’s composure and he burst out an uncontrollable flood of laughter that had him sinking to his knees, wiping his eyes and trying to grab a breath before the fits of laughter started again and again.
Which all seemed a bit disconcerting to the two old ladies over the road who had come to their front door attracted by the smell, only to see two men on their knees on the pavement, one bent double trying desperately to clear his eyes, ears and nose all the while coughing and hacking as though he’d taken a lung full of mustard gas, and the other bent double holding his rib cage with both hands trying desperately to get his breath back in order to fuel another round of hysterical laughter.
And then just at that point Foxy hacked up the last glob from his lungs, snorted the last niblet from his nostril, and with one last vigorous rub his vision came back into some sort of focus, albeit with a slightly brown edge, and he slowly pulled himself upright whilst still kneeling on the pavement and turned his head to target his vision on Bob, who, whilst still struggling for breath, met Foxy’s gaze with a face full of mirth,
“You did that on purpose you bastard”
“Did what Foxy ?”
“You plunged when I said not to plunge, you plunged when I had my head down the hole, you bloody did that on purpose you bloody bastard”
“No I bloody didn’t, you said to give it one more go”
“I bloody didn’t, I bloody said don’t do it any bloody more, don’t do it any bloody more I said, it sounds nothing like give it one more go”
“Well thats what it sounded like up there”
and with that Bob reached over and ever so carefully picked a small goldfish from the top of Foxy’s head and flung it down the manhole,
“Come ‘ere yer bastard….” as Foxy sprung to his feet Bob was one second ahead of him and off down the road they both ran, Bob still laughing over his shoulder treating the whole thing as a big joke which just infuriated Foxy even more, as did the fact that his short legs wouldn’t catch Bob if he chased him all day.
And as they disappeared down the end of the street the two old ladies, standing with arms folded over ample busoms turned to each other, shook their heads, tutted, and turned and went back into their respective houses.
And when Foxy had finished chasing Bob around the neighbourhood they had returned to the van, sat inside and opened their lunchboxes, and whilst Bob had managed to wash his hands in the house earlier Foxy hadn’t, and despite stinking of four days worth of human excrement, his hair still tacky and his fingernails stuffed full of the light brown stuff, Foxy had enjoyed his jam sandwiches and even licked his fingers clean at the end, at which point Bob had to leave the van for some fresh air.
Bob reminds Foxy of the tale now and they lean on Mrs Azids new kitchen units laughing out loud until it starts to hurt, each adding his own little tag to the storyline and when Bob reminds Foxy that he never washed his hands afterwards, Foxy is holding his Denby cup of tea close to his mouth and he throws back his head and laughs so loud that he spills half of it down his overalls and onto Mrs Azids new lino floor, so he puts the cup down on the worktop, spilling more of it in the process and makes a wiping motion with his workboots on the lino, which only suceeds in spreading the tea even further as well as making it dirtier.
They’re both laughing so hard now that Foxy belches in the middle of a guffaw and nearly brings his sandwiches up again so he walks out of the back door for air and to calm down a bit, Bob stays in the kitchen, fresh chuckles erupting at random intervals, tears running freely down his face and muttering the occasional “oh dear,” and “you daft bugger”.