Apologies. There will be no episode of ‘Life With Mabel’ today.
Life got in the way of writing and blogging.
Hopefully back to normal on Saturday.
Apologies. There will be no episode of ‘Life With Mabel’ today.
Life got in the way of writing and blogging.
Hopefully back to normal on Saturday.
This is the twenty-ninth part of a fiction serial, in 742 words.
Mabel soon settled into the new life of a housewife. Not having to hold down a full time job, she found her everyday chores quite pleasant, for the first time ever. The purchase of some cookbooks even saw her experimenting with some new dishes for dinner, many of which were not to Reg’s taste.
“What’s that flavour, Mabel love?” His face was screwed up as he spoke. “Garlic, Reg. It’s good for you, and adds something to a normal casserole”. He held up a spoon to show her what was on it. “I don’t think these peas are cooked properly, love. And they have gone a funny colour too”. She shook her head. “They are chickpeas, Reg. Good roughage”. To be fair to him, he carried on eating. But she wasn’t surprised to hear him making a cheese and pickle sandwich after she had gone to bed.
Reg’s job took him away from home more and more, with frequent overnight trips to attend meetings, mainly in London. He still refused to have anything to do with his mum, so stayed in hotels arranged by the railway. On those nights, Elsie would stop over. They would listen to records and drink Port, sometimes they even danced together. The occasional coach trips were more Elsie’s thing. Mabel wasn’t so keen on visiting stately homes, but she enjoyed the seaside trips, and the ones where they stopped overnight. They went back to Scarborough the next summer, and it was even better than the first time.
It seemed her and Reg had worked out a pretty good way of living apart together, with nobody apparently suspecting it was all a sham. He never asked her about Elsie, and she didn’t mention Malcolm. Then one day Reg announced him and Malcolm were going on a golfing holiday. Two weeks in Florida. Mabel was stunned. “All the way to America? Are you going on a liner?” He chuckled. “Course, not. We are flying. Gonna get a taxi from here down to Gatwick Airport, and fly on Panam”.
While he was away, Elsie moved in for the whole two weeks. She had to go to work still, but came home every evening and they sat and ate dinner like a real couple. Elsie was not so fond of garlic either, as it turned out. “I can’t eat this, darling. It’s got a funny smell”. After that, Mabel cooked her traditional food.
The years slipped by, each one much the same as the one before. It shocked Mabel when Reg started to talk about retirement. “I might as well go at fifty-five in a couple of years, Mabel love. The pension is bigger if I wait until I’m sixty, but we can manage well enough either way”. The last thing she wanted was for Reg to be around the house all day. Hopefully, he would just spend more time at the golf club, but you never knew. She gave it a few days, then broached the subject.
“Been thinking, Reg. I don’t get my Woolworth pension until I’m sixty, nor my State Pension until then neither. So why don’t you wait until you’re sixty, get that bigger pension? At least that way if anything happens to you, I will be alright. And you should increase our life insurances too, just in case”. Reg nodded. Okay, whatever you say, love. Though the house will be paid off soon, and we ain’t got nobody to leave any money to”. She smiled. “We’ve got each other to leave it to. When we’re both gone, I don’t care what happens to the money”.
Elsie was seven years older than Mabel, so she got her State Pension and retired when Mabel was fifty-three. With no intention of carrying on working in the baker’s, Elsie became a daily visitor to Mabel’s house. She would get Terry to drop her off after Reg had left for work, and then collect her in the late afternoon if Reg was due back, or stop overnight if he was away working. They were happy times, with the women completely relaxed in each other’s company, living something of their fantasy where they were always together. Some days, they didn’t even bother to get dressed again, after the first time in the bedroom. Mabel joked that they were like those Hippes in America, wandering around in the buff.
She tried not to think about Reg’s impending retirement.
That was going to change everything.
This is the twenty-eighth part of a fiction serial, in 740 words.
The week in Scarborough went well. The caravan was very nice, and considering they only needed one bed, very roomy too. They walked along the seafront, played Bingo, went to the cinema the only afternoon it rained, and spent most of the rest of the time in bed. Elsie really was up for it. Mabel couldn’t remember a time when she hadn’t been. On the way home on the coach, Elsie had come to a decision.
