Outside: Part Twenty-Four

This is the twenty-fourth part of a fiction serial, in 763 words.

Some harassed-looking young mums were struggling to get their excited kids home from school. Shouting at them to keep up, or to wait at the kerb ahead in case they got run over by a car. Many were trying to cope with a baby or toddler in a buggy at the same time, and a few had bulging carrier bags full of groceries dangling from the handles. School turn out time was always busy, but a nondescript man walking from a plain car carrying a holdall went unnoticed.

Thomas circled the block until the streets were no longer crowded. Quite soon, the older children would be coming out of senior schools, and he wanted to get a move on before they arrived.

After a nice warm bubble bath, Gillian slipped into a clean pink fluffy dressing gown, one of the new things she had bought. It was so big, it wrapped right around her, and the hood helped to dry her damp hair. Then she went downstairs to see if anything in the freezer caught her fancy for dinner.

She wasn’t looking at the CCTV camera while her head was in the freezer, so didn’t see a man casually throw a holdall over her side gate.

Still trying to decide between some flaky pastry chicken slices or crispy filled pancakes with ham and mushroom, the door buzzer startled her. She closed the freezer door, and walked into the living room to look at the camera monitor. There was a man outside wearing a reflective waistcoat, like the Amazon delivery drivers wore, and he was carrying a box that wasn’t plain cardboard.

Pressing to speak, Gillian kept an eye on the screen. “Yes, what is it please?” He held the box up so she could see it clearly. It was the biggest box of Belgian truffles she had ever seen. “Gillian Baxter? I have a delivery for you”. So Charlotte’s sister had kept her promise after all. Forgetting herself in the excitement, she opened the door all the way.

“I’m Gillian Baxter, yes that’s me”. The man reached into his jacket under the reflective vest, mumbling. “Just something to sign please, Gillian”.

She was still staring at the box of chocolates when the edge of Thomas’s right hand slammed into the bridge of her nose with such force it made her stagger back into the room. It was as if a flashbulb had gone off behind her eyes, and the power of the blow made tears flow immediately. Stumbling over the small armchair that nobody ever sat on, her legs flew into the air as she struck the back of her head on the floor.

It was over in a second. Thomas was in the room, the door closed behind him. The woman was groaning, but not moving. He quickly ran into every room, just in case someone else was in the house. Then he unlocked the back door in the kitchen, and walked around to the side gate to retrieve his holdall. Gillian wasn’t moving, but he could see her chest rising and falling under the dressing gown, so knew she was breathing. He turned her onto her side so she wouldn’t choke, then went over to the CCTV monitor and examined the recording device underneath.

After a few moments checking the controls on the remote, he erased the previous twenty-four hours of the tape, including the moment he had arrived. As the machine whirred, he turned and locked the front door, adding the short security chain that Gillian had omitted to fasten. Content that there would be no intrusion, he opened the holdall and removed what he needed for now, working quickly before she woke up.

The television was on, some inane late afternoon quiz. He found the remote on the sofa and increased the volume slightly. Not enough to disturb any neighbour, but sufficient to cover any sound he was going to make.

Although he had known in advance that she would be heavy, getting her upstairs was more difficult than he had anticipated. After two attempts to drag her up the stairs holding her under the arms, he changed to lifting her over his shoulder, feeling his body complain about carrying such a weight. He made it upstairs in one go, accelerating into the first room on his left before he thought he might drop her, then dumped her unceremoniously onto the top of a double bed.

All that effort had made him hot and thirsty, so he went down and put the kettle on, taking his favourite tea bags from the holdall.

Selling Yourself: Part Four

Reblogging part four in this series of six from 2013. I got another job, but didn’t enjoy it very much this time!

beetleypete

The reason the interview for my next job was on a Saturday, was because the staff started far too early, to allow for a weekday interview process. After less than seven days, technically unemployed, but paid until the end of the month, I was taken on by this new company, following the most basic meet and greet, and a quick driving assessment. They were so short of staff, even the top managers were out doing rounds, so as long as I could read, write, and drive, I was certain to be employed.

I was back on van sales once again, this time for a bread company in the Medway area, Betabake. Knowing that they had little hope of competing with the brand leaders like Wonderloaf, and Sunblest, they concentrated instead on the neglected ‘personal retail’ market. This was a posh term for door-to-door selling and delivering, something like a milkman…

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Film Review: My Cousin Rachel (2017)

***No spoilers***

This is the second film adaptation of Daphne Du Marier’s novel. The first was in 1952, starring Richard Burton and Olivia de Havilland. Unfortunately, I have never seen the 1952 version, so the modern remake is spared my usual complaint about remakes on this occasion.

