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Chapter 1     Chapter 2    Chapter 3   Chapter 4   Chapter 5   Chapter 6   Chapter 7   Chapter 8   Chapter 9   Chapter 10    Chapter 11   Chapter 12   Chapter 13   Chapter 14

 

Chapter 2

If I had been humiliated by the Editor, what was to follow was to prove much worse. It was accepted in the office that on your first day you didn't do too much hard work. The idea was to have a look round the town and sort out one or two things such as lodgings.

It all seemed a simple enough start and I had been lucky to have been offered a room in the same lodgings as Robin Ashton. After my strange interview with Shad Greene I had spent most of the morning talking to Robin. He seemed a very friendly person once you had broken through the surface ice.

"Have you anywhere to stay?" he had asked.

"Well actually no. I was hoping something would turn up from a search round the town," I replied.

"Oh that's okay, you can stay at my digs. It's pretty free and easy. There's a landlady who keeps out of the way most of the time and we have our own bedroom and kitchen and even a sitting room downstairs with a television that we can use."

I told him it sounded ideal and was very enthusiastic about the whole thing. This enthusiasm increased when he added that it was just five minutes walk from the office and just two minutes from the beach. Very useful in summer and sufficiently sheltered from the icy blasts of winter.

"Hold on I'll give the old girl a call. The rent's very cheap and it’s quite comfortable," he said.

Robin picked up the telephone and dialled four numbers. After a short pause he began to speak into the receiver.

"Hi Violet Robin here... No Robin...That's right Robin with an R. Listen you know that old spare room, could we make it into another bedroom. We've got a new chap at the office and he needs somewhere to stay."

The answer from the other end must have been in the affirmative because he gave me a thumbs up sign.

He put the receiver down: "It's okay. She says she's in a reasonable state to see you. Take no notice of the old bird, she's rather eccentric, rather deaf and tends to drink too much, but underneath it all she's got a heart of gold."

Robin was right about the distance from the office. It took almost exactly 10 minutes to walk and on the way he told me about the town that was to be my new home.

"It's not so bad here really. The office gets up your nose occasionally but you can ignore that. It's a strange place really. There's old Greene who doesn't have much time to talk to us and is shit at communicating anyway. You'll soon realise his bark is much worse than his bite and he's quite an old softy actually. As long as you don't do anything outrageous he will leave you alone. He doesn't really do any work, but that's a matter between him and the owners. As long as we keep our noses clean and get paid at the end of the week that's all I'm really concerned with.

"You'll soon find out there is an office power struggle between Willson and Burkitt. Nobody really takes any notice of that either, except for them of course. The problem is that Burkitt feels he is the senior reporter in the office because of his age and Willson thinks he is senior because, well because he's just like that and because he's bloody big. Myself and Louise keep out of it. We just do our work and mind our own business. I suggest you do the same and then everybody stays happy. Well there endeth the first lesson.

"The town is quite nice really. The sea front is separated from the shopping area. It's pretty cold and miserable in winter but during the summer it gets warm and there's an influx of holiday makers which helps the local economy. My only advice is stay away from the docks at night, they can be a rather dangerous place."

I realised by now that Robin was on my side and I was beginning to like him.

"What about the rest of the office?" I asked.

"Oh there's an advertising chap. He works mainly from home and we only see him a couple of mornings a week because he deals directly with the printers. Actually he's an absolute nutter. Spends most of his spare time stock car racing. Then there's Gwen on the switchboard. She also runs the front office. She's middle aged. You know the sort, fat and 40. It's not a bad place to work and we enjoy ourselves outside the office. Of course the paper is printed externally so once we pass our copy on it's the end of it until the stuff appears in the paper."

"Who does the subbing and lay-out work?" I inquired.

"Burkitt and Willson between them. They usually do that in the evenings and charge the company extortionate amounts of overtime, but it saves them having to employ another member of staff."

He broke off at this point and pointed across the road: "There that's it - Home Sweet Home"

I looked at a rather large whitewashed house with the name "Chez-Me" emblazoned across the door. Staring out of the window was a rather portly lady in a dressing gown.

"That's Violet," said Robin. "Always walks around in a dressing gown. She only gets dressed to go to the Conservative Club in the evening. She reckons she's a close friend of Shad Greene’s just because he goes in the Con Club and once allowed her to buy him a drink. We hardly ever see her as she's usually still in bed when we leave in the mornings and goes out before we come home at tea time. The only time you are likely to see her is if you are unfortunate enough to be in the sitting room at about 11 p.m when she comes home. The trick is either to go to bed before 11 p.m or stay out until well after that time. Oh by the way she'll ask you how old you think she is. Actually she's 76, but say something like 65. It pleases her, she expects it and it might knock a couple of quid off your rent."

We had by this time reached the door and Robin took out a key from his pocket. Before he could put it into the latch, however, Violet had opened the door.

"Hello dear," she said to Robin in a very local accent. "So this is the new boy."

She smiled sweetly at me and ushered us into the sitting room. It consisted mainly of old furniture and there was a very faded picture on the wall. It looked like a race horse, but was so feint that it was impossible to make it out.