“Once my mum has gone, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t stop over at mine sometimes. Terry won’t care, all he does is watch telly anyway. And with mum being diagnosed last month, it’s not going to be too long”. Mabel was confused. Elsie hadn’t mentioned anything about her mum all week, so she asked her what was up. “Colon cancer. She left it too late, so they say it’s inoperable. Won’t be long before she has to go in for terminal care, so she tells me”. Mabel nodded. Elsie was a hard woman, and showed no emotion at all.
Elsie’s mum lasted six weeks, most of that spent in hospital. Mabel went to the funeral out of respect, even though she had only met the old girl once. They had a few drinks in a pub after, and Terry and Elsie were both speculating about the insurance money. Mabel listened in, but didn’t comment. “Mum told me it is ten grand, Terry. That’s enough for your driving lessons, and getting you a small car. You’ll have to run me around though, no saying you’re too busy watching your programmes”.
Not long after that, Terry got his car. It was only a four-door Fiesta though, and a few years old too. Elsie wasn’t about to spend too much money on him, seeing as he had never worked. And Elsie got a full-time job, working in the baker’s five days a week from eight until four. She was able to give up the waitressing, and was better off than she had been in years. As for Terry, he still played the system. If there was an illness, he had it, whether physical or psychological. When they tried to cut his benefits, he claimed to be depressed and suicidal. After he spent a week in a psychiatric hospital in Cambridge, the authorities gave up on him and resumed his benefits. They even paid Elsie some money to be his carer, which stunned Mabel.
But the sleepovers at Elsie’s really made a difference. No worries about Reg coming home unexpectedly, and Terry didn’t seem to care less that they both slept in the same room. All he did was to watch telly and eat. It must have been obvious to a blind man what they were up to, but Terry was so made up about his car and resumed benefits, he never once mentioned it. And Reg didn’t care either. He had been made secretary of the golf club, and was hoping to become chairman soon. It was all he ever talked about, despite Derek having developed Angina, so no longer bothering to go to the club. Reg had a new best friend, Malcolm. Malcolm was single, and lived with his widower dad. Whenever she stayed over at Elsie’s, Reg and Malcolm seemed to have something planned too.
He made chairman two years later, greatly helped by Malcolm. “I’ve got my own car park space, reserved for the chairman. Can you believe that, Mabel love?” It seemed to her that it had become less about playing golf, and more about small town politics. But that same year he was promoted again. The railways were changing, and Reg was ahead of the game. They made him Operations Manager for the whole of Eastern England, and his salary doubled. “We have never been so well off, Mabel love. You sure you want to keep on working?”
Mabel was sure she didn’t. She had enough years in for a decent pension, and there were so many rumours about Woolworth’s closing down their operation in Britain. So she grabbed at his offer. “If you’re sure, Reg? Okay, I will hand in my month’s notice tomorrow”. They said they were sorry to see her go, and the manager told her that the pension would not be released until she reached sixty. But she resigned anyway
She took Elsie with her to her leaving party. Reg was staying overnight in Norfolk, for work.
This is the twenty-seventh part of a fiction serial, in 720 words.
As it turned out, Molly White made the decision for her daughter. Unable to speak, she was still able to write, so when Mabel told her she was going to take her to live with them in Huntingdon, she made a writing motion with her hand. Reg handed her a pen and opened his diary at the back for her to write on. The message was clear.
‘Not your house. Your life. Not mine. Home is OK’. Mabel asked her outright. “So you would sooner go into the care home than live with us, mum?” Molly nodded vigorously, and managed a crooked smile to confirm her wishes.
As Reg drove them home that evening, Mabel had to admit to being overwhelmingly relieved. Having to care for her mum for however long she lived was not a prospect she had been relishing, but she would have done that had the decision gone the other way. Reg was obviously happy too. “I wil drive you down to see her whenever you want, Mabel. Promise”.
So the move went ahead, and she felt rather grand in the spanking new bungalow. Reg employed a local company to do the painting and wallpapering before the carpets went down, owned by another one of his golf club friends who gave him a good price. She took a week’s holiday from Woolworth’s to get it all arranged as she wanted, then Elsie came round as usual on the Sunday, keen to christen the new bed in Mabel’s room.
