IN PRAISE OF THE CRAZY OIK
The Daily Express Building - Great Ancoats St Manchester
The Penniless Press website wouldnít
ordinarily be interested in whimsical doggerel but we have stumbled across
something which looks like it Ė and yet is more than that - funny, observant and
authentically oik Ė crazy oik even (among which category I include myself). Not
the boring, self-indulgent, introverted, derivative shite usually peddled by the
struggling genius with which we want nothing to do.
I want to write because I feel I have a need to express myself in the fullest possible way. I have been writing off and on for perhaps three years without a great deal of success. This does not deter me because there are times when thereís a certain consolation even writing for oneís own satisfaction. Also if nothing else it has taught me to listen and observe because thereís usually a story to be extracted from every situation. Last but not least it is a craft which has to be learnt thoroughly.
Clinton cards may be an influence but we wouldnít go further than that Ė heís not the new William Blake or John Clare; he could be Dylan Thomas post pub or Pam Ayres before the operation. Auden sometimes had a larf with this kind of thing and they say TS Eliot wrote Eskimo Nell but I doubt Ray has even heard of these worthies.
Another feature of the crazy oik is a passionate reverence for the printed word. I myself spent hours Ė days even Ė producing texts with a John Bull Printing outfit (for anyone less than 60 this entailed squeezing little rubber letters into a grooved wooden block). Then I got a second hand typewriter which was so heavy I had to perch it on my bike saddle and push it two miles home.
Ray worked on the Daily Express in Manchester (that fine modernist black glass building still stands in Great Ancoats Street). He was a stereotyper Ė he shaped the moulds from which the metal plates were cast. One canít help feeling the Express missed a trick Ė Rayís poems would surely have raised the tone of that rag. But although he was in the heart of the print industry he could hardly have run off his works during a lull. Instead he got them typed and then cut out the chunks of typed paper and glued them into an exercise book. Reminiscent of the Bronte sisters at Howarth stitching their little home made books. It was this volume he showed to Bob Wild (another crazy oik contributor who features on this site) in the gym (the gym!!?). Bob smuggled it out to a Xerox machine. We hope Ray will be bucked up by this belated recognition and be gratified to know that at least one reader larfed out loud at My Daughterís Boyfriendís Father.
Additional: March 2009
More Ray Blyde has turned up since I wrote that intro. Ray has also written a fine autobiographical piece on growing up in Liverpool, his early days in the printing industry and the harrowing illness and death of his parents. Well, perhaps not too harrowing since Ray has that scouse wit in abundance. The wit that ran through the pieces by Jimmy McGovern, Ed Barrett and John Small in the issues of the magazine Voices back in the 70s. Ray would have been a cert for that publication - but somehow he missed it. What else has he got squirreled away?
Sed looked expectantly towards the casting machine, waiting for the first plate of the start page to spin around. The warning bell rang, the box opened, the operator with his index finger and thumb on the stop button, peered in to check that all was well. The plate hand broke off the plate from the tail and placed in front of Sed for inspection. Sed examined the plate for imperfections, the heat rising from the plate dried the inside of his nostrils. He sweated profusely in the hot humid atmosphere and to add to everyoneís discomfort the roar of the presses concussed the eardrums.
"Hold it," he shouted. The operator pressed the pump button then the stop button bringing the machine to an abrupt stop. Sed called the overseer, a tall lanky man of six feet six. Jasper Perkins, nicknamed Diesel by the staff, was supercilious and sarcastic at his worst and condescending at his best.
"Whats the problem Kirk?"
"The plateís chilled. There's still some moisture in the matrix."
"They're getting six minutes in the roaster. Is there something wrong with those tired old eyes ?"
Sed looked at him and shook his head with exasperation.
"Look for yourself." The overseer bent down to take a closer look. Shiny patches made the type look distorted and indistinct. Jasper rubbed the affected area with a small piece of woollen cloth, a blanket of smoke rose from the plate. Diesal squinted through the fog.
"Take the matrix out and I'll give it another whirl. Put this mat in and be quick about it, the editionís late already. Oh, and before I forget Kirk I want to see you in the office after this edition!"
"Won't it do later?" said Kirk
"No it won't, you be there." Kirk nodded, being shop steward or Father of the chapel, so called because historically Caxton used a derelict church to initiate the first printing in England.
It was a bind having to go into the office to be lectured by that supercilious twit. He couldn't think what it was about, but to be on the safe side he'd take his deputy in with him. Alec McDonald was a short thick set Scot from Glasgow who would resent going anywhere other than the pub. He would consider it a waste of good drinking time. As he expected Alec was none too pleased.
"Och, whats the matter wi the mon, surely he can hang on till later?"
"He says not. He probably wants to do a flyer after the first edition."
"Whats it aboot?"Sed shrugged his shoulders.
"I've no idea. Come on lets get it over with"
Sed and Alec knocked on the door of the overseerís office and waited.
"Come." It was a tiny office which looked smaller with four large men in it. Alec always said that there was more room in a phone box. Diesel cleared his throat.
"Right, Iíve had a complaint about Roy Plummer."
"In what respect?" countered Sed.
"He was listed to work on the fifth floor casting ingots."
"Are you complaining about his work?"
"No, he walked off the job before the end of his shift?"
"Had he finished the work?"
"Thatís not the point, he's paid for a seven and a half hour shift!"
"How d'you know he left early?"
"He was seen leaving the building, and he didn't clock out."
"Well we all forget to clock out occasionally" said Sed
"He's making a habit of it.'"
"This is clear case of victimisation", countered Alec
"Don't make me laugh McDonald, you haven't a leg to stand on, the man was clearly trying to skive off and I'm not letting him get away with it. He won't be paid for the shift!"
"Well, we'll see what the chapel have to say about that. Is that it?"
"I'm determined to stamp this practice out."
"Can we go now?" Diesel nodded and stood up suddenly banging his head on the air conditioning trunking. Relations between management and the unions were usually confrontational, especially when it came to negotiating the annual wage increase, management always complained that negotiating with so many unions was costly and time consuming. However, at this precise moment good will, had there been any, had flown out of the window. They opened the office door and came out backwards.
"We're no going to get a pint now are we?" said Alec as they made their way down the staircase.
"No. I think we'd better have a chapel meeting in the morning."
"Straight after the last edition."
"I'll put it on the notice board."
"In the meantime I'll have a word with Roy Plummer. Plummer had never been a popular bloke with the chapel or the management. He was always in late and went home early. Someone always covered him by clocking him in and out. However, this time someone slipped up. He found Plummer sitting on a bench behind the casting pot reading the Sporting Chronicle.
"Keeping out of the way as usual Roy?"
"Oh, hello Sed."
"Can I have a word?"
"Sure, Ďave a seat."
"I've just come out of the office. Diesel's accusing you of beggaring off early yesterday."
"Well, there was nothing to stay for."
"It's a good job we don't all do it."
"Look Sed I ran out of old type to melt down."
"Why didn't you go into the composing room and check if there was any more?"
"You must be joking, I don't go looking for work. Look I came in early to get a flyer. I did all the work that was there."
"As a matter of interest, Johnny Richie was in on that job today and he was none too pleased because he had extra work to do, work you should have done yesterday."
"Oh, well, he always complains "
"Well Diesel's threatened not to pay you for the shift."
"The bastard, I hope weíre not going to let him get away with that?"
"I'm calling a chapel meeting in the morning."
"Aw, bloody Ďell Sed, I'm on the early finish ."
"Tough, this meeting is for your benefit, you'd better be there. If your not there you'll be fined by the committee."
There was the usual restlessness and discontent when chapel meetings were called mainly because the men were tired and would much rather be on their way home. Decisions could also be influenced by the amount of beer consumed that night. Sed knew this and could foretell what would be said and by whom.
"Call to order," said the chairman Colin Dunne.
"The F.O.C has called us together to discuss what the chapel should do in answer to the overseer's threat not to pay a chapel member to wit Mr Roy Plummer for his shift on Tuesday the fifteenth inst."
"Get on with it" yelled someone from the back of the meeting.
"Here it comes" thought Sed.
"Stop the job", shouted malcontent number one, Pete Sharp.
"Ban overtime!" said number two.
"We can't ban overtime, because we seldom get any."
"Through the chair," said Colin again over the general hubbub.
"All right gentlemen, I don't want to keep you any longer than necessary, but as you've all heard Diesel is refusing to pay Roy for his shift. Someone saw Roy leaving before the end of his shift, and unfortunately he didnít clock out."
"Well he wouldn't if he was going home."
"Even a blind man on a galloping horse can see that" said another
"Order," said Colin.
"We all forget sometimes," someone interjected.
"I told him that, however, he insists that he will not pay him for the shift."
"'Ang on a minute, what about me," said Johnny Richie. "I had to do the extra work for that git Plummer, I'd like to claim two hours overtime,"
"Come on let common sense prevail," said Bill Backhouse. "I propose that you go back to see Diesel and tell him we'll make sure it doesn't happen again and that we will bring Roy before the committee and discipline him, we won't of course, but he won't know that."
"Balls!" yelled the malcontents. "He did nothing wrong. He did the job. Lets put a stop to this fella once and for all,"
"Ok," said Sed. "Calm down. It's not a good thing to commit yourselves to the ultimate sanction for a thing like this, use your heads. If you threaten to stop the job you won't get the backing of the branch committee, nor the union in London, remember the last climb down over the Sunday paper we all got fined."
"So we're going to fold up again?" growled Ralph Parker.
"No, I think Bill's got the right idea, we'll give Diesel an assurance that it will not happen again," said Alec.
"Hey, 'ang on a minute before you throw me to the lions you bastards, youíre just making a scapegoat out of me!" said Plummer angrily.
"Well, I didn't expect you'd like it Roy but think on, your already on a verbal warning, another verbal and a written and you could be out." Someone seconded Bill Backhouses proposal and it was carried by twenty votes to nine. The officials went to see the overseer directly after the motion was carried.
"Thatís what the chapel propose," said Sed, hardly able to stifle a yawn he was so tired. He would normally be tucked up in bed by this time. Diesel shook his head and stubbed out his umpteenth cigarette.
"I'm still not disposed to paying Plummer, he's a shyster and you know it. He's had so many chances"
"Well, its up to you Mr Perkins, but you might be saving yourself a lot of trouble."
"Hmm... you say you'll take Plummer in front of the committee and fine him Kirk?"
"I can't say what the committee will decide in advance, but obviously we want to deter him from doing it again." It was obvious that Perkins was still not convinced.
"You know I've a good mind to give Plummer another verbal warning!"
"Come on Perkins meet me half way I wouldn't be doing my job if I agreed to that".
"All right....but I may live to regret it."
"I don't think so." assured Sed. "Thanks, I'll tell the chapel and they can get off home."
Sed was exhausted as he drove home. Luckily there wasn't much traffic except for the odd bus, black cab, and few paper wagons trying to beat the deadlines to catch trains with the last editions. The F.O.C.'s job was not getting any easier. Larger size papers were in the offing, this meant longer hours because management refused any increase in the size of staff to cope with the extra work. The sun was just breaking over the horizon; it was going to be a nice day. He groaned at the thought that he would have to be up early to pick his mother in law up from the station. She was staying a few days, or was it weeks, he was too tired to remember.
"Are you staying in bed all day?" Sed screwed up his eyes as his wife opened the curtains letting in the full strength of the midday sun. Sed pulled the clothes over his head and turned over.
"Come on, here's a cup of tea don't let it go cold. Don't forget mother arrives at central at twelve fifteen, and I want to do some shopping then you can pick up the kids from school." He marvelled sometimes at the number of words she could get out without taking a breath.
"What time is it now?"
"Hells bells Gwen, I didn't get in till nearly six oíclock this morning!"
"Well it's not my fault, you will have these silly union meetings. I didn't ask you to be F.O.C.." The sound of her voice irritated him. No she hadn't asked him it was a job nobody wanted. The last F.O.C.. was nearly driven to a nervous breakdown. He tried please everybody and pleased no one, eventually the management made him an overseer, then nobody had any respect for him.
Whilst driving down to the station he tried to unscramble his brain, as Gwen kept chuntering on at him. What does that woman find to talk about. He cast his mind back to their courting days, she was so shy he couldn't get two words out of her, still it didn't matter then she was so breathtakingly beautiful. He looked across at her now, she was still pretty he supposed tending a little towards the plump side, not a bit like her mother thank God. What was the saying.....you look at the daughter you see the mother in twenty years time, or was it the other way around? On the station approach he was lucky enough to spot an empty meter.
"You sit tight, I'll go and fetch her," said Gwen slamming the passenger door behind her.
"Blast and damn her, why does she have to bang that door." Especially since he felt so delicate through lack of sleep. It was getting increasingly warm in the car so he opened all the windows to let in the cooling breeze, then settled back to take in the scene around him. Offices were emptying for lunch. The young didn't seem to have a care in the world, make the most of it, thought Sed, that soporific state won't last long especially when they get responsibilities. Sed decided he'd better snap out of it, then he caught sight of the two women coming down the station concourse towards him. He got out and took his mother in lawís case and gave her a perfunctory kiss on the cheek.
"How are you ma?"
"I was all right till I got on the train." Sed looked at his wife, she avoided his gaze. She settled in the back of the car and Gwen in her usual place. He knew he was going to have to enquire about what had transpired on the train.
"Well you wouldn't believe it, this man next to me put his hand on me knee."
"Perhaps he did it accidentally?"
"It wasn't an accident, you should have seen the lecherous look in his eyes!" Sed smiled to himself. If he had a pound for every time mother in law was threatened with rape he'd be a rich man.
"Did you report it when you got off the train?"
"Humph! Some hope, he'd only deny it. He looked like one of those pumps."
"You mean Puffs," said Sed, trying to suppress the urge to burst out laughing.
She was seventy eight and in pretty good health for her years, but of late she seemed to slip into flights of fancy since Frank died. Sed got on well with Frank. He was an old no nonsense printer, who liked nothing better than a pie, a pint, and a good old chinwag. He'd turn in his grave if he knew how obsessed Janet was with sex. He once told Sed that he could never understand how Gwen was conceived because they very rarely slept together due to Janetís dislike of the physical side of marriage. Frank often remarked that it must have been a virgin birth, and the last time that happened a star rose in the east.
"Can we go to Sainsburys? I want to do some shopping," said Gwen breaking his train of thought. Sed gripped the steering wheel a little tighter, and set off to do as he was bid.
"I went over to Mrs Jolley's yesterday," said Janet. "We had a nice cup of tea. She's got some nice curtains up, and a new pelvis over the window." There was no response from Sed or Gwen. The kids, Tracy, who was ten, and Mark twelve, loved their grandmother, but Mark consistently provoked her, Whenever Sed and Gwen had a night out, and Janet babysat, which was a misnomer really because she didn't look after them, they ran rings around her. One of the tricks he used to get up to was to keep changing the channels on the TV when she was watching her favourite programmes, especially Coronation street. She in turn would wait until he was in bed asleep, then she would creep upstairs, wake him up and ask him did he want to buy a battleship. Sed rang home one evening when Gwen was out visiting one of her friends. Mark answered. Sed asked him to put Janet on.
"Hello!" She sounded far away. Mark came back on.
"She's got the earpiece to her mouth Dad!" Sed laughed, it was typical of her, but in fairness she didn't have a phone at home, and they couldn't persuade her to have one installed.
"Hello!" she shouted again.
"Hello ma, are you all right?"
"Yes, I'm at me son in lawís. Me daughterís out."
"I know ma, itís me Sed!"
"Hello, can I take a message, you'll have to speak up I'm a little deaf."
"Itís me ma....for goodness sake."
"Hello, I'll tell him you called when he gets up tomorrow." then she put the receiver down on him. He looked at the phone in exasperation. She'd try the patience of a saint. He looked around the canteen to see if any of his crew were still playing cards, but they were conspicuous by their absence. He was obviously going to be late back. However, it wouldn't look too bad if some of the boozers were back late as well, which they invariably were.
When he arrived in the foundry Diesel was standing there with his hands on his hips looking at the clock.
"Your three minutes late Kirk, you should be setting the example!" Sed nodded and took his place on the machine. They had done about half the required number of plates, when there was a loud explosion from the back of the metal pot. The pot hand swung around holding his head, the back of which was covered in molten lead.
"Stop the machine!" yelled Sed.
"Are you ok Charlie?" Charlie sat down on the bench and started rocking backwards and forwards pulling chunks of metal and hair from the back of his head.
"Wet plate Charlie?" queried Sed.
"Bastards, somebody's thrown tea on the black metal. Itís bloody dangerous."
"I know," said Sed. "Iíll have a word with the machine room F.O.C.."
"Get him to the medical room Kirk," interjected Diesel with increasing impatience. "Get someone else on that pot, the editions late already!"
"Stuff the edition Perkins, thereís a man been hurt here, in fact you'd do more good if you got a grip of the machine room overseer, and read him the riot act about his staff throwing liquids on the black metal!"
"Are you addressing me Kirk?!" The veins on Dieselís neck were standing out like roads on an ordinance survey map, while his eyes protruded like organ stops. Sed lunged forward and stood eye to chest with the overseer. Those who witnessed the confrontation thought it was going to develop into a bout of fisticuffs between David and Goliath. Alec pushed them apart and told them to cool it. The two men stood glaring at each other, neither prepared to give ground. Alec dug Sed in the ribs.
"Don't do this, its what he wants," said Alec under his breath, the whole department plus the machine room watched the confrontation with interest, and anticipation, the general consensus had always been that Diesel needed someone to teach him a lesson. The problem was that whoever took it upon himself to do it would assuredly finish up as on of the long term unemployed.
"Take Charlie to the medical room Sed!" advised Alec, hoping that it would break the deadlock.
"I can go on my own. I didn't burn my legs you know."
"Come on Charlie," said Sed eventually. "I'll come with you."
"Iíll see you in the office later Kirk!" Diesel was as pale as a corpse, and his hands were shaking visibly
"Suit yourself" retorted Sed as he passed through the exit doors to the basement.
When Sed got back to the foundry the staff had gone on a break. The klaxons blared out sounding like old motor horns as the presses began to roll with the first edition. One of the overseers, Bill Smith was preparing a matrix for the next edition. He looked up as Sed approached.
"Are you ok Sed?"
"I'm all right, what time are we back?" Bill looked up at the clock.
"They havenít long gone, you've got about thirty minutes."
"Thanks!" said Sed "I'll go and have a pint" The pub, the Brown Bear, adjoined the front of the Sentinel building. It was the nearest pub, and there was a fair amount of after time drinking done there, that was until the police took it into their heads to raid it, then they'd all move on to next drinking establishment. When Sed got in, the place was heaving with printers and pressmen, and the air was thick with cigarette smoke. Claus Benedict a sub editor, or one eyed Ben as he was sometimes called was in his own corner of the bar. His corner was jealously guarded, he even had a plaque put up with the inscription, "Clausís corner keep out." Clause had a glass eye which he used to take out and drop it in his pint whenever he went to the loo. No one ever drunk Clausís beer by mistake or otherwise. Alec waved Sed over to an empty space on their table, as he took his seat Ralph Slater came to the table with a sheet of paper and a pen in his hand.
