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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Outside: Part Twenty

This is the twentieth part of a fiction serial, in 724 words.

Gillian refused to admit it to herself, but she was bored. She found herself wandering around the house, stopping to look out of the windows at the outside world she could not face venturing into. At least the women next door hadn’t complained about the small pile of the bin bags at the front, which had now grown from one to four.

The blog seemed to be a non-starter. No more comments, not even rude or nasty ones. Maybe that grumpy bloke had been right about her not following anyone or commenting, but she felt more comfortable using email.

Charlotte hadn’t replied, and no truffles had shown up. Maybe it took longer to deliver chocolates than the stuff she usually ordered. Or perhaps her sister had to go back to work as an air hostess, and might bring some back from Belgium, then post them once she was in England.

As she was staring out of the window that afternoon, a large white van drove slowly past, then stopped just in view to her left. Gillian was excited. It was like one of the vans that came from Amazon. Perhaps he was going to deliver the truffles after all.

There was something about sitting in sight of the house that made Thomas excited. As he had suspected, it was a run down semi-detached on a boring estate of identical houses probably built in the late sixties. Featureless, practical, and very dull. Her house in particular made the street look shabby. Bags of rubbish accumulated close to the front door, windows not cleaned, and curtains unwashed. The wrought iron front gate had seen better days, and was barely hanging on with its one remaining hinge. Only a couple of long-dead dry plants stuck out from the top of the planters either side of the door, and you could well imagine the person that lived there was closer to ninety years of age, than thirty.

In every respect, it was perfect. As if he had written the script.

Not a good idea to hang around too long though, especially in his own legally registered vehicle. With one last look in the wing-mirror, he started the engine and drove off. The time would come soon enough.

Seeing the van leaving, Gillian felt a twinge of disappointment. It must have been delivering to a house further up the street. To cheer herself up, she made a cup of tea and opened her Mister Kipling Manor House cake. Two thick slices of that would be nice to eat while she was watching a film. While the kettle was boiling, she looked through the new films she had bought since mum died. Selecting Miss Congeniality, she carefully removed the cellophane wrapper.

Soon back out onto the main A1, Thomas kept in the left hand lane, driving sensibly at less than sixty. He was in no rush to get home, and had a lot to think about. Just the one big job to do, renewing the bannisters in a large staircase that dominated the entrance hall of a rather grand house in County Durham. But he had already turned the spindles weeks ago, so it was just a matter of installing them in the house, then adding the balustrades and end posts. To save time and driving, he had booked into a nice bed and breakfast establishment nearby, and would leave tomorrow morning, starting work that afternoon.

All being well, he would be finished in under a week, including staining the wood. Then he could take some time off.

Not too impressed with the film she had just watched, Gillian decided an early dinner was in order, and went to turn the oven on to heat up. On the box of the lasagna, it had writing that said ‘For a family of four’. But her and mum always had one each, and shared a garlic bread with it. No need to break that tradition. During the time that the oven heated, and the cooking time of fifty minutes, she chose another film to watch.

Something scary this time, as it was still early enough not to leave her with nightmares. What Lies Beneath wasn’t the sort of film mum would have been happy to watch, and Gillian smiled to herself as she pressed play.

Talking out loud, she muttered, “Sorry mum”.

Outside: Part Nineteen

This is the nineteenth part of a fiction serial, in 782 words.

In no rush to reply to the woman, Thomas spent the weekend in his workshop a few miles from his house. He had sourced the wood for the commissioned bookcases from a salvage place he frequented, and it had cost even less than he had anticipated. All the work would be in the carving, something he found theraputic to occupy himself with.

As he carved the requested Art Nouveau design into the sides of the bookcases, it occured to him that it might be nice to find out where she lived. He could perhaps drive by her house on his way back from delivering and installing the bookcases next week. They would be finished by Monday afternoon, but he would wait until later in the week to inform the customer they were ready. Always best to let them think he had spent far more time making them.

Driving past her house when she had no clue who he was would add a nice frisson to the proceedings.

Replying to the last email, he thought carefully about what to say.

Dear Gill, I was touched by your offer to send me money. It brought tears to my eyes, and shows what a lovely person you are, deep inside. My sister came to see me as she had time off from flying. I told her about you, and she wants to send you some flowers to thank you. I cannot accept any money from you, no matter how much I appreciate the offer. I would feel ashamed. My sister paid two bills for me, and bought me some shopping, so things are okay for now. I told her I don’t have your address to send flowers, so she told me to ask you for it, and email her the details. Sorry to hear about that trouble with your neighbours. I wish I could help you, but I will just say that you should ignore them. I bet the Council has enough to worry about, without bothering over a few bin bags. Your friend, Charlie. X

Gillian didn’t see the reply until after she had packed away the grocery delivery that had arrived. She couldn’t decide whether to be pleased or annoyed that Charlotte had turned down her offer of money. Still, it was very nice of her sister to offer to send flowers, even though her and mum had never bothered with them, as they never lasted in their house, for some reason. She read the email again before replying.