Elsie also had some ideas to discuss, mainly about trips and holidays. “I was thinking we could go on some coach trips, Mabel. Nobody thinks anything of two women friends sharing a room, and I have seen some advertised for nice spots in Yorkshire, or Devon if you prefer. They are not expensive, and I can pay my way”. One good thing about Elsie, even though she knew Reg and Mabel were well off, she never once asked for a penny from her friend, or expected her to pay more than half for anything they did. “And next summer I thought we could get a caravan in Scarborough for a week. Reg won’t object, and we can spend some extra time together with no work or distractions”.
By the end of the month, they had a coach trip to Devon to look forward to, and had booked a caravan for the following summer, within walking distance of the beach at Scarborough.
But Mabel couldn’t go on the coach trip to Devon, because her mum died two days before. Elsie understood, but went anyway. “No point wasting two tickets”. Mabel and Reg had to pay for the cremation and service, and drive down to South London on the day. They were the only mourners, along with an African woman who worked at the care home. She had only come along in case nobody was there to see mum off. Mabel cried a bit on the drive home. She wasn’t really crying for her mum, but because all she had left in the world now was Reg and Elsie.
Still, she now had Scarborough to look forward to.
Molly White had left her daughter some life insurance money. It was only one thousand pounds, but must have seemed a lot to her. She had paid the insurance man every week at the doorstep, and he had ticked off the payments in her little book. Other than the money, there were some framed photos that were boxed up by the home. She agreed to pay to have them posted to her. In the box was her mum’s wedding ring, a rolled-gold bracelet that dad had given her the day they got married, the four photos, and mum’s false teeth.
Sitting looking in the box made Mabel sob loudly. That was the sum of her mum’s entire life, right there. Reg felt sorry for her. “Don’t bother cooking tonight, Mabel love. I will go and get us fish and chips. Why don’t you have a glass of Port? Make it a large one”. She had two large ones before he got back with their dinner.
After they had eaten, Mabel poured her third large Port.
“I’m not ending up like mum, Reg. Not never, I tell you. I won’t end up like that”.
This is the twenty-sixth part of a fiction serial, in 812 words.
As she was drying herself in the bathroom, something occurred to Mabel. She had not been keeping up with the increase in house prices, but what Reg had said was the cost of the new house semed remarkably cheap to her. So she went downstairs in her dressing gown to speak to him about that.
He was eating a cheese and tomato sandwich sitting in his armchair, and reacted to Mabel’s question with a smile.
“Where’ve you been, Mabel love? Of course that’s not the total price. Houses are going up a lot, and that’s just the price for the building plot The finished bunglaow will double that, but our house is worth quite a bit too, and we can get a small mortgage for the difference, pay it off over fifteen years”. Mabel hadn’t been expecting to have a mortgage in her forties, but the idea of that new bungalow in the nice part of town really appealed to her.
“Okay, Reg. As long as the payments are reasonable, let’s do it. I will be coming to the solicitor to make sure my name goes on the deeds though”. Reg looked a bit hurt that she had said that, but he was so keen to improve his status in the town, he let that go. “I will see my builder friend at the golf club next week, get it all sorted. You can talk to Mr Walker and get our house on the market once we know the completion date of the build”.
While he was in such a good mood, Mabel added something.
“By the way, I have a nice new friend, Elsie Hughes. I met her at the cinema the other day, and we are going to be good friends, I’m sure. And before you complain, I can tell you she is not your sort of person. She works as a waitress, and has a son. But she’s not married”. Reg actually looked relieved. “That’s nice for you, Mabel love. You can get out and about a bit now, be good for you to have some company”.
The next few months were good ones for Mabel. She saw Elsie most Sundays, and they went to the cinema at least once a week too, whatever was showing. Her and Reg paid visits to the building site, and were able to choose the kitchen units, and the configuration of the bungalow to their own taste. Or Mabel’s taste at least, as Reg had little say in her decisions. They saved some money by having the garage attached to the house instead of being separate, and chose a wrap-around garden instead of a large one at the back.