"Put your name down on here Sed " Sed looked at the paper.
"Put your name down for a quorum to hold a chapel meeting about Dieselís conduct towards you tonight." Sed looked up at him, gave him back the paper without putting the pen to it, and took a swig of his pint.
"I don't think so Ralph."
"What d'you mean you don't think so, we could have him down to the branch, he still pays his subs to the union."
"I think we'll let sleeping dogs lie. There'll be other opportunities."
Ralphís lip curled down. "Youíre a weak bastard Kirk! Look, this guyís shit on us so often you could muck spread a ten acre field with it."
"Hey Slater!" said Alec, "Youíre a great guy for making bullets for other people to fire, why don't you go back over there finish your drink and mind your own business."
"And another thing Kirk, your an outsider, not one of us!" With that Slater turned around and angrily pushed his way through a bunch of drinkers spilling beer all over the place, and disappeared through the exit doors.
"What did he mean by that?" queried Alec. Sed took another swig of his pint.
"Youíre not one of us?"
"Have you got three or four hours....its a long story." Alec looked at his watch.
"I've got ten minutes, or rather we've got ten minutes!"
When Sed left school, he wasn't very academic. He'd failed his eleven plus dismally, his school reports were laced with comments like..."Has a limited concentration span, will never reach his potential without a lot more effort." He had a few hidings from his father for either failing to do his homework, or doing it with the TV on with the sound on high volume. His first job after leaving school was in a cycle shop in Liverpool city centre. There was plenty to do, and it was never boring. However, his father kept insisting that he should try to get a "proper trade." Sed thought at the time that his father set a fine example, he had a "proper trade," as a French polisher, and hadn't stained or polished a stick of furniture for ten years or more. He had a brush, or as he put it, a difference of opinion with the boss, and finished up punching him on the nose. It wasn't his fault of course, it never was, when anyone got on the wrong side of his bad temper.
One evening when Sed was looking through the evening paper, he saw an ad in the situations vacant section for "Boy wanted for skilled trade, must be sixteen and two months." Sed copied the box number and address and resolved to write making application as soon as possible. He didn't say anything to his parents, he thought that if he was successful they would be chuffed. Within ten days he got a reply, and was invited to go for an interview on the following Monday morning at ten am. The job was for an apprenticed stereotyper. He hadn't a clue what a strereotyper was and thought it was something to do with typewriting. The morning of the interview, to make a good impression he put on his best sports coat and slacks. His mother eyed him up and down and said,
"What are you doing in your best clothes?"
"I'm meeting a mate in the dinner hour, and we're going for a bite to eat," he lied.
"If you get cycle oil on those trousers you'll have to answer to me mind!"
"I'll be careful he assured her." On arrival at the newspaper office he was shown unceremoniously to the overseerís office by a snotty nosed, spotty individual no older than himself. The overseer was a squat bad headed man about fifty five, called Mr King. He motioned Sed to sit down and asked whether he was gainfully employed at the moment? Sed said he was, but wanted to get into a skilled trade.
"Humph" said King fingering through the papers on his desk. "You realise of course that youíre not the only applicant for this job, so tell me why should I give you the job?" Sed looked down at his shoes and noticed that one of his shoelaces was undone, and felt on the brink of panic.
"I d..don't know whether I'm the most suitable applicant because,.. I don't know anything about the job, but I'm willing to learn."
"Humph" said King again. "Whatís Sed short for?"
"Nothing," replied Sed, "itís just I was christened Sed."
"Most unusual!" said King opening his drawer, his shiny bald head fascinated Sed. He could almost see his face in it. He closed the draw and looked again at Sed over the top of his half moon reading glasses.
"Have you any brothers or sisters?"
"I've got a brother in the merchant navy."
"All right, thank you young man, I'll be in touch." Sed thanked him and walked out of the office closing the door behind him. He looked with interest at the rows of printing presses stretching the full length of the basement floor. Operatives were climbing on ladders with buckets and cloths, while others were threading the newsprint through the rollers. Everywhere smelled of oil and paraffin. The snotty nosed kid said,
"You going to work here?"
"I don't know, I hope so."
"Itís all right, I'm waiting to go in the readers."
"What's the readers?"
"They read the copy before it goes to press...to see if there is any spelling mistakes and such like. What're you here for?"
"There was a job advertised in this paper for a stereotyper."
"Oh," said the lad wiping his nose with his already contaminated sleeve, "They make the printing plates back there." He pointed towards the far end of the basement where he could see men in their shirt sleeves lifting silver-plates off a machine.
"Does your dad work here?"
"No does yours?"
"Of course, he works in the machine room, and my uncles in the comps."
Sed came away from the newspaper office feeling reasonably confident. He'd been frank and honest. There was an atmosphere of excitement about the place. He'd seen films about newspapers with people rushing about the place meeting deadlines, and suchlike. He would look forward to working there given the chance. It was only eleven thirty, he felt hungry, and decided to go for a bite to eat at a coffee bar near Lime street station. Tomorrow he would tell the boss of the bike shop he was a bit off colour. After a sandwich and two cups of coffee he decided to go to the pictures. If it was still too early to go home after the pictures, a visit to the Walker Art gallery would be the next port of call. Sed got a letter from King the following Monday morning. He was all fingers and thumbs opening it. He devoured the contents with restrained enthusiasm. He'd got it...he'd got it!
"Ya hoo!" Sed showed the letter to his mother.
"Whats all this?"
"I got it ma."
"What for heavens sake?"
"The job I applied for." Then explained the circumstances. "I wrote off last week , I didn't tell you or dad because I didn't think I would get it."
"Oh, your father will be pleased."
"Of course Sed, I'm pleased as punch for you." His mother gave him a big hug. "Sed, youíre a dark horse and no mistake."
The morning Sed started in his new job, he was told by King that he had to be in ready to start work by eight thirty. He arrived by seven forty five, and found the department in semi darkness. He had no idea where the light switches where, so he just explored to his heartís content. It felt a bit like being in a Christmas grotto, he was full of anticipation with no idea what to expect. The first thing he was aware of was how warm the place was. He caught a glimpse of the coke fires under the casting pots, it reminded him of a stoke hole of the old steamships that his grandfather used to tell him about when he was a small boy. At this point the department was suddenly bathed in florescent light.
"Good morning lad!" A florid faced heavily built man appeared in the doorway.
"Good morning," replied Sed
"I'm the new apprentice!"
"Are ye now, and what do we call ye?"
"Sed Kirk," said Sed
"That's an unusual name, I'm Bob, welcome lad. When you've settled in perhaps you can get me some fags and a couple of sandwiches from "Browns."
"Hey,"said another voice."Dont be sending the lad out on his first day." The owner of the authoritative tone was a tall slim man with thick head of jet black hair and a toothbrush moustache.
"I'm Jack Degan the F.O.C..."
"Shop steward lad, spelt backwards cough, easy to remember eh?"
"Er... yes I suppose so," said Sed, thoroughly flummoxed by now.
"Come on, I'll show you your locker." Sed followed him like a lost sheep into the locker room, the confined space was full of men in various stages of undress.
"This is our new apprentice chaps." There was no welcome response as such. Someone quipped.
"I hope he's better at making tea than the other one!"
The first couple of days he found himself brushing up and running errands for the men in the department. He strongly objected to this.
"When am I going to start learning my trade?" He directed the tirade at the other apprentice Ralph.
"You've got a lot to learn. What d'you think I've been doing for twelve months, itís all part of the five year apprenticeship."
"Maybe, but, I feel like a skivvy!"
"You'll get no sympathy from them in there, because they've all been through the mill. Look if you keep your gob shut you can make a few bob here, they haven't a clue how much sandwiches cost, so play your cards right and you'll get free scran as well."
Sed didn't want to have free grub at anyoneís expense, let alone fiddle the cash.
"I don't think they like me very much?"
"What makes you say that?"
"Well ever since I arrived, someone asks me did I have any relatives in the trade.?"
Ralph sucked his breath in and shook his head.
"Touchy subject that."
"Why's that?" queried Sed.
"Well." said Ralph eventually. "Everyone in this department has someone in the trade, or in another department in the building. They probably think youíre doing somebody out of a job."
"It wasn't my fault, the job was advertised in this paper. I just applied for it."
"Well to be honest, there's been some trouble with the union over it."
"What sort of trouble?"
"At the last union meeting it was brought up for discussion, they objected to you starting because, the chapel hadn't been consulted."
"Its not my fault, I can't help not having a relative in the trade."
"Its not you they're getting at, its King." They were interrupted the raucous voice of George Walker.
"Who does he mean?" said Sed. Ralph smirked.
'"E doesn't bloody well mean me," and shot off. Sed approached cautiously.
"Right lad go out and get me a toilet roll." Two or three others joined in and eventually he had to write it all down. He took his time and mulled over in his mind what Ralph had said to him. When he got back he gave the fags out first, then the food. He gave George his. George looked at it and said,
Sed looked at it and replied anxiously.
"Itís what you asked for!"
"Is it?" he said sarcastically. He looked around at the others. "I sent 'im out for a toilet roll and 'e comes back with a buttered roll." He stuck the roll under Sedís nose and said finally. "What d'you expect me to do with this, wipe my backside on it?" Sed was crimson with embarrassment. He wanted the floor to open up and swallow him. He didn't care what George did with it, he just wanted to get out of there. He turned on his heel and almost ran out of the department. The only place he could think of where he could be on his own was the bog. He pulled the door shut, sat down and cried his eyes out.
The next few days Sed kept his head down and concentrated on doing whatever he was told and going where ever he was sent, ignoring any adverse comments in his direction about his lack of industrial family tree. He was soaking some matrix blankets in the large zinc bath when a young girl about his own age came into the department and knocked on Kingís door, he heard King say "come," and thought how pretty she was. Ralph interrupted his train of thought.
"Put your name down here!"
"Whatís it for?" queried Sed suspiciously.
"Its our syndicate for the football pools, its only a shilling a week, everyoneís in it."
"I haven't a shilling to spare until I get paid on Friday."
"Don't worry I'll put it in for you, give it to me next week."
'Ok, thanks'," said Sed keeping an eye on Kingís door. When she came out she swept past giving him a gorgeous smile.
"Who is that?" he asked Ralph.
"Who?" Sed nodded in the direction of the lift. "Oh thatís Debbie. She's a bit of all right isn't she?" smirked Ralph, digging Sed playfully in the ribs.
"Where does she work?"
"In the readerís, she's a copyholder, you know, looks for mistakes and things". Sed remembered. He couldn't imagine her having anything to do with that snotty nosed kid he met on the day of his interview. At five oíclock Sed got changed, ran up the stairs three at a time and almost collided with Debbie as she was about to clock out.
"Gosh," spluttered Sed. Iím sorry."
"That's all right, youíre the new boy?"
"Y..yes," his face burned,
"What's your name?"
"I'm Sed...Sed Kirk."
"What's Sed short for - Cedric?"
"No, it's not short for anything, its just Sed"
"I think it's nice!" Sed fell into step with her
"Thanks," said Sed feeling as though he was walking on air. "What bus d'you get?"
"I don't get a bus, I get the train. I live in Bromborough."
"Gosh! Thatís a posh area."
"Its not really, what about you?
"I live in Anfield, near Liverpoolís football ground."
"D'you like football?"
"Its ok, but I don't go very often. D'you like football?" She wrinkled her nose, and shook her head.
"Not very much, one of my brothers had a trial for Tranmere Rovers last year."
"Gosh! he must be good," said Sed, marvelling at the opportunity.
"He thinks he is!"
"What does your other brother do?"
She looked at him with her baby blue eyes, and that finished Sed, his whole being seemed to be on fire.
"He causes as much trouble as possible," she replied finally.
"Oh!" Sed couldn't think of anything to say to that.
"I'll leave you here, I get my train at St James street."
"Will I see you tomorrow?"
"You will if you keep your eyes open." He stood and watched her, her blonde hair bounced on to the collar of her coat as she strode away. Sed had no idea what love was, but his feelings told him that something special had happened to him. He turned around and nearly walked into a lampost.
The next few days Sed could not concentrate on anything of consequence, he couldn't sleep properly, and his conduct at work was causing more than a little concern. He was walking around like a zombie. His daily run out for errands was a farce. He gave Charlie Backhouse forty fags and he didn't smoke, George Walker finally got his toilet roll when he'd asked for a buttered roll. Eddie Trynor thought he'd won the pools, he got change of a five pound note, when he hadn't given him any money in the first place. To put it mildly, it was a fiasco. King had him in the office to try to ascertain what sort of disease he was ailing from.
"Whatís the matter with you Kirk, your mindís not on your work this week. Sed stood there fidgeting with his hands, and shifting his weight from one foot to the other. King adjusted his glasses and waved Sed towards the empty chair.
"Sit down lad before you fall down." Sed sat down.
"I,...I'm sorry Mister King I don't know whatís wrong with me, but whatever it is I won't let it interfere with my job again."
"Mmmm," said King. "I hope not. I took you on despite opposition from the union, so think on and don't let me down." Sed thanked him and made a quick exit.
Sed couldn't get it out of his mind what King said about taking him on despite opposition from the union, so he approached the F.O.C., concerning the matter. Jack listened attentively as Sed related his conversation with the boss, and his worry about the implication.
"Well," said Jack, "The reason we objected to you being taken on at this time is nothing to do with you personally, it could have been anyone. According to the rules twelve months has to elapse between one apprentice and the next, in fact only nine months have elapsed between Slater and you. So you won't start your apprenticeship proper for another three months." Sed felt a big wave of relief.
"So its nothing to do with the fact that I've got no relatives in the trade?" Jack smiled.
"What makes you think that?"
"It's been said often enough since I've been here."
"A lot of it is sour grapes, a bit sort of incestuous."
"Incestuous?" queried Sed.
"A lets keep it in the family. Look lad if you keep your nose clean and do as your told youíre as good as the next man.....well, as far as I'm concerned anyway, ok?"
"Great, thanks Jack." Sed felt more as though he belonged for the first, time since he started in the job. Despite Jackís assurances he was still kept at arms length by some of the men. Sed decided not to worry anymore about it, Rome wasn't built in a day.
Sed saw quite a lot of Debbie in the intervening weeks and tried his best to keep his feelings under some sort of control, so that he could concentrate on doing his job. It wasn't easy but running errands and cleaning up after other people didn't exactly tax the intellect. He concluded that being in love was the most wonderful feeling he had ever experienced. He felt a rush of adrenalin whenever he thought of her. His brother Lloyd was home from the merchant navy, and Sed usually made a big fuss of him, however, this time he hardly noticed he was there.
"Whats up with the young un, he looks like he's in a trance?"
"I don't know, he seems very preoccupied since he started this job, but he's happy enough I think," mused Mrs Kirk wistfully.
"How yer doin' young un?" quipped Lloyd sparring, flicking out a left lead towards Sed as he came through the door from work.
"Pack it in Lloyd, I can't be bothered," growled Sed ducking underneath Lloydís outstretched arm.
"Is that all you can say to your long lost brother home from the sea?"
"Grow up Lloyd, I'm not your snotty nosed kid now you know!" His mother shot him an admonishing glance.
"That'll do Sed, you have a bit of respect for your brother, he's been away for six months, aren't you glad to see him?" Sed looked intently at Lloyd and in an instant they both burst out laughing.
"Course I'm pleased to see you brud, but I wish you'd stop larking around sometimes."
"Hey, don't start getting too big for your boots or you won't get that something I've brought home for you."
"What's that? enquired Sed full of expectation.
"You'll have to behave yourself, any of your old buck and you won't get a smell of it."
Sed was undeniably curious about what the something was. He couldn't sleep that night thinking about it. As a youngster he used to root through Lloyds sea bag as soon as he came home, the opportunity usually presented itself when Lloyd and dad went out for a drink and his mother had gone out shopping. He pulled the heavy leather bag from beneath the bed opened it and saw the package immediately, it was medium sized wrapped in brown paper and wondered if that was it. He had a further search but only came across a packet of condoms, one or more had been used. The dirty sod thought Sed, and could be used as a bargaining chip at some time in the future. His girlfiend might be interested to know about it thought Sed glibly. A few days passed, nothing was said by either party until one Saturday afternoon Sed was getting ready to go out to meet Debbie when a smirking Lloyd pulled the packet from behind his back.
"Here ya young un, the pressy I promised you." Sed took it, and thanked Lloyd and started to tear it open. The first layer of paper revealed another identical cover, and then another. Sed by this time was in a frenzy of frustration and anticipation. As he stripped away each of the wrappings the parcel was becoming smaller by the minute, at the same time Lloyds smirk was broadening with each wrapper. The bastardís enjoying this thought Sed as at last the mystery was solved. It was a book. Sed opened the dark blue stiffed backed cover.
"What is it?" queried Sed almost out of breath with physical exhaustion.
"Itís a book," replied Lloyd.
"I can see itís a book, I'm not stupid."
"Itís a book on printing, youíre going to be a printer someday aren't you?" Sed flicked through the pages.
"I can't understand a blind word, its not in English."
"I know, I realised it when I got back to the ship, its in German. I couldn't change it because by that time the ship had set sail."
"Well what am I supposed to do with it?"
"You could show some appreciation, Lloyd brought it all the way back for you," interjected his mother sharply. Sed sighed with exasperation.
"Its no use to me, I can't read it, it's in a foreign language!"
"You could go to evening classes and learn to speak German." grinned
Lloyd thoroughly enjoying himself by this time. Sed chucked the book on the
settee, grabbed his coat off the back of the chair and flounced out. The
last thing he heard before he slammed the front door was the sound of Lloyd
gurgling with merriment.
There was a branch union meeting at Renshaw Hall and Jack informed Sed that it might be in his interest to go along, just to get an idea what goes on at one of these meetings. He would not, he was informed, be able to vote or make any comment whatsoever, just sit there observe and listen. He was sitting next to Dick Stacy who everybody called "Pint of Water," which Sed thought was a peculiar name for the man. However he was to find out why as the meeting progressed. Before the meeting started Dick turned to Sed whispered hoarsely
"When youíre at one of these 'ere meetings lad always get up and 'ave yer say, don't sit mute like most of these 'ere." The chairman opened the meeting, read the minutes of the previous meeting. He was about to ask the meeting for a proposer and seconder that the minutes of the previous meeting were a coprrect record when Dick got up and shouted,
"Point of order Mr Chairman!" and promptly sat down again. The chairman looked over in his direction, and again asked for a seconder. Dick shot up again, "point of order." Suddenly Sed realised why he was called "pint of water!" With his thick Scouse accent, "point of order" sounded like ,"Pint of water Mr Chairman." Dick was up and down like a fiddlerís elbow and made a thorough nuisance of himself that the stewards bundled him out. From that point on it was utter chaos. There was a fracas going on at the back of the hall which ended in fisticuffs, and the meeting closed before they got to any other business. When he got outside Jack caught him up and asked him what he thought of the meeting.
"Well they didn't get much done, but it was very entertaining." Jack laughed.
