Smorgasbord Short Stories- The Sewing Circle Part Three by Sally Cronin


51l5B4hcBuL._UY250_Last time the Sewing Circle mourned their beloved friend and also began to plot their revenge.. The Jackson’s days are numbered..

Links to part one and two.

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/smorgasbord-short-stories-the-sewing-club-part-one-by-sally-cronin/

https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2017/05/15/flights-of-fancy-short-story-anthology-novella-the-sewing-circle-part-two-by-sally-cronin/

THE SEWING CIRCLE – PART THREE

The next morning the rumours started within the various communities around the estate.

Sharon Jackson was having an affair with a police officer from the narcotic division.

Nobody suspected that the whispers that infested the bingo hall, corner shop, post office and surgery waiting room were started by five old women as they went about their business. Those who dealt drugs on the estate were understandably nervous and tried to find out more information without much success. This only served to make them even more paranoid and soon the rumour mill was working overtime on the stairways until it reached the ears of Sharon Jackson.

She was furious but did not have the intelligence to work out how to combat the growing tide of speculation and false accusations about her. The one thing she did have was a healthy respect for her husband’s fists and as the days passed she became increasingly terrified that word would reach Archie. Even though he was banged up inside, she knew he had a long reach; time was not on her side.

She was definitely right about that one. A week after the gossip started, Sylvia Ross left the estate and took a taxi to the Docklands. In a wine bar there, she met with an elderly man who despite his walking stick, still strode confidently across the floor to the table where she sat, beautifully dressed and made-up.

An hour later Sylvia left and returned to a meeting at Betty’s flat. She said little but she nodded to Big Sal and they both knew that the toughest part of their plan was in play.

Three weeks later Sharon Jackson went missing. A concerned elderly woman rang the social services and mentioned that there were four young children living alone in a flat in Grange House. By the end of the day, with no sign of their mother, the police had been informed and the children were taken into temporary care. Darren, who was still at his aunt’s house in Epping Forest, was alerted by one of his gang members and he got his cousin to bring him home on his bike where he let himself into the now deserted flat.

He was not bothered by losing his entire family in the slightest. He now had the freedom to live and do as he pleased, even though Sharon’s idea of parenting had been relaxed to say the least. He could get up when he wanted, eat what and when he liked and best of all he could drink his favourite tipple, vodka, all day without his mother sharing the contents of the bottle. His friends all came round to sample the delights of the new gang headquarters and the neighbours were subjected to noisy parties into the small hours and harassment on the walkways and stairs.

The social services came around, but their hands were tied, as Darren had turned sixteen while away at his aunts and could not be persuaded to give up his freedom and go into some form of care. The council promised to re-house the boy, as he couldn’t remain in a three bed roomed flat on his own, but were not sure how quickly this would happen. On the fourth day, two large men in suits appeared and the residents on that landing assumed that they were from the council, who had been called that morning with further complaints and requests for assistance.

The two men knocked on the door to the Jackson’s flat and one of Darren’s mates, on his way out to collect more vodka, inadvertently opened it and admitted them into the confined hall. He took one look at their faces and hurriedly left, glancing nervously over his shoulder as he ran down the landing. Within minutes he was followed by the rest of the gang, one of them nursing his right ear and trying to hold back unmanly tears.

The neighbours on each side of the flat listened with ears pressed to their lounge walls but they couldn’t hear a word. They were beginning to doubt that the two men were from the council after all and their suspicions were confirmed when sounds of a more physical nature were heard from the Jackson’s living room.

Twenty minutes later, the two men left, carefully closing the door of the flat behind them. All was silent and the neighbours on either side settled down to enjoy their after lunch television programmes and a well-deserved nap.

Several hours later, just as they were settling down again for the evening, the neighbours heard someone falling around inside the Jacksons’ flat. It sounded as though furniture and ornaments were being knocked over and then a crash as something heavy such as a television smashed to the floor. Not wishing to get involved in anything to do with the family, the police were not called and anyway after half an hour, the front door was opened. On both sides of the flat, curtains were twitched and eyes followed the progress of the figure that emerged onto the landing.

It was an astonishing sight. It was Darren, but barely recognisable as he stumbled in high-heeled shoes, drunkenly down the landing. He was wearing a tight satin dress, fishnet tights and he was wearing make-up and jewellery. The neighbours found themselves tittering and laughing at the spectacle as Darren staggered towards the stairs. A man returning from work stood one of the stairwells, transfixed by the vision before him. Darren stared glassily back at him and then grabbing the handrail almost slid to the bottom of the steps. He did not even appear to see the man in front of him and tottering on his stilettos he swung around the corner and down the next flight.

Unfortunately for Darren, he was inexperienced in the management of high heels and as he reached the top of the last flight of stairs leading to the car park, he slipped and fell untidily to the bottom landing in a crumpled heap.

He lay motionless as a crowd of residents clustered around him. One daring soul prodded the supine body with the toe of his shoe and then leapt back as the body began to twitch and jerk before going rigid and collapsing back onto the dusty surface of the pavement.

The post mortem showed that Darren had a great deal of alcohol in his system as well as a considerable amount of recreational drugs. No one else was suspected in his death although the residents of the estate had their own ideas. Darren’s gang were not bothered by the nature of Darren’s death but were mortified to think that their leader, and the terror of the neighbourhood, was secretly a lover of fine clothes, high heels, make up and jewellery.

Those gang members that lived on other estates were never seen again and those that remained on the Redgrave kept a very low profile. Some even went as far as to go to school on a regular basis and one graduated to college where he trained as a social worker.

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A month after Sharon’s disappearance and Darren’s death, Archie Jackson apparently slipped on a bar of soap in the prison shower and hit his head on the tiles. His death was ruled as accidental by the authorities.

The sewing circle continued to meet although they were not only missing the lovely Flo but Sylvia too on some occasions. In the weeks following their successful campaign, she could be seen getting into an elegant black car one or two mornings a week. One day as the friends sat around working on their latest projects, she looked up and smiled at them gently.

“I have some news.” They all turned to her expectantly.

“I am getting married.” She announced to her open-mouthed audience.

“It’s someone I have known for years, a widower living in Chingford. He has got a lovely house and he says it is too big and empty for him on his own.”

She drew a handful of envelopes out of her handbag and distributed them around the stunned women.

“I hope you will all come to the wedding, and be my bridesmaids, and when we get back from honeymoon I would like you to come out to me every week for our meetings as I don’t want to give them up.”

Big Sal who was sitting next to Sylvia grabbed her in her ample embrace and kissed her resoundingly on her powdered cheek.

“You just try and stop us you sly old floozy. Perhaps you can set us all up with mates of his at the wedding? We could all do with a bit of a fling!”

The others all laughed and Betty rushed to the kitchen for the sherry bottle and five glasses.

As they toasted the future Mrs Mitchell, they also raised their glasses to their beloved friend Flo and prayed that she could now rest in peace.

©sallycronin The Sewing Circle 2004

I hope you have enjoyed the short stories and novella and your feedback is always welcome.. thanks Sally

Smorgasbord Short Stories – The Sewing Circle – Part Two by Sally Cronin


51l5B4hcBuL._UY250_In the previous chapter we met the members of the Sewing Circle and discovered that their happy retirement was marred by the presence on one particularly disruptive family on the estate. https://smorgasbordinvitation.wordpress.com/2017/05/11/smorgasbord-short-stories-the-sewing-club-part-one-by-sally-cronin/

THE SEWING CIRCLE – PART TWO

 One Wednesday evening Flo Miles won over £500 on the bingo. She was ecstatic and could not wait to share her news with her closest friends in the sewing circle. One of her bingo pals owned a mobile phone and with great delight, Flo called Betty to tell her the news. What she didn’t know was that Sharon Jackson and her sister were sitting right behind her and had made note of the substantial win.

Betty suggested that her friend come round for a sherry to celebrate and Flo decided to call it a night and get a taxi back to the estate straight away. She left the bingo hall and looked up and down the street for one of the cabs that normally parked outside. Unfortunately, there was still two hours to go of the evening bingo session and the usual line of cars was not to be seen.

Flo was so elated by her win that she decided she wouldn’t hang about any longer and would walk the short distance home, something she had done many times. She was blissfully unaware that at precisely the same time Sharon Jackson was on her own mobile phone nor did she know that the woman was setting her up for another surprise tonight.

Despite being on probation, Sharon’s eldest son Darren had made little effort to control his violent and anti-social behaviour. When his mother had rung him, he was hanging out on one of the stairwells with two of his mates from his previous address. They had been drinking vodka and smoking shoplifted cigarettes as they sat on the steps leading to the top landing and they were fired up and ready for trouble.

Darren snapped shut his mobile phone and looked at his mates. “Mum says some old bitch has just won over five big ones at the bingo and is on her way home.” He smiled evilly showing brown discoloured teeth. “She says I can have half if I get the cash without being seen! Anyone fancy a laugh?”

With his two mates in tow, Darren scurried rat-like down the darkened stairs to the parking area below. Flo was just entering the estate from the main road, trying to move as quickly as possible in and out of the shadows that stretched outside the reach of the street lamps. She was looking warily around her but she held her head up high and marched determinedly in the direction of the flats.

As she approached the entrance to Betty’s block, she had to pass some dumpsters on her left and failed to notice the movement in the darkened recesses between the bins. Suddenly a hand was clamped over her mouth and her bag, which was held tightly under her arm, was ripped away. She struggled as she fought for breath and she found herself on the ground feeling the jagged gravel through her clothing. Her eyes widened as she put her hands up to try and pry loose the hand around her mouth, and they looked pleadingly up into the hard eyes of her attacker who she recognised immediately.

Darren knew that the old bitch had made him and he had a decision to make. Should he do a runner with his mates, with the bag, and wait for the coppers to catch up with him? He was on probation now but this would certainly get him inside some juvenile detention centre. On the other hand, he could finish the job here and now. He held his hand tightly cupped over Flo’s nose and mouth and pressed down steadily as her struggles weakened and finally stopped. Satisfied that he had eliminated his victim and witness to his crime, he slid back into the shadows where his friends waited in breathless admiration.

