This was the first novel that I wrote back in 2001 when I first moved to Spain to live. I had written short stories before and non-fiction health books, but felt the need to bring a little romance and humour into my writing.. the result was the semi-autobiographical Just an Odd Job Girl.
About the book
At 50 Imogen had been married for over 20 years, and was living in a big house, with money to spare. Suddenly she is traded-in for a younger model, a Fast-Tracker.
Devastated, she hides away and indulges in binge eating. But then, when hope is almost gone, she meets a new friend and makes a journey to her past that helps her move on to her future.
Last time Being a pub landlady and catering for hundreds came with some interesting customers at the weekend….
Chapter Ten – Cat Burglars and Insurance Fraud! by Sally Cronin
We found a lovely small flat in Southsea, a few roads back from the sea. It had a bedroom, bathroom, separate kitchen, and a combined living and dining room. It was nicely furnished and felt like our first real home. The only drawback was the three Spanish students who lived above us. They were used to staying out late and would arrive home about three in the morning and proceed to indulge in a spot of Flamenco dancing, or so it sounded. The tap of three pairs of high heels on wooden floors had a rhythm to it that was a little like a dripping tap. We would bury our heads under our pillows, but eventually we learnt to live with this minor inconvenience.
Not so their cat, a black and white tom with a distinct lack of regard for other people’s property, particularly of the edible kind. Over a period of some weeks, I became increasingly alarmed by the amount that Peter was eating. I got into the habit of cooking two meals at a time. This worked very well for stews, roasts, and pasta dishes. We would take one day’s portion and I would leave the remainder to cool on the kitchen table before putting in the refrigerator for the next day.
The one thing that Peter would do about the house, was to clear the empty plates away and wash up while he made us a cup of tea. We would then settle down on the sofa and watch our tiny television until it was time for us go to bed. I would take the empty cups out to the kitchen and put the next day’s dinner away. I began to notice a marked difference in the original amount and the quantity that I was putting in the refrigerator. At first, it was only a slight difference and I assumed that Peter was helping himself to an extra spoonful or two when he was making the tea.
After two or three weeks, it became more than a spoonful and in fact there was barely enough to feed one person the next night, let alone two. I decided to tackle the problem discreetly, as I knew what Peter could be like when he was criticised. He did not take kindly to having his actions questioned, which was another little sign I managed to ignore for twenty-five years.
‘Darling, you seem very hungry in the evenings, would you like me to do a few more potatoes and vegetables’ I thought that was diplomatic enough.
‘What do you mean, hungry.’ A belligerent look swept over his face.
‘There’s too much on the plate as it is, I am putting on weight and I have been meaning to talk to you about it.’
Was this self-denial? Here he was, helping himself to our next day’s dinner and having a go at me for feeding him too much and causing a weight problem.
Of course, a full-scale argument ensued and everything that had been stored and filed for future use came out into the open. I slept on the sofa that night, and Peter slammed around the flat until midnight. It did have an upside however, in the form of verbal abuse, hurled upwards to the occupants of the upstairs flat who unfortunately chose this night to hold a fiesta with much heel tapping and laughter at four in the morning. There was a deathly silence then giggling. We could hear bare feet slapping across the floors, as beds were sought and then quiet, which was to thankfully last until the girls moved out a month later. However, all hell was to break loose in our apartment before they left.
After the argument, we made up and I started making one meal at a time and cooking every day. We did have fish and chips on Saturday, after the pub and peace reigned in our little palace for a while.
I was doing temp work at the time and was moving around the place quite a lot. I was asked to work late one night, with an insurance company that was behind in paying its claims. The day before, I had made two dinners, as before, and put the half dish of lasagne on the table to cool. I had forgotten to put salt on the table and returned to the kitchen to get it – much to the surprise of the cat with it’s head buried in the béchamel and cheese sauce. It was so enraptured with my cooking that it did not even look up. I was so startled; I just stood at the kitchen door and screamed my head off. The cat leapt up with arched back and hissed at me. It looked pretty ridiculous really, with a ring of white sauce clinging to its whiskers and a piece of tomato hanging from his mouth.
Peter shot into the kitchen and the three of us stood in a frozen tableau. Peter was the first to move, grabbing a tea towel from the back of the door, he flung it at the cat. Obviously, my lasagne was a prize to hang on to. The cat actually grabbed another bite before leaping nimbly onto the sink and onto the windowsill. We rushed to the open window just in time to see the cat climbing up the ivy that covered the front of the house. With an arrogant backward glance, he gracefully slid into Spanish territory and we were left hanging out of our window, powerless to catch the cat burglar.
This solved the mystery of the missing food. The cat had looked very much at home, and it was obvious that this was not the first time it had helped itself to dinner at our expense. Short of causing an international incident, especially after we had introduced our neighbours to Anglo Saxon vocabulary, we decided to keep the window closed – to a level that allowed air, but not feline, entry.
I thought it was all very funny, but Peter was not amused. He was all for going down to the surgery immediately and having all sorts of tests conducted to find out if he had been infected with cat flu or similar. Of course, it was entirely my fault, for leaving food uncovered, and for not closing the window. I did point out that I had not expected to be burgled on the third floor of a building, but apparently this was not a permissible excuse.
Despite the increasingly volatile relationship between us, we stayed there for nearly a year. In that time I worked for a Temp agency and found myself using my rusty secretarial skills around the city. Most of the jobs were boring and repetitive but of course, being me, there were one or two incidents of note, even among the mundane tasks allotted to the transient temp.