"That's Jolly Bertie," she said pointing to the painting. My father used to own race horses. The poor thing was unbeaten in four races when it broke its leg and had to be destroyed. Do you know to this day I can't have anyone with the name Bertie staying here. Good job your names not Bertie otherwise I'd have to throw you out."

I gulped.

"Still we're not here to talk about the past. Now new boy what is your name."

"Eric," I replied.

"Oh that's nice that was my brother's name. He was killed in the war - can never remember which one. Anyway it will be nice to have another Eric around. Do you know how old I am?"

"This was the moment I had been warned about. I looked at her carefully as if I was trying to work out her age and at the same time remember what Robin had told me. I decided to be extremely generous.

"Oh I should say about 59."

"Now don't be silly dear. Robin here thinks I'm 65, but he's being kind. You know I'm really 82."

"But I thought you were 76 ....." I tailed off into a whisper realising that I might have made a grave mistake.

She seemed to ignore it and re-opened the questioning.

"I do hope you are generous. You know the last boy I had before dear Robin was so mean he wouldn't tell you the time if he had two watches."

That was one of Violet's stock phrases. Over the months I was to get to know many of these and they were mainly used to impress newcomers.

"I'm having a little trouble with the police at the moment."

She waited, hoping I'm sure for me to enquire just what her problems with the local constabulary were.

After a while she gave up waiting and launched into an explanation.

"It's like this dear. I used to be the sister in the women's ward in a mental hospital on the south coast. During my time there quite a few nutcases came under my control. That's why I'm slightly mad myself and I don't mind admitting it. Anyway I retired some 15 years ago and about two weeks ago this couple came to the door saying they were carrying out some kind of survey. I answered their questions and thought no more about it. Then last week I was walking in the town centre when this man came up to me. It was the same man who had come to the door. He spoke to me by name and said he would make my life a misery for what I had done to his wife in hospital.

"I think this poor man was mad himself and I was quite frightened, so I went to the police and do you know they didn't want to know. They were really ungrateful. Said that I was a public nuisance. Just because they had to bring me home a couple of times in the past year after I had been out celebrating. The police are so ungrateful. I try to help them round up mad men and all they do is accuse me of being a public nuisance. Still I suppose you would like to see your room."

I was happy to get up and follow her upstairs.

At the top there were three doors. The first led to Robin's bedroom and the end one was the upstairs’ bathroom. As Violent slept downstairs in an extension to the original house I assumed that the middle door led to my room. Room it may have been, junk store it certainly was.

The window was half shut and the catch looked broken, but that was the least of my worries. There was no bed and the floor was strewn with rolls of wallpaper and newspapers. The whole room had that fusty smell that only newspapers can give off.

The only furniture was a small coffee table that had a leg missing, and a wardrobe without doors. It looked as if nothing or nobody had survived in this room for years.

"Well dear it's not much I'm afraid, but I will make allowances in the rent and it shouldn't be too difficult to pick up a few pieces of furniture at the market. What you need most is a bed. Until you get one there is a sleeping bag downstairs somewhere. It will look a different room once you have tidied it up."

I tried to smile, but it was difficult. Still at least it was a roof over my head and somewhere to rest my weary body after what I was sure would be a hard working day.

She walked to the wardrobe and looked inside.

"I suppose you could hang some of your clothes in here. By the way you don't seem to have brought much luggage with you."

"No I have left most of it at my parents' house until I settle in."

"Oh well that's probably a good thing. There's not a lot of room here. There's an old set of drawers in the kitchen. If you would like to bring them up they'll hold a few of your things."

I went downstairs and found the small wooden structure and found I was able to comfortably carry it upstairs on my own.

I placed it in the middle of the room and Violet started immediately fussing around and searching in the drawers.

"I don't think there's much in here worth keeping," she said adding that I could throw everything out in a wooden box she would give me. I was getting the very distinct impression that Violet was enjoying every minute of it all.

I delved into the drawers and came out with a number of pencils, cloths and assorted rubbish and much to my surprise in the right hand corner of the top drawer were a pair of false teeth.

Just looking at them made me feel sick. False teeth have always had that affect on me. It seems to be an inbuilt thing among the human race to hate the sight of false team. I often wondered whether they make dentists feel funny as well. I suppose it is their association with that pain inducing profession that turns most people off.

I gingerly picked them up and held them out to Violet.

"What about these?" I asked.

"Oh my word my old teeth."

She rushed up to me and hugged me so strongly that I began to feel sick all over again.

"I lost those a year ago and they're my favourites."

There and then she took out the teeth she was wearing, laid them on the floor and popped the new find into her mouth.

"It's like seeing an old friend again," she added before giving me another large hug.

After that I was left very much to myself for the rest of the day. It was also the custom for a reporter on his or her first day not to have to return to work after finding lodgings. So at around lunchtime I found myself with very little to do.

Robin returned to the office and shortly afterwards Violet announced with a flurry that she was going to the Conservative Club.

"I'm going to have my daily flutter," she explained adding that one of her weaknesses was one-armed bandits.

"I spend quite a few quid a week on those things Actually that's where most of your rent is likely to go. I won't tell you how much you'll be paying. I hate talking about money and Robin will give you all the details."