Betty laid out the sherry glasses and some special crisps that she had bought for the next sewing circle meeting. After half an hour, she became worried that Flo had still not appeared and crossed to her lounge window overlooking the parking lot. At first, she saw little but as her eyes adjusted to the dark outside, she noticed a heap of what appeared to be clothing lying by the dumpsters. For some reason a feeling of dread passed through her and she rushed to the phone to call Big Sal who lived two floors up from her.

“Sal, can you come down, I think something has happened to Flo and I don’t want to go outside alone.”

Within minutes Sal was at the door and the two elderly women walked hand in hand towards the dark shape lying motionless on the ground. As they got closer they saw a hand, palm up stretched pleadingly in their direction. Hearts beating rapidly they drew closer and looked down at the frail face of their beloved friend. Betty immediately knelt down and touched Flo’s face.

“She’s still breathing Sal. Quickly, go and call an ambulance from my flat while I stay with her.” She handed her keys to Sal who hesitated for a moment tears pouring down her face. “Hurry Sal, don’t worry I will be fine.”

As Sal hurried inside, Betty cradled Flo’s head in her lap and leaned as close as she could to her motionless friend. As she bent forward, she thought she heard a whisper coming from the bruised lips.

“Flo, it’s me Betty, what is it love?” She gently stroked Flo’s forehead.

“Jackson……boy…..” With that, Flo breathed softly and for the last time.

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By the time the police and ambulance arrived on the scene, Darren Jackson was on the back of his cousin’s motorbike and halfway to his aunt’s house on the edge of Epping Forest. He was celebrating his elevation to hardened criminal by replaying the incident repeatedly as he clasped his cousin around his waist. Little did he realise that like his father before him, he had botched a job.

The Jackson family were well known by the police and it was not long before Sharon’s sister found a number of coppers on her doorstep with a warrant. They found a newly scrubbed Darren wearing his cousin’s clothes and smirking as his alibi was established by his extended family — and a few of their mates for good measure. Without forensic evidence and with their only witness lying in the mortuary at a South London hospital the investigation stalled.

Everyone knew however, who had murdered their beloved Flo and even families on the Redgrave who had never spoken to the old lady, stopped at Betty’s flat with shop-bought cakes and sympathy. The other members of the sewing circle sat in vigil with their distraught friend as she repeatedly relived finding Flo in that crumpled heap in the dark.

The police officer in charge of the investigation came from the area and knew both the Redgrave and the Jacksons well. He could only promise that he would not close the case but would watch and wait for Darren to return to his mother’s flat and get back with his little gang again. The detective was convinced that Darren would be unable to keep his mouth shut and would end up boasting about his first major excursion into his father’s violent world. When he did, the detective was sure that his informants in the area would find out and they would get Darren eventually.

The members of the sewing circle were united in their grief and spent the next week together in Betty’s flat, from early morning until late at night. The funeral was eventually arranged by Flo’s extended family and her close friends were all included at every stage. On the afternoon of the service, the sun shone in defiance and the five friends left Betty’s flat together walking proudly towards the waiting black cab that Flo’s family had laid on. They were all smartly dressed, wearing their best hats in honour of the occasion. The service was lovely and the five elderly women held hands as they watched the hearse taking Flo to the crematorium glide sedately pass them outside the church.

After the tea at a local pub, Flo’s eldest son took them home personally in his people carrier and walked them to the door of Betty’s flat.

“My mum would have wanted you to have first pick of her special things, so why don’t I come back tomorrow morning and you can come up with me and choose something to remember her by.” With a hug for them all, he left and the five filed into Betty’s kitchen to drink more tea and to reminisce into the night about their lost friend.

The next afternoon, instead of sitting around completing sewing projects, the women sat quietly as each held a memento in their laps. The objects were neither expensive nor necessarily attractive but they all reminded the women of some different aspect of Flo’s personality. Big Sal cradled a little ceramic dog that had obviously been lovingly handled over the years.

“Flo bought this when her little Yorkie died,” she wiped a tear from her cheek. “She was a feisty one that Flo and I bet if she was here she would have a thing or two to say about those bastard Jacksons.”

Sylvia examined her manicured nails and then looked up at the rest of the circle.

“I know if it had been one of us Flo would have marched up to that Sharon Jackson and given her one over the head with her brolly.”

The thought of the tiny Flo giving slovenly Sharon a good slapping made her friends laugh and within minutes they started to throw in other suggestions of what evil might befall the Jackson clan. As the proposed retribution became more and more virulent, the laughter died away and slowly the five women began to look at each other in silence.

Big Sal picked up her copious black handbag and extracted a pencil and a piece of paper. On the back of an old shopping list she jotted down some of the ideas already mentioned and sat hand poised to record any more.

Maggie Baxter, who was proudly conversant with the entire Bible, clapped her hands and grabbed everyone’s attention.

“Then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.” Maggie smiled at them all. “That book of Leviticus was sure clear about making those poor Israelites pay and I guess what was good enough for them is good enough for those Jackson’s”

Mary Jones who was the frailest of the group looked worriedly at her friends.

“But what can we do, we are only a few old ladies and those Jacksons have a big family and they are all thugs and thieves.”

Big Sal reached over and patted her hand gently.

“Don’t worry love; I think we can bank on a few recruits from the other residents and what we don’t have in brawn we will make up for in brains.”

Sylvia sat silently, wiping the odd tear from her heavily made up face. What the other members of the sewing circle did not know was that Flo and Sylvia shared a secret from the past that made this violent loss even more poignant.

In her twenties, Sylvia had been vibrantly attractive and had met and married Davy Ross, a minor name in the East End. He had worked for Mike Mitchell who ran an extensive extortion and prostitution racket in the fifties and sixties and Davy was known for his temper and his ability to collect money with menaces.

Unfortunately, for Sylvia, Davy liked to take his work home with him and she spent quite a bit of time in the casualty department of the local hospital having ‘bumped into’ fixed objects in her home. Friends tried to persuade her to leave him but Sylvia knew that he would find her and kill her if she left.

A job had been planned at a large high street bank and at the last minute, a member of the gang got nicked and a replacement had to be found. Mike Mitchell who had masterminded the job recruited Davy into the team, a little reluctantly bearing in mind his unpredictable temper. He was right to be concerned as the night watchman at the bank ended up getting more of a hiding than he might have done with the original set up. Unfortunately for Davy, the guard survived and was able to give the police an accurate description of his assailant. Davy knew the score and accepted his ten years inside without grassing up either the other members of the gang or his boss, who honoured the unspoken code of the East End by making sure Sylvia was taken care of.

Sylvia knew that with good behaviour, her violent husband might be out in five or six years but she hoped that his own basic nature would guarantee that he would not be able to keep his fists to himself for that long. She had originally trained as a hairdresser and she opened a little shop close to her home and began to live a new life.

Flo was one of her regular customers and being from the area was fully aware of Sylvia’s past troubles, although they were never mentioned. Neither was the increasingly frequent visits to the shop by Mike Mitchell, who was crossing the bounds of the accepted code of behaviour by fancying the wife of one of his own men, who was serving time for one of his jobs.

Sylvia was wary at first, as she knew the man’s reputation, but he was good looking and charming and began to show her a life that she did not know existed. Fancy restaurants and weekends in the country — away from the prying eyes of the East End, and Mike’s wife — definitely clouded her judgement and she found herself falling in love with the mobster.

Their affair lasted two years and in that time, Sylvia neither wrote nor visited Davy in prison despite his constant demands. Unfortunately, nature stepped in and Sylvia found herself telling Mike that he was going to be a father in seven months’ time. This fact did not overly please him as he already had four children and a wife who would take him to the cleaners if she found out. Despite being a hard man, Mike loved his family and had to convince Sylvia that if she kept the child it would have to remain a secret. Not only that, but Davy was not going to be happy about finding out, which would be very dangerous for both Sylvia and the child.

This proved to be the case when a woman who lived in Sylvia’s street decided to inform her husband on a prison visit of the local gossip and the possibility that Sylvia was expecting. The man got a broken jaw for his trouble when he passed the information onto Davy and within days, a message was passed to the outside.

Sylvia was locking up her hairdressers for the night when two men grabbed her from behind and dragged her into a nearby alley. Two hours later Flo was passing on her way to the Bingo hall when she heard what she thought sounded like a frightened kitten in the narrow gap between the buildings. She ventured a little way into the darkness and saw an arm protruding from behind a heap of rubbish bags. She rushed forward, completely oblivious to her own safety and found Sylvia curled up holding her stomach with one arm as she bled across the dirty cobblestones.

Flo rushed back into the street and got a man to go to the nearest phone box and call for the police and ambulance before returning to cradle Sylvia’s head in her lap while they waited for help. She went with her to the hospital and was by her bedside when she regained consciousness after her operation. Sylvia suffered a broken nose and arm, crushed pelvis, fractured skull – and had lost her baby. As she looked down into the bruised and battered face, Flo knew that this was not the end. That Davy was not going to let it rest and would no doubt finish the job when he finally got out of prison.

Mike Mitchell was also aware that this beating was just an instalment and it was really no surprise to anyone that a week later Davy Ross unfortunately slipped on some soap in the shower and banged his head. He was dead when the guards found him. Sylvia was notified as she lay in her hospital bed coming to terms with not only the loss of her baby but also the fact that Mike Mitchell could now never come near her again in case he was implicated in her husband’s death.

Flo understood, being the mother of so many children herself and having lost one or two in early pregnancy, how Sylvia must be feeling and she was with her when the doctors told her that due to the beating she had received she would never be able to have any more children in the future. Over the next few years, Flo and Sylvia became close friends but the events surrounding the beating and death of Davy were never discussed again.