It is an historical romantic drama, set in England and Italy during the early 19th century. Trying to avoid spoilers, I can only give a vague outline of the plot. A young orphan is taken in and raised by his cousin, living a comfortable life in 1830s Cornwall. Philip adores Ambrose, the older relative, who is exceptionally kind to him.

Ambrose decides to travel to Italy, to improve his health in the sunny climate. Philip is left in the care of his godfather, Mr Kendall, and his daughter Louise. She grows very close to Philip, and expects that one day they will marry. News arrives from Italy. Ambrose has fallen madly in love with a widow named Rachel, and they are married. She also happens to be a distant cousin of the family.

Very soon, letters arrive from Philip. His illness is becoming worse, and he suspects Rachel and her lawyer friend, Mr Rainaldi, of colluding to poison him. Young Philip is worried, so makes the long journey to Florence to confront Rachel. On arrival, he is devastated to discover that Ambrose is dead and buried. Rachel has left the country, and the lawyer Rainaldi tells him she has left everything to him, in accordance with Ambrose’s original will.

Not long after he returns to England, Rachel arrives at the family home in Cornwall. Philip is immediately smitten by the beauty of the older woman, and begins to lavish gifts and attention on her, much to the chagrin of Mr Kendall, and his daughter Louise. He tells Rachel he wants her to have the inheritance, as Ambrose’s widow, but she declines. Eventually, he forces it on her legally, along with the extensive collection of jewels once owned by his mother.

But he soon starts to become ill, with similar symptoms to those suffered by cousin Ambrose. Then he finds letters in a trunk of books left by Ambrose, and becomes convinced that Rachel is guilty. She stalls his concerns by becoming his lover, but the tension builds when she refuses to marry him.

That’s it for the story. I will say it has a satisfying twist that I suspected, but still enjoyed. Period detail is wonderful, and the casting feels just perfect too. Rachel Weisz as Rachel is simply lovely to look at, as well as playing her role to perfection. Sam Clafin is very convincing as the naive, love-struck young man, and the under-used Iain Glen strikes just the right note as the concerned godfather.

An exceptionally good film that I enjoyed much more than I expected to.

(For the information of UK readers, this should be available free on All4, the Channel 4 streaming service.)

Here’s a trailer.

Outside: Part Twenty-Three

This is the twenty-third part of a fiction serial, in 763 words.

When the reply came back from Charlotte, Gillian was not best pleased.

Dear Gill. You are very kind to offer me to come and live in your house, but I couldn’t possibly do that. Not only could I not face travelling to where you live, I would be ashamed to let you pay for everything, and just cannot let you do that. But your offer proves that you are a lovely person with a great heart, and I am so happy that we are friends. Love, Charlie. xx

That wasn’t very grateful. After all, she had offered to send a taxi, and she didn’t even know how far away Charlotte lived. Not that it bothered her to live alone. Unless she could have got mum back, she was better off being on her own, with nobody to answer to. For all she knew, Charlotte wouldn’t like the same kind of films, or what she cooked for dinner. Oh well, up to her if she wanted to miss out.

Checking the blog, Gillian was surprised to see a new follower, and a nice message.

StephaniesWorld.

Hi there. I am pleased to have come across your blog. Nobody understands why I don’t want to go out, not even my mum and dad. I tell them I am happy at home, but they say I can’t be, and I should have friends, and be outside enjoying life. They just don’t get it, and my mum says I will have to get a job soon so have to go out. I wish I could run away, but that would mean going outside. Everything seems so big and noisy. Traffic goes by so fast, and people walk around at such speed too. I haven’t been out for almost five years now, and hope I never have to. I am going to follow your blog, so you can call me Steff.

Not really knowing how to reply to that, Gillian clicked ‘Like’ on the comment, then went into the kichen to toast some waffles.

Thomas Halloran was making his preparations. He had arranged a hire car, as using his own van would not do. The choice was a boring two-door hatchback. A basic model in white that was the same as a million others on the road. Informing the company that he might need it for a few months, he had been asked to pay a deposit and leave card details for any additional charges. Essential items like toiletries and some clothes to change into had been packed into a holdall, along with some other items already kept in there. In a car accessory shop, he had bought a yellow hi-vis gilet, the sort worn by road repair workers. Paying in cash of course.

Driving the exceedingly dull small car to a large supermarket on the outskirts of the city, he purchased his favourite brand of tea bags and instant coffee, a packet of real butter, and some granary bread. Then making his first-ever trip along the confectionery aisle, he added a large box of expensive Belgian truffles.