Hi, Charlie. Glad to hear your sister was able to help you out with some money, she sounds like a good sister to have. I don’t have any brothers or sisters. In fact I have no family at all since my mum died. Tell her not to send any flowers. They cost too much and don’t last a week. Chocolates are better, and cheaper, but she doesn’t have to send me any. If she does, I really like those Belgian Truffles. Like I said, they are cheaper than flowers.
My address is
Miss Gillian Baxter
53 Longcliffe Road
Grantham
Lincolnshire
Keep in touch, and let me know how you are getting on. Love, Gill. x

It didn’t bother her in the least to send her address. Charlotte never went out, so she was unlikely to ever show up at the house. And she might get a nice box of truffles.

It was no surprise to Thomas that she had readily sent the address. They always did. He knew the country quite well, but checked his big map book anyway. Grantham was a place he had only ever passed on the main A1 road, and it was sixty miles away from his home in a village on the outskirts of Sheffield. Fortunately, it was just twenty three miles north of Stamford, where he had to deliver the bookcases. It would be very easy to divert into the town on his way home.

The customer was very new-money. He had bought the house on the edge of Stamford as a weekend retreat from some northern suburb of London, and discovered it was built in the Art Nouveau style, before the turn of the century. Determined to exploit those origins, he had no doubt spent a great deal of money buying up period pieces in the same style, and furniture that was probably, if not almost certainly, reproduction. Thomas arrived at the house early, and spent much longer assembling the bookcases than it actually needed. Taking time and appearing to be careful only exaggerated his reputation as a craftsman.

By three that afternoon, he had stopped to refuel his van just a mile or so outside Grantham town centre.

Winning The Pools

Long before there was a National Lottery, or instant-win scratchcards, in Britain we had the Football Pools. This was a weekly gamble on the results of football matches played all over the country, and the companies involved employed door-to-door collectors.

They would come at the same time in the evening, on the same day each week. After taking your completed Pools Form and the stake money, they would hand you a new form for next week’s matches. They always wished you ‘good luck’ as they left, as it was not unknown for any lucky winner to tip their collector handsomely.

I started ‘doing the pools’ as it was known, quite late in life. I was already married, and attracted by the increase in jackpot prizes that had been widely publicised. For a modest outlay, I had the chance of winning hundreds of thousands of pounds. Considering a very nice house in Wimbledon had just cost us only £27,000, a prize approaching £500,000 was a life-changing amount.

This was no random gamble in the form of a lucky dip, or selection of numbers. It involved betting on which teams were more likely to win or draw, and whether they were playing at their home ground, or away. Not an easy job for me, as I had not been a football fan since I was eleven years old. However, I did buy newspapers, and could read about the current performance of football teams in the sports section.

In fact, the Pools was so widely played, newspapers would also supply ‘pools forecasts’ to help people filling out their pools forms, which were actually called (for some unknown reason) ‘coupons’. Big winners would often attract publicity, mostly bad, about how they had wasted their winnings. But there was a box to tick for ‘No publicity’. I always ticked that box, just in case.

My preferred option was called ‘Three Eight From Tens’. You had to pick eight score draws from ten matches played, and I played three lines of that, using different teams on each line. On Sundays, I would check in the back of my newspaper after it had been delivered, to see if any of my lines had won.

Sometimes there were small prizes, based on how many others had picked the same results, but it was the winner of the huge jackpot that we all dreamed of becoming. The only person in Britain to pick the eight score draws from just ten games.

For a long time, nothing happened. Then one day it did.

I had eight score draws on one line. I checked it at least a dozen times, and it was true. My heart was beating fast, and yet I was sure there would be some mistake. There was a number to telephone if you thought you had won, and I dialled it with trembling fingers. I used Littlewoods, the biggest of the pools companies, and I got through to a nice lady at their headquarters in Liverpool.

She checked my numbers, and confirmed that I did indeed have eight score draws, and should win a ‘substantial’ prize. I left my details, and she agreed that I had ticked ‘No Publicity’, so would be sent a cheque with my winnings. She was unable to tell me the full amount, as it was too early to have vetted any other claims.

To say I was excited would be an understatement. I telephoned some of my closest friends, and arranged to meet them at lunchtime in a south London pub. My (first) wife and I drove over there just after midday, and I told everyone the great news. I was free with the drinks, and wondering what I was going to spend that small fortune on.

We discussed buying houses for friends and relatives, exotic holidays, new cars, even giving up work and living abroad. And I was only thirty years old.

When the letter came a few days later, I could see the company name printed on the envelope, and almost ripped the cheque in my excitement to tear it open.

Despite looking at the numbers and typed figures at least fifty times, I had to face the disappointment. It was just £410. The accompanying letter informed me that it would have been £410,000, but almost 1,000 other people had also guessed the same eight score draws that week. Okay, £410 was over a month’s salary for me at the time, but it took a very long while for me to shake off the disappointment of not winning the jackpot.