Even the other members of the sewing circle were unaware of the shared past of two of their closest friends and although they knew that Flo and Sylvia went back a long way they were taken by surprise at the level of grief that Sylvia experienced. She had cried for two days, refusing to leave her flat or even get dressed in one of her elegant but out-dated suits. She finally appeared at Betty’s flat and sat silently as mourners came and went with their offerings. Eventually her friends gave up trying to get her to talk but took it in turns to sit holding her hand and leaning in so that she could feel their comfort.

As a memento of her beloved friend, Sylvia had chosen a pale yellow silk scarf that Flo had worn often. She now ran the scarf through her fingers time after time before looking around at the others as they sat quietly remembering their friend.

“It would be lovely to see the Jacksons brought down and all sorts of evil things done to them but we have to be realistic about what we can do ourselves.” She sighed wearily as her friends listened intently.

“The younger kids are not to blame but they should not be with that mother of theirs, they deserve a chance to live a decent life.” She paused and looked down at the scarf wound through her fingers.

“Sharon Jackson and that son of hers deserve everything they get and we need to make sure that they never do this to anyone else again.” She gave a tight smile.

“We have to get to Archie Jackson inside and feed him a story about Sharon and he will take care of her for us.” Her friends listened in fascination as Sylvia displayed a side of her they had never even imagined before. “After that he needs taking care off so that he can have nothing more to do with his kids as they grow up.”

“As for that Darren, he is past redeeming and needs to be got rid of like any other vermin on the estate and we have to get him to do the job on himself.”

The others looked at each other and realised that if they were to undertake this revenge on the Jacksons they were reverting to the old life that they had known as teenagers and young women living in the East End. They knew that if they didn’t do something then the Jacksons would continue to terrorise this estate and any others they moved to. The key was to cut the head off the clan in the form of Sharon Jackson. Without her around, and Archie taken care of in prison, the younger members of the family would be put into care and unlikely though it seemed, that might give them a chance of a better life than remaining with their mother and father. Darren however had to go, as they knew, without any doubt, that he had cold bloodedly killed Flo. He now had power and he would use it against people for the rest of his life.

©SallyCronin The Sewing Circle 2004

Smorgasbord Short Stories – The Sewing Circle- Part One by Sally Cronin


51l5B4hcBuL._UY250_This is the novella in the second part of my short story anthology and is in three parts. Last posted a year ago and I hope that those of you who have not read before will enjoy.

THE SEWING CIRCLE – Part One

The sewing circle met at Betty’s flat on the ground floor of Malcolm House, every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon. There were six regular members and the odd person who dropped in who appreciated that the group was the source of gossip and information about the Redgrave Estate.

Copious cups of tea were provided with members taking it in turn to produce homemade cakes that were judged critically during the course of the afternoon. Recipes were swapped and toppings envied as the ladies knitted and embroidered the hours away.
All of the members were over eighty and had lived varied and sometimes tragic lives. All had been born and brought up in this deprived area of South London and the fact that they still participated so fully in their lives was a testament to their strength of character.

The tenant of the flat, and gracious hostess, was Betty Smith. She had been lucky in as much as her husband had lived long enough to enjoy ten years of retirement with her. They had lived in the annexe of their son’s lovely house near Chelmsford but after Arthur’s death, Betty felt lonely and isolated, with her son and daughter-in-law out at work every day. She moved into the flats five years ago and was delighted to find that several of her old friends were not only still alive but resident on the estate. She was now eighty-six and a firm favourite with the younger children on the Redgrave who were the eager recipients of her cupcakes.

Mary Jones was eighty-three, had lost two husbands in the Second World War, three children as babies, and had toiled into her seventies as a cleaner at an office block in the heart of the City. Her wrinkled face identified a life-long affair with nicotine and her skin had the patina of a well-polished piece of walnut. Mary was the matinee-jacket expert, having knitted for four generations of the offspring of her two surviving daughters. Her eyesight was not all that it used to be but her loving family forgave her the odd dropped stitch. Arthritis made it difficult for her to get out on her own and the other more mobile members of the circle would walk with her to the post office to collect her pension on Thursdays and to the convenience store on the corner of the estate. She had recently started using a wheeled stroller and was very pleased with her new-found independence. With the help of her neighbour she had even made it down to the Red Lion pub for the pensioner’s special one week and was planning to make this a regular outing.

Sylvia Ross, the youngest member of the circle, was a bit of a mystery as she always changed the subject when asked about her early years. She had no family, by all accounts, and even when firmly pressed refused to give details of where she was born or brought up. She once let slip that she had been married but then changed the subject which, of course, elevated the curiosity of her fellow members to extraordinary levels. This resulted in a certain amount of behind the scenes digging and once or twice snippets of an enticing nature were ferreted out, only to fizzle away from lack of information. She was just eighty and extremely elegant. She always wore a smart suit to the sewing circle although it was obvious that the classic clothes were decades old.

Her blonde hair was touched up every month by the hairdresser in the high street and her nails were the envy of all the teenage girls in her block. The circle marvelled at her ability to embroider with her extended, red talons but liked her too much to pass comment. They doubted that they would ever get to the bottom of the mystery, but Sylvia was a lively and generous member of the group who was always there if one of them was ill or needed something special brought back from the shopping precinct. She truly had a heart of gold.

Maggie Baxter was originally from Jamaica and had married a seaman from Hackney in the fifties. She had the most wonderful laugh and her generous spirit was well known throughout the estate. A trained nurse, she had acted as the community midwife for over twenty-five years and even now, at eighty-five, was called upon regularly by the young mother’s on the estate for help and guidance during and after their frequent pregnancies. Nothing shocked Maggie and she could be relied on to keep a secret. She was not above giving some of the younger, more obnoxious, residents of the estate a quick smack if they got out of hand on the stairwells, but on the whole even the toughest of adolescent boys who roamed the estate, jobless and bored, knew that Maggie Baxter would be there if they needed them.

Her friends in the sewing circle warned her however that she needed to be careful. In recent months, several new families had been housed on the estate and their rowdy kids were an unknown quantity. In fact, petty crime was on the increase despite the fact that they had their own community police presence, and on two occasions recently elderly residents had been mugged and injured on their way back from the local shops.

The frailest of the group was Flo Miles, a tiny little woman who had amazingly borne twelve children, all of whom had survived wars and sickness. She had thirty-six grandchildren and fifteen great grandchildren and at ninety years old was considered the queen of the Redgrave. She had lived there since it was built, twenty years earlier, and knew every little bit of gossip there was to be had about the residents. The other members even suspected she knew more that she was telling about Sylvia Ross but on this subject, she was strangely close-mouthed. She was also fearless and despite her fragile appearance walked herself to and from the local Bingo Hall despite her friends’ insistence that she go by taxi. The fact that she was a prolific winner also worried the members of the sewing circle, but she did make the compromise that on nights that she won money she would get a cab home and get the driver to walk her to her ground floor flat, conveniently close to the parking area.

Sarah Dempsey or big Sal as she was known to her friends and neighbours was a gregarious and fun loving Irish woman who had come over to London as a spinster of thirty-eight, in the late 1950’s. She had cared for her parents until their death and then found herself evicted from her family home by her brother who had inherited the lot. He had begrudgingly given her forty pounds and bought her a one-way ticket to England. Luckily, Sal found a job as a waitress in a large department store in Knightsbridge and being the hard worker that she was she remained in that job for over thirty years. She had a lovely little pension as well as her state benefits and she adored giving unusual and unexpected gifts to every one of her acquaintance. She was treasured by everyone, especially when she burst into song at quiz nights, and other functions, at the community centre in the middle of the estate.

So, here was the sewing circle, a group of friends who were independent and who took care of each other lovingly. All very different, but all intent on one thing, ending their lives with dignity and in the company of people they cared for.

There was just one problem and that was the Jackson family. The Jacksons had moved onto the estate after being moved from two other communities because of their unreasonable behaviour. Archie Jackson was in prison for violent offences more than he was out and his wife Sharon was a loud-mouthed harridan who could be heard through the thin walls of the flats, shouting and swearing throughout the day and long into the night. They had five children although it was a mystery to everyone how she had so many bearing in mind that Archie was inside most of the seventeen years they had been married. The more uncharitable amongst the residents speculated on the difference in look and colour between the offspring and there were certainly enough suspicions to cast doubts on Archie’s participation in some of their conceptions.

Everyone on the estate gave the Jacksons a wide berth. Since their arrival, petty crime on the estate had risen dramatically and the residents’ committee had even requested a meeting with the Police representative to try to stem the tide of thefts and muggings that suddenly affected the area. The police did what they could and in fact, they did catch the older Jackson boy, Darren, red handed shoplifting from the corner shop. But because he was only fifteen he was let off with probation. Next, the committee tried the council who said that having moved the Jackson’s twice already they were running out of options. There were suggestions from some of the residents that a prison ship or deserted island would be a suitable place to move the family but in the end, the council promised to try to find alternative accommodation away from the Redgrave.

Hoping that a resolution was only a matter of weeks away everyone on the estate held their collective breath and trusted that not too much damage would be inflicted on property, or themselves, in the meantime.

This wish was not to be granted and for one of the members of the sewing circle, life was about to take a desperate turn.

 

©SallyCronin – The Sewing Circle 2004

The next part of the story will be on

Smorgasbord Short Stories – The Soldier by Sally Cronin


The Soldier by Sally Cronin

Norman carried his plate carefully across to the gingham covered table under the window, setting it down next to his cup of tea that had been as carefully transported a few minutes before. He could not walk without his stick and had to adapt his routine to fit around this inconvenience. He steadied himself on the back of the wooden chair and deposited his walking aid up against the window sill. He turned himself around and sat down heavily with a sigh of relief.

He assaulted the still steaming cup of tea with four spoons of sugar and smiled wryly at the silence that accompanied this act of rebellion. If Ruby had been sitting opposite him there would have been hell to pay. He closed his eyes and willed the disobedient tear to cease its descent down his cheek. He sniffed and reached for the butter.