Those waffles had been delicous with some raspberry syrup, and she had to stop herself having more by settling down to watch a film. A quick look through the newer DVD selections had her choosing something a bit different. She liked Tom Hanks in the film Big, so had bought a more recent one, called Forrest Gump.

The drive of sixty miles would only take just over ninety minutes, Thomas estimated. But as he wanted to arrive just before it was getting dark, he decided to drive to a nearby shopping complex and have a long lunch in a chain pub that was popular with families. They were open all day now, so closing times were no longer an issue.

By the time Thomas had eaten, and was driving to the junction where he could join the A1 heading south, Gillian had turned off the film before it finished. She had found it confusing, and rather silly. And she also thought it wasn’t nice to make fun of a young man who was obviously a bit slow in the head. She decided to have a nice long bath instead, and would think about what to cook for dinner while she was soaking herself.

In a side street five minute’s walk from Gillian’s house, Thomas parked the car, making sure it was in nobody’s way, not obstructing a drive or entrance, and legally parked in an area with no lines or restrictions.

It was going to be there for some time.

Selling Yourself: Part Three

Next part in the series of six from 2013. Part three of my early days of employment. This didn’t end so well! I think only Jude has seen this.

beetleypete

My time with sausages and pies was over for now, though I would re-visit this area of sales at a later date. Having sneaked a day off to attend an interview, I had a new job offer, and I was off, to sales pastures new.

The confectionery market is well-known to us in the UK. We have a national sweet tooth, and there are plenty of companies out there willing to exploit this. I saw an advertisement for one of those companies, although the sweets were only a small part of a more complex organisation. Jimmy Goldsmith, father of Jemimah Khan, and businessman extraordinaire, owned a company called Cavenham Foods, producing food of many types. As he is long dead, I feel it is in order to use the actual names.

One subsidiary of this, the third largest company in its field at the time, was an offshoot selling cheap…

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Outside: Part Twenty-Two

This is the twenty-second part of a fiction serial, in 770 words.

For Thomas, the staircase job was very enjoyable. The owners of the house were holidaying in Antigua, so he was looked after by the housekeeper. The elderly lady kept him well supplied with hot drinks and delicious food throughout the day, and left him alone to do his work. She treated him with great respect, and called him Mister Halloran. He liked that a lot.

His fee for the work had been paid in advance, to include his necessary accommodation nearby, and general living expenses. Once he had finished on Friday, he was looking forward to taking some much needed time off, unencumbered by any financial concerns.

As he was thinking about his forthcoming break from work, Gillian had experienced a light bulb moment, and was looking at a website on her laptop.

Whe she had worked at the Unemployment Office, they had used a waste removal company called Biffa. The amount of rubbish generated by all of the staff in that busy office, added to the bins in the waiting room full of job-seekers, was a lot more than could be accommodated by the conventional bins provided by the local Council. So at the back of the office, in the car park, there was a huge bin on wheels. This was owned by that company called Biffa, and they came to empty it twice a week.

She couldn’t arrange it online, but there was a contact number. So she rang them.

“Hello, I need one of your bins for my house. Do you do private addresses? It would need to be close to my front door, as I am unable to go outside very far. They would also have to wheel it from the door to the street. But I have a good sized path from the side gate that would be suitable.”

The young woman on the other end was very friendly.

“Of course we can arrange that, madam. There will be a deposit to cover the container, and a monthly fee for removal. In your area, that is usually quite early, around six in the morning. If that will be alright for you, we can deliver your bin within three working days, and collect it the following week on the same day. I will just need some card details for payment, and I can process your order”.

Gillian agreed to everything, and gave her card details. When the bin arrived, she would have to try to be brave enough to put all the bags and cardboard into it one night, but at least that would get Kirsty and the Council off her back. As for the bags that Kirsty had thrown over the back gate in the garden, they could stay there, for all she cared.

Not her problem.

Thomas sat in the bed and breakfast, thinking it was high time he contacted her again. So he compiled an email on his phone, and pressed ‘Send’ before going out for dinner.

Dear Gill. I keep thinking about how well you cope. I can’t stand people coming to my door, or neighbours knocking to see how I am, or wanting to borrow a pint of milk. It’s all I can do to open the door even a crack, to be honest. And I have no idea what to do once the groceries my sister bought me run out. As far as I can tell, you are so much braver than me, and coping so much better. I am so pleased you are my friend, and staying in contact with me. Love, Charlie. X

When Gill spotted the new email, she was in a positive mood about the bin, so she replied immediately.