"It's not always like that thank goodness, otherwise we'd get nothing done, no some heavy fines will be imposed after that debacle." When Sed reached the bus stop it was starting to rain. When the bus finally arrived he was cold and thoroughly soaked to the skin, and to make matters worse the conductor shouted, "Two only," and put the chain across as Sed attempted to climb aboard. He cursed and decided to set off walking. He couldn't get much wetter if he'd fallen into the Mersey. The next bus came as he was between stops, and that one looked full as well. The rain was getting heavier, it beat against his face so fiercely that he couldn't keep his eyes open. He decided to shelter in a shop doorway for a while. He smelt the aroma of fish and chips, and suddenly felt ravenously hungry. He looked out of the shop doorway and spied the chippy at the end of the block. He sprinted towards the light and was just about to push open the door when he was grabbed roughly from behind by an outsized figure of a motorcycle policeman.
"Now then whatí the rush young man?"
"I..'m sorry," blurted Sed. "I was just trying to get out of the rain."
"You were were you?" said the policeman giving Sed a resounding slap on the back. The blow winded him. "Bloody 'Ell ," gasped Sed. The policeman stood back and looked hard at Sed.
"You don't recognise me do you?" Sed looked up at him, then shook his head. The cop removed his helmet.
"Henry....Henry O'Niell you old so in so," exclaimed Sed in amazement. "I didn't know you were in the police."
"Only just finished my training as a motorcycle cop."
"Christ youíre a big sod."
"Six feet six in my bobbies helmet!"
"I remember you at school, you were the smallest in your class."
"Aye, and I was bullied unmercifully by one or two. I got even with one of them last week. I caught him breaking into our local church. I thumped him silly, then arrested him. He wasn't half surprised when he found out who I was. I said, "You nasty little-bastard, you used to bully me at school. At first he said he'd never seen me before in his life."
"Who was it?" queried Sed.
"That maggot Littejohn."
"Oh, I remember Littlejohn, he punched me on the nose and pinched all my pocket money when I was in the second year. He was head of the "Peanut gang".
"Hey!" said the chipshop owner. "When you twoíve stopped reminiscing and wetting my floor, you can either buy something or get out, scuffer or no scuffer."
"Sorry about that Degsy, what d'you want Sed?"
"Six pennorth and a fish."
"Right two sixes and two fish Degs. Incidentally how are you getting home Sed?"
"The bus if I can get one."
"D'you fancy a lift on the back of my bike, I've finished my shift."
"Great!" replied Sed. "Is it allowed?"
"Not really, but who's going to see us on a night like this?"
The rain had eased off, and despite a bellyful of fish and chips he began to feel chilled to the core as Henry sped swiftly away. He tucked himself behind Henry's great bulk, and the five mile journey took half the time it took the bus. Sed had never been on the back of a motorcycle before and discovered the euphoric feeling at the power and acceleration between his thighs, and resolved at some time in the future to buy himself a motorbike. Henry applied the brakes abruptly outside Sed's house, the bike skidded to a halt.
"Th...thanks Henry." said Sed through chattering teeth,
"Youíre welcome Sed. Incidentally, is that brother of yours home ?"
"He is as a matter of fact."
"Well, give him a message from me will you?"
"Of course, what is it?"
"Tell 'im to keep away from my sister if he knows what's good for him!" He nodded at Sed, pulled his goggles down off his helmet and roared off into the night. Sed was puzzled by Henry's closing comment. He knew for instance that Lloyd and Henry's sister were in the same form at school, and for the life of him he couldn't remember what Henry's sister was called, and on second thoughts he didn't think he would say anything to Lloyd, after all it was none of his business.
One day after work Sed took Debbie to the pictures to see a musical called "London Town." Sed wasn't very keen on musicals, but it was the film she wanted to see, and just being with Debbie was sufficient reason in itself for going. The place was half empty so they sat on the back row. There seemed to be a fair amount of snogging going on around them so after a little while Sed ventured to put his arm around her, she snuggled closer and shared their sherbet lemons. Afterwards he offered to take her home.
"No Sed , it's too far, and you've got to get home!"
"I don't mind honestly, let me?" She kissed him gently on the cheek.
"All right but don't blame me if you get into trouble when you get home." Sed was floating so high off the ground he felt like "Superman." He was curious about the house she lived in, he knew it wasn't a council house and turned out to be a large semi with a wide tarmaced driveway. Arriving at the front door they found it open. Debbie walked in and shouted,
"Mum?" There was no reply. "Oh my God!" exclaimed Debbie in horror. "I think we've been burgled." The furniture in the lounge was overturned, the back of the settee was ripped open, childrenís toys were strewn around and broken. Debbie looked around and started to cry. Sed put his arm around her.
"Don't cry Deb, I'll ring the police. Have you got a phone?"
"I think you'd better go Sed."
"I can't leave you with this, where's you mum and dad?"
I think they went to my uncle Jack's. You'd better go because if my dad comes back and finds you here he'll blame you." Sed looked at her in disbelief.
"Me, how can he blame me?"
"You don't know him, he's got a vicious temper. He came home once when the window cleaner was here, beat him up and accused him of having an affair with my mum."
"Bloody hell, what is he a heavyweight boxer?"
"No, he's a bosun in the merchant navy."
"Oh well, that explains a lot. I think their all headbangers in the merchant navy!"
"You get out Sed Kirk, I don't ever want to see you again, that's a terrible thing to say."
"Iím sorry, blurted Sed, "I only meant to say that I've got a brother in the merchant navy, and he can be difficult at times."
"Go!" replied Debbie starting to cry again. It was apparent that whatever he said now would only make things worse.
"Let me help tidy the place a bit Deb?"
"Ok." Sed "walked away, very reluctantly, and let discretion be the better part of valour on this occasion. As he sat in the train on his way back to Liverpool, he mulled over the events of the last two hours. In a state of shock and a slip of the tongue, he'd lost the only person who meant anything to him. He loved her, he was sure of that, his longing for her gave him pains in his stomach. He anguished over what he would say to her when he saw her again, hopefully that would be on Monday. When he arrived home his parents wanted to know where he'd been until this time. He was too miserable to go into details and set about eating his dried up supper, when in strolled Lloyd sporting a magnificent shiner.
"Where did you get that"? they all chorused.
"I walked into a door in the pub!"
"Oh yeah," replied Sed perking up. "It didn't have a policemanís helmet on top of it, did it?"
On Monday morning after a weekend of regretful soul searching Sed went into the composing room to see if he could see anything of Debbie. He had a quick glance through the window in the readers as he passed. He didn't want to make it too obvious, she was there, but she had her head down working, he'd try and catch her at dinner time. When he got back to the lift Ralph was grinning all over his face.
"What are you grinning about?"
"I see Debbie's given you the dear John!" Sed was livid.
"How d'you know?"
"Anyway it's none of your goddamn business Slater!"
"Tut, tut, mustnít get upset. You might say something you'll regret." Sed nearly exploded a straight left into Slaterís gratuitously self satisfied gob, but he held himself in check, he didnít want to lose this job, he'd already had one warning. He gritted his teeth, pulled closed the inside safety gate, pushed the lever for down, dropped two floors when a window opened in the door on the top floor and a hand came through holding a tin of French chalk, shaken vigorously and the contents cascaded down on the top of Sed's head.
Sed was informed by the boss that as an apprentice he would be expected to attend night school twice a week at the Liverpool college of art to learn "Stereotyping". Ralph was already attending, but was not very communicative about the course except to say that it was boring. The teacher was Clifford. T Cowling from Bolton, a small immaculately dressed man with a black single breasted jacket, pinstripe trousers and bowler hat. The students called him "Squeaky," one because he had a high pitched voice, and two, "Squeaky clean," he never got his hands dirty. He would tell you what to do but he wouldnít show you, so quite often confusion reigned. Some of the students did their own thing, while others acted thick, so that Clifford had to keep repeating himself, which he did without realising that they were taking the mickey out of him. One extremely cold night on his way to the college he was accosted by a prostitute on Lime street. She stepped out of a shop doorway and said that she had no knickers on and did he want a good time. Clifford stopped, looked hard at her, prodded her with his rolled up brolly and said, "Go home this minute young lady before you catch your death of cold." Sed did his best to show some enthusiasm for the first few weeks, but it was a losing battle against too many students and too little equipment. He couldn't finish any of his projects because most of the time he was queuing up for the use of the tools. He got so frustrated that he and a lad called Alan from a newspaper in Warrington started going to the pictures instead of college. They got away with it for about three weeks then he was called into the office by King, and asked to account for his absences. He tried to explain why he was losing interest, but King cut him short and told him in no uncertain terms that the firm were paying his fees and he would have to go, or else, and pointed out that Ralph hadn't missed a session and that Sed should learn by example. Sed knew for certain that Ralph wasnít there for every session and felt that he was being made a scapegoat. When he saw the opportunity he brought the subject up with Slater,
"You're not there for every session Ralph?"
"Course I am," he smirked.
"I might be a bit wet behind the ears, but Iím not blind."
"OK, sometimes I'm not there, what I do is this, I turn in at seven thirty, I make sure he sees me then I sidle off after the register been read out. The nights I'm not there someone else answers my name, I do the same thing for him the next week. Squeaky hasn't clue, in any case you know what itís like you can't get anything done, we're not learning anything, the company's just wasting its money!" For once he and Ralph agreed on something. "Anyway Sed while youíre here put your name down on this?" He thrust the usual piece of paper under his nose.
"What is it?"
"It's the sweepstake for the "Oaks, three fifteen on Saturday!"
Lloyd had been home from sea for nearly four months, he'd run out of money and everyone else had run out of patience. He signed on a cargo liner sailing from Birkenhead docks. As was customary on these occasions Lloyd went out boozing with money he got from God knows where, and his father took his seabag aboard the ship for him, so all Lloyd had to do was get a taxi down to St James street station, then straight onto the boat. There was a sigh of relief all round when George arrived home sober.
"You put it on board for him all right?"
"Aye, I got the key off the master at arms and locked the cabin up."
"What time does the ship sail George?" enquired Elsie holding back the tears.
"Come on now girl don't upset yourself, he's not worth it, he's a pain in the backside when he's been home a couple of months. She repeated the question.
"Iím not sure, but it could sail on the first tide tomorrow, why?" .
"I thought I might go over tomorrow and wave him off."
"Don't bother woman, he won't appreciate it, anyway, why d'you want to do it, you've never done it before?"
"He didn't kiss me before he went." George laughed.
"When did he last kiss you?"
"When he first came home." Sed put his arm around her.
"Don't worry mam, he'll be home again in three months unfortunately." She smiled.
"You love him really don't you Sed?" Sed knew he'd say anything to keep her happy.
"Ah, well," said his father stifling a yawn, "What about an early night mother?" They were all in bed by eleven thirty. Sed read a few chapters of his library book, then just lay there listening to his father snoring and thinking earnestly about how much he loved Debbie, then he must have dozed off because the next thing he was awakened by an urgent knocking on the front door. It was repeated louder two or more times, then he heard his father get up, run down and open the door.
"Does Lloyd Kirk live here?" Sed got out of bed and stood at the top of the stairs and listened.
"Yes he does live here, when he's home, he joined his ship last night, why whatís up constable?"
"Itís nothing serious, he's all right sir, unfortunately we had to arrest him last night for being drunk and disorderly. He's in the bridewell at Dale street police station. He'll be up before the magistrate in the morning."
"Typical, thatís just typical. In the jug, no money and just the clothes he stands up in. The rest of his clobber on the way to Timbuctoo. I'll swing for 'im!" They let him rant on until he'd got most of the resentment out of his system. Then Elsie said,
"You could have been with him, then we would have had to bail both of you out."
"Oh no I'm not having that, If I'd been with 'im he wouldnít have got into trouble!"
"Well why didn't you stay with him?"
"Great, now it's my fault. Look, he's a grown man, we can't keep picking him up and dusting him down every time he goes into a public place, I took his bag onto the boat to help 'im out."
"If you hadn't done that he'd have more than the clothes he's stood up in!" George very seldom won an argument against Elsie when it came to specifics. She rarely argued with him about most things, but when it came to the children she took him to the wire.
"You do what you want, but I'm going back to bed, and another thing when he comes out he can find somewhere else to live." Elsie muttered something under her breath. George missed his footing, tripped and fell up the stairs. "What was that?"
"Nothing...I'm not coming back to bed with you in that mood, I'll go in the spare room." Sed sighed and wished with all his heart that he'd been an only child. Lloyd was bound over to keep the piece, Elsie gave him some money for clothes out of the housekeeping which she set aside for emergencies, and in her opinion this constituted an emergency. However George had refused to speak to his errant offspring after bringing the family name into disrepute, as he put it, but no more was said about Lloyd having to find somewhere else to live. He was advised by Elsie to find some employment ashore until he could get another ship, this plan of action would appease George. Then hopefully no one would need to lose face. Lloyd, however, showed no remorse for his conduct, and no thanks to his mother for paying his fine. He even tried to borrow money off Sed, but Sed recalled the times Lloyd used to raid his piggy bank years before.
"How about a sub young 'un?"
"Get a job Lloyd!"
"Hey, you won't miss a couple of quid kid, I'll pay you back when I get my unemployment pay."
"No joy Loy. You owe me a few quid already."
"Hey, I've more than made up for that kiddo."
"In what way?" enquired Sed.
"Well what about all those presents I brought you home?"
"I paid for them out of my money box."
"All right, just loan me enough for a bus fare."
"Walk, It'll do you good!" Sed stepped aside as Lloyd lunged towards him trying to pin him against the bedroom door, and bounded down the stairs four at a time.
Sed tried to ring Debbie several times, either the phone was engaged or her mother said she was out. At work he didn't have much luck either. The penny dropped after a while - he realised that she was deliberately avoiding him, and that his first love affair was over. He couldn't accept it and he couldn't stop thinking about her. He was so troubled that he mentioned it to his friend Alan after night school.
"Have you ever been in love Alan."
"Yeah, I used to go out with a girl called Beryl, she had the biggest pair of tits in the school. Everyone fancied her, anyway I asked her out and there was no one more surprised than me when she said yes. We went to the pictures, then we bought some fish and chips, and went to our local park to eat them. Then we started to snog, and I'm not joking Sed it was a freezing night, it was so cold I had to keep my hands in my pocket." ;
"While you were snogging?" prompted Sed
"Yeah, anyway she said put your hands inside here and opened her coat and lifted up her jumper. Bloody 'ell Sed they were bigger than Jane Mansfield's"
"What did you do?" queried Sed all of a lather by now. Alan looked a bit shamefaced.
"I took fright didn't I. I put my hands back in my pockets"
"Then what happened?"
"She chucked me, anyway the next bird I went out with I didn't waste any time, up her jumper right away."
"Then?" said Sed expectantly.
"You would not believe it, she slapped my face. Funny creatures women, we're better off without them." Sed felt a bit better when he got home, he liked Alan and the laugh had done him good.
George had been a heavy smoker all his adult life, and as far back as Sed could remember he suffered from a hacking cough first thing in the morning, "getting the phlegm up put him right for the rest of the day," as he put it. However, of late the cough seemed to be getting worse. The discomfort didn't stop him from smoking his forty Capstan full strength a day. Eventually, he found great difficulty lying flat when he went to bed, because he couldn't get his breath and was experiencing some pain. Elsie and Sed became very concerned.
"Call the doctor mam."
"He hates doctors, he's not been near one for ten years or more."
"I know that, but I've never seen him like this before."
"I'd better go and tell him." She went upstairs and he heard her ask him, then his reply of dissent.
"Don't bring any doctor to me woman, I'll be all right in a couple of days, get me a couple of aspirins." she came down looking worried to death,
"He won't have one, and he's in a lot of pain." Sed picked up the receiver and handed it to his mother.
"Ring him mam!" When the doctor arrived it was Benson and old army doctor, Elsie liked him because he had a good bedside manner. Sed remembered him from the time he had a severe attack of mumps. Elsie explained the problem before he went upstairs. Benson listened and nodded his head.
"All right, letís have a look at him shall we. He doesn't like us very much you say?"
"He's not keen doctor, nothing personal you understand."
"Well letís see if we can change his mind shall we?" Benson followed Elsie up the stairs, and being an exceptionally tall man he had to duck his head to negotiate the doorway. "Hello Mr Kirk, now what seems to be the problem?" George cast a jaundiced eye at the doctor and Elsie thought he was going to have an apoplectic fit.
"I told you woma...." then he went into a fit of coughing.
"Don't get upset Mr Kirk, just undo your pyjama top and let me sound your chest. How long have you been like this?" George made an attempt to reply but no words came out.
"He's had a cough for years doctor," said Elsie.
"Does he smoke?" George glared up at him. Elsie nodded.
"Forty a day doctor." George glared at her. The doctor examined him thoroughly, checked his blood-pressure and temperature.
"I think" said the doctor eventually. "We'd better get you into hospital Mr Kirk." George responded more in more in annoyance than anything else,
"Can't you give me some treatment, I've never been in bloody hospital doctor?"
"Well," said the doctor I could give you some antibiotics, but to be honest I'd like to have some tests done to be on the safe, Anyway you've nothing to worry about they'll take very good care of you in hospital, now have you got a phone Mrs Kirk?"
"This way doctor." Within the hour George was in ward 2C in Brengreen hospital. That evening Sed and Elsie went into visit him. The first thing said noticed was that practically everyone in the ward was coughing and spitting into cups with lids on them, except George who lay there looking waxen and frightened to death. "Where's Lloyd?" he whispered. Elsie looked at Sed for support. She didn't know what to say since Lloyd had been on one of his all night stints.
"He'll be in tomorrow dad," replied Sed hoping he sounded convincing. When they got back home it was about eight oíclock and obvious even to a casual observer that Lloyd had arrived home. The place was like a tip. His shoes were lying behind the front door, and his overcoat was hung up on the floor. Sed was furious.
"I'll go and get him up mam!"
"No, leave him, let him sleep it off."
"Youíre too soft with him mam." Elsie nodded her head in agreement.
"I know, I've been too soft with Lloyd. I just don't know what goes on inside that ladís head." Her eyes filled up, "I'm desperately worried about your father Sed, I can't think of anything else at the moment." Sed put his arm around her shoulder and gave her a comforting hug. "What d'you thinkís wrong with him Sed?"
"I don't know mam, the doctor said they should have the results of the tests tomorrow. He said they also want to do a tracheotomy under a general anaesthetic."
"Whatís that?" said Elsie anxiously, visualizing a major operation.
"I'm not sure, but it's something do with having a look at the state of his lungs. We'll know by tomorrow." Sed suddenly felt a heavy burden of responsibility for his mother, and had a strong feeling of foreboding concerning his fathers condition. Lloyd got up just as they were making supper. He had a couple of dayís stubble, and dark rings under his eyes.
"Jesus, I'm starving!" No one spoke. He looked at them. "What's up, where's dad?"
"Sit down," said Elsie. Lloyd did as he was bid. "Where've you been?" Lloyd had never seen his mother so angry.
"I stayed with a friend, why what's up..... will somebody tell me?" he pleaded.
"I'll tell you, while you were shacked up with some tart, your fatherís been rushed into hospital seriously ill." "When was this?"