His flat was in an anonymous looking block on a small estate that had been built in the 1990s. He had moved here begrudgingly from their little terrace house that had been home for fifty years. The council were going to knock the late Victorian homes down and make way for a modern housing project. As a widower without any living family, he did not qualify for one of the new three-bedroomed semi-detached houses. They had moved his bits of furniture and treasured belongings to the flat, but the money that they paid him for the compulsory purchase of the house was still sitting in a bank account untouched.

He managed his simple needs on his state and army pension, only glancing briefly at the monthly statements that showed a steadily increasing balance, before throwing them in a drawer in the sideboard. There had been an effort by his previous neighbours to fight the compulsory purchase. He had watched the protests in the street dispassionately, ignoring the knocks on his door from those soliciting his support. Ruby had only just died and a part of him had as well. He had been numb at the time and also strangely voiceless but he had looked upon the resultant pay out as blood money. As he looked around the small room that had never seen a visitor, he realised how much he had relied on Ruby and the community spirit in his old neighbourhood.

Norman’s flat was on the second floor of the building and thankfully the lift was in operation most of the time. He couldn’t manage the one flight of stairs now even with the stick; resenting this as evidence of his further decline. During the day the building had always been reasonably quiet and he barely noticed the passing of the hours. That is until he would hear the sound of the children returning from school and diving straight into the playground at the front of the flats. He usually opened his windows and sat with a cup of tea, enjoying their shrieks and laughter. It reminded him of his own dead son when he was that age; long before he joined the army and went to Iraq.

Recently however there had been new sounds and they drowned out the childish laughter. Teenagers from a neighbouring estate were prowling the stairwells and communal areas of the blocks nearest to them, but away from family and possible consequences in their own neighbourhood. His own block had taken on a seedy and unwholesome appearance with  evidence of night-time drinking and drug taking on the landings and underground garage. The local residence association had contacted the police and there had been a begrudging response which included one or two more cars patrolling at night, but no arrests were made. The council representative had said that they were powerless to provide security with cutbacks to essential services already.

The residents now rarely went out at night unless absolutely essential; locking their doors and windows and turning their televisions up louder to cover the noises of anarchy on their doorstep. Children no longer played on the swings as aggressive teenagers of both genders took over the playground in the central area as a gathering point in the afternoons, jobless and bored. Graffiti began to spread across the walls of the ground floor and up the stairs; Norman shook his head at the hatred and violence it depicted. He had never felt so powerless in his life.

It was Wednesday and Norman always went down to the legion for a pint and bite of lunch. It was his only interaction with others during the week, except for the cashiers at the local supermarket. He laid out his suit on the bed and found a shirt that was crisply ironed. He would wear his regimental tie today and give his black shoes an extra polish. He needed to look his best for what lay ahead.

An hour later he made his way through the swing doors of the legion and walked past the walls covered with photographs of those who had served and passed away. One day his image would join them and younger men would mentally salute him as they walked into the bar. But he was not there yet, and grasping his stick firmly, he straightened his back and walked briskly through the tables of men talking quietly in this place that linked them to their years of service. Some looked up and said… ‘Morning Sergeant Major.’ He acknowledged them silently with a nod.

‘Atten… Shun’

At the barked command thirty pairs of eyes swivelled to the front of the room and automatically several stood to attention. As Norman’s stern gaze descended on the other men, they too stood to join their comrades.

‘You have all served your country bravely, but now you, like me sit silently by and watch as an enemy infiltrates our way of life. The people we fought for are under attack and barricaded into their homes afraid to breathe in the fresh air and walk unmolested.’

Several men nodded and Norman could read their body language as he had thousands of soldiers before. They too had lost their purpose and it was time to give them their pride back.

Later that afternoon the children arrived home from school and were ushered straight into their flats on the different levels of the apartment block. A few stray elderly residents also made their way back from shopping and packed into the lifts that would distribute them over several floors. The block was preparing for the daily invasion of the gang.

They were not disappointed, and as the warm sun hit the playground it began to fill with the dross from the neighbouring estate, laughing and throwing their rubbish on the ground. When dusk fell they would start working their way through the block with their spray paints and drug paraphernalia; turning this community into a no go area for decent people.

Suddenly one the group caught sight of movement coming from the direction of the main road. He shushed his mates and one by one they went silent. They watched as an old man walking with a stick marched up the street with determination. He was followed by at least thirty men in rows, also marching in time. They wore suits and looked proudly to the front where their leader preceded them. Some of the youths began pointing and laughing but a tall, older boy told them to be quiet.

The marching men arrived in front of the block of flats and turned sharply to face the playground. Norman took three steps closer and placed both his hands over the head of his stick. He looked to his right as two large vans marked with the name of an industrial cleaning company pulled up to the kerb.

He turned and addressed the youths now waiting expectantly and looking at each other in stunned silence.

‘These men behind me have fought in wars around the world and are all trained killers. They will now be patrolling our estate day and night in teams of three and have orders to treat any they find defacing the walls, using drugs or threatening the residents as terrorists which is what you are.’

Norman paused and behind him he heard the snap of boots on the road surface as a number of the men took three steps forward and stood with their arms folded menacingly.

Sergeant Major Norman Smith pointed at the two vans. ‘These contractors will now clean the graffiti off the walls and remove your filth from the stairs and hallways. You will now pick up all your rubbish you have dropped and put it into the bins provided. You will then leave this estate and not return again. These men behind me are just a handful of those at my disposal and any ideas you might have of bringing reinforcements to assist you will be met with severe repercussions.’

The youth who the others followed, looked at the old man and smiled slightly as he shook his head. He pointed to the others to pick up their discarded cartons and soda bottles, which they did reluctantly. He glared at some and gave others a sharp word. He knew there were other soft targets out there. Perhaps not as convenient to his estate, but this one was no longer worth the hassle. Hoods up and hands in pockets, the youths turned and began to saunter nonchalantly out of the far exit of the playground.

As they did so Norman heard doors begin to open on the sunlit walkways behind him and voices as people tried to find out what was going on. He glanced behind him as the cleaning crews began unloading equipment from the back of the vans. He had finally found something to use that blood money for in a way that he could live with.

Applause broke out on the walkways, and as the last of the youths sauntered off down the road, a mother ventured out of the safety of the building holding her two children’s hands. They broke away from her and raced into the playground shouting and laughing.

Soon others left the surrounding blocks and came to speak to Norman and their new protectors. As he watched the exchanges between the former soldiers and the liberated residents he saw how they carried themselves now with pride and purpose.

It was good to be back on the front line again.

©sallycronin 2017

 

Smorgasbord Christmas Short Stories – Alexander by Sally Cronin


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The submission for the Christmas Short Stories is now closed but I hope you will enjoy one of my short stories from my latest collection due out in the New Year..

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Alexander by Sally Cronin

When Joyce Briggs was sixteen years old, her boyfriend at the time Ernie Winterbottom, took her to the cinema to see the latest epic to hit the silver screen which was Alexander the Great with Richard Burton. His aim was twofold. To impress the curvy Joyce with his intellectual prowess by choosing a film that was a bit la-di-dah, and to get her into the back seats of the cinema for a bit of you-know-what!

What Ernie did not take into account was that Joyce was besotted with Richard Burton. The sight of him in his armour as the great Alexander, not to mention his bare knees, had her more of a quiver than the prospect of a kiss and a cuddle with a spotty Herbert of a lad.

In fact she barely acknowledged Ernie’s presence throughout the action packed two hours and twenty-three minutes. Not only did he not get to snuggle against her ample proportions in the back seat, she talked non-stop all the way home on the top of the bus despite his best efforts to silence her with desperate kisses.

Finally, they arrived at the door of the flat that she shared with her widowed mum and he was just about to turn away and wend his lonely way home when she fluttered her eyelashes at him.

‘Me mum’s away at my gran’s for the night,’ she puckered her lips at him suggestively. ‘Do you fancy coming in for a cuppa?’ Thankful that the evening had not been entirely wasted, Ernie was in the flat as quick as a ferret up a drainpipe.

Nine months later to the night, Joyce Winterbottom welcomed her son into the world and announced to the rather reluctant and bemused young father, that he would be called Alexander Richard Winterbottom.

Over the following years Alex, as he liked to be called, often contemplated the fact that he was not living up to his mum’s lofty expectations of his illustrious name. Those few friends that he had at his first school shortened Alex even further to Al, but it was his surname that was to his main cross to bear. He was physically rather puny and the resident school bullies referred to him as Frosty Bum as they nicked his lunch money.

At home it was a different story as Joyce regaled him with the legendary tales of his namesake she had discovered in a book from the library. To be kind to his mum; Alex did his very best to look enthusiastic. Even at an early age, he had a sneaky feeling that he could not compete with the legend of the great man, who conquered half the bleeding world before breakfast over 2000 years previously.

His dad had done a bunk when Alex was three years old and Joyce had lavished all her attention on her beloved Alexander/Burton substitute. Times were hard but after a while she met a plumber called Percy Shufflebottom when he came to fix a leaky pipe. After a few months of courtship they had set up home in his semi-detached house with the now five year old Alex in tow.

Percy was a kind and considerate man and had been a good partner to his mum and step-dad to Alex. When Joyce eventually managed to get a divorce from the elusive Ernie, it left the couple free to tie the knot in the local registry office. At the time, Alex was offered the opportunity to change his name from Winterbottom to Shufflebottom. At eleven years old, Alex knew that moving into secondary school with his current surname would be tough enough, so declined the offer.

Five years later and Alex had grown to a decent height but was still on the runty side. However, he had excelled at sports including long-distance running and football. He was not a duffer but preferred the physical activities rather than sitting in a classroom. After consultation with the headmaster and his mum when he was sixteen, it was decided that he would get an apprenticeship with a local garage.

So here he was aged twenty and sitting in his pride and joy, a rebuilt Morris Minor, wondering if he would ever get the grease stains from under his fingernails. The rain was pelting down the windscreen and the inside of the car fogged up. He and his mate Stan had been out to the pub and had fancied some chips and curry sauce on the way home. It would stink up the car but to be fair he was not really bothered. In fact he found he was not particularly bothered about anything these days. He worked hard; lived in a bedsit a few streets from the garage and went round to his mum’s on a Sunday for a good feed. But if he was being honest; essentially he just existed.