People like us have to stick together, Charlie. I have my CCTV to see who is at the door, and if I don’t want to talk to them, I don’t answer the intercom buzzer. I have just arranged to have a private bin collection, so the Council and my neighbours have nothing to complain about. To be honest, I think you should consider moving in with me. I have a nice big spare room, and enough money to feed us both, and give us a good life. I don’t mean anything funny, like being a couple or anything, but we could have a great time here as friends, as we are so similar. I know that can’t happen though, as you won’t go outside. But maybe if I sent a taxi for you, you could be brave enough to try just once?

When he read that reply, Thomas began to chuckle. Then he laughed out loud.

Selling Yourself: Part Two

As requested by some readers, here is part 2 of my 6-part series ‘Selling Yourself’, from 2013. I have decided to repost them all, and I think only Jude has seen this one before.

beetleypete

I was a bit fed up with records by now. I wanted to listen to them, collect them, and discuss them, not sell ones I didn’t like, to argumentative heavy metal fans, and old ladies. I researched new markets in which to invest my skills.

Food, and shopping for food, was changing dramatically by then. Large supermarkets, called Fine Fare, Safeway, and Tesco, were beginning to dominate high streets, especially in the suburbs. Even the traditional grocery shops, represented by Lipton’s,  J. Sainsbury, and the ubiquitous Co-Op, were enlarging their stores, and reducing the amount of goods physically served to the customer. Self-Service was the new shopping catchphrase, and working women were no longer the housewives of the past.

Along with the busier lifestyles, came the need for food that was easier to prepare, required less fuss and bother, and could all be bought in one place. It wasn’t quite…

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Outside: Part Twenty-One

This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 727 words.

When the new clothes were delivered, Gillian went through the usual rigmarole of asking the man to leave the boxes just by the door. Then she half-opened it when he had gone, and pulled the boxes in one by one.

Each outfit was tried on in turn, and she decided the extra comfort from the larger size had been a great idea. That left her having to clear out the wardrobe to make room for the new things, so she stuffed all the old clothes that were now too tight into bin bags, and carried them downstairs. Then she had to flatten out the cardboard boxes they had come in, and tie them into a bundle with some coarse string from a loose bundle in one of the kitchen drawers.

Mum had always kept things like old string. She would say, “You never know when it might come in handy”.

After a nice dinner of cod in breadcrumbs with chips and peas, she checked the camera before opening the door just enough. Standing inside on the step, she flung the bags out along the wall. But piles of clothing were surprising heavy, so they didn’t go very far. Last but not least, she lobbed the bundle of cardboard onto was was left of the front lawn, then scuttled back inside before anyone walked past.

Two days later, the door buzzer made her jump as she was eating some toast spread with some tasty Bonne Maman strawberry jam. Wiping her hands on her new pink tracksuit top, she walked over and looked at the camera. It was that Kirsty again, and this time there was a man with her. He was wearing a suit, and carrying a clipboard. She pressed the button to speak. “Can I help you?” The man leaned forward, as if that helped her to hear what he said.

“My name is David James, and I am from the Council. We are following up a complaint from your neighbour here, Miss Ward. He reached inside his pocket and produced a photo identity card with the name of the local Council printed above his picture. Gillian was annoyed with Kirsty, but unsettled by the smart man doing all the talking.

“So what do you want? I can’t open the door as I am not well. I don’t go outside because I am ill”. Kirsty looked at the man and shook her head, raising her eyebrows and rolling her eyes as she did so. He leaned in again and pressed the button. “You have to do something about your waste, I’m afraid. We can’t have bags thrown in the back alley, or outside the front of your house. It’s unhygienic for one thing, and also unsightly. If you don’t do something about it, you face a heavy fine, perhaps even a court summons”.

Gillian was annnoyed, and her face flushed as she replied. “This is my house, all paid for, and I owe nobody nothing. What I do with my own property is my business, so I would like you both to go away, and leave me alone”. The man and Kirsty started to talk to each other, with Kirsty looking aggressive, and waving her arms around. Gillian couldn’t hear what they were saying, as neither of them had pressed the button to speak.

After a couple of minutes, the man started writing on a form fixed to his clipboard. When he had finished, he pressed to speak again.

“I am going to put this notice of compliance through your letterbox. You have twenty-eight days to clear away this rubbish, and I will check once that has expired. If you fail to do this, I will consider court action to make you do it. Do you understand, miss? That made Gillian bullish. They had to take her to court then. She felt they were unlikely to do that, as it would be expensive. She pressed the button, uncharacteristically raising her voice as she spoke. “Thank you. Now go away!”

Her toast had got cold now, so she put three fresh slices under the grill and got the jam out of the cupboard. She thought she might watch a film, and later on she could see if Charlotte had emailed her.