She was getting used to the differences between Elsie and Winnie. There wasn’t the same affection, and never any mention of love, but the rest was far better, and more satisfying. People started to accept them as mature friends. The women at work asked Mabel what her and Elsie had done over the weekend, and she finally met Elsie’s mum and son. She couldn’t take to the boy though. He was spoiled rotten, and despite being in his late teens, he didn’t do any work.
Elsie made excuses for him, saying he had nervous problems, or his weight affected his ability to do certain jobs. Mabel could see through the lazy young man, but kept her opinions to herself. Reg met Elsie one day too, when she was invited round before the move to the new house. He seemed to be afraid of her, and made an excuse to go and see Derek about something.
Not long after, their house was sold, for much more than they had expected. The mortgage was going to be very small on the new bungalow, and easily affordable with Reg’s last pay rise. They got a moving date, and ordered some new furniture. Mabel was happy. A nice new home, a new lover, and everything going smoothly with Reg.
Then just before they were due to move, Mabel received bad news from London, and Reg received news he didn’t like.
Her dad had died, and the same week, her mum had a stroke. Reg got a wedding invitation as his mum was marrying her fancy man. Their world was turned upside down overnight, and they had to take time off to go to her dad’s funeral. With her mum unable to cope alone, they were going to have to put her into an old people’s home, or Mabel would have to take her in. Reg refused to attend his mum’s wedding, cutting off all ties with her. Mabel was sad, and not only because her dad had died. It was awful to see her mum in such a state. She couldn’t speak, couldn’t walk properly, and would need round the clock care.
Everything had been going so well too.
This is the twenty-fifth part of a fiction serial, in 740 words.
Elsie Hughes was not much like Winnie. She wasn’t one for sitting chatting, or watching television. Her style was to go straight up into the bedroom and get on with it. But she was much more experienced than Winnie, and Mabel was breathless after the tricks Elsie used on her. There wasn’t much of a pause before she wanted to start again, but long enough for Mabel to find out more about her.
“My dad was in the Air Force from the early days. He was a sergeant mechanic, so we got moved around a lot. I was born in Wales where my parents came from, but don’t remember it. I was still very young when we got moved to Lincolnshire, that’s where I went to school. Then when the war started, we were moved to Oakington, and that’s how I ended up in Cambridgeshire to start with. I always hated boys, rough and unattractive. But what could you do? back then there was no outlet for a girl like me, and I couldn’t exactly tell my parents I fancied girls. Reckon they would have locked me up”.
At that point, she stopped talking, and started the love-making all over again.
Mabel was thrilled, but exhausted when it was all over. Elsie didn’t seem satisfied, and stayed in bed chatting for a while. “I could only see one way out of it, getting pregnant, and having a man who had to marry me. But my mistake was choosing a Yank. He was keen enough to do the business, but when I told him I was expecting, he suddenly disappeared. I always thought he must have put in for a transfer back to the States. And he was probably married over there. But my mum knew I was up the duff, and wouldn’t hear of me trying to get rid of it. Terry was born in fifty-one, and mum took us in. Dad was already in hospital with lung cancer by then. Mum told him all those fags would kill him, and they did.”
She paused again, and Mabel knew what to expect. The woman was insatiable. Not a bad thing, after such a long dry spell.
Before she left for home, Elsie accepted a glass of Port in the living room, and continued her story.
“Once dad was gone, mum lived on his RAF pension, and a few cleaning jobs. I was working as a waitress wherever I could get a job, and between us we raised Terry as best we could. I tried looking for girlfriends, but it was bloody hard. Even the ones I knew were interested wouldn’t give in to their desires. I had to get buses into Cambridge to try my luck with the girl students at the colleges there. I had some good nights, but they were mostly bad. Mum had applied to the council for a three bed house, and they finaly offered us one here in Huntingdon when Terry started school. I managed to get full-time waitressing work at a hotel, and mum cared for Terry in the evenings. We are still there now, all these years later. Anyway, I had better go, Mabel. I wanted to say that I am glad we have found each other”.
Feeling worn out after three sessions, Mabel had a long bath. She was still soaking in it when Reg came home from the golf club.