He wiped the inside of the windscreen with a cloth and looked over at the chippie to see what was holding Stan up. He couldn’t see clearly because of the pouring rain and the dim street lighting so he got out of the car, locking the door behind him. He joined the back of the queue which stretched out the door of the cafe and several feet up the pavement. People huddled under their umbrellas and Alex tried to see around them to find out where Stan was in the line. As he did so his eyes were drawn to a large poster in the office window next to him.

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It was December of 1982 and Joyce and Percy waited anxiously in their immaculate living room. Only used for special occasions; it was decorated with the Christmas tree that Percy had picked up at the market and streamers stretched across from each corner of the room. Percy clasped one of his wife’s hands as the other fingered her string of pearls around her plump neck.

‘Don’t worry love, he will be here soon,’ he soothed his nervous wife.

The clock on the mantelpiece chimed and they both looked across at it for the tenth time in the last hour.

Finally, they heard a car draw up outside and voices talking in the street. Joyce heaved herself out of her chair and pushed past Percy to get into the hall… She tentatively released the catch on the lock and opened the door to face the visitor standing there.

She had not seen her son for two years and she looked at him in wonder. He had filled out a great deal since joining the Royal Navy six years before. He looked so impressive in his new Petty Officer uniform with his cap tucked under his arm. She put her hand to her mouth and then launched herself at him sobbing as he put his strong arms around her.

Behind them Percy looked on proudly. Alexander might not be his son by birth but he was bloody proud all the same. They had waited for days to find out if the lad was safe. Like the parents of those on both sides of the short conflict; they had been glued to the news on the television every night. Huddled on the sofa together, they watched anxiously as naval and land battles had been fought so far away in the Falklands. It had been absolutely terrifying when Alex’s ship had been hit several times in an air attack.

They were finally told that the lad had been slightly wounded but would be on his way home on leave in time for Christmas. Tears filled his eyes as the two people he loved most in the world each took a hand and led him into the festively decorated living-room. For a moment or two he stood looking around at the streamers and welcoming banners.

Joyce smoothed her hand over her son’s gold braid on the sleeve of his uniform and looked up at his handsome face.

She laughed delightedly. ‘Well I never love; you look just like Richard Burton….’

©sallycronin2016

 

Just an Odd Job Girl – serialisation – Chapter Four – At the Dentist


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Imogen is enjoying relating her experiences along the seafront as a sales assistant and is further taken aback when Andrew Jenkins asks her to tell him more about her next job which was a little more complex than serving souvenirs to tourists.

Chapter Four

Following a year at secretarial college, and having gained my passes in shorthand and typing, I entered the full-time job market.

My experience along the seafront had at least prepared me for working life. I was usually punctual and didn’t take liberties with my lunch hour. I had even had my first managerial position, you could say, as I had been left in charge of my kiosk during Betty’s days off and holidays. Unfortunately this had not prepared me for the interviews that I attended and I was sorely disappointed to discover that the only job that was open, to a newly qualified secretary, was that of the lowly office junior.

I had earned two and six an hour along the seafront and at sixteen worked a forty-hour week. This gave me five pounds a week, plus tips, which were divided between all the staff. Because I was a student I did not pay tax and so I usually had at least seven pounds a week in my hand. I soon discovered that office juniors were lucky to get six pounds a week and that would be taxed. I horrified my mother by suggesting that I make the seafront my career instead, and she patiently pointed out that things would get better as I gained experience.

I wondered how I would ever gain that experience. I went for about five interviews that, frankly, put me off the idea of working in an office, for life. All the women who conducted the interviews seemed dried up and humourless. I was used to the informality of the seafront, and the thought of sitting at a desk staring, at a wall, typing-up dictation all day terrified me. But then I saw the advert in the local evening paper.

RECEPTIONIST/SECRETARY REQUIRED
PRIVATE DENTAL PRACTICE
Monday to Friday 9.00 a.m. to 5.30 p.m.
Seven pounds per week.

This was more like it! I rang the number and spoke to a very friendly girl who took some details and slotted me in for an interview the next day.

I sat in the waiting room with two or three nervous looking people whom I assumed were patients. There were three dentists in the practice judging by the signs on the door, and I was to be interviewed by Mr. Forsythe-Brown. I felt as if I was about to have an extraction and wondered if I was doing the right thing.

I was ushered into the ground floor surgery and found myself sitting opposite a large, leather covered desk. On the other side was a man in his sixties. Hair slicked back, little half glasses perched on a large, beaky nose and hands crossed in front of him. His hands caught my attention immediately. They had a dry, scrubbed look with very white nails. He cleared his throat.

‘Miss Baxter. I am Mr. Forsythe-Brown the senior partner in this practice. You would be working solely for myself as my other partners have their own receptionists and dental nurses. Perhaps I can ask you some questions?’

The interview passed in a blur. Mr. Forsythe-Brown fired questions at me so rapidly that I only had time to tell the truth.

‘You are very young.’ He observed.

‘However, that means you may not have had time to learn shoddy habits, and I will have an opportunity to show you the correct manner of conducting yourself.’

Oops!

‘You can start on Monday. You will be paid seven pounds per week and be provided with two white coats to be worn at all times.’

Sounded familiar: I hoped that there would be no unidentifiable stains on these overalls, as I thought that this time, they were unlikely to be ketchup.

I found myself uttering my acceptance, and before I could change my mind, the pleasant girl, whose name was Sandra, was showing me out of the door.

‘Are you leaving the job?’ I asked, hoping to establish if there had been any unsavoury behaviour on the part of my new employer.

‘No, I’m his dental nurse but we are so busy that I cannot cope anymore with the reception duties and the paperwork so we needed someone else.’ She smiled.

‘Don’t worry. His bark is worse than his bite. I’ll fill you in on him on Monday when you start, but do be on time, he hates people turning up late for appointments.’

With that, I returned home with the joyful news that I was in gainful employment and would be starting Monday. My parents were relieved that yet another daughter was successfully launched into the big bad world, and I enjoyed my last three days of freedom.

Monday morning arrived far too soon. Although I had worked for three years, this was my first full time job. I arrived fifteen minutes early and found Sandra in the small office off the hall.

‘Oh good you’re early.’ She smiled and sat me down in front of the typewriter.

‘We have this month’s accounts to prepare. As we deal with the private patients, we bill them after their appointments. The other dentists in the practice deal with all the National Health patients and they pay at the time.’

So started my introduction, and I have to say that I didn’t see Mr. Forsythe-Brown, or FB as he became known, until the end of the day.

‘Miss Baxter, could you come into the surgery please.’ He called through on the intercom on the desk.

Nervously, I entered the inner sanctum and found FB at the sink ferociously scrubbing his hands. He turned and nodded for me to sit at the desk. After a few more minutes of concentrated washing and drying he came and sat down.

‘Miss Smith tells me you are doing well for your first day. Tomorrow you will begin to make appointments under her guidance. I want you to go through all the patient files and familiarise yourself with their names and treatments so that when they ring for an appointment you know who you are talking to.’

Oh my God! I knew that there were at least four hundred patients. I was never going to learn all their names, let alone their treatments.

‘I expect you to have done this within the next month, by which time you will no longer require Mrs. Smith’s attention and she can spend more time in the surgery with me doing the job she is supposed to be doing.’

He looked at me for some acknowledgement that I concurred with this ultimatum. What else could I do but nod and say ‘Yes Sir.’

That set the tone for the first three months of my employment. I was learning so much that the time went very quickly, and I took pride in the fact that I did learn all the patients’ names, and in addition I produced all the monthly accounts on time and scheduled patients’ appointments correctly. After three months, FB gave me a pay rise of another ten shillings a week and I bought the whole family a take-away to celebrate.

Then disaster struck, or so it seemed at the time. I had very little contact with FB himself. Sandra was the bearer of messages, and instructions, and apart from the occasional greeting, or request for a patient file, my dealings with him were limited.

I was completing that month’s accounts when I heard a thud from the surgery. Immediately, the door opened and FB stuck his head out.

‘Get in here quickly Miss Baxter’

I rushed in, and found Sandra lying on the floor, a patient in the chair and FB standing with an instrument in one hand and a piece of plastic tubing in the other. I of course ran over to Sandra and began to kneel down.

‘No, no,’ he shouted. ‘She’ll be alright, get over here and hold this tube in the patient’s mouth immediately.’

I was too shocked to do anything but obey. I really had not come close to blood before, but there was no time to be squeamish. I placed the hooked tube back in the patient’s mouth, and started sucking up the saliva and water that was pooled under his tongue. I could see that a back tooth was exposed, and FB set to with his instruments and proceeded to extract it. It was a lengthy process as the root was curved. I was fascinated, and tried to follow FB’s instructions as promptly as possible. The job was finished and the patient gratefully leaving the chair when we both remembered poor Sandra.

She had revived and was sitting with her head between her knees on the chair in the corner. I ushered the patient out of the door, made a follow up appointment, and carried on with my accounts.

Luckily, we had no more patients that day and Sandra went home to make an appointment with her doctor. In seventeen years of working as a dental nurse, she had never fainted at the sight of blood before.

The next morning, when I arrived for work FB called me straight into the surgery, where I found Sandra sitting white-faced at the desk.

‘Sit down Miss Baxter.’ FB invited.

Oh dear. What was coming now? Was it somehow my fault, had I made a mess up of things when I stepped into the breach yesterday? I waited nervously.

It was Sandra who spoke first.

‘Imogen, I have been married for twenty years and we unfortunately have not had any children. We had given up hope but it turns out that I’m three months pregnant and that’s why I fainted yesterday.’

Although she was white-faced, I could see that she was radiant too.

FB took over.

‘Miss Baxter. I don’t like change. Mrs Smith has been with me for seventeen years and I am used to her ways. She was the one who persuaded me to take on extra assistance, and I must say you have been most helpful.’

He paused, and I waited for the axe to fall.