Sitting in front of the television eating the fresh toast, she ignored the form protruding through her letterbox.

Bilking

This word may be unfamiliar to you, but it is well-known to taxi-drivers in Britain. Here is a general definition.

Non payment of fares – ‘Bilking’
Non payment of a taxi fare is called ‘bilking’ which is an offence under the Fraud Act.
Any customer unable to pay the full fare for their
journey will be returned to the original pick-up point or the local
police station. Passengers must ensure they have sufficient funds
to pay for the journey before it starts, or inform the driver
accordingly. The driver will be happy to give you an estimated fare
to your destination
.

During the short time I worked as a taxi driver in Kent from late 1973 until early 1976, I soon became used to the variety of ingenious ways some passengers would use to avoid paying the fare.

Some basic fare-avoidance tactics were obvious to anyone.
Suddenly jumping out of the car at traffic lights and running off.
Claiming to have no money at the end of the journey and promising to bring it to the taxi office the next day.
Offering much less than the amount due and claiming that was all it cost them the previous day.

Fortunately, they were not that frequent. But as a local private-hire taxi using your own car for pre-booked jobs, there was little redress available. Fighting someone for the money was not a good option, and calling the police was pointless, as it was considered to be a civil offence of non-payment of a bill. The more recent changes that made it an offence were not law at the time, and the police in Kent would never have considered attending an address to enforce payment of my fare.

However, it was the more talented fraudsters that could cost you the most money. Often employing elaborate scams, and being so convincing, I was frequently left having to admire their talent, despite being out of pocket.

One morning, I was asked to attend the office of a respectable local Estate Agent. As I stopped outside, a well-dressed man walked out. He was carrying a heavy box, and turned in the doorway, calling out “Goodbye, Anita. I will see you later”. The young woman inside waved to him as he got into the back of my cab. He asked to go to Lewisham Town Hall, a distance of around nine miles. On the way, he told me that he was taking a box of papers to the planning department, as the Estate Agents were acting for the builders of a new development in the Lewisham area. On arrival, he asked me to wait, and to take him somewhere else after.

The man reappeared some twenty minutes later, minus the box. He got back into my car and asked me to take him to Westerham, a small town in Kent. This was a further fifteen miles to the south, and I guessed it would take around an hour, in traffic. When we got to Westerham, he pointed at an Estate Agent’s shopfront, and said he was going in there before returning to the place where I had picked him up that morning. I couldn’t park close to that, but found a space at the other end of the shops, agreeing to wait. By now, the fare due was considerable. Including waiting time, it was almost fifteen pounds, and in 1974 that was equivalent to around £150 at today’s values.

After thirty minutes, I went to have a look through the window of the shop, and he wasn’t in there. I went in and asked for him. As I didn’t know his name, I described his clothing and appearance. The young man inside nodded. “Oh yes, he was a potential buyer. He asked for a leaflet about one of the houses in the window, took it, and left”. I walked back to the car realising I had been conned. The man had obviously wanted to get to Westerham, and had staged a really elaborate ploy to get a free taxi ride without making me suspicious. No point wasting any more time, so I drove back to the original Estate Agency in Bexleyheath where I had picked him up. I wanted to know if he had any connection with that company.

When Anita had finished a phone call, I asked her about the man, without telling her he had bilked the fare. “Oh yes, he was nice. He came in carrying a box, and was asking me about a property in Bostall Heath. He said if I could ring him a taxi he would go and look at it from the outside, then come back in the same taxi to arrange a viewing over the weekend if he liked the area. When he didn’t come back, I presumed he didn’t like the look of the house Why? Was there a problem?”

I told her he had left a pen in my cab, and I was going to return it. I was too embarrassed to tell her the truth.

Selling Yourself: Part One

Back in 2013, I wrote a six-part series about my life before I became an EMT. This is the first part. I warn you, it is quite a long read. Not many of you have seen it before ( Except Jude and Vinnie) so it may interest you to know more about my early working life. If you enjoy it let me know, and I will re-post the rest in order.

beetleypete

From the time I left school, until I joined the London Ambulance Service, was a period of less than twelve years. During that time, I had an unusually high number of jobs, all but one of which involved selling, in one form, or another. I have written about some of those jobs before, but I have recently reflected on just how easy it was to get work, to come and go as you pleased, sometimes starting and leaving three jobs in the same year. In today’s world, of high unemployment, no-hours contracts, reduced Trade Union rights, and a return to the Victorian era. with no paid holidays, or sick leave, it makes me realise just how easy it was, to live in the 1960’s and 1970’s, compared to the present day. My own employment history, before settling down in the Ambulance Service, may seem like a poor CV. In those…

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