“Mabel love, I have just had a good tip from a local councillor at the golf club. They are building some lovely three-bed bungalows in a cul-de-sac just up the road. We could buy one off-plan, no questions asked. It’s up to you, but I reckon we could get almost two grand for this house, and you wouldn’t need much more to buy one of those new builds. They are detached, and all have garages and a good sized garden. Two thousand seven hundred if we act now. What do you reckon, love? They might be more than three thousand if we wait until they are officially released”.
She shouted through the bathroom door.
“Tell them yes, Reg. I fancy a bungalow with a garage and good garden. By the time we sell this place, we won’t have that much more to find. I will give you the money for the deposit next week”.
Onec he had gone back downstairs, she thought about her time with Elsie. And that made her tingle all over.
This is the twenty-fourth part of a fiction serial, in 773 words.
Almost a month after her fortieth birthday, Mabel was in the office at work when one of the salesgirls came in. “Can you come out and see a customer, please? She wants to change a blouse, but it has been worn and is dirty. I told her no, so she asked to see my supervisor”.
The customer was standing at the back of the shop, still holding the blouse in question. Mabel guessed she was a little older than her, but she was smartly dressed, and wearing heavy make-up. She gave the woman her best smile. “How may I help you, Madam?” The blouse was pushed into her face. “I opened this yesterday to wear it for work, and the collar was all dirty. I couldn’t get back in with it yesterday, so I have brought it to return today”.
Mabel examined the garment, noting a dark line inside the collar indicating it had been worn more than once, or that it might have been made my some kind of make-up. But when she looked back at the woman, she was tongue tied. She was getting that look. The look that only women like Winnie and Mabel recognised. And that look made her heart beat faster, and completely changed what she had been about to say.
“Would you like to change it for a new one, or do you require a refund?”. The woman’s face softened. “Oh, a refund please. I am intending to go to the cinema on Friday evening. There’s a good film on and I want the money for my ticket and some ice cream”. Then she held out her hand, and gently squeezed Mabel’s arm.
“Thank you for being so kind”. Despite the obvious look of disapproval on the face of the salesgirl, she told her to arrange the refund. Then she stood watching as the woman left the shop with her money. If she looked back, that would confirm what she thought.
She looked back. And she winked too.
Before Reg left for work on Friday, Mabel stopped him as he picked up his briefcase. “I’m going to the pictures tonight, Reg. You get your fish and chips, I will have something later.” Reg was fine with that. “Okay, Mabel love. I might drive down to the golf club on my way home, have a bar snack there, and a few drinks with Derek”.
After work on Friday, Mabel went home and changed into something nice. She did her hair and make-up, and walked back into town. Outside the cinema, a small queue was forming for the evening performance. Sure enough, the woman was there, second in the line. She smiled when she saw Mabel, and called out to her. “Saved your place love, come up here”. After they had bought their tickets for the circle, the woman took her to one side of the auditorium doors.
“My name’s Elsie, Elsie Hughes. You okay to sit at the back of the circle, love?” Mabel nodded. “I’m Mabel, let’s sit anywhere you like”. When they got settled high up in the circle, there was nobody next to them. The closest people were sitting at least four rows in front. Mabel realised she didn’t even know what the film was, but she really didn’t care. Elsie leaned in close to her, whispering. “Thanks for helping me out with that blouse. I’ve been working as a part-time waitress for pin money, and didn’t have time to wash it. Sorry and all that, but I have a disabled son to keep, and I’m hard up. I was so glad it was you, I know we are the same, I saw it as soon as you came out from the back of the shop”.
They had their overcoats over their laps, and Elsie hardly waited for the film to start before sliding her hand up Mabel’s skirt. It felt like Winnie all over again. Mabel had waited for so long, she thought she might pass out with the pleasure. They had ice cream during the intermission, and when the film started again, Mabel returned the favour. By the time the film had finished, she couldn’t even remember what it was, or what had happened in the story.
Outside on the High Street, Elsie was direct. “I go this way. Can I come to yours another time? No good at my place, as my son is always around. What about you, can we make it happen”. Mabel was excited. “Sundays are good. My husband goes to the golf club at ten, and he rarely gets home until after dinner”.