‘Mrs. Smith can no longer work in the surgery and so she will take over your duties outside until she leaves to have her baby and you will take her place in the surgery and I will train you as my dental nurse.’

I sat there in stunned silence.

The very next day, I found myself standing at the doorway of the surgery about to embark on a completely unexpected career move. FB was not an easy man to please. He was a perfectionist, and young as I was, he gave me no leeway. I had to learn, and learn fast, and it was exciting and nerve-wracking. But, by the time Sandra left, three months later, I loved it. In fact, we decided that, with some juggling of appointments, we could leave Wednesday afternoons free for my paperwork and FB could go and play golf. This way we did not have to take anybody else on to act as receptionist. It was hectic but we managed and there were times when it was not necessary for me to be in attendance in the surgery and I could get on with the administration work.

*   *   *

I paused and looked over at Andrew.

‘Go on. Tell me about some of the highlights during those two years. It sounds fascinating.’

There he went again. Fascinating was not a word I had associated with myself for years.

‘Andrew. I don’t mean to question your judgement. I love talking about myself, but is it usual to spend so much time with an applicant?’

‘No, it isn’t.’ He studied his hands for a moment. ‘You remind me of my wife. She died three years ago, and although you look nothing like her, you have the same spark, and I suppose I am being purely selfish by wanting to know more about you.’

He smiled, and I could tell he was a little embarrassed.

‘I had left today clear for paperwork, so you are in fact doing me a favour, but if you need to be somewhere else, then please tell me and we will cut this short.’

It was a long time since a man had paid me so much attention, and had listened to every word I said. What girl in her right mind was going to pass that up?

‘I have all the time in the world.’ I assured him. ‘But please let me know if it starts to get boring.’

*   *   *

Right. Highlights of my job with FB.

One of the problems we had to overcome was the age difference. FB was a retired Army Colonel who had served in the desert in the Second World War. On retirement from the Army, at fifty, he had gone into private practice. He was fifty years older than I was.

It was the sixties, and FB found the whole scene far too much. He did not approve of either the dress of the day, or the behaviour of the young. He would not tolerate lateness or any evidence of nights on the town, and it was hard for a seventeen-year-old to be in such a controlled environment. The up-side was that I learnt a great deal about self-discipline and work ethics, which stayed with me for the rest of my life.

I had much to learn. In those days, although dentistry was not as sophisticated as today it was still complicated enough.

Our equipment was not exactly state-of-the-art, and some of it actually had done service in the desert. For example, at that time, in the sixties, we had frequent power cuts. This of course meant that the electric, high-speed drill was non-operational. So, out would come the ‘squeeze-box’. This powered a drill attached to a pulley. I would pump up and down on a pedal and this provided enough energy to operate the drill at a painfully slow speed. Painful enough just watching, so I can only imagine what it was like for the patient.

On one occasion we had no electricity for two days and I developed cramp in my calf muscles from too much pumping. If you have ever tried to rub your head in one direction and your stomach in the other then you can imagine what it was like to be pumping away with your leg while handing over instruments, operating the sucker, also pump operated, and mixing amalgam.

Our other piece of outdated machinery was our X-ray unit. Definitely at least ten years old, if not more. It was huge and resided in one corner of the surgery. It had a flexible arm with a large wedge shaped unit on the end. There was a nozzle attached to it and this was placed against the patient’s cheek, the button pushed and the picture taken. We used to leave the room during the procedure but I was never convinced that the machine wasn’t leaking radiation all over the place.

Another of my jobs was to develop the X-rays, and on one occasion this led to a bit of a ‘miracle’. The developing was done in a small broom cupboard at the top of the stairs. It contained two tall, narrow, tanks, one for developing and one for fixing, and I had to wear elbow length rubber gloves to handle the chemicals.

For processing, the X-rays were clipped into a metal holder which had four metal clips each side of the main central shaft. A sticker was put on this shaft showing which patient each X-ray belonged to. On this particular occasion, when I was in a hurry, I inadvertently opened the clip at the top of the holder and released all eight X-rays into the fixer tank. You have to remember that I was operating in very subdued lighting and I had to fish around in the tank with my gloved hand to find these slippery little bits of film.

At last, I got them all out and because they were now developed and fixed, I could switch the main light on. But, whose X-ray was which? I did my best, and put all eight films back in the holder to dry.

Nothing happened for about two weeks. I was doing the accounts while FB was taking impressions for some dentures when I got the call.

‘Miss Baxter, could you come in here a moment?’

I recognised that oily, smooth tone of voice. I had done something wrong.

I entered the surgery to find a lovely lady in her seventies in the chair. She smiled at me revealing her pink gums and nothing else.

I turned to FB who was holding an X-ray up to the window and examining it closely.

‘Miss Baxter, we appear to have a bit of a miracle on our hands. Perhaps you could shed some light on it?’

I had already learnt that FB could be quite sarcastic when the mood took him and he was in full flood now.

‘Mrs James as you are aware requires new dentures. On her last visit, I took an X-ray – as she was experiencing some pain beneath the gum – and I suspected that a root might have been left behind during her extractions several years ago.’

He paused for effect.

‘Imagine my extreme surprise to discover, on removing Mrs. James X-ray from her notes, that she has grown a complete set of new teeth and indeed has a whole jaw of second teeth to follow.’

Oh dear!

‘From this X-ray I would determine Mrs. James to be about eight years old.’

Thankfully, the correct X-ray was located in one of our younger patient’s notes, but from then on, I always checked the X-rays in the notes before handing them over for the appointment.

It was generally interesting work, and although FB was a tough boss he was also fair. I now earned eleven pounds a week for the two roles I was performing, which was a lot of money for someone of my age. I had recently turned eighteen and life was good. There were still the odd times when I wished I was anywhere else but in that surgery, but looking back, even those times were amusing.

Like the time we were removing an upper molar from a rather large man. I would place my hands, laced across the top of a patient’s head during an upper extraction. This would hold the patient steady and apply pressure downwards when FB was pushing upwards. Not very elegant but it worked. In this case, I discovered that the patient was wearing a hairpiece. I had just placed my hands on his head when his hair started moving alarmingly around his scalp.

‘Miss Baxter, would you hold the patient’s head steady.’ He hissed at me, between clenched teeth.

As FB was so close to the patient, he couldn’t really shout at me.

‘I am trying to.’

Obviously I sounded a little stressed, and FB raised his eyes to my level and stopped what he was doing.

I lifted my hand, and pointed downwards at the offending article now perched precariously over the patient’s right eyebrow.

A look of irritation crossed FB’s face. We were half way through the extraction and there was no going back. He jerked his head at me to replace my hands on the man’s head, which I did with some trepidation. I found that, if I applied a great deal of pressure, I could just about hold the toupee in place and provide the leverage necessary for FB to complete the procedure.

Thankfully the tooth was extracted and the patient sent on his way a relieved man. This probably lasted until he caught sight of his reflection somewhere on his journey home which would have revealed a rather large gap at the back of his head and a lot of hair lying low over his eyebrows.

I believe that was the first time I ever heard FB laugh out loud. He waited, of course, until I had left the surgery. My hand was on the doorknob, and I was just about to return to collect a file when I heard the peals of laughter from inside.

Unfortunately, FB’s wife, who had been ill for some time, died, and he decided, at the age of sixty-nine to retire to the country. He was very generous to me, giving me a lump sum and a very good reference. I felt that I would like to take dental nursing further, and considered training as a State Registered Nurse. The Queen Alexandra Nursing Service was advertising for recruits at the time and the uniform was very attractive.

*   *   *

Andrew looked down at the C.V.

‘I can’t see anything here about you becoming a nurse, what happened?’

‘That is a whole different story, which has nothing to do with my employment history.’ It was also one of the more embarrassing episodes of my life and one that I had chosen to forget until now.

‘It sounds intriguing! Come on, spill the beans.’ I was obviously not going to get away with keeping this to myself. But, I was enjoying myself for the first time in ages and even if I didn’t get a job out of this, my self-esteem was getting a terrific boost.

©sallygeorginacronin Just an Odd Job Girl 2001

Next time embarrassing episodes and time for Imogen to smarten herself up a bit if she is to get another job.

 

Just an Odd Job Girl serialisation – Chapter Three – The Seafront


We had left Imogen at the employment agency going over her C.V with the owner Mr. Jenkins who was a little taken aback by the number of jobs that she had been employed in and also the variety. He now wants to get down to brass tacks and establish just how much actual experience she has. The chapters will get a little longer now as we get into Imogen’s story; so you better make a cup of coffee and put your feet up! You can find the previous two chapters here Just an Odd Job Girl

Chapter Three

For a moment, there was an uneasy silence.

Mr. Jenkins smiled.

‘Why don’t you call me Andrew?’ he said quietly. ‘I know that it can be a little intimidating at first, but you strike me as being a smart, interesting woman who just needs a little encouragement to get back out into the working environment. Just relax and tell me in your own words about the jobs, and the things you enjoyed or didn’t enjoy about each one.’

‘This process will help us decide what it is that you want and where it best fits into our client requirements.’

I took a deep breath and settled back into the chair.

‘Well, I had better start at the beginning then, although the fourteen year old who started work along the seafront seems like a completely different person to the one I am today.’

Just thinking back to those early spring months of 1967 made me smile. I had pestered my mother and father for months to let me get a part-time job. I didn’t want a paper round as getting up at an ungodly hour before school every morning, including Sunday, held little appeal. Also, my parents were concerned that my schoolwork would suffer so we compromised on a weekend and holiday job.

Just before Easter, I saw an advertisement in the local evening paper for staff for the council run operations along the seafront. The minimum age was fourteen years and three months, which I had just passed, and there was an address to apply for an application form.

Without telling my mother, I sent off for the form, which duly arrived. Being a council application form it covered three pages and virtually asked for your weight and number of teeth. I was proud of my efforts, and presented the completed and signed form to my mother who also had to sign the form because of my age.