In 1986, The Pools paid out its first £1,000,000 prize. By then, I had long stopped bothering to play. I reasoned I had missed my chance, and that pools numbers, like lightning, don’t strike twice in the same place.

Littlewoods is still running Footballs Pools to this day, though since the National Lottery began in 1994, hardly anyone ‘does the pools’ anymore.

Outside: Part Eighteen

This is the eighteenth part of a fiction serial, in 712 words.

There didn’t seem to be much point continuing to chat with Matt on the email. He had made his decision, and Gillian was annoyed with him anyway, for worrying her. So she tried the blog instead, and saw a comment on her last post.

oldgrumpybloke
You say you might be doing something wrong, and you are.
No tags.
No categories.
You don’t follow anyone else.
You don’t comment on other blogs.
Seems to me you just want people to feel sorry for you.
My advice to you is to delete your blog, open the door, and go out into the real world.

She couldn’t understand why some people could be so rude, and there was no way she was going to click to like that comment, or bother to reply.

Forgetting she hadn’t read Charlotte’s email, she logged on to the supermarket website, and started to compile her grocery order for delivery later that week. She couldn’t fool herself that her clothes were no longer comfortable, and decided it was about time she changed her diet to eat more healthily.

After almost half an hour scrolling up and down the huge number of selections available, she was pleased with her order. Only two choux buns instead of six, and ordinary plain digestives, instead of those covered in milk chocolate. There was even the substitution of sweeteners, for the granulated sugar that she had two and a half spoons of in every cup of tea.

The biggest sacrifice had been ordering only two bags of frozen chips, instead of four. But that was mainly because the freezer was almost full. And Diet Pepsi. She didn’t really like it that much, but of you gulped it down, it tasted much the same as full-fat Pepsi. Anyway, it was better than Diet Coke. Much sweeter.

Thomas Halloran wasn’t in the least bothered that there was no reply to his last email. He liked the waiting, the heightened anticipation. Knowing full well that someone like her would eventually cave in and reply made it all the more enjoyable. And he had just quoted someone two thousand five hundred pounds for a pair of carved bookcases that would cost him less than three hundred to make. They had confirmed the order without hesitation.

Life was good.

Leaving the rubbish bag out the front had worked well. Gillian had put on the security light, opened the front door, and flung the bag along the wall in the direction of the side gate. It had ripped a little bit as it landed, but it was a long way from next door, so that Kirsty had no cause for complaint.

Unable to sleep, Gillian got up at after one in the morning, and made some hot chocolate. She liked the real stuff, Cadbury’s powder mix, stirred into warm milk. While she sipped the drink that she hoped would settle her down for some sleep soon, she remembered Charlotte’s email, and logged on to read it again. Feeling sorry for her, she composed a long reply.

Dear Charlotte, I am so sorry to hear about you not having enough clothes, and your problems with paying the bill. As I said, I feel a real connection with you, and think we are very similar. I was left some money when my mum died, so I could help you out by sending you some. But that would mean you would have to send me your bank account details for telephone banking, and I’m guessing you wouldn’t want to do that, considering I am a stranger on the Internet.
I have been having trouble with my new neighbours. They had a really noisy party and then complained about my bin bags and threatened to report me to the council. The one who comes round is called Kirsty, and she looks like a man. She is so angry all the time, I feel scared of her. I have to put the bags outside the front now, so they don’t have anything to moan about.
Let me know if you want me to send you some money for your bills. Love from Gill. x

That night, she dropped off on the sofa as she was watching the DVD of Little Women, starring Elizabeth Taylor.

‘His Ladyship’ is Now Available for Pre-Order.

Get Stevie’s new book for just 99p! Pre-order now, using the link on her post.

Stevie Turner

My new LGBT novel, ‘His Ladyship‘, reached the Longlist of the 2021 Page Turner Awards and is now available for pre-order at the special price of just £0.99 /$0.99 until October 24th, when the price will rise to £1.99/$2.99:

You can find ‘His Ladyship’ here. Thanks to Phil Huston for the edits and Teagan Geneviene for the cover.

Norman Wicks is 57, overweight, and has diabetes. He is sick of his life. He has never left home, had a girlfriend, or held down any kind of job. The only friends he has are online, as he prefers to stay in the comfort zone of his bedroom. His devoted 92 year old mother Agnes waits on him hand and foot.

Norman has a secret he has kept hidden from the world for the majority of his life, but now he is desperate to bring it out into the…

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Dog Language

We all know that dogs can’t talk, but instead have their ways to show us how they are feeling. Using posture, tail movements, and occasionally barking. We can often manage to translate a lot of that into understanding their moods or desires.

I found these three graphics on Pinterest, and they all seem to agree on what our best friends are trying to ‘say’. I recognise so much of this from Ollie, and if you have a pet dog, or have ever owned one, I am sure you will find it familiar too.