"Yesterday!" Lloyd looked at Sed for some semblance of brotherly support. Sed turned away in disgust. Elsie continued. "He's not been well for a long time, but youíre too preoccupied with yourself to notice. Lloyd shrugged his shoulders.
"What's wrong with him?"
"It's his chest." Lloyd smirked,
"Go on youíre having me on.?"
"Dad's in hospital, make no mistake about it, and it's serious," insisted Sed. "The first thing he said when we went tonight was "Where's Lloyd? Christ knows why?"
"You'd better come in with us tomorrow," said Elsie in a somewhat moderated tone.
"Well," said Lloyd I've got to go to the pool tomorrow morning, I think I've got a ship lined up."
"Weíre going tomorrow afternoon. Can you get day off tomorrow Sed?"
Sed rang King, who told him to take whatever time off that was necessary, but to keep him posted. As they were preparing to go to the hospital Lloyd rang to say that he'd got a ship and would be sailing from Southampton at the weekend. In a way Sed was relieved to hear this, Lloyd being Lloyd would only be a liability to his mother. Elsie was far from happy with the news, she wanted Lloyd at home, and began to get upset.
"Come on mam, it's for the best, Lloyd won't be any help."
"I know, but if anything happens to your father?"
"Nothings going to happen to dad, he's as tough as old boots." When they arrived at the hospital the sister said that the doctor would like to have a word before they went in to see George.
"Where's Lloyd?" said Elsie fidgeting with the clasp of her handbag. Sed looked up at the clock, it was almost one thirty.
"He'll be here shortly," but wouldn't have put a fiver on it. Eventually the doctor arrived, and ushered them into the sister's office. He was only young, and was obviously having some difficulty saying what he had to say. "Mrs Kirk, I'm doctor Elison....er we've done all the tests on your husband, which included a tracheotomy, which is a method we use to look inside the lungs. You husband was a smoker wasn't he?" Elsie's yes was hardly audible. "Well... I'm afraid there's not a lot we can do for him!" Get on with it, thought Sed. "In fact there's nothing we can do for him."
"What's the matter with him," said Elsie looking more exasperated by the minute. The doctor avoided eye contact.
"Lung cancer." He looked momentarily relieved having got it off his chest. Elsie's handbag fell open on her lap, Sed, for some unknown reason looked down at it, an inanimate object reacting to the shock of revelation. No one spoke for a moment, then Elsie said,
"How long has he got doctor?"
"About three months on the outside I would think. He's got it in both lungs which makes it inoperable...I'm sorry." He turned and left the room. His exit was followed almost immediately by the entrance of the sister. "Would you both like a cup of tea?"
"No thank you. Does he know?" she asked the sister.
"No, he hasn't asked and we haven't told him."
"D'you think that's best? queried Elsie looking lost." The sister put her arm around Elsie's shoulder.
"Its very difficult to know what to do for the best my dear, you know your husband better than we do."
"He once said if he thought he had cancer he'd kill himself."
"Well there's your answer my dear!" There was still no sign of Lloyd, he was running true to form. George was sitting up in bed when they reached the ward. Elsie kissed him, and Sed held his hand.
"How are you love?" said Elsie hoping that he hadn't noticed that she had been crying.
"I'm not so bad. I'm a bit sore here," he pointed to the plaster over the base of his neck.
"Have you had anything to eat?"
"I had a bit of breakfast this morning." His voice was little more than a hoarse whisper. .
"Where's Lloyd, not up to his tricks again is 'e?"
"He promised to be here, he's got a ship, said he sails at the weekend." George looked relieved.
"Any idea when I can come home?" Elsie was caught on the hop.
"The doctor didn't say, when youíre feeling much better I expect."
"They're not giving me any treatment, only pain killers, no one's said what's wrong with me?
"Well" said Elsie panicking. "It's probably acute bronchitis."
Sed noticed the yellow waxy tinge to his father's face and the considerable weight loss in the last seven days. "He'll pull through mam, you wait and see," assured Sed on the way home. Elsie's face was distorted with a mixture of annoyance and anxiety. When they got in they found Lloyd sitting looking vacantly into the electric fire. Elsie was furious.
"Why weren't you at the hospital?"
"I couldn't face it mam."
"What d'you mean you couldn't face it?"
"What I said, I was scared, he's going to die isn't he?"
"No he's not going to die, so stop thinking of yourself you selfish boy." Sed suddenly had compassion for his brother for the first time in his life. He felt the same dread about going to the hospital. No one, if they were honest liked hospitals, but as one of his aunts once said, "It's a good job there are such places."
"You'd better go in and see him before you go away."
"I don't know mam."
"If you don't go to see your father, don't bother to come home after this trip!" Later Sed knocked on Lloyd's bedroom door and found his brother lying face down on the bed.
"What's up brud?"
"Go away kid."
"Look. I understand."
"Do you, you understand why a son won't go and see his own father?"
"Well youíre scared, scared of what you'll see, I appreciate that, but its still dad."
"I used to think dad was indestructible, sort of immortal, this cancerís going to kill him." Sed was well aware of this possibility, but reasoned that were there's life, there's hope,
"Make the effort brud, for both their sakes."
Sed was in work when the boss came to him with a message that he should go to the hospital right away. When he arrived his mother was already there. He thought at first that his mother was sitting at the wrong bed. He didn't recognise his father, he had an oxygen mask on and his weight had dropped dramatically in the last forty eight hours. Elsie sat there holding his hand oblivious of Sed's arrival. George's breathing rhythm was hardly perceptible. Then suddenly he regained consciousness, tore the oxygen mask from his face, coughed, rubbed his eyes and smiled.
"Hello girl, hello son!"
"George," exclaimed Elsie visibly brightening up. "How are you?"
"Never felt better." The nurse arrived swiftly when she caught sight of the oxygen mask which was now resting under George's chin.
"Come along Mr Kirk put your mask back on please."
"Don't need it nurse, I've never felt better in me life. I tell you what I would really like?"
"What's that Mr Kirk?"
"A pint of Guinness!" She laughed.
"I can't promise A pint of Guiness, but I'll get you a can." George smiled at everyone who passed his bed. "Where's Lloyd?" Elsie looked across at Sed.
"He's gone back to sea."
"Good," said George.
"But he came into see you before he went" assured Sed.
"Good," said George. "If I carry on like this I'll soon be home."
"Of course you will," replied Elsie beginning to believe in the possibility.
"How are things at work Sed?"
"Oh, no problems dad."
"Another twelve months and you'll be out of your time."
"Then I'll be a fully pledged journeyman."
"On full pay?"
"On full pay."
George leaned forward and gripped Sed's wrist so tightly that it almost stopped the circulation.
"Well in that that case you'll be able to take good care of your mam?"
"But dad youíre going to be fine?" A veil of sadness passed across his fathers eyes.
"I know, but you will won't you?" Sed looked at his mother she was crying. He pulled George towards him and gave him a hug. He was so emaciated that it was like holding a child.
"No problems dad," assured Sed.
"Well in that case, perhaps you can so away, and, I'll get some sleep."
They got a taxi home, and both looked out or the windows. Sed watched the rivulets of rain as it streaked obliquely across the glass.
"Dad's going to be fine...isn't he?" He looked at his mother. She sniffed and looked straight ahead.
"I'd like to think so Sed, but I don't think we should be too optimistic."
"But he said he never felt better!" Elsie took a deep breath.
"It's the calm before the storm Sed."
"What does that mean?"
"Well, sometimes people who are dying muster up energy from somewhere to fight the last battle. Your grandma was the same after she had her seizure." She put her arm around Sed's shoulders and said, "I think we are going to have to prepare ourselves for the worst." Sed knew in his heart she was right. He felt numb with anxiety, then she said, "Do you think Lloyd went to see your father?" Sed shrugged his shoulders.
"He said he did, and when he got there dad was asleep and the nurse said, "Don't disturb him," so he said he just sat with him for a while, why don't you believe him?"
"I don't know what to believe anymore. I think I gave birth to a coward Sed." Twenty four hours later they were summoned back to the hospital where George was in a coma. With Sed and Elsie around the bed, he died peacefully at twenty five past twelve on Wednesday afternoon. Sed looked at him. He didn't look like the dad he used to know. The cancer had robbed him of all his dignity. He was just lying there like an empty shell. Why was nature so cruel? Why, thought Sed when the time comes to die can't we just go to bed and pass away in our sleep without all that pain. There was lots of things he would liked to have said to his dad and didn't. Unfortunately he wasn't an emotional man, not someone you could pour your heart out to. He worked hard all his life, sometimes having two jobs. He was a cleaner on the boat train station at Canada dock. The dock board only paid him a pittance so he used to do a bit of French polishing at the weekends to eak out the meagre wage. He wouldn't let Elsie work because he believed that a womanís place was in the home. He never apologized for anything he did or said. This unbending attitude caused weeks of silence between Elsie and him after disagreements. Once during a general election George would issue his usual directive to Elsie that she had to vote Labour. Elsie would vote Tory, Liberal, or for any other candidate rather than vote Labour just to spite him. When he found out about it sometime later during another argument, he refused to speak to her for weeks. In retaliation she would move into Lloydís room until he came around. However, despite the conflict they loved each other. Sometimes they had a good laugh at his expense, like the occasion when he decided to clean the chimney because he said the chimney sweep didn't do the job properly. He borrowed some rods and brushes, and being a lateral thinker decided to climb onto the roof and insert the brushes down the chimney. He asked Sed to keep a look out at the fireplace and let him know when the brush appeared at the bottom. Some time elapsed, then his father shouted down,
"Any sign yet?"
"No sign yet dad."
"Bloody 'ell," said George finally. "I've only got about a foot of rod left up 'ere!" At this point in the proceedings there was a frantic knocking at the front door. When Sed opened it he was confronted by two very angry neighbours covered from head to foot in soot. He'd put the blessed rods down the wrong chimney. The next few days were hectic he had little time to ruminate. He had to set about arranging the funeral, collecting the death certificate from the registry, drawing on the life insurance policies, notifying etc.' Elsie seemed reluctant to go anywhere. Aunt Eadie, his fatherís sister suggested she called the doctor out and get him to give her a tonic. Sed didn't know whether he was coming or going. It was at this point that a good Samaritan in the shape of Henry ONeill came into the equation. He called round on his brand new Norton Dominator and offered to run Sed around to complete his arrangements. At the end of a very busy twenty four hours Sed thanked Henry.
"I couldn't have done it without you Henry!"
"Think nothing of it Sed, people need all the help they can get at a time like this". Incidentally, after the funeral, you know when things have settled down a bit, come round and have a bit of scran with us. That's an invitation from my old lady."
"Thanks Henry, I'd love to."
On the day of the funeral most of the relatives had arrived at the house. There was Eadie and husband Tom who had a dirty habit of spitting in the fire when at home where they had a coal fire. He was about to gob into the fire at Elsie's, when Eadie stopped him abruptly, reminding him that it was an electric fire and he could do himself an injury. Then there was Elsie's twin sister Alice and her husband Percy from Carlisle. Sed couldn't remember the last time he saw them. He recalled the nightmare journey on the train to visit them when he was about seven. He and his mother had to change trains at Carnforth, for some inexplicable reason they finished up in a siding in Nelson lanes. He recollected numerous other occasions when he and Elsie got on the wrong train, so when ever rail travel was ever mentioned Sed would suffer an attack of anxiety in his stomach. They had sent a cable to Lloyd via the shipping line. The news of his father's death would not be totally unexpected, and there no possibility that the line would fly him home even if he wanted to, which to Sed's mind given the choice was highly unlikely. Elsie hadn't said much at all since George's death. She was keeping it all in. Eadie had said it wasn't a good sign. The doctor had put her on some tablets which had a sedative effect. She looked pale and seemed to have aged considerably over the last few days. The undertakers had asked them whether they would like to see George in the chapel of rest, but both declined and decided to remember him as he was. After a short ceremony at the church they followed the coffin to the graveside. The soil was piled high on either side of the grave with the artificial grass covers draped down inside. The pall bearers lowered the coffin onto the webbing. At this point the minister the minister started to read from the book of common prayer. As Sed looked down into the grave he could see the lid of his grandmotherís coffin who had died twenty years earlier. He couldn't help wondering whether she would be a skeleton by now.
"I am the resurrection and the life saith the Lord: He that believe in me, though he were dead, yet shall live..."Elsie leaned forward as the coffin was lowered and began to lose her footing. Sed struggled to hold her and at the same time keep his own balance.
"I'm coming with you my love," she said surging forward carrying Sed with her. There were cries of alarm as they slid down onto the lid of the coffin. Sed felt as though he was in the middle of his worst nightmare as he lay spreadeagled with his mother screaming uncontrollably next to him.
"I'm with you my darling for ever!" Sed felt terrified as he fought to retain his composure.
"Come on mam for Christ's sake!" One of the gravedigger lowered himself into the grave and tried to prise her fingers away from the lid of the coffin.
"Come on love, it's no use, you can't stay down here. Just let him go love," he said gently. "Let him go!"
No one spoke on the way home in the funeral car. They were all traumatised by the events at the cemetery. Sed looked down at his soil covered suit and noticed that his hands still shook. A shiver ran the full length of his body, and For some reason he couldn't explain he was perched on the front of the rear seat reluctant ,or unable to sit back. He looked across at his mother she looked as though she was cast in wax. Her hair dishevelled with flakes of dirt and her hat clung precariously to the back of her head secured only by a solitary hat pin. When they arrived home Eadie and Alice helped her into the house, ushered her upstairs and put her to bed.
Sed couldn't recall much of what went on during the funeral tea. The women were busy cutting sandwiches and pouring tea. Percy came over and put his arm around his shoulders and mumbled something about his father going to a better place, and in the absence of his big brother, he was the man of the house. Eadie offered to stay the night, but Sed said he'd be ok, but assured her he would ring her if he needed any help. Eventually they all left with the men shaking his hand and the women smothering him with kisses with assurances that if he needed any assistance he only had to contact them. He put all the washed up dishes and cutlery away, then ran upstairs to see if his mother was all right. She was under the covers in what appeared to be a deep sleep. He peeled back the sheet to assure himself that she was still breathing then went down stairs and put on the television. It must have been around 2am when Sed woke with a start to find his mother standing by the side of his bed looking like an apparition.
"What am I going to do son?"
"Come on mam, you shouldn't be out of bed, you'll catch cold." He ushered her back to her room and tucked her in. "Shall I get you a drink or something?" She shook her head as her eyes filled with tears
"I miss him Sed."
"I know, and I miss him to. Don't worry mam I'll look after you."
"Youíre a good boy Sed, I don't know what I would have done without you". Sed kissed her on the forehead.
"Try and get some sleep." Try as he might he couldn't get back to sleep, the happenings of the previous day haunted him. When he finally did get off he dreamt that the lid of his grandmotherís coffin opened and her skeleton climbed out and enveloped him as he lay across his fathers coffin, as he tried to shake her off he heard a scratching sound coming from under him and the rasping sound of laboured breathing....Oh my God, he's been buried alive. Sed woke up covered with perspiration to find Elsie standing over him again.
"Don't do this to me mam." Sed led her back to her bed again, she seemed very unsteady on her feet, and smelt strongly of wisky.
"Have you had a drink mam?"
"I thought it might help me to sleep." Sed hoped it would.
"D'you want some more?
"No I'll be all right now Sed."
"Ok, what time is it?" He switched on the bedside light and squinted at the clock. "Three thirty." He wished now he'd asked Eadie to stay because he wasn't coping at all well with this..
Elsie got progressively worse as time went by and Eadie spent most of the week there while Sed went back to work. The doctor diagnosed deep depression and recommended that she saw a specialist about some treatment in hospital. Eadie couldn't stay overnight because of her own commitments. Sed was having his sleep disturbed continually throughout the night as Elsie continued her trips to his bedroom, he tried locking the door but she would knock on the door until he got up, pacified heathen saw her back to bed.
"I can't take any more of this," he told Eadie.
"All right lad, I think the times come to insist that the doctor sends her to hospital or youíre going to go down with exhaustion. Leave it with me Sed." Eadie made him feel safe and she was always someone you could talk to and confide in. Within a couple of days a specialist arrived at the house to examine Elsie, and prescribed some anti depressants and suggested that she should go into hospital to have a course of electric shock treatment.
"What is electric shock treatment?" enquired Sed anxious visualising his mother being strapped into an electric chair and executed. Doctor Valman laughed.
"No its nothing as dramatic or as dangerous as that. We'll be giving your mother some mild electric impulses to her brain, and after a couple of treatments she'll be as right as ninepence."
"Will it hurt?"
"No, not at all, she'll be under a general anaesthetic, she won't feel a thing, don't you worry young man we'll take very good care of her."
"When will she be going in?"
"We'll send an ambulance around for her first thing in the morning, why is that not convenient?"
"That'll be fine," interceded Eadie, "and you can come and stay with us Sed...if you like?"
"Thanks aunt Eadie, but I'll be fine on my own," he assured her. "If I can get some sleep."
"Sed, you've been through a lot this last couple of weeks, I don't think you should be on your own!"
"Honestly, I'll be fine." He couldn't contemplate living in the same house, as Uncle Tom even for a short time while he was hogging the tele and spitting in the fire.
"Well I'll pop in a couple of times a week until your mam comes home."
"Ok, aunt Eadie, and thanks."
"Are you going in to see your mam tonight?"
"All right, I'll leave you to go in on your own, we'll go in tomorrow." Sed didn't know what to expect as he walked up the stairs to the ward. He visualised his mother either stretched out as stiff as a board unconscious, or tied down to the bed talking gibberish, he was pleasantly surprised. She was sitting on the side of her bed weaving a basket of some kind.
"Hello Sed!" She gave him a radiant smile, then kissed and hugged him. He was overwhelmed.
"How are you mam?"
"I'm fine, I'm coming out tomorrow!"
"How's your dad?" When she said that Sed knew for sure she wouldn't be coming out tomorrow. As he left the ward he called into see the sister.
"Well, she's a lot better, doctor Valman's very pleased with her."
"What I can't understand, she asked after my dad, he died three weeks ago."
"Yes, I know , but don't worry, the treatment makes the patient feel a bit disorientated. When you come in again you may find that she'll repeat the same conversation you've had with her today, but thatís quite normal with this treatment. This treatment works, we don't know how, but it does. I think she may be out next week. She's doing some occupational therapy and that's a good sign, ok?" Sed nodded his head and hoped she was right.
When Sed got back to work he discovered that they'd taken on another apprentice. This was good news for Sed because he would no longer be the dogsbody running errands etc for the chapel. The new lad was tall blond and slim called Charlie Aspinall, whose father Jim worked in the publishing room. That fact alone would make him acceptable to most of the blokes in the chapel. Although Sed had no relatives in the business he felt he was a part of the team now. He introduced himself and set about showing him the ropes, and as inevitably as night follows day Ralph was there asking him to put his name down for the football sweep and pressing into his hand the list for sandwiches and cigarettes.
"Hang on a minute Ralph?"
"What díya mean, 'Ang on?"
"Well, give the lad a chance to get his coat off, he only started this morning!"