My mother’s idea of employment for me was slightly different to mine. I think that she saw me serving tea to ‘hatted ladies’ in some up-market restaurant in one of the big department stores. Working along the seafront seemed to conjure up horrendous pictures of loutish behaviour and dirty postcards. She was actually not far off the mark there and she was very resistant to the idea in the beginning.

One of the genetic traits that I have inherited from my mother is the ability to nag successfully. One must be neither too forceful, nor direct. It requires subtle insinuations into conversation, usually at crucial times, such as when someone is lifting a fork of food to their mouths or is in the middle of a television programme that requires absolute attention. It is a little like drops of water on stone; gradually it is worn down to the desired size and shape. My mother was very good at getting her own way and always one to emulate success; I used her own methods against her.

My mother used to wear a foundation garment that was the forerunner of my own current all-in-one girdle. My mother’s corset had bones in strategic places throughout the garment that not only lifted but held the body in much the same way as scaffolding around a building. The timing of the nag was critical. Just as my mother had struggled, naked, into the legs of the girdle and was inching it painfully over her hips with everything hanging over the top; I would poke my head around the bedroom door.

‘Mummy, would you believe that the job on the seafront pays two shillings an hour and that means you wouldn’t have to pay me any more pocket money?’

My mother never had a chance. After a campaign which only lasted two weeks, my form was signed, returned and a call received from the council asking both my mother and I to attend for an interview at the main café on the front.

This was my first job interview, and I illustrated another genetic trait I had inherited from my mother. This is the gene which governs what you wear and how many times you will change your outfit before an important event. You have to remember that this was the sixties and I was fourteen, going on thirty. I had two older sisters and their wardrobes were rummaged through until I had assembled what I considered to be suitable attire for the all-important first impression.

It was a campaign that I lost. No amount of nagging was going to allow my mother to be seen dead accompanying me in my chosen outfit. I, of course, thought it looked sophisticated, professional and very adult. The make-up that I had applied gave me a certain ‘gothic’ air, and on my arrival in the kitchen, ten minutes before we were due to leave for the interview, I was mortified to be met with laughter from my younger brother and horrified glares from my mother. Ten minutes later, with face scrubbed, and in my school uniform, we left.

Andrew laughed.

‘You got the job, so perhaps your mother was right about the outfit’

‘You could say that.’ I admitted.

‘When we got to the café, there were about ten other girls of my age, with their mothers, waiting in the serving area.’

The moment came back to me as if it was yesterday. The place was not due to open for another two weeks, so we all sat around the tables and tried not to stare at each other. There was only one other girl in school uniform and we looked at each other in sympathy, while the two mothers smiled smugly at each other. All the other girls were wearing much the same as my original outfit and they in turn smiled slyly at the two of us in our basic grey and navy blue.

‘I can’t remember what the interviewer was like, my mother answered questions about my school work and home environment and then the man asked me why I wanted to go to work.’

At fourteen, you have not perfected the art of lying in interviews and you certainly do not prepare stock answers in advance. The man got an honest answer.

‘My friend Mary gets two pounds a week pocket money and I only get five shillings. My parents say that they cannot afford to give me any more.’

I looked across to my mother’s horrified face. I could see that she was about to interrupt.

‘I am going to give my parents some of my earnings to help them out.’

The man looked sympathetically at my mother, assuming that we were near the poverty line. I had a nasty feeling that once out of the safety of the interview room; I was going to be in trouble. Luckily, before she could refute this silent allegation, the man had risen and was ushering us out of the door.

‘We will be in touch in a few days Mrs. Baxter.’

He shook my mother’s hand.

We walked past the remaining applicants, who searched our faces for some clues to the ordeal ahead. My mother marched straight past with a firm grip on my elbow and I resigned myself to a long, ‘verbal’ walk home.

Three days later a letter arrived stating that I would be employed for the summer season. I would work for a maximum of six hours a day, at an hourly rate of two shillings an hour. I was rich and my mother was vindicated. I later found out that the only applicants to be offered a job were the two in school uniforms. Confirming the age-old belief that mothers are always right.

‘So, you got the job and you’re in the money, what did you have to do for it?’ Andrew poured himself another cup of tea and settled back in his chair.

It is amazing how many events and people you can remember after thirty-five years. I suppose the memories are stored away in a filing cabinet, and are kept as fresh as the day they were made. My first day on the job came back as clear as if it were yesterday.

I arrived in my school uniform and black lace-up shoes. I was greeted by the manageress. She was a plump, motherly looking woman, who later revealed the temperament of a Rottweiler. She led me into the staff room and indicated a locker against the wall.

‘This is yours. Remember the number, thirteen. No-one else wants it for obvious reasons, but, since you are the newest member of staff, you get it.’

An auspicious start to my first job!

‘These two overalls are to be washed by you and you will be charged five shillings if you lose one.’

It was beginning to sound a bit like school.

‘You will clock-in with this card and clock-out at the end of each shift, and the card will be sent to the council who will send down your wages each Friday.’

She smiled maliciously.

‘You work a week in hand here.’

I had no idea what that meant and clearly my face reflected my confusion.

‘That means you won’t get paid until the second week, and you will get two weeks money at the end of the season.’

Great! Now I was going to be working for nothing for my first week, or so it seemed. I looked at the two grey nylon overalls with faded, unidentified stains down the front of them. Not exactly the height of sixties fashion! Now I dreaded the prospect that some of my school friends might come upon me in this garb.

‘I am giving you to Betty.’

The manageress turned and walked through the door.

‘Hurry up girl, you’ve got a lot to learn and we haven’t got all day.’

A paper round, even with early mornings, began to look rather more attractive as I anticipated what was to come. I assumed that all the women in this place were of the same type as the battle-axe walking in front of me and I was pleasantly surprised to be handed over to a tiny, round, beaming woman who had been waiting for me outside the back door of the café.

‘Hello. She smiled at me. I’m Betty.’

She was wearing the highest pair of stiletto shoes I had ever seen. She must have been under five-foot in height and quite plump, and I had no idea how she managed to stay upright on these thin, three-inch heels. I am nearly six foot and I looked down on my diminutive new companion, wondering how she was going to boss me around. I was soon to find out that looks could be deceiving!

Where were we going? I had thought that I was going to be working in the café. Had I been fired already? About twenty feet from the restaurant there was a small round building. Little did I know at the time, but apart from occasional relief duties in the main café, this was going to be my work place for the next three seasons. Betty opened a door at the back of the structure.

‘In you go youngster’ she said, holding the door for me.

I stepped through into the dark and stood for a moment on the threshold of a new life. The lights snapped on and I looked around me.

‘Now.’ She said firmly. ‘I don’t stand any nonsense, we can have a good time in here away from everyone else but you have to follow the rules, okay.’

I nodded my head.

‘What’s your name and how old are you?’

She busied herself around the old fashioned till perched on the wooden shelf. No mean feat as it stood four feet off the ground and she could barely see over the top of the counter. Obviously, I could now see the reasoning behind the three-inch heels.

‘My name is Imogen and I am fourteen and three months old.’ I replied.

‘Good for you.’ She said, with her head buried under the counter. ‘You sound a bit like a light bulb, bless you.’

You know, I had always thought that about my name too.

Betty stood up and looked me up and down. Being a large girl, the overall was a bit of a tight fit and my black lace up shoes did nothing for my image as a swinging sixties chick.

‘Got any plimsolls that you can run in?’ she asked.

‘Yes I have my school gym shoes at home.’ I replied, slightly bemused as to why I would need running shoes in this tiny round building.

‘Good. Wear them tomorrow, with trousers.’

The plot thickened!

With that, my training began. I discovered that I was going to be assistant manager of the souvenir kiosk. A very important job, she said. I would be left in charge during lunch times and during the holidays when I would be working longer hours. And, I would be entrusted with the kiosk on her day off. A far cry from clearing tables in the café, but an unexpected pleasant surprise. I would be out in the fresh air everyday and I had already taken a liking to Betty.

First, we went back outside and opened the metal shutters. As they opened, the souvenirs were revealed in tidy rows on the downward sloping wooden counter. There were leather goods; purses, wallets, comb holders and manicure sets, all of which had the city crest emblazoned in bright colours on the front. There was a whole section of different coloured sticks of rock, with the lettering running through it, and heart-shaped lollipops proudly bearing our town’s name.

Around the inside of the kiosk hung cards with little ivory name badges, hair slides and combs. For the life of me, I cannot imagine wanting to receive a pair of hair slides with Portsmouth & Southsea engraved on them, let alone wear them. However, I was to discover that they were a popular item for our holidaymakers.

‘Right dear, grab the end of this stand will you ducks.’

Betty had already decided that she was not going to call me by my given name, and did not until the day I left three years later. Can’t say I blame her.

Against the counter, at the back, was a large wooden easel. We dragged it through the back door and out to the front of the kiosk. When we got it into the sunlight, I saw that it held row upon row of postcards, all neatly stacked in their own wooden slots, on both sides of the stand. There were views of the Solent and the Isle of Wight. Pictures of the hovercraft that went between the island and us, and of course, on the top three rows, the obligatory dirty postcards. I knew they were dirty because my mother always grabbed me away whenever she caught me eyeing them during walks along the seafront. Betty, also, was not allowing time for viewing, and taking my elbow pulled me back into the kiosk.

My training began. It was completed on the job because as soon as we got back inside we had our first customer and we were busy all day. It was great fun and I discovered a flair for selling that must have been hidden in my genes along with my nagging skills. Same sort of idea really. Betty was very proud of the fact that I could persuade people that they really needed a comb to go with the purse, and that two sticks of rock would be better than one.

The one job that I really enjoyed, however, involved the gym shoes. I wore them, as instructed, on my second day. Betty explained that there were three boys of about ten or eleven who were coming along each day and stealing handfuls of dirty postcards. She couldn’t leave the kiosk and chase them, and anyway her stilettos would never have allowed her to catch up with them.

My job was to conceal myself behind the postcard stand, when Betty spotted them coming, and to give chase.

‘What do I do with them when I catch up with them?’ I asked innocently.