I worked for two insurance companies in my first few weeks with the agency. My first assignment was in the typing pool, where I was expected to spend the entire day typing claim cheques. These were usually payments as a result of motor accidents, and some of the cheques were for several thousand pounds. You had to pay strict attention. I had an electronic typewriter that I was unused to, and in fact, looked on in envy by the girls pecking away on their manual versions. I learnt to master the beast that seemed to have a mind of its own. Keep your finger too long on a particular key and you ended up with a cheque for a million pounds instead of a hundred. All the cheques were numbered and any ruined ones had to be logged and given in at the end of the day to the accounts department. I did not get off to an auspicious start.
The cheques came in packs of fifty. They were joined together and had perforations between each cheque. On my first day, I managed to produce seventy acceptable cheques and thirty cancelled ones. The supervisor glared at me from behind her glasses and muttered something about temps and waste of time, I didn’t quite catch it all. I sidled out of the door vowing never to return. I half expected a call from the agency telling me that I was not welcome back anyway, but the reprieve never arrived.
The next day I found myself, once again, back in front of the gleaming monster. The curved keyboard reminded me of rows of teeth, determined to bite my fingers off at the first touch. However, for some reason, I started to get my eye in, and on the second day I produced ninety-five perfect specimens and only five rejects. By the fourth day, I was producing one hundred and fifty cheques a day with barely an error. The supervisor had thawed somewhat and the muttering under her breath had been silenced. This silence did not extend to the other temps that had been drafted in to clear this backlog of insurance claims.
Three of them cornered me in the ladies at coffee break, standing with arms crossed and grim expressions; I wondered what I had done to incur their displeasure and smiled sweetly in an effort to lighten the atmosphere.
A blonde, with deceptive baby blue eyes, leaned closer to me after assuring herself that the toilet stalls were empty.
‘What do you think you are doing?’ she hissed at me between clenched teeth.
‘We have been here for six weeks and they’ve been very pleased with our work.’ She continued, glancing at her companions for moral support.
‘We only produce seventy-five cheques a day. What are you trying to do, talk yourself out of a job, and ours along with it. The backlog should have kept us all here for the next six weeks until Christmas.’
She took a breath and imparted the final shot.
‘The supervisor has told us all to increase our cheques per day or she will have us replaced, you have to slow down now or there will be trouble.’
Right! Here I am, so desperate to get out of this place that I have perfected the art of cheque production, and these three bimbos want me to slow down so that they can stay here forever.
The problem with me is that I have never been much of a sheep and although I did not feel that a temporary job was worth getting into a fight over, I did have a problem with dishonesty.
Both the insurance company and the temp agency were getting fiddled here. These three girls were deliberately working slowly, taking three times as long to do the job as was necessary, and therefore taking three times more money than they should.
I pushed past them and returned to my desk. I carried on working at my normal speed and produced my one hundred and fifty cheques as usual. I also a produced a couple of other things. I earned glares and ostracism from my three temporary colleagues and my first genuine smile from the supervisor at the end of the day. I don’t think she missed much at all and I was proved correct when three replacement staff were drafted in to the department the following Monday.
I was given the task of bringing them up to speed and ensuring that an acceptable number of cheques were produced each day. The job was completed in three weeks and as my three erstwhile colleagues had predicted, we only had three weeks left until Christmas. Most offices did not take on temps at this time of year, and I was told by the agency that there would be some vacancies in department stores for the sales in January and that they might not be able to find me anything until then.
I adjusted my Christmas present list, which left Peter with a pair of socks, and my parents with a bottle of wine and a bunch of flowers. My responsibility was to pay for the food each week, so I hurriedly rang around both sets of parents and siblings to wangle an invitation for Christmas lunch and Boxing Day. I was marginally successful, but it looked like fish and chips for New Year. Then I received a call from the Agency.
With just two weeks to go before Christmas, an unusual vacancy had come up. A receptionist–secretary for a ‘Funeral Director and Chauffeur Driven Limousine Service’. Not the most cheerful of occupations at Christmas time. But, beggars can’t be choosers. The thought of Peter’s face, when he opened his solitary Christmas gift, convinced me, and I duly arrived at Flanagan’s Funeral Directors on December 15th.
©Sally Georgina Cronin – Just an Odd Job Girl
Next time – a memorable Christmas in the funeral home
One of the recent reviews for the book
After devoting her life to her family, Imogen is replaced by a younger woman (a fast-tracker) after twenty years of marriage and must overcome her self-doubt to move on to the next stage of her life.
Just an Odd Job Girl is a highly entertaining story of a fifty-year-old’s voyage into a working world she thought herself ill-equipped to handle until a new friend shows her just how much she truly has to offer.
There are many laugh-out-loud moments as Imogen relives her past vocations, everything from a nebulous job on the docks to a dentist’s assistant, a job in a funeral home, a restaurant manager, and more. It soon becomes obvious that Imogen is a Jack of all Trades and an asset to any employer.
Many wives and mothers of the era were stay-at-home caretakers for their families. They set aside career aspirations to make a safe and loving home for their children- often at the price of their own sense of value. Then the kids leave home, husbands become restless, and suddenly, the wife is left to absorb the loss and find her way to a new beginning. Not easy for anyone.
This is a highly entertaining read told by a wonderful storyteller. I especially enjoyed the tongue-in-cheek humor and the delightful ending- a well-deserved 5 star read!
You can find my other books and their recent reviews: Sally’s books and reviews 2022