"Hey, he's got to start 'as 'e means to go on, unless you want to do it?" Sed didn't want to do it, he hated running errands for other people, he felt it was a waste of good time which could be far better utilised learning the trade. However, at the moment he had no power or influence to change the practice, but resolved never to send anyone on errands for him when he was a fully fledged journeyman. Charlie turned out to be nobodyís fool, he actually relished the idea of going out on errands. His enterprise knew no bounds. He charged everyone a premium for sandwiches and cigarettes, he was making a couple of quid a day. If anyone complained he told them "pay up," or go out themselves. Sed thought this was hilarious until it became apparent after a week or two that Charlie was making the money and he and Ralph were doing the work To compound the problem King took a shine to him and would send him up to Tithebarn street to collect his weekly joint of meat and pigs trotters. Ralph was beside himself with annoyance.
"What the bloody 'ell's going on with this bloke, he's 'ardly done a stroke since 'e started 'ere"
"What d'you suggest Ralph, report him to King?"
"Huh! that would do a lot of good, he's the bosses blue eyed boy. Why don't you 'ave a word with 'im?"
"Oh no, youíre the head apprentice you speak to him." Well Ralph did have a word, it wasn't a particularly friendly word and Ralph finished up with a punch in the eye. The situation was finally resolved at chapel level when the F.O.C. took him on one side and read him the riot act. Even then Ralph wouldn't leave well alone. It was customary to change into a pair of combination overalls before starting work, and with the heat from the casting pots it was more comfortable to strip down to a vest and underpants before putting on the overalls. On this particular occasion King sent Charlie on an errand close to finishing time, when he returned he discovered that someone had taken his clothes from out of the locker and hidden them in various inaccessible places in the department, naturally nobody admitted responsibility, and having spent two hours of his own time looking for his clobber Charlie got the message.
When Elsie came out of hospital she was a bit more like her old self, but still a little subdued, which wasn't surprising taking into consideration the trauma of the funeral and the subsequent nervous breakdown. When Sed came down for breakfast the following morning Elsie was reading a letter from Lloyd.
"What's he got to say mam?"
"He's getting married." She handed him the letter.
"It's someone he met in Freemantle Australia."
"I'll bet she's an Aboriginal!" mused Sed. She laughed.
"Nothing in this world surprises me any more."
"Yes but he's jumped ship for this woman, if the authorities catch him they'll deport him won't they?"
"Probably, but that's Lloyd isn't it, act first, think last. Anyway, worse things happen at sea." Sed frowned.
"But he won't be at sea anymore?"
"No he won't, not if the shipping company have any say in the matter. What would you like for your breakfast Sed?"
"A couple of rounds of toast'll do mam."
"Right, well I'll go and put the kettle on." Sed read the letter again and laughed at the suggestion in the postscript that he would come home post haste if he was needed. What on a rollerskate? There was a strong possibility that they would never see Lloyd again.
At the weekend they were both invited to tea at the O'Neills. They were a big family not in number but sheer size. Mr O'Neill was at least six feet three, Mrs O'Neill must have been nearly six feet, Henry of course towered over everyone even without his helmet. It was like being in the valley of giants. After tea he got his second surprise. Henry's sister Gwen made her appearance. She wasn't at all what he remembered at school where she was snotty nosed, pimply, and as thin as a lath. She'd blossomed into the most gorgeous thing he'd ever seen, and unlike the rest of the family she was small and dainty with long black hair.
"I don't know who she takes after, but it's none of us," said Mrs O'Neill proudly.
"You don't remember me do you Sed?" Sed felt himself going hot all over.
"N..no... you've changed...for the better of course," stammered Sed, not knowing what else to say.
"Do you cycle Sed?"
"Yep..I've got a bike, but I haven't been on it for a while."
"Well you know what they say, you never forget how to ride." Sed laughed and warmed to the possibilities.
"Hey!" said Henry. "Don't let her lead you astray, get yourself a motorbike, a pushbikeís too much like hard work."
"Yes, and youíre getting a paunch Henry O'Neill!" interjected Gwen and youíre only twenty one."
"Aye, and if I have any more old buck, you won't reach twenty one!" replied Henry throwing a playful backhand in her direction. Sed was enjoying himself, and so was Elsie. After a wholesome meal they all sat down to play a game of monopoly. Gwen plonked herself down beside him and whispered,
"I was sorry to hear about your dad Sed." and gave his hand a reassuring squeeze. Sed nodded and felt on cloud nine.
Sed saw a lot of Gwen after the evening with the O'Neills. She came around frequently to help Elsie with the housework at the weekends, after a while Elsie came to rely on her, and it looked like they were becoming friends. Sed approved because he'd never seen his mother so happy since before his father died.
"If I had a daughter!" enthused Elsie. "I would have liked her to be just like Gwen."
"She's great, I like her a lot."
"And so you should. Your father would have liked her.......didn't she go out with Lloyd at one time?"
"Did she? I don't know," said Sed not wanting to reveal another one of Lloyd's misdemeanours, best forgotten, especially since Henry had a friendly word with him about it. God only knows what he was getting up to in Australia. He was probably being hunted by the authorities for being an illegal immigrant and pursued by an Aboriginal chief for stealing his daughter. Lloyd seemed to thrive on conflict and intrigue, and Sed thought he would have been in his element in M.I 5.
As the months flowed by Sed was well into his apprenticeship. The journeymen were letting him do more of the difficult work associated with stereotyping. Dick Stacy was especially helpful. He was an excellent tradesman but not very articulate. He was about to show Sed how to route a printing plate.
"Just do it like this 'ere young 'un, no no not like that." Sed watched fascinated as Dick routed expertly around the type without cutting into any of the letters.
"Will I be able to do it as fast as that someday Dick?"
"Course ye will lad. Just make sure the router cutter is always sharp, watch what yer doin' an it'll be perfect like this 'ere" Sed thought he couldn't have put it better himself.
Now that the winter was receding and spring was just a breath away, the improvement gave Sed a chance to use his bike for work with some encouragement from Gwen who always used her bike for work even in the most inclement weather. It took a bit longer than the bus, but the fresh morning air blew away the cobwebs and he wasn't inhaling all that cigarette smoke on the top deck. When he arrived at work he hoisted the cycle onto his shoulder and took it downstairs into the jobbing department and leaned it against the wall near the interdepartmental phone. Teddy Simpson was the jobbing hand in charge. He was a perfectionist when it came to turning out printing plates used for advertising, and no matter how hard he tried Sed could never turn out a plate to Teddyís satisfaction.
"No,no, that's no good lad, it won't do. Just remember lad people are paying hundreds of pounds for these adverts when they go in the paper."
"What's wrong with it ?" Teddy picked up the plate, and being very short sighted had to place it on the end of his nose before he could get it in focus.
"Look there, you've left a shoulder on some of these letters, if you don't remove them they'll print up on the presses and then we'll have the advertisers down on us. Sed took the plate back to the bench and set about removing the offending imperfections when Charlie came through the department whistling and rang the bell on Sed cycle. Teddy ran over to the phone and lifted the receiver.
"Hello...jobbing department...hello!" Sed thought this was highly amusing and told Charlie and Ralph about it until everyone was walking through and ringing the bell and Teddy was up and down like a fiddlers elbow and eventually complained to the overseer who had caught on by this time and walked through ringing the bell as he passed the bike.
"There it goes again Mr King I'm bloody fed up with it. I refuse to answer that phone until you find out whose playing games." It took King all his time to suppress a smile.
"He doesn't get it does he?" said King taking Sed aside.
"No," replied Sed.
"But I didn't start it, no one did really."
"Well joke over, I think you'd better either shift your bike, or take that bell off."
After one exhausting day at work Sed washed up and changed, went into the jobbing department, wheeled the bike to the bottom of the stairs, made an attempt to hoist it on his shoulders and found it unbelievably heavy. Suspecting foul play he checked the contents of his saddle bag. There was nothing untoward there, just his cape, a pair of gloves and a puncture outfit. There was nothing outwardly suspicious so gathering all his remaining strength he struggled up the staircase, when he reached the top he could hardly get his breath. Bloody hell, he thought. I had my rice crispies this morning, and a good lunch. Things got worse as he cycled through the rush hour traffic, as he reached the top of Low Hill he had to dismount, he was sucking air in like an extractor fan. The road levelled off as he approached Kensington, then his legs and calves started to burn. He was beginning to think he was threatening for something like double pneumonia or bubonic plague. Coming through Old Swan the traffic thinned out, and with the wind behind him he was going faster than he could ever remember. When he arrived home and dismounted his legs were like jelly.
"Youíre home early Sed, are you all right?"
"Come in there's a cup of tea in the pot."
"In a minute, I want to have a look at the bike." He checked the brakes, they weren't binding, the wheels spun free. The saddle looked a little bit higher than usual. He took his spanner out of the saddlebag, undid the bolt, but however much pressure he maintained, on the the saddle it stayed where it was . He took it off and peered down the tube, then it became patently obvious why he nearly pulled his tripes out coming home from work. Some kind considerate person had filled his frame with molten lead.
The twentieth of April was Sed's twenty first birthday. It was also Hitlerís birthday, a fact that Sed regretted because of the stick he had to take at school, and that fact alone made him hate that date, so when Elsie suggested he had a party in the hall above the public library to celebrate he refused and said he would much rather have a motor bike.
"You only get one twenty first, why not have a party?"
"No thanks mam." His mind was made up. He wanted to feel the power of the motorcycle between his thighs, and the freedom of the open road.
"Ah well, its up to you, you'll only break your neck on one of those things."
"I won't," he assured her. "I'll be very careful."
"I suppose youíre getting all these high falluting ideas from Henry?"
"No, Henry's got nothing to do with this!"
"Well, you'd better please yourself. How much is it going to cost?"
"I don't know yet, I'll have to look through the ads. It won't be a new one."
"I sincerely hope not, your father left you some money, but he wouldn't want you to waste it on a motorbike."
"It's not wasted," her whinnying was beginning to irritate him.
"Look, I've got some money saved I can put to it, then I've got to put in for a driving test."
"But you haven't got the bike yet, what's the point of putting in for a driving test." Sed eyed her with growing exasperation.
"Look mam, don't worry about it, I'll sort it out.....The thing is, if I see one for sale can I have the money?"
"Well, it looks like you've made your mind up, I hope you know what youíre doing?"
"Yes or no?"
"Oh all right, go on then."
"Aw, thanks mam, you won't regret it." He swept her off her feet giving her a kiss on the cheek that sounded like a cow pulling its foot out of a swamp.
"Put me down you naughty boy ," she shrieked enjoying every minute of it. From then on Sed scanned the newspapers for second hand motor bikes, as well as keeping an eye on ads in the local shops and the post office. Eventually an ad in his own paper caught his attention. For sale. Triumph Speed twin 500 c.c. In good condition, any test. £90 o.n.o. with an address in Kirby. Elsie promised him £100. He had saved £50 or thereabout, which would cover tax and insurance. The problem remaining was that he knew nothing whatsoever about motorbikes. He needed some expert advice and decided to ring Henry. Gwen answered the phone.
"Is Henry there Gwen?"
"No he's at work....anyway Sed Kirk, why haven't you been round?"
"Well," said Sed. "I saw you last week!"
"Big deal, we used to see each other more than once a week?"
"Iím sorry Gwen...."
"And itís your twenty first birthday next week and your mum said you were having a party at the community hall."
"Well I'm not, I'm buying a motorbike instead."
"Oh, now I see, that's why you want Henry?"
"Yep, what time's he due home?"
"Can I have a ride on the back?"
"The bike youíre going to get!"
"I haven't got it yet...in any case I can't take anyone on the back until I've passed my driving test."
"When will I see you?" Women, thought Sed. All they think about is themselves, when there's more important things in life at the moment like motorbikes.
"I'll give you a ring....Listen, will you ask Henry to ring me when he conies in from work?"
"I might do," replied Gwen, and rang off.
Henry readily agreed to vet the bike advertised in the local rag, and arrived after tea one evening armed with a list of things to check out on the potential buy.
"You won't be sorry you've bought this bike Sed!"
"If it's ok," prompted Sed, not wanting a pig in a poke so to speak.
"The speed twin with the sprung rear hub is the one we use in the Police," said Henry enthusiastically ignoring Sed's note of caution.
"D'you know where this is?" queried Sed handing him the address.
"No problem, I've spent quite a bit of time up there chasing villians, know it like the back of my hand." Henry's motorbike was a Norton 500 c.c. It was in immaculate condition. It wasn't new when he bought it, but it looked better than new as far as Sed could see. His mother said he used to take it to bed with him. He didn't bother with girls, said he preferred the bike because it didn't answer back. In general he thought women were a pain. Sed thought it more probable that he couldn't find a woman tall enough. The one's he saw Henry with were below average height making him more conspicuous. It was getting dark when they arrived at the address in Kirby, so the guy who was selling the bike wheeled it under a street lamp while Henry made his inspection.
"How long have you had the bike, is it a genuine mileage, can I see the logbook, when did it have it's last oil change?" The bloke thought he was up in front of the Spanish inquisition. However his responses appeared to satisfy Henry.
"Youíve no objection if we take it for a run?"
"Er.. well, you can, but he stays here until you get back." He wasn't taking any chances, which was fair enough. He didn't know either of them from Adam. Sed tried to make conversation but all his attempts fell on stony ground. In the event that Sed and Henry weren't prepared to do a deal, it was obvious that his only concern was getting his motorbike back in one piece. They could hear the bike speeding around the estate with Henry changing up and down the gearbox, and as time went on even Sed was getting concerned.
"What the bloody 'ell do he think 'es doin', 'es been gone more than twenty minutes, 'an there's not much juice in the tank, you'd better go and fetch 'im!"
"I don't know the area." replied Sed beginning to feel distinctly embarrassed.
"Aye, and it doesn't look like your mate knows the area either. Don't piss me about." He chunnered on threatening to fetch his brothers out if he wasn't back in the next five minutes. Henry sounded as though he was practicing for the Isle Of Man T.T. Then there was silence, followed by the appearance of a large huddled figure approaching pushing the bike.
"Sorry mate, said Henry. "I lost my bearings for a second."
"A second, spat the bloke, his eyes standing out like organ stops. "Where've you been Lands End?"
"It's a little cracker this," said Henry "We'll take it" Sed was more than a little taken aback having the decision made on his behalf, considering he was the one with the money.
"Give you eighty pounds for it cash, said Henry..
"Ninety," growled the bloke. Sed looked from one to the other. He felt that he was at an auction as an outsider witnessing two blokes bargaining with his money. Henry drew the blokeís attention to the ad which said or nearest offer.
"I know that, but you've had ninety pounds worth of wear out of it already."
"Youíre beginning to get up my nose china." Sed decided at this point to intercede on his own behalf before the fisticuffs started.
"Here you are mate ninety pounds, just give me a receipt."
"Where's the nearest garage mate," enquired Henry in a moderated tone.
"About two miles down the main road, if it's open!"
The ownership of the motorbike transformed Sed's lifestyle to such an extent that even Henry was forced to comment on his obsession.
"Bloody 'ell Sed, I thought I was keen, but you take the biscuit."
"I'm dead made up Hen. It's the best thing that's happened to me since....well, I can't remember when."
"You should be ready for your test now. I can't teach you any more."
"I want to be able to strip it down and tune it like you do."
"Hold on wack, you've got to learn to ride before you can race."
"I got a letter yesterday morning, my test's next Thursday at 4.30."
"Great, it used to be taken around the liver building
" It still is."
"Well d'you fancy a quick spin around the block," urged Henry. "And concentrate on letting the clutch in smoothly." They donned their helmets, Sed kickstarted it first time. He opened the throttle two or three times. The engine roared, then settled to a nice even burbling tickover. Pulling in the clutch lever with his left hand, pushing the gear lever down into first, letting the clutch lever out with a jerk they lurched forward and sped away in a cloud of smoke.
The day of the test dawned damp and misty. He hadn't slept well, he kept going over and over in his mind the questions in the highway code. When is it unsafe to overtake?...er, junction, hill, humped back bridge.
"There's egg on toast on the table Sed, don't let it go cold," said Elsie looking anxiously at the frown of concentration on her son's face.
"I don't feel very hungry mam."
"Get it down you, you can't go to work on an empty stomach you silly boy!"
"No, I can't face it, I'll just have a cup of tea."
"I'll be glad when you get over this motorbike madness, it's all you think about nowadays. You never see that girl very much now. All you think about is that damn bike!"
"Don't keep on about it mam, I'll see more of Gwen when I've past my test then I'll be able to take her out."
"What's wrong with the bus?" said Elsie placing a cup of tea down in front of him with one hand and removing the egg on toast with the other.
"Nothing," replied Sed knowing full well that he couldn't win this argument.
Sed parked the bike outside the Liver buildings and went inside to report to the test centre. There was about half a dozen blokes sitting nervously waiting for an examiner. One bloke got up and walked to the window and started trying to read and memorise registration numbers. He obviously had poor eyesight, his glasses had thick lenses which reminded Sed of Tizer bottle bottoms. One by one the condemned men went to meet his maker leaving the man with the bad eyesight and himself to face the executioner. Sed's stomach was rumbling with anxiety, when Cyclops spoke to him.
"Do me a favour will ye see 'ow many of these numbers I get right." He read off about half a dozen, half of which he got wrong.
"Is this your first test mate?" queried Sed beginning to feel sorry for him.
"No, it's my second. I failed my first one because I couldn't read a number at twenty five yards, mind you it was very foggy. The examiner taped it out for me and I still couldn't read it. He said I should go for an eye test."
"Did you ?"
"Have an eye test?"
"No, but if I can memorise those six cars outside I've cracked it. If I can just get on the bike I know I can pass the test." He took off his glasses breathed on the lenses and gave them an energetic rub with the tail of his shirt. At this point an examiner emerged from behind the counter with his clipboard called his name and off they went outside. Sed watched for a brief moment then a voice behind him said
"Yes," said Sed starting to sweat profusely.
"Have you got your licence?"
"Yes," replied Sed diving into his inside pocket hoping he'd remembered to bring it with him. The examiner looked a decent enough cove who would hopefully make allowances for human frailty. He read the registration number without any problems and waited for further instructions.
"Ok," said the examiner, I want you to go straight up Dale street and take the second turning on the right, then first right, then second right, keep going right until you see me somewhere on the course, then I'll step out and you do your emergency stop, Ok?" Sed nodded, kickstarted the bike and set off. Sed went right as directed, and after what appeared a indeterminate amount of time and a feeling that he was developing a right hand bias, there was no sign of the examiner. Eventually he pulled up outside the liver buildings as the examiner came out of the test centre with another candidate, he caught sight of Sed and didn't look too pleased.
"Whereíve you been?" Sed nearly said where d'you think, but decided he'd better be diplomatic.
"I went where you told me, second right, then second right again..."
"No, I said second right, then first right, then second right!"
"Oh," said Sed, "Does that mean I've failed?"
"Put in for another test, and pay attention to what youíre told, look I have to walk around the course. I havenít got time to go chasing after you, at the end of the day I'm shattered." Sed nodded despondently. He had anticipated chucking his L- plates away, and riding home in triumph on a triumph, so to speak. He didn't feel as though he'd been given a fair crack of the whip. As he was kicking the bike over he caught sight of the lad with the bad eyesight wandering around looking panic stricken.