The she gave Elsie her address.
This is the twenty-third part of a fiction serial, in 762 words.
The Swinging Sixties passed Mabel by. Life with Reg had settled into a routine, and the new car had made trips down to see both sets of parents more comfortable. Reg had been right about doing well by the time he was thirty. Assitant Project Manager became Operations Manager, along with another big pay rise, and a company car, a Rover. Reg had to sell the Zephyr, but got a surprisingly good amount for it, which he duly gave to Mabel, as she had paid for it in the first place.
He discovered a new hobby too. With his fishing gear tucked away in the loft, he joined the golf club. “All the managerial types are members, Mabel love. It’s the ideal place to socialise with people of the same sort.” His increased pay meant he could afford the set of golf clubs and membership fees, though he had to pay someone to show him how to play it first. She accompanied him to a social evening there once, but the wives of the other men all looked down their noses at her. Probably because she worked in Woolworth’s, was her conclusion.
Simon and Helen still lived next door, though as expected, they had never become firm friends. But they did have a baby, a little girl they named Olivia. She was almost nine now, and she reminded Mabel of little Denise, and how grown up she would be. It wasn’t that the neighbours were not friendly, they just liked to live quietly. When Mabel had first told Helen about the best Butcher in town, she had laughed. “Butcher? Oh no, we don’t eat meat, we are vegetarian”. And they didn’t own a television either. When Reg ordered a modern replacement for Winnie’s old set, Mabel mentioned it to Helen. She was dismissive. “They don’t interest us, I’m afraid. We read books, or listen to music on the record player”.
Funny people, Mabel thought.
They still had that old French car too, and Simon drove it to work every day. Reg was amazed it was still running. “Has to be ancient now. You only have to listen to the racket it makes”. After Olivia was born, Helen gave up her job in London, and did part-time accounting for a company in the town. They dropped all the books off at her house, and collected them when she had finished. But it was a mark of just how little they knew about their neighbours that Mabel didn’t even know who she was working for.
With her fortieth birthday coming up, Mabel mainly sat alone waiting for Reg to get home, or when he was at the golf club. Her dad was ill, and her mum worn out looking after him. Harry Price had died the year before, dropped dead from a heart attack on his way to get the Sunday paper. They went down for the funeral, and Edna was remarkably chirpy. “It’s the way he would have wanted to go”. Not long after that, she went on a coach trip around the Italian lakes, flush with Harry’s insurance money. According to Reg, she had a fancy man now. He wasn’t happy about that. “Mum’s showing herself up. He’s only about fifty, they say. Don’t know what she’s thinking of”.
Other times, she wallowed in the fond memories of her short time with Winnie. The stolen kisses, the secret smiles, and those nights when they let go to passion. Reg wanted to take her to some restaurant in Cambridge for her fortieth. “It’s the bees knees, Mabel love. Derek told me the menu is in French, and everything”. Derek was Reg’s new pal at the golf club, married to Henrietta, the snootiest of the wives. He was retired, so she had no idea what him and Reg could have in common. She nipped the idea of that restaurant in the bud.
“Seeing as neither of us can speak French, and our favourite dinner is fish and chips, I can’t see the point of going to some fancy-pants place in Cambridge. Everyone will be looking at us, Reg. That’s not our sort of place”. His face flushed, and he got grumpy. “Maybe not your kind of place, but I’m managerial now, and I’ve been abroad. The waiter will tell us what the French means, I’m sure”. She wasn’t having it. “Well if Derek likes it so much, you take him. I ain’t going, and that’s an end to it”.
With that, she switched on the telly and ignored him for the rest of the evening.
This is the twenty-second part of a fiction serial, in 746 words.
Although she hadn’t noticed anyone viewing the house, Mabel received a call about an offer. Still not used to having a phone, it always made her jump when it rang. It was the younger Mr Walker. He had set the asking price at seventeen fifty, though Mabel thought that was outrageous. “Things have changed in the short time since you bought your house, Mrs Price. The property market is booming, and home ownership is all the rage, Yes, I know that’s too much, but it gives us room to accept lower offers”.
He sounded very cheery.