‘Got a younger brother have you?’ She asked.

‘Yes, I have.’ I replied, mystified.

‘Well, if he took something of yours without asking and you caught him at it, what would you do?’ She smiled grimly.

I waited patiently behind the postcard stand, just out of sight at the allotted time. Sure enough, as predicted, the three boys ran up, grabbed a handful of cards and raced off down the promenade.

They never knew what hit them. They were not aware that I was sprint champion at school, or had dealings with a younger brother. You have to remember that these were the days before ‘Positive Parenting’. So the slaps I administered to these three shoplifter’s behinds, while regaining possession of the stolen articles, were both legal and satisfying.

I arrived back at the kiosk to find a beaming Betty, accompanied by the manageress of the café standing with her arms crossed and with a grim expression on her maternal face. Apparently, she had been serving a customer, with a whipped ice-cream cone, at the outside window when she had seen me streaking past, yelling mild obscenities, after the three robbers.

I thought I was just about to be fired from my first job on my second day.

The Rottweiler nodded at Betty.

‘She’ll do,’ and with that she turned on her heel and went back to her domain.

‘Well done ducks.’ Betty patted my arm.

‘That’s the last we’ll see of those little buggers.’

I realised that my education over the next few years was probably going to be broadened in ways my mother would possibly not approve of. But I was here to stay, and I was now, officially, part of the team.

In time, I did clear tables, serve behind the hot counter and sample the whipped ice-cream between customers. Mostly, though, I stayed in the kiosk and learnt about life and the art of ‘selling-up’ from the first really committed teacher I had ever known.

*   *   *

I looked nervously across at Andrew. ‘Was that too much information? I’m not sure what exactly you’re looking for.’

He smiled reassuringly.

‘I know that it was your first job but it covered three years, and it indicated a few interesting things to me.’ He paused for a moment.

‘You obviously have an excellent memory. I can’t remember much of what happened last week, and you are adaptable to different situations, enjoy meeting people and you can sell both yourself and your products.’

He laughed.

‘You would also appear to be quick off the mark if the occasion calls for it.’

I looked at my watch and was amazed to find that I had only been in the office for half an hour.

‘Are you sure that you want me to go through all my jobs,’ I asked, secretly hoping that he did want to spend more time with me.

‘Absolutely, you have my undivided attention.’

Well that was something I had not been given for a while, so I might as well make the most of it.

©sallygeorginacronin Just an Odd Job Girl 2001

Chapter four coming up on Friday… of course your feedback is welcomed. If I don’t respond to comments for a little while it is because the removers are in and the next couple of days are likely to be a little chaotic.

 

Just an Odd Job Girl – Chapter Two – The curriculum Vitae


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This was the first novel that I wrote back in 2001 when I first moved here 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 Just an Odd Job Girl.

In chapter one we met Imogen whose husband has left her for what she calls a ‘Fast Tracker’ a young ambitious woman who prefers a man who is well established and has already been trained.  Imogen is finding it rather difficult to adjust to the new situation, relying heavily on films and ice-cream to relieve the stress. Just an Odd Job Girl – Chapter One

Chapter Two

Over the last few months, I had begun to amuse myself by imagining people that I met as animals. Not very kind perhaps, but it gave me a sort of perverse pleasure and satisfaction to match the person to the animal as closely as possible. It had almost become a fixation. For example, my husband’s features morphed into those of a mangy, flea ridden alley cat whilst the Fast Tracker had assumed the features of a sharp-snouted rat, scavenging around for other’s leavings. My feelings, as a cornered rabbit, were probably a reflection of the current low esteem these two predators had forced on me, and was something else that had to be dealt with, along with my expanding waistline.

‘Good morning, how may I help you?’ The lady behind the desk had the look of a well fed Cheshire cat. Wide smile and fluffy hair.

‘Good morning. My name is Imogen Smythe. I am here to see Mr. Jenkins.’

‘Of course, we’re expecting you, do take a seat and he won’t keep you a moment.’

I settled down into a comfortable chair and was pleasantly surprised to see that the magazine was this month’s edition. I read my horoscope with some relief, as it said that I was about to be pleasantly surprised by a new acquaintance and that I should grab that romantic opportunity with both hands. I was a little dubious about that last one, as I was not sure what I should grab with both hands. I was relieved because, in the dentist’s last week, I had picked up a magazine which had a disastrous prediction for me, only to discover the magazine was two year’s old. Perhaps if I had read that issue then, I would have had some warning about Peter and the fast tracker, as I seem to remember it mentioned rats deserting a sinking ship.

I was nervously reading the horoscopes for everyone else in the family, when the door to the inner office opened and a giant of a man stood in the doorway.

‘Mrs. Smythe, won’t you come in.’ A deep voice echoed around the small reception area.

If I were to label Mr. Jenkins as an animal, I would have to liken him to a grizzly bear with kind eyes. As I rose to walk towards him, I had little time for reflection but I was struck by a comfortable feeling of security, which was reinforced by the huge hand that came out to clasp mine. The dark, slightly rumpled suit and the greying brown hair, just touching the collar of his cream shirt, completed the picture.

‘Take a seat, won’t you.’ He said in his deep brown voice.

I sat in the chair that he indicated, and rather than go around the large desk to take a seat, he instead sat opposite me and crossed his long legs.

‘I understand that you are looking to go back to work after a bit of a break, is that correct?’

‘Well, I had hoped that perhaps I could find something. It isn’t the money, but I am getting rather bored now that the family has grown up and left home.’ He looked at me for a moment, and I could feel his eyes sweeping up from the floor, pausing briefly at my cleavage (possibly wishful thinking) and then moving on to meet my hesitant gaze.

‘It can be a little daunting, returning to work after such a long time, and it is important that we spend time now to understand your skills and preferences. We don’t want to place you in a position where you are not suited. It would only disappoint you, and our client. Both the client and our staff are very important to us and I have to tell you that we will only place people in positions if we feel that they are capable of the tasks necessary. Does that sound fair enough to you?’

‘Oh yes.’ I uttered quietly. Thinking to myself; chance will be a fine thing. Even this nice man is never going to find something I can do.

‘Perhaps you could let me have your C.V. so that I can get some idea of your work experience in the past?’

I handed the slightly rumpled piece of paper across to him and he glanced down. His index finger tapped gently on his upper lip and I nervously watched his eyes running down the two pages of type-written script.

He smiled and then called through the open door to the receptionist.

‘Elizabeth, would you kindly bring in a pot of tea and some biscuits for myself and Mrs. Smythe? I think we might be here for a while.’

That was encouraging, at least he wasn’t throwing me straight out of the door.

‘You have had rather a lot of jobs in the past haven’t you Mrs. Smythe?’ He glanced up from the paper and looked directly at me.

‘A lot of variety too. Catering, retail, advertising, hotels, but quite a bit of movement. I see that some of these were temporary.’

I grabbed the opportunity with both hands.

‘Absolutely, I moved around quite a bit with my future husband – which accounts for many of the changes.

I tried to look at Mr. Jenkins confidently, but felt somehow that he had not been fooled at all.

‘Well, I think the best thing to do is to talk about all your jobs, including the ones when you were at school and college. This will give me a much better feel for your abilities and the sort of positions that you would enjoy, as well as being suited for.

‘All of them?’ I looked at my watch, not that I had anywhere other than a sofa to go to. ‘Won’t that take up far too much of your time?’

‘No, absolutely not’, he smiled encouragingly. ‘I spend as much time as necessary with every new applicant and I have nothing else scheduled for this morning.’

This was it then. I knew that close scrutiny of some of the positions I had listed would reveal flaws of a very personal nature and that if I were to come out of this positively, it would be necessary to stretch my acting abilities to the limit. I called upon every ounce of backbone I possessed, and sipping the piping hot tea that had arrived I marshalled my thoughts.

Mr. Jenkins left the room and appeared a few minutes later with my original C.V. and a photocopy.

‘Perhaps it might help if you have the C.V. in front of you to jog your memory?’ He smiled and handed me back the instrument of my downfall.

‘In your own time’ he prompted me.

Okay here goes.

CURRICULUM VITAE

NAME: Imogen Smythe  D.O.B.: 10th January 1953   ADDRESS:  65 Blackrock Road,  South Woodford, London E18

O’LEVEL PASSES:
History, Mathematics, English Language,
English Literature and Biology.

COLLEGE EDUCATION:
One-year secretarial course Bankhurst Secretarial College. Shorthand 100 w.p.m. and RSA Stage II typewriting.

WORK EXPERIENCE
1967 – 1969
Seafront restaurant and giftware complex. Weekends/holidays.
Duties: Varied. Souvenir kiosk, ice-cream machine, table clearing, waitress.

1969 – 1971                       Dental nurse/Receptionist/Secretary.
Mr. Forsythe-Brown – 13 Broadstairs Street. Portsmouth.
Duties: Chairside assistant, X-ray technician, reception, accounts, secretarial.

1971 – 1972                       Shop assistant
Huntley’s Department Store.
Duties: Sales assistant: Shoes, Ladies clothing, Cosmetics.

1972 – 1973                       Catering assistant
O’Ryan’s Steak House – Eastbourne, Sussex.
Duties: Bar, Restaurant management, waitressing, stock control, security.

1973 – 1974                       Public House assistant manager
The Quayside Public House, Isle of Wight.
Duties: Bar meals, bar, cleaning, stock control, security.

1974 – 1975                       Temporary Positions
Two insurance companies; Funeral Directors; Boy’s School; Free Newspaper.
Duties: Varied.

1975 – 1977                       Hotel Assistant Manager.
Killbilly Country House hotel. Killbilly, cornwall.
General duties:- Including reservations, restaurant and bar management, training, Public Relations, stock control and accounts.

1977 – 2001                       Housewife and mother.

I hope you are enjoying the book.. Chapter three on Wednesday, and Imogen begins to relate the stories associated with all the jobs that she had undertaken and also more about her life and marriage.

©Sally Georgina Cronin Just an Odd Job Girl 2001