"Hey, how did you go on?"
"I'm not worried about that, some bastards pinched me bike."
"Are you sure, where'd you leave it?"
"Out front. I went back into the centre to get a form for another test."
"Look, get on the back, we'll have a look around to see if we can see it, if we can't I'll run you to the police station and you can report it."
"What about your L-plates?"
"I'll take 'em off. Bollocks to it, the way I feel at the moment." He explained why he failed his test.
"How did you go on?"
"Failed! couldn't read the number plate."
"I thought you'd memorised them?"
"I did, but the crafty sod took me round the corner. I only got a couple of letters wrong, you'd think they'd make allowances and give you the benefit of the doubt."
The two failed test candidates set off in search of stolen motorcycle.
"What make of bike was it ?" enquired Sed.
"A B.S.A Bantam, a sort of dirty pale green." They searched the immediate area without success so Sed dropped him off outside Dale street police station.
"Thanks a bundle wack. I hope I can do you a favour sometime."
"Sed." They shook hands. It was gratifying to note thought Sed that he accepted his name without question.
"What you going to do about your test?"
"I don't know now, I can't do much without a bike."
"They will get it back, they usually do, sooner or later."
"If I do I think I'll sell it."
"Why d'you want to do that?"
"Let's face it Sed, my eyesightís not good enough to pass the test. I'm just kidding myself." Sed felt sorry for him and a little less depressed himself. He could always put in for another test and pay attention next time.
"Don't give up Nick, I hope you get your bike back?"
"Thanks, its funny how things turn out, here's me as blind as a bat, and you as deaf as a post!"
It took a month to get the second test date. It was a dull, cold, with drizzle. Sed could hardly see through his visor because of the rain and the condensation. He pulled into the kerb and wiped the inside of the visor with his handkerchief. He had that strange feeling of foreboding again as he rode on. When he got to the test centre the feeling intensified when he found out that he'd got the same examiner. He listened intently as he was given directions on which way to go. Before he reached each corner he looked behind him, changed down and gave a clear hand signal. Having turned right he was about to change up when the examiner stepped into the road from behind a bus queue. Sed applied the brakes, with a combination of wind rain and greasy road surface, Sed and the bike continued forward at the same rate of knots catching the examiner a glancing blow knocking his trilby off and separating him from his clipboard which went slithering across the road. People from the bus queue helped the examiner up dazed but unhurt. One old lady set about Sed with her umbrella and railed on that all motorcyclists should be banned from the road and threatened to call the police. A bus came and most of the people boarded it. One man offered the examiner his name and address as a witness.
"I'm terribly sorry, I tried to stop...."
"It's you isn't it? I might have known." He looked heavenwards and threw up his arms.
"You nearly killed me d'you know that?"
"Not purposely, are you ok?"
"Youíre the one who got lost about a month ago?"
"A slight misunderstanding on my part, anyway shall I carry on?" Sed got the distinct feeling that he'd failed his second test.
"No you can't carry on, in fact do me a favour if you have any intention of applying again don't apply to this centre ok?" Sed watched him straighten his trilby, and strut away muttering something about in all his years as an examiner.
Sed decided that he would take his next test somewhere else, to see if his luck changed. He was fairly confident that there was nothing wrong with his riding ability given a fair crack of the whip. However, it looked like the business of another test would have to go on the backburner because his mother had another attack of depression. She usually staggered against Sed when they were out walking which was a sure indicator that another bout was in the offing, then after a week or two she would be confined to bed, followed inevitably by her visits to Sed's bedroom in the middle of the night. Sed dreaded it. It wasn't the fact that she was ill that upset him. He knew she couldn't help herself. It was having to cope with it on his own. Eadie was very supportive, she came down most days while he was at work. What bugged him most of all was the impotence of the medical profession. Her doctors complete inability to know how to treat her. He would dispense tablets like liquorice allsorts which made her dopey and put her off her food, and the prolonged period of time in bed was making her weak. Matters came to a head a few days later. Sed was in bed reading when there was an almighty bang from his motherís bedroom followed by a scream. He leapt out of bed and dashed into her room to find her trapped half way in and half way out of the bedroom window. He held on to her right arm while he pushed up the sash window and pulled her back inside. She was so drugged up she had no idea where she was. He locked the window, made her as comfortable as possible then went downstairs to the phone. He was so angry he could hardly speak coherently.
"I want to speak to doctor Benson, pardon...what d'you mean he's not on tonight...who's on? Well whoever it is I want him to come out now! my mother's just tried to commit suicide. The tablets she's been taking are making her hallucinate." He was assured that the locum would be there within the hour. He went back upstairs to find that she had gone to sleep which was a relief. He went back downstairs and made himself a cup of tea and waited for the arrival of the doctor. It was nearly two hours before the doctor finally arrived. He was a small dapper middle aged man with shifty eyes and a pronounced stammer. He reacted as though he was frightened to death as Sed tried to explain the situation while doing his utmost to hold his temper.
"W..what tablets is s..she on?" he enquired his eyes darting all around the room. Sed opened the bedside cupboard and handed him the bottle. The doctor squinted at the label as though he was badly in need of a pair of reading glasses.
"Hmm, th these are a bit on the s..strong side, I'll p..prescribe s..something m..more suitable." Sed looked at him incredulously and thought that he was in need of medical attention himself.
"Look doc I don't want her to have anymore tablets, what she needs now is treatment in hospital." He explained her previous treatments with E.C.T.
"Itís a very c..controversial t..treatment, s..s..some p..people believe it damages the b..brain." Sed was in no mood to argue the fat with this bloke.
"And all these drugs are not doing her brain any good either. I want Dr Valman to see her, can you arrange that?"
"Y..yes if y..you wish er..."
"Aren't you going to examine her doctor? she's hurt her arm trying to climb through the bedroom window." The doctor squinted at her arm.
"Y..yes... well, it l..looks c..clean enough. It will be a p..pity to wake her. C..c..can you put a bit of p..plaster on it?" Sed couldn't believe his ears.
"Me put the plaster on?"
"Y..yes...I haven't b..brought any w..with me." He rummaged through his briefcase for his prescription pad and started writing feverishly. Tore it off and handed it to Sed.
"Th..these are a w..weaker dose of w..what s..she is already on. In tÖthe m..meantime I'll c..c..ontact d..doctor V..valman. I b..bid you g..good day." Closed his briefcase and shot out of the bedroom down the stairs and out of the front door as if his life depended on it.
Sed had to take more time off work to look after his mother. His absences weren't going down too well with King now that he was a fully fledged journeyman he could ill afford to have him missing for long periods of time because he was having to pay Sed's wages into the chapel fund. The union demanded that if the department was working light the man's wages were paid into the fund and shared out every six months. Then Sed got some help from an unexpected quarter. One evening the doorbell rang, he opened it to find Gwen standing there,
"Hello Sed, I thought I'd call round, seeing that there was no chance of you coming to see me."
"Honestly Gwen..........I just haven't had time with me mam and that."
"I know, that's why I'm here, mumís sent some scones and I've brought a bottle of wine."
"That's great come in," he gave her a warm kiss on the lips as feelings of desire welled up inside him. He'd missed her all right, he was just beginning to realise how much.
"How's your mum Sed?"
"Not so good, she tried to climb out of the bedroom window last night."
"Oh my God, is she all right?"
"She's Ok at the moment. I've had the doctor, a bit of a pillock. He didn't examine her just gave me a prescription for some more of the pills that are making her go round the bend."
"Last time she was ill she went into hospital for some T.c.p. treatment?" Sed had to smile despite the seriousness of the situation.
"You mean ECT, they gave her some electric shock impulses to the brain."
"It sounds horrendous!"
"Apparently they don't feel anything because they put them under. It put her back on her feet for about two years." They were interrupted by a thump from upstairs. "I think she's fallen out of bed again." He ran up the stairs closely fallowed by Gwen. Elsie was stretched out on the bedroom floor. They each took an arm and heaved her back into bed.
"Youíre ok mam, no harm done."
"What's going to become of me son?"
"Youíre going to be fine," he assured her.
"Who's this? The doctor? enquired Elsie as Sed tucked her in.
"It's Gwen, you know Gwen - Henry's sister!"
"What's going to become of me Gwen?" Sed looked up to the ceiling for some divine guidance which didn't look as though it was forthcoming.
"Don't you worry Mrs Kirk, we're going to make you a nice cup of tea and a scone. Elsie didn't show much enthusiasm
"Very nice, but I'm not very hungry"
Doctor Valant arrived early one morning after Sed had had a particularly bad night with Elsie, she'd got up in the early hours and gone out into the road in little more than her nightdress. He couldn't recall what woke him. He went into her bedroom and found the bed empty. The front door was open and outside it was throwing it down with rain. He threw on a mac and had a quick look around the immediate locality without spotting a sign of her. He was getting really anxious now and concerned about her welfare. He was soaked to the skin and knew also that she would be wondering around out there wet and cold and decided to ring 999. He explained the circumstances to them and hoped with all his heart that she wouldn't be found at the bottom of a river or lying injured on some main road. He put the gas fire on but couldn't sit down, his stomach was in knots with worry. He had no idea of time it seemed like an age before the front door bell rang. He opened the door to find a policeman and a WPC and in between them was a very diminutive Elsie, her hair dishevelled wrapped in a blanket.
"Hello!" said the WPC warmly. "We found her walking along the main road, she was ok, a little wet unfortunately. We took her back to the station, dried her off, gave her a cup of cocoa, and she wanted to know what was going to become of her?"
"Oh thanks, I was worried to death about her, she suffers from manic depression, it's got progressively worse since my dad died."
"Are you on your own with her?" enquired the constable.
"Well yes, at the moment. I'm expecting a specialist to see her any day."
"Have you no family in the area?" said the policewoman.
"I've got some relatives who've been a great help, but they can't be here all the time."
"Would you like us to contact Social services?"
"No honestly, I'll be ok. Thanks for your trouble. I hope I won't need to bother you again."
"No trouble", they assured him. Sed sat his mother down in front of the fire. He realised that she was still wrapped in the blanket the police loaned her and resolved to let them have it back at the earliest opportunity. Doctor Valant examined her thoroughly.
"Sheís lost a lot of weight?"
"Sheís not eating, I can't get a solid meal down her doctor."
"I think we'd better have her in again. Can I use your phone please?"
"Help yourself doc."
"Is that that very nice policeman Sed?"
"No mam, it's the very nice doctor that's going to get you back on your feet", assured Sed who was beginning to wilt through lack of sleep.
Elsie was taken into hospital in the afternoon by ambulance, and Sed felt a big weight lifted off his shoulders. He had reached the stage when he felt completely out of his depth trying to cope with his motherís illness. Here was the woman who gave birth to him, the strong personality who held the family together and had the biggest influence on his upbringing, disintegrating before his eyes. Mental illness was harder to cope with than physical illness, a few days in bed and you were usually ok. But this........just went on and on. Sed shuddered as he sat there looking into space. The television flickered and the tea he'd poured out earlier had gone cold. He decided to ring the hospital to see how she was then he would ring Eadie and let her know Elsie was back in hospital, after which he thought he would go for a ride on his motorbike, that always relaxed him. Later he would pick up Gwen and go on to the hospital for the seven till eight visiting time, then he thought he'd have an early night, he felt shattered. He rode up to Gwen's, parked the bike on the curb, strode up the path and pressed the doorbell. Mr O'Neill opened the door.
"Hello Sed, come in lad, how are you?"
"Oh, I'm ok Mr O'Neil."
"How's your ma?"
"I'm just off to the hospital, I was wondering if Gwen would like to come with me?"
"I'm sure she would Sed but she's not home from work yet, they're stocktaking or something"
"Oh, right, well I'll be off then," said Sed as Mrs O'Neill appeared out of the kitchen.
"How's your mother?"
"She was ok yesterday, they're going to give her some electric treatment again."
"Would you like a drink Sed."
"Er, no thanks Mrs O'Neill, I haven't got time."
"Well, have a cup of tea in your hand!" Sed smiled to himself at the idea of scalding tea cascading straight from the pot into his bare mit.
"Thanks again, but Iíd better go."
"All right Sed, give her our love. Gwen will be sorry she's missed you......"
Arriving at the ward the curtains were around Elsie's bed, thinking perhaps she was getting some treatment he wondered into the sisterís office. When she saw him she asked him in and told him to close the door.
"Sit down Mr Kirk,...now I'm afraid we've got some bad news about your mother." Sed felt as though he'd been kicked in the stomach.
"She's not dead!" gasped Sed, the worst scenario he could possibly imagine.
"No, nothing like that, but she's had a stroke I'm afraid."
"What d'you mean a stroke?"
"Well, put simply it's a burst blood vessel in the brain, a sort of haemorrhage."
"Is she going to die?" Without giving him a direct answer she said:
"The doctorís with her now, I'll get him for you, he wants to have a word." She swept passed him and the smell of disinfectant made him feel sick. The doctor obviously a junior looking no older than Sed himself seemed very hesitant and avoided eye contact as he closed the door behind him. He rubbed his eyebrow vigorously then said. "Your mother's had a stroke I'm afraid." Sed felt a wave of anger welling up inside him.
"Did this happen after she had the electric treatment?" The doctor looked alarmed.
"No, no, she hasn't had ECT, doctor Valant's been assessing her for treatment when this happened."
"When did it happen?" The doctor looked towards the sister for support.
"It was about twenty minutes ago wasn't it sister?" She gave him a sombre nod of agreement. .
"How bad is it?"
"It was a pretty severe stroke." Sed didn't know what else to ask.
"Do you want to see her?" Sed knew that's what he wanted more than anything else. As he strolled with the doctor towards the bed Volant suddenly appeared from behind the screens. He put an arm around Sed's shoulder. "I'm sorry about this Sed."
"What caused it doctor?"
"We're not sure, high blood pressure can be a factor, and her age of course. She may suffer some speech impairment and some paralysis. But then looking on the bright side, with help she could make a complete recovery. Sed looked down at Elsie, the strong confident Elsie, his beloved mother and felt dispirited and very much alone.
"Hello mam, youíre going to be just fine, doctor Valant said so and he should know." He wished he felt as confident as he sounded. She held on to his hand, her grey eyes filled with tears as she struggled to speak. Saliva spilled from the corner of her mouth, nothing came only a tiny cry of frustration. Sed sat down on the side of the bed and put both arms around her and kissed her gently on the forehead. They had been through hell and back since his father died. He blamed the trauma of the funeral for that and thought about what Eadie had said, that life had to be endured not enjoyed. His mother depended on him more than ever now.
"Youíre going to be just fine mam I promise."
When he got home he felt ravenous, but because he hadn't slept properly for a couple of days he couldn't be bothered to set to and cook himself anything. He went upstairs and lay on the bed fully dressed and the next thing he remembered was the phone ringing. He turned over and looked at the clock, it was ten oíclock in the morning, he'd slept twelve hours solid. He leapt out of bed and down the stairs and just reached the phone when it stopped ringing. He had a quick wash, or as his mother used to call it a cat's lick, put the kettle on, two rounds of bread in the toaster when the phone rang again.
"Is that you Sed?"
"Yeah...who is it?"
"You should know your own brother."
"Lloyd,..bloody 'ell, where are you?"
"Yep, I signed on a ship in Fremantle, and here I am. How are things Sed?"
"As bad as they can be, mam's had a stroke."
"Jesus! How bad is she?"
"Look, I'll be home as soon as I can, ok?"
"Ok, how is your wife?"
"Well, it's a long story, I'll tell you about it when I see you." Sed felt elated, at least he wasn't on his own any more, but in retrospect had the leopard changed it's spots? Lloyd's track record left a lot to be desired, anyway only time would tell. He had another phone call this time from King enquiring when he could expect to see him back at work, in the meantime he said he would like a word with him as soon as he could find the time. Sed knew he would have to get back to work as soon as possible because he was running out of money. He could have gone sick, Ralph suggested it, but he couldn't bring himself to do it. Eadie called with a hotpot which he could pop into the oven later, and said she would come back later to go to the hospital with him. He told her about Lloyd, her response didn't allay his fears.
"Is he on the run.? He usually turns up like a bad penny when he's nowhere else to go." Sed said he didn't know and expected that all would be revealed in due course. "Don't let him put on you Sed, you've got enough on your plate at the moment."
When they got to the hospital Elsie was asleep. The sister said there was no change and since she was having difficulty eating they had put her on a drip. They sat around the bed for a while then Eadie suggested they went outside for a chat.
"How are you going to manage if and when she comes out of hospital?" Sed told her he had no idea never having been in this position before. Eadie gazed intently at him before she spoke again. "You can't afford to stay off work for much longer, and to be honest your brother will be as much use as ornament!" Sed agreed he had a problem, he didn't want to put her in a nursing home in fact he couldn't see a solution to the problem.
"What should I do aunt Eadie?"
"Well perhaps there is something that can be done, what about calling in the Social services?"
"What can they do?"
"They can send someone around to attend to her while youíre at work."
"Can they do that?"
"Of course. I'll arrange it, and I can call round some part of the day myself."
"Aw, that would be great aunt Eadie."
"When's that no-good brother of yours arriving?"
"Anytime," shrugged Sed.
"Well he could be of some use, if you could rely on him."
Sed went into work to see King the following day, and although he was very sympathetic towards Sed and his domestic problems paramount in his thinking was to have him back in work as soon as possible.
"How is your mother young man?"
"Not so good," replied Sed.
"Are you getting any help?"
"I'm hoping to get some help from social services. I've also got some help from a relative."
"Hum, so when can we expect to see you back at work?"
"I'm hoping to make a start next Monday, all being well." King scratched his nose thoughtfully took a deep breath and said,
"I've got a proposition to put to you." Sed thought perhaps he was going to ask him for his resignation. "We'll wait for the F.O.C.." King dialed an internal line and asked Jack to come over as soon as possible. "Don't look so worried Kirk I'm not going to sack you, sit down and relax." A few moments later there was a tap on the door and in came Jack Degan nodding his head towards Sed as he closed the door behind him. "Right, well, I'm going to put that proposition to Kirk that I told you about last week." Jack nodded in agreement. "It's nothing spectacular Kirk, but we thought it may help you in your present difficulties." Sed waited expectantly. "Have you thought about going on nights, because there's a vacancy on the Advertiser, a thirty seven and a half hour week, you'd be at home during the day when your mother comes home from hospital?"
Sed appreciated King's concern but didn't want to be pushed into making any quick decisions when at the moment there was so many things to take into consideration.
"Thanks for the offer Mr King, can I have some time to think about it?"
"Yes, fine, but don't take too long. Someone will be filling the position on nights sooner than later."
"I realise that," said Sed, "I'll let you know as soon as I can."
"Right, lad, I take it we will be seeing you on Monday. In the meantime I wish you well, youíre taking on a big responsibility for a young man." Sed didn't need to be reminded, he hadn't got a clue what was going to happen next.
When Sed arrived home the first thing he noticed was Lloyd's seabag in the hallway. On the table was a note -Gone to the hospital see you later, Lloyd. Sed sat down to think again about the proposition King made to him. Working days or nights made very little difference if he couldn't get some help from somewhere. Lloyd would be the greatest help if he could be relied upon. He shook his head at the difficulties, he needed someone he could turn to for advice but he knew he would have to make all the crucial decisions himself. As he contemplated his situation the phone rang, it was Eadie, she promised to come by later with a meat and potato pie. He didn't mention the fact that Lloyd was home she would find out soon enough. In the meantime he had to go to the post office to collect his mother's pension. When he got back Lloyd was back from the hospital he could smell him when he opened the door. His heart sank as he saw the ungainly figure stretched out on the settee in a drunken stupor. He was so far gone that it would have been crass stupidity to try and rouse him and expect to get an iota of sense. To crown it all he still had a large brimmed Australian hat perched on his head with his blond hair sprouting from below the brim made him look a ringer for Worzel Gummage. The image might have been funny to someone else but to Sed it was another problem with no solution. When Eadie arrived, it was all Sed could do to stop her attacking the prostrate figure.
"Don't upset yourself aunt Eadie, he's not worth it."
"Just look at the worthless baggage!" she railed. "Why didn't he stay in Australia and do us all a favour, he's not going to be any help, more a hindrance I shouldn't wonder." Lloyd grunted as his mouth opened slowly as his top set dropped down. "How disgusting, I can't bear to watch," said Eadie turning her back on the apparition,
"Funny that," remarked Sed staring at Lloyds unconscious countenance "I never knew he had false teeth, unless he had his own taken out in Australia."
Sed couldn't sit around waiting for Lloyd to recover he had to go for his nightly visit to the hospital. Elsie looked a lot better Sed thought perhaps a visit from number one son might have had something to do with it. It was more a matter of twenty questions he would ask the questions and she would respond with a nod or shake of the head. "I bet you were pleased to see Lloyd mam?" Her eyes lit up with enthusiasm, she nodded her head vigorously. She wouldn't be very happy if she could see him now. "Doctor Valant said he's going to start you on some speech therapy when youíre up and about!" She frowned. He held her hand to reassure her. "There's nothing to worry about it's part of the treatment, he'll have you up and about before you know it, then you will be able to come home," She tried to speak but the sound stuck in the back of her throat and her eyes filled with tears. He put his arms around her meagre frame and rocked her back and forth and wished he felt confident about the future. The sister told him that she was eating well which was reassuring. On his way home on the bike his mind was a turmoil about which shift to take combined with what to do about soft lad. His concentration wondered and he nearly ran into the back of a bus. That's all I need a straight choice - the hospital or the morgue. As he pulled the bike up on it's stand he resolved to give Lloyd a bollocking and a choice either toe the line or get out. He opened the door and resolutely strode in to say his piece. He had hardly managed to extract his keys from the door when Gwen ran into him, she flung her arms around him kissing him full on the lips.
"I love you Sed!"
"Whoa, whatís all this about?" said Sed completely overwhelmed. She stood back somewhat embarrassed by her uncontrolled demonstration of affection.
"I..I'm sorry Sed, I just wanted to show you how much I love you." Sed wasn't ready for this. Still unsure how to react he said
"He went out, said he would catch up with you later."
"Bloody typical, he came home yesterday, his seabag's still in the hall, he hasn't bothered to unpack, he goes to see me mam and comes home pissed as an newt...I can do without this...."
"Look sit down and relax I've made a cup of tea." Sed took off his motorcycle jacket and flung it on the clothes peg in the hall, it missed and fell onto the floor.
"What did you say?" yelled Gwen from the kitchen.
"Nothing of any importance," replied Sed.
"Here, have this, do you want something to eat?"
"Er.. no thanks, I don't feel very hungry."
"How's your mum?"
"Frustrated...mostly. She's like a time-bomb waiting to go off."
"Look Sed d'you want me to go?"
"No, of course not Gwen, I'm sorry, I'm all key'd up, I don't know what to do, or which way to turn. It's not your fault, I shouldn't be taking it out on you."
"I understand, and I'd like to help, if you'll let me."
"Thanks, you and Eadie have been great. I don't know what I would have done without you,"
"Well what's the first problem?"
"I've got to decide whether to take the bossís offer of a night job."
"D'you fancy nights?"
"I don't know, I've never been on nights. The idea was so that I could be at home to look after mam when she comes out of hospital."
"Who's going to look after her when you go to work?"
"Well, now that Lloydís home I was hoping he would look after her at night, now there's a laugh, he's incapable of looking after himself."
"I can come over and look after your mum after work if you decide to go on nights!"
"Thanks Gwen, but think about it, that would give Lloyd the excuse he's been looking for, no responsibility and out every night, no, he's got to do his share."
"I was only trying to help, don't shout at me." Sed pulled her down onto his lap.
"I'm not shouting at you. I think the world of you Gwen."
"Do you love me?"
"Of course, why d'you ask?"
"You never say."
"Well I have a lot on my mind right now, but I do love you." They kissed passionately.
"Well then let's get engaged?" Sed shot up with astonishment.
"Engaged?..hold it Gwen don't be in such a hurry....we hardly know each other."
"We've known each other since we were kids."
"Yeah, I know that but..."
"Then you don't love me enough!"
"Do we have to make our minds up now?" Sed felt as though he'd been pushed into a corner, it sounded like an ultimatum.
"There's no one else is there?"
"No, look can't we talk about this some other time."
"Oh go and chase spiders Sed Kirk, youíre a waste of time." She jumped up smoothed her skirt and flounced out leaving Sed stunned with another problem to sort out.
Sed had a bite to eat then settled down to watch the six oíclock news on TV, when he heard the key go in the front door. Lloyd popped his head around the door with the silly hat still perched on top.
"G'day kiddo. your big brother's home from Oz! G'day....is there anybody there?" Lloyd could tell from the look of disdain on Sed's face that he was on a loser. "Ok...what have I done to burst yer balloon?" Sed swallowed his anger because if he got too upset he become inarticulate, then he might resort to violence which would solve nothing, "well, say something for Christ's sake?" Sed folded his arms, then got up to turn the TV off. "Ok, what happened to you last night after you went into hospital to see mam?"
"How d'ye mean what happened?"
"You were as pissed as a newt!"
"It was one hell of a shock to see the way she is, it's like a living death."
"So you got pissed because you were upset?"
"You've got it in one kiddo!"
"How d'you think I've managed?"
"With difficulty I imagine, but then again you were always the boy scout, dib, dib , dib, and all that sort of thing."
"Well it's just as well we don't all go swanning off to the other side of the world to escape our responsibilities when things go wrong at home." Lloyd avoided eye contact and began looking a bit disconsolate.
"I hold me hands up, up to now I haven't made a very good showing with the old folks at home, but to tell you the truth Sed I'm scared of illness and I can't begin to tell you how I feel about death!"
"What is there to be scared about illness, even iron men rust, and death, well weíre all going to die sometime."
"You make it sound so simple, you should have been the eldest son not me."
"Well, never mind the eldest son, I feel like an only child because everything falls on me. I need some help, if and when mam comes home she's going to take a lot of looking after, so if youíre not going to be any help you'd better say so now and find yourself somewhere else to live!"
"Ok, what have I got to do?" Lloyd took his hat off and slung it nonchalantly on to the hall stand and sat down opposite Sed in the other armchair.
"What're your plans now your home?"
"Well, I suppose I'll have to get a job."
"Aren't you going back to sea?"
"No, the arse has fallen out of the merchant navy, mostly oil tankers now; high tech less men." he shrugged his shoulders. "I'll go down to the employment exchange tomorrow. I won't be a burden kid I promise." Sed had heard it all before and gave him a wry smile. "Honestly kid I'm a reformed character, give or take a slip up here and there."
"Like last night?!"
"Well, yeah, but it gutted me to see our mam like....she is." Sed opened a couple of cans of lager as Lloyd recounted details of his life in Australia. How he jumped ship got a job ashore as a trainee chef, and met this girl called Melanie who was a chambermaid in the same hotel.
" She was a great bird Sed, looked after me like no one else before or since. We rented a flat in Fremantle and things were great until her ex husband found out where she was living. He made our lives hell. He wouldn't take no for answer. We fought a couple of times. The second time he nearly put me in hospital. He used to follow us around to bars, clubs. He was an obsessed sicko. Finally, he came into the hotel restaurant one lunchtime caused a scene, he was thrown out and she got the sack."
"What happened next?" said Sed getting really interested.
"It's incredible really, but she went back to him."
"Why did she do that, she didn't love him did she?" queried Sed. Lloyd shook his head vigorously.
"No not at all, but reasoned that it would be easier to go back and pacify him than put up with all the hassle. She claimed in his defence that he had never hit her all their married life, or so she said. I can't believe that after what he did to me." He showed Sed a couple of faded scars around his eyes. "He butted me in the face and broke all my front teeth. He grimaced at Sed and unhooked the plate of his upper set to show him. Sed smiled to himself as he recalled the incident the previous night when they dropped down while he was asleep.
"What happened next, did you see her again?"
"No but I spoke to her on the phone. I pleaded with her to leave him and come with me to Sydney, or anywhere, Oz is a big place, or even back here with me, but she wouldn't hear of it, said it was for the best." Tears welled up in his eyes, and for the first time in living memory Sed felt sorry for Lloyd. He put a comforting hand on Lloyds arm.
"Never mind, youíre home now, you'll find someone, there's plenty of fish in the sea. Lloyd sniffed, nodded and took out of his pocket the dirtiest hankie that Sed had ever seen and wiped away the tears. "Bloody 'ell !" exclaimed Sed, "That snot rag looks like a car mechanics oily rag." Lloyd started to laugh.
"Aye, it's disgusting isn't it. I've got a bag full of dirty washing out there, when I get round to unpacking. Anyway kiddo I saw Gwen here this afternoon," said Lloyd his whole demeanour changing to one of enthusiasm. "You two going strong?"
"Well, we were until tonight.!" Lloyd shot him a strange look.
"Why what happened?"
"She wants to get engaged, that's the last thing on my mind at the moment."
"Go to it, you can't beat the love of a good woman."
"And you should know."
"I do know."
"Ok, well, sup up there's another couple of cans in the fridge."
"A toast, to all the girls I used to know."
"That's easy," joked Sed, "Iíve only known two."
Lloyd true to his word proved a great help around the house. He vacced, dusted, washed and changed the beds, on top of which he cooked some superb meals for when Sed got home from work, even Eadie was impressed which was an accolade in itself, but warned that Lloyd was on a high at the moment, the proof of the pudding would be when Elsie came home from the hospital. Lloyd dismissed her doubts and said he was quite looking forward to it. Sed had still not made up his mind about going on nights. Gwen told him she thought that working nights was anti social. She said it was bad enough when Henry worked shifts everyone had to be quiet and walk around in carpet slippers when he was in bed. They even had to silence the doorbell and wrap a cloth around the door knocker, she claimed it wasn't natural. However, his mind was made up for him when Lloyd came home to tell him that he'd been offered a job as a chef in a hotel in town, the hours were from one pm till nine oíclock in the evening. Sed started work at nine oíclock till four in the morning. So there was a short fall when Lloyd would have to travel home from work. Gwen said she would stay until Lloyd got home.
The first night Sed started work on the Advertiser he came in straight from the hospital and felt bushed because he'd been up since eight a.m. Luckily the work wasn't as hectic as the daily. Most of the copies went to north Wales, or at least the early additions did. The staff on nights were mainly middle aged and one or two were close to retirement. Old Tom Naseby was said to be over seventy. He was a Yorkshireman from Leeds. When he wasn't beachcombing on Wallasey seashore, he used to go and with his ninety nine year old dad every other weekend. Sed noticed very early on that there was an air of deep despondency over the chapel, this became more apparent as the night wore on whenever the overseer appeared at the end of each edition. There was a lot of yes sir, no sir, and touch of the forelock for Sed's liking. George Danson had been a very effective branch secretary at one time and a very large thorn in the side of the management. They couldn't beat him so they made him up to an overseer, and now he was a bigger thorn in the unionís side. He knew trade union law chapter and verse, so it was very difficult to pull the wool over his eyes. He also attended quarterly union meetings at Central hall and told those who complained that he was a fully paid up member of the union and had a perfect right to be there, and if this wasn't bad enough he had a very short fuse which intimidated everyone who came in contact with him. He told Sed that as long as he did his job and didn't cause trouble they would get along fine. Sed, for his part had no intention of causing trouble, anything for a quiet life, he had enough problems of his own.
One evening Sed was ten minutes late coming in, having left the hospital in good time he got caught in traffic coming from the Liverpool Sheffield Wednesday match. He parked his motor bike in the loading bay and ran up the stairs to the third floor to find Danson waiting for him at the top. Danson looked at his wrist watch and indicated with a sweep of his arm that he wanted him in his office. Sed looked around to see if the F.O.C.. was in the vicinity, he wasn't. Sed had no intention of going into the office without a union official.
"Where's Pierce?" he asked the man on the moulding press.
"He's downstairs, anyway he won't go in with you he's shit scared of Danson," Danson stood impatiently in the doorway of his office looking as if he was about to burst a blood vessel.
"Get in here Kirk!"
"Not until I get an official to go in with me!" replied Sed stubbornly.
"I don't think youíre in a very good position to dictate terms to me young man." He could see that Sed, whatever the consequences Sed was not going to be bullied into complying. He grabbed the nearest interdepartmental phone and instructed Pierce to come upstairs. A few minutes later the lift doors opened to reveal a white faced Pierce.
"What 'ave I done wrong now?" he was visibly shaking.
"Look," said Sed "Danson wants to give me a bollocking for being late which is fair enough, but I'm not going into that office on my own."
"Why not, don't you read your rule book?" Pierce shrugged his shoulders.
"We always go in on our own.!" Danson put his head around the and said
"Get your backsides in here now or you'll both be out through that door over there!" Pierce jumped with fright. "Yes Mr Danson." and shot passed Sed like scalded cat. Sed followed and closed the door behind him. Danson was livid. He pointed a forefinger in Sed's direction and said.
"I know what your little game is Kirk and I wonít stand for it!" Sed looked down at the floor and scratched his right eyebrow.
"I don't know what you mean?"
"Oh, yes you do, youíre trying to undermine my authority." Sed looked at him incredulously.
"I'm in a bit late for which I apologise, how can that undermine your
"That's not true!" It was Sed's turn to be annoyed "Its in the rule book that no one is permitted to meet the management unaccompanied."
"Don't quote union rules to me lad, I wrote most of them before you come up." Sed nearly reminded him in that case he should have known better, but decide he'd already said enough, perhaps too much, Danson at this stage in the proceedings had cooled down somewhat. Pierce just stood there like a tailorís dummy with his eyes popping and his mouth wide open.
"So, Mr F.O.C.. what have you got to say in Mr Kirkís defence, now that you are here?"
"Nothing, nothing Mr Danson, can I go back downstairs?"
"Not before we hear what Mr Kirk's got say for himself. Why were you late again Mr Kirk?" Sed had had enough of this charade and was just about to tell Danson to stick the job up as far as it would go. Sed did his utmost to retain his composure, he bit his lip and tried to explain to this vile man why it was that he was late twice in one week. He sketched out the background to his mothers illness, and how he was trying to keep the home going. Dansonís reaction was surprising.
"Iím sorry to hear about your mother lad, you have my sympathy, but this is your bread and butter. Look, how would it be if I let you go a bit earlier in the morning but do your utmost to get in here on time at night?" Sed was a bit taken aback at the offer.
"Well thanks that would be a help."
"Right, well, we've got a newspaper to get out. What'ye gawping at Pierce?"
"Nothing Mr Danson."
"Well, get back to work!" Outside the office Pierce looked gobsmacked.
"Bloody 'ell Sed I've been 'ere seven years and I've never seen 'im so accommodating, jeeze." Sed smiled a smile of deep satisfaction.
"Perhaps the answer is don't let him walk all over you, stand up to him." Pierce rubbed his hands together gave Sed a grin revealing teeth big enough to eat an apple through a picket fence. A week later they held annual chapel meeting to elect new chapel officials. Pierce was adamant that he wouldn't stand as F.O.C. for another twelve months, he'd had enough. Some one proposed Sed, this was seconded. Sed for his part thanked them for the vote of confidence, but besides his current domestic situation he thought he hadn't been working there long enough. This excuse was howled downs the general consensus was that he was just the man for the job. Every other man in the department turned the job down. Sed was appalled.
"Look someone better do this job, you can't afford to let Danson think that he's got you running scared!"
"Well you do it then, said old Tom Naseby. "youíre the only man 'ere thats not scared of 'im."
"Go on," said someone else, give it a try for six months!" Sed looked around at a demoralised chapel.
"Look, it's not fair to expect me to take this job when I've only been here three weeks."
"Yes, but you've already proved youíre not scared of Danson."
"None of you should be scared, you've got the backing of the union?"
"Huh!" growled Naseby. "Everyone knows that the branch secretary is scared to death of 'im. Only last month we called McCreedy in because we had a case of victimisation. We was fobbed off again." A rumble of assent ran through the assembled meeting. Then Pierce spoke for the first time.
"I was the one being victimised!" Sed looked at him incredulously.
"You!" he said addressing Pierce.
"Yeh, he treats me like shit, so I've decided I won't do this job again." Sed looked about him shaking his head.
"What were the rest of you doing while this was going on?" There was silence to this enquiry "You should have been backing your F.O.C.. He can't do the job without your support, and now youíre asking me to do the job.....?" "No!" came the rejoinder. "You've shown already that youíre capable of the job, we'll back you to the hilt," said Naseby emphatically. Sed's mind was in a whirl. Could he do the job justice with things as they were at home, or would it be worse trying to work here with the pressure from the management and Danson in particular.
"Ok," said Sed finally, "I'm not prepared to do the F.O.C.'s job." There was a moan of disappointment from the assembly. "But for the time being I'm prepared to do the Deputy's job until I feel more confident about it, and don't expect miracles. This man's no pushover, he knows his rulebook like the archbishop of Canterbury knows his bible, and I may end up as demoralised as our friend here." Sed waited to see what effect if any his suggestion had on the chapel. There was a general discussion then Tom Naseby stood up.
"I'll take the F.oc.'s job, I'll do it till the end of the year, if I'm not sacked before then. By that time I'll be retired anyway. Sed grabbed Tom's hand and said,
"Great Tom! I think we'll make a good team."
Sed, Naseby, and the new clerk of the chapel Alan Diamond went into see Danson to introduce the new chapel officials. Danson was not impressed. He cocked a rheumy eye in Sed's direction and said he hoped he knew what he was letting himself in for.
"They'll be making the bullets for you to fire Kirk, and if youíre irresponsible enough to go along with it you'll find that when the chips are down the chapel will withdraw their support." Naseby flared up at this suggestion.
"That's not true!"
"Of course it's true, even when I was the F.O.C. of this chapel it was an uphill battle trying to get their backing." Naseby and Diamond looked deflated. Sed realised at that point how Danson used his power over the chapel. He knew he could do what he liked with them because he was right, they were a weak chapel. The management knew what they were doing when they promoted George.
"All right, so now we know who you are get back to work." When they got outside the office Naseby looked deflated.
"Now you see what we're up against." Sed thought for a moment.
"Danson's good there's no doubt about that, so to get the advantage we will have to cut off his supply of information!"
"How d'ye mean?" said Diamond vacantly.
"Well according to what I'm told Danson usually knows in advance what's going on in the chapel?" Naseby nodded.
"Well who's telling him?" Naseby and Diamond look at each other and they both came up with the same name. "Pierce!"
"Exactly! every time Pierce went into the office to see the overseer, Danson would put the frighteners on Pierce to tell him if the chapel were planning anything constitutional or unconstitutional."
"We had an idea that was going on, but we couldn't prove it." said Naseby.
"He wouldn't have got away with it if someone had gone in the office with him. So in future nobody goes in the office unless accompanied by an official OK?" They both readily nodded in agreement. "It will be easier now that Pierce is no longer the F.O.C.."
Things back home were shaping up nicely, Lloyd was as good as his word he kept his job, ran the vacuum cleaner over the place, and cooked some exquisite meals. Elsie was due home anytime. The hospital told him that they could do no more for her. She was as good as she was going to be. Friends, relatives and colleagues at work thought he was taking on more than he could manage. Some suggested he had her put into a home, but he was emphatic as well as angry. She was his mother, she'd looked after them all through thick and thin. She never had an easy life, left school at twelve and went into service as young girls did at the turn of the century. She married late in life after looking after her own mother who eventually died of senile dementia. Sed regretted not knowing her. She was another strong woman who brought Eadie and his father up on her own after his grandfather was killed in the first world war. So come what may, he was determined to do his best. Gwen had been a tower of strength, she came over most days and stayed with him until he went to work.
Their romance was on the backburner, they had the odd kiss and cuddle, but never seemed to get enough time on their own, either he was in bed and she was at work, or Lloyd was always around, there was no privacy. Gwen had warned him about this aspect of night working and anticipated that when his mother came home things could only get worse. One evening he had a phone call from Eadie telling him that Tom had incurable cancer and asking him if he had time would he call to see Tom. She was very upset and apologetic about bothering him at this time. Sed readily agreed to visit Tom, and arranged to go up the following afternoon. Torn had not made a big impact on the Kirk family life. He was sort of always there, popped up his wages every week, sat there in the easy chair smoking his pipe and spitting in the fire when Eadieís back was turned, but he was a good skin. Sed remembered he was always inquisitive about Sed's love life. Tom's eyes would light up as Sed described in detail what went on with a particular girlfriend. Sed made it up most of the time to see the look on Tom's face. When he got to Eadie's she ushered him into the kitchen, gave him a cup of tea and one of her home made scones. Her eyes filled up as she told him that Tom hadn't got long, days, weeks perhaps.
"I'm sorry about Uncle Tom aunt Eadie, if I'd known he was so ill I would have been down sooner, I mean you've been coming down doing favours for us....I had no idea Tom was so ill." Eadie grasped his hand and patted it. "It's all right Sed, we've coped, you've got enough on your plate at the moment, anyway, go on up he's in the front bedroom. He's lost a lot of weight Sed." Sed made his way slowly up the stairs and heard a muted runny cough as he pushed open the bedroom door. Tom was propped up on numerous pillows, his shock of grey hair was standing up like Stan Laurelís. As far as Sed could see he wasn't as bad as he had expected. He'd lost a lot of weight and had that yellow tinge to his skin that terminal cancer patients usually have. He didn't look as bad as his father did just before he died. Sed leaned over the bed grasped Tom's large bony hand and said
"Hiya uncle Tom, how are you?" Tom stared at him for a moment trying to focus, coughed again.
"Hello lad, how are you?"
"I'm fine Uncle Tom. Aunt Eadie said you were a bit under the weather, and I had to come and see you to cheer you up." Tom smiled and nodded his head.
"Aye lad, it's good to see you, ow's yer mother?"
"She's making progress, we hope to have her home shortly." Tom developed another fit of coughing. "Ah....phew, this coughing takes it out on me."
"Shall I get you a drink uncle Tom?"
"No lad, if I drink any more of Eadieís tea Iíll die of tannic acid poisoning, anyway what's happening with you these days..,you know?"
"What d'you mean Uncle Tom?" knowing full well what he meant.
"You know lad, er..... yer love life.,.er,..so to speak!" Sed looked into Tom's eyes and realised that he needed a boost, he was obviously very depressed, and who wouldn't be under the same circumstances.
"WelI," said Sed eventually. "I met this bird in the Grafton two weeks ago. She was a peach Uncle Tom." Tom pushed his bottom lip forward and cupped his hands in front of his chest. His eyes were bright with expectancy. "Yes she had bigger breasts than Jane Mansfield! I took her home, and as luck would have it her parents were out." Tom started making a gurgling noise in the back of his throat and the colour came back into his cheeks as he leaned forward so that he wouldn't miss an iota of what was being said. "We didn't waste any time uncle Tom, we started snogging on the settee, and I could tell that she wasn't going to be satisfied with the heavy petting." By this time Tom was in a state of apoplexy.
"Go on yes," gasped Tom his eyes standing out like organ stops.
"She tore the clothes off my back uncle Tom. I mean I was exhausted fighting her off. She was a big girl."
"Bloody 'el! lad....Tell me ...did you get your...end away?"
"I was all of a lather uncle Tom...I didn't know what to do for the best." Tom was getting seriously agitated by now and Sed was worried that the suspense might bring on an early demise. Tom pushed one bony leg out from under the bedclothes. Sed thought with some alarm that he was going to get up. Sed pushed it back and covered him up again. Tom grasped his arm firmly and shook him violently.
"Jesus Christ lad, don't leave me in suspense!"
"Ok, uncle Tom take it easy. Well she just lay there waiting."
"Typical, typical of you young 'uns, you've got no go in ye these days. You don't just stand there looking at it." Sed thought they had reached the point where this send up had gone far enough. However, Eadie saved the day by knocking on the bedroom door and entering with a tray of tea and sandwiches.
"You look terrible, has he had a fit of coughing Sed?"
"No," said Sed, "He's fine, I was just talking to him about work," he lied, Tom waved her away angrily.
"I don't want any more of your bloody tea woman!"
"Oh, oh, well, the bloody tea as you call it is not for you, it's for Sed. Anyway why're you so upset the ladís come down specially to see you." Tom shook his head with irritation. Sed looked at his watch anxiously and said,
"Iíll have to be going aunt Eadie, Iím in work at eight."
"Aye, lad, you'll come again and let me know 'ow ye got on...you know ....at work?"
Sed assured him that he would.
"What were you telling him Sed?" queried Eadie as they came down the stairs.
"Oh I think he was chuffed that Iíd got this job, and I was very lucky to get into printing aunt Eadie."
"You certainly were!" Sed could tell by the look in her eyes she didn't believe a word he was saying. In retrospect aunt Eadie would have to watch herself when she got into bed tonight thought Sed.
Sed got a phone call from the hospital telling him that Elsie was ready to come home. They offered the loan of a wheelchair until such time as they could afford one of their own or with the continued physiotherapy they were able to help her walk again and so dispense with the wheelchair. Her speech was coming along nicely. She still had difficulty finishing a sentence. It was a bit like twenty questions. Sed could help her finish a sentence if he listened closely to what she was saying. Lloyd on the other hand rarely went to the hospital because of his fear of hospitals, so it would be interesting to see how he coped when she came home. Sed managed to take the day off work to make all the necessary arrangements for her arrival. The hospital promised that she would be home by some time after ten oíclock, but it was nearer noon before the ambulance arrived. Sed thought she looked fitter than he had seen her for a long time, she had a rosy tinge to her complexion. He and Lloyd embraced her in turn.
"Welcome home mam!"
"Oh!" she said finally. "God bless us and save us." Lloyd put on his chefís hat and announced that he had made her a special meal. Her response was
"God bless us and save us."
"Is that all she can say?" hissed Lloyd.
"Well no, but if you'd gone to the hospital a bit more often you would have found out," responded Sed as they attempted to lift up the wheelchair over the front doorstep.
"No!" said Elsie. "I'll walk." They each supported an arm and gently eased her out of the wheelchair and watched spellbound as she walked through the doorway without a great deal of difficulty but for a slight limp no one would have thought that there was anything wrong with her. Lloyd folded up the wheelchair and placed it behind the front door. Elsie sat down and looked about her as if she was looking at the house for the first time.
"Cup of tea mam?" said Sed. She nodded her head.
"And what about an egg custard mam, I've made it specially for you," enthused Lloyd. The presentation on a tray with a knapkin over his left forearm would have done justice to a five star hotel. Elsie refused the egg custard and shook her head disdainfully.
"Don't like it!" she said finally.
"But, it was your favourite," said a crestfallen Lloyd having gone to all the trouble of trying to make a good impression.
"Don't like it ," she said again pushing the tray away from her.
"Ok," said Sed, "just have a cup of tea for now?" She ignored his offer and continued to look searchingly around the room. "What's up mam?" She shook her head,
"Nothing.. ..where's George?" Sed realised that her rehabilitation was going to take a little longer than he had anticipated. Sed sat on the arm of her chair and put his arm around her.
"Mam, dad's not here you know that, but we're going to do our best to look after you aren't we Lloyd?"
"We sure are mam, don't you worry." He sat on the other arm of the chair and they embraced each other. The tears welled up in her eyes as she held on to her boys. "Let's show her the bedroom, we've had it redecorated mam," said Lloyd enthusiastically. He lived in hopes that she would like it better than the egg custard.
"The stairs!" she said.
"The stairs mam, what about the stairs?" enquired Lloyd.
"I can't climb...the stairs"
"Don't let that worry you mam, we'll carry you up won't we Sed?" Before she could reply they both put an arm around her waist and the other arm under each thigh and whisked he at high speed up the wooden hill. The decor was a rich pink and the boys had polished the brass bedstead until they could see their faces in it. Elsie was noticeably stirred as she looked about her.
"Gwen washed the bedding mam," declared Sed.
"And I cleaned the carpet!" interjected Lloyd not to be left out. They both awaited her approval expectantly. She nodded, and a smile, the first one they'd seen for months illuminated her pale face.
"That photo of you and dad on the dressing table," said Lloyd, "we had it reframed because the old one was looking a bit tatty." She shook her head in disbelief as the tears stained her cheeks.
"You've changed...Lloyd.....for the better." Lloyd gave her a big hug.
"I was never really bad mam, misguided, but never bad." He winked at Sed, and Sed had to admit that his record since he came home was exemplary, he was like the pageboy who turned over a new leaf. He felt more optimistic about the family fortunes than he could remember.
As the days and weeks went by Elsie's recovery was nothing short of startling, she recovered the use of her limbs and soon dispensed with the wheelchair and was speaking as fluently as before the stroke. She resumed the responsibility for the household chores despite protests from the boys.
"I've got to do it sooner or later, it may as well be sooner!"
"Well," cautioned Sed. "Don't do too much too soon." She gazed at him with her grey eyes the whites of which where no longer rheumy, or as George used to say about her.
"She had clear eyes and money in the bank."
"We've had enough misery in this family, all that's going to change. I'm going out to do some shopping."
"Steady on mam, you can't go out on your own?"
"Well, what if you have a fall?"
"Sed, don't be silly, I'll be perfectly all right," she assured him, removing her pinny and donning her hat and coat. "Let me take you on the motorbike?" She scorned the offer.
"I'm more likely to have an accident on that than on Shank's pony."
Harry is at home one evening contemplating an uncertain future. He is 58 years old and is on the point of being made redundant.
Bloomin' eck! What am I going to do? Redundant at 58. Its no age to be thrown on the scrap heap-
What am I going to tell Vera? She'll 'ave a duck egg. She only said last week, 'Harry', she said, 'When you retire on your firm's pension and your old age pension, we'll be able to do all those things we've never been able to afford the time to do when you were working. Holidays abroad, a visit to our Steven in Australia, that new carpet for the lounge." I 'aven't slept a wink for three weeks, she's noticed, because I've got bags under my eyes you can stick labels on. 'You're looking a bit peaky Harry and you're very restless in bed, 'ave you got a guilty conscience, what 'ave you been up to?' 'Ha, me, been up to, me? Nowt.' We've been wed for thirty five years. I can't say I 'aven't looked at another woman, I 'ave, but I don't let 'er see me doin' it, she'd crucify me. She's always been a jealous woman. I remember when I first met 'er, we were going to the pictures and on the way I stopped to speak to this girl. She nudged me viciously and demanded to know who she was? Then I introduced 'er to my sister. Oh, but she didn't believe me, she said 'She looks like a proper hussy'. Itís a terrible thing jealousy, a form of insecurity I suppose.
She'll do 'er nut when I tell 'er. Still the redundancy offer's not bad though, three weeks pay for every year of service, three months pay in lieu of notice, twenty five years service. Should be more than what I get when I retire. But then it won't make up for seven years on full pay, still we can cut back - we'll 'ave to. When I went to see the pensions bloke at work 'e said, 'Do you want your pension in a lump sum, or so much a month?í 'Blowed if I know, whatís the difference?' I said. 'Well', 'e said, 'If you take the lump sum you can invest it and live off the interest, otherwise you can 'ave it at so much a month, but if you kick the bucket the pension dies with you". 'Blowed if I know,' I said again completely flummoxed. 'Never was much good at figures.' 'Well,' 'e said, 'We 'ave a financial adviser to help you make up your mind. Let me know what you want to do before the end of the month.'
Twenty five years don't count for much when you think about it. You're just a cypher, a number. To think I trained five years to be a printer. Five years apprenticeship man and boy. I remember going down to see the manager at work with my father to sign my indentures, 'e was as proud as punch. 'e always said, 'Get a trade lad, then you're set up for life.' Thatís a joke, 'e'd turn in 'is grave if 'e knew I was being made redundant. Mind you, I didn't do much training in the first twelve months. It was traditional that you 'ad to brush floors, and run errands for the journeymen and such like. I remember going out for some sandwiches and cigarettes. The cigarettes were sold loose in them days because there was still rationing. At the end of the week I took my overalls 'ome to be washed, and my mother always emptied the pockets. She said, ''ave you been smoking, Harry?" 'Me,' I said, 'No why?' 'Whatís all this tobacco in your overall pockets?' I tried to explain but she wouldn't believe me. She told the old man and 'e made me smoke a whole 'Capstan Full Strength' till I was sick.
Mind you, they were a funny lot at work, the journeymen, a very close knit bunch. They kept asking me how I got the job? I told them it was an advert in the local paper. 'Do you know anyone in the trade?í 'No,' I said, 'Whatís the difference?' 'Ah, well,í they said, 'You shouldn't be working 'ere then.' 'Why not?' I said. 'You've got to 'ave a relative in the trade, it keeps it respectable.í Funny rule that, I thought. Anyway I was accepted eventually, after two or three years.
To think it took five years to train me as a printer, it takes a month to train these young 'uns on the new technology and they 'ave to 'ave three 'O' levels to get into the trade. When I was a lad most of the journeymen were darned good craftsmen but could neither read nor write. In fact it took them all their time to fill their wage cards in. Aye, times 'ave changed. The management 'ave told us they're not going to force us out, it'll be voluntary redundancy with a gun to our heads, so to speak. If we don't agree to go before March 31st, they've threatened to withdraw the offer and close the place. The young 'uns aren't helping. They keep coming up to us and saying, ''Ave you got your figures yet,' or 'Why don't you accept the offer, if you invest wisely you'll be well off for the rest of your life.' They're trying to push us out. To think if it 'adn't been for us fighting for jobs years ago they wouldn't be working there. Only thinking of themselves. The unions not much better, they're not fighting for our jobs. Whatever 'appens to us at the end of the day they'll still 'ave theirs.
Then again looking on the bright side, perhaps I could get a part time job somewhere - night watchman, lavatory attendant. Someone told me you 'ave to 'ave at least two 'O' levels to be one of them. My father didn't 'ave any qualifications to be a french polisher. I remember watching him rubbing down a wooden cabinet with sandpaper, he was rubbing it down day in day for three weeks. I said to 'im, 'When are you going to make a start on it?í 'I've made a start on it,' he said. 'I mean when are you going to put some polish on it?' Ďe didn't say anything for a minute, he just looked at me, then 'e said, 'You can't put polish on wood until its perfectly smooth, always remember lad the preparations the thing what you don't see is what counts." Ďe was a case the old man. I remember some years ago 'e was whitewashing the kitchen ceiling. It usually only took two coats to cover it, but this time he'd done four coats and it was still streaky. 'I can't understand it,' he told my mother. 'What have you been using?' she asked him. 'That stuff in the brown packet.' She looked at the packet and started to laugh. I've never heard her laugh so much, she nearly went hysterical. "What are you laughing at?' 'e said. 'Its McLeans stomach powder,' she said. Then there was the other time when 'e decided to re-enamel the bath, it was very badly stained and no matter how much cleaning it got it never looked any better. 'e set about it like 'e did with 'is french polishing. 'Preparations the thing lad.í 'e rubbed it down between coats, 'e must 'ave put at least ten coats of primer on, then 'e put the same number of undercoats on, rubbing each one of them down.. Then 'e applied three coats of the enamel. 'Now,'.'e said, 'We'll fill it up to the top with cold water, then leave it for two weeks to harden." "What are we going to do in the meantime for a bath?' my mother wanted to know. 'Look,í he said beginning to get exasperated. "You've got to give it time to set.'
'Well, you haven't answered my question?" my mother said. "Get the tin bath out of the shed and 'Ave a wash down in front of the fire." Anyway to cut a long story short, when the fortnight was up 'e bagged the first bath. Now Ďe liked the water really hot when Ďe had a bath. We could 'ear 'im singing away to 'imself, then suddenly there was silence. Then 'e started shouting, 'Get me out of this bloody bath!' My mother and I ran into the bathroom and found 'im stuck to the bath, the hot water Ďad lifted the enamel and 'e was stuck by 'is heels, 'is elbows and 'is backside. We all 'ad a good laugh about that.
Ah well, I've not much to laugh about now. What am I going to tell Vera? I know, if the worst comes to the worst, I won't tell 'er straight away. I'll set off as if I'm going to work. I'll go to the library, or the pictures, visit the museums and art galleries. If the weathers fine I'll go on trips to Blackpool, or North Wales, the skyís the limit. Oh heck! I'll never be able to keep that up for seven years. No, she'll 'ave to be told. What am I scared of? She'll stand by me, she's been a good wife all these years. She'll be upset right enough, she nearly 'ad a nervous breakdown the last time they threatened to make us redundant, but she got over it and she will this time, look on the bright side. If I retire now at 58 I'll 'ave a longer retirement than most blokes. God willing, I'll live long enough to enjoy it.
1. VERA (shouts down from upstairs)
Are you coming to bed, Harry, or are you staying down there all night? You know you've got to be up early for work in the morning.
2. HARRY Aye, I'm coming, 'ave you made me sandwiches?
3. VERA Thatís a silly guestion, has there ever been a time when I haven't?