“We have a good offer, Mrs Price. The couple have a mortgage agreed, and the required cash deposit. They are professionals too. He is a teacher in Cambridge, and his wife is an accountant for a publishing company in London. They have asked for the curtains and all flooring to remain, and their offer is fifteen hundred. Non-negotiable, so they say. But I am happy to haggle, if you woud like me to”. Mabel didn’t want to get into that.
“Accept the offer, Mr Walker. That sounds very fair to me. The curtains and carpets and lino will remain, as well as all other fixtures and fittings”. He sounded very pleased. “I will give them the good news, and take the house off the market. Thanks for your good judgement”.
Some six weeks later, Mabel came home from work to see the removal men packing away next door. The sale had all gone smoothly, overseen by Mr Colyer. She had had to go to his office to sign some paperwork and hand over the keys, and he had advised her it would all go through officially on the day she saw the removal van. After giving them an hour to do whatever they were doing, she went and knocked on the door. The man who answered had a beard, needed a haircut, and was wearing corduroy trousers. She introduced herself as both the vendor, and his new next door neighbour. He was very friendly.
“Come in and meet my wife. My name is Simon, Simon Telfer, and my wife is Helen”. The woman who walked through from the kitchen was very thin. Mabel would have described her as ‘very skinny’. Her hair was very long, and her flowered dress had a pattern of yellow daisies on a dark green background. Reg would have called them Beatniks. They were almost certainly both older than her, but Mabel felt old in their company. Mabel asked if she could get them some tea, perhaps some biscuits too.
Helen was grinning. “Oh no, we don’t drink tea, and we don’t eat biscuits. They are all sugar and fat you know, Mabel”. Mabel thought they were posh, and a bit strange. What did you drink, if not tea? And who cared if biscuits were sugary? That’s what made them taste nice. So she told them about bin collection days, and where the good shops were in the town. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that they weren’t interested, so politely took her leave.
“Well, I am only next door, if you want to ask me anything. I work in Woolworth’s, so you might see me in there”.
Waiting for Reg to get home, Mabel was beginning to regret selling Winnie’s house. The new neighbours were nice enough, but it was clear they were not her sort of people.
Reg came in, smiling. “I see the people next door have got a foreign car, a Citroen. It’s parked right outside, so must be theirs. Left-hand drive too. Maybe they are French?” As he ate his sausage, eggs, and chips, Mabel told him about Simon and Helen. He shook his head. “A beard, you say? And corduroys? I reckon they are probably Beatniks. I bet they love poetry too. Oh well, let them get on with it, we could’ve got worse neighbours, even if they are not our sort of people”.
That night as Reg settled in front of the television, Mabel was still feeling sad. Winnie would not have wanted Beatniks to be living in her house, she was sure of that. In bed that night, she remembered those nights of passion and affection she had shared with Winnie, and secrely confessed to herself that she had been hoping for a housewife a lot like herself to buy the house next door.
But nothing was ever going to happen with Helen, she knew that for sure.
This is the twenty-first part of a fiction serial, in 752 words.
Surprisingly, Reg loved the television. After previously dismissing it that night at Winnie’s house, he became an avid watcher. Mabel thought something had happened with Clive, as Reg stopped going fishing at weekends. When she asked Reg about it one day, she was surprised at his answer. “Well, I am junior management now. Let’s face it, it wouldn’t do for me to hang around with a train guard like Clive any longer”.
Although she had married him, Mabel found her husband very hard to like as a person.
She knew he was involved in modernisation of the main lines, but Beeching was slowly dismantling the more rural services, and closing down so many small stations. The railways were changing beyond recognition, and Reg was fully on board with the changes. He was a different man.
Using some of Winnie’s money, they bought a nice refrigerator, and an expensive twin-tub washing machine. Both sets of parents were amazed, but also pleased for them. Then Reg came home one night with more news. “We are going to need a home phone, Mabel. Not a party line, neither. I have told work to arrange it, and they are going to sort it out for me. Mabel was miffed at not being consulted. “Are they going to pay the bill as well then?” Reg smirked. “Actually, they are. I can claim all work calls on my new expenses account”.
The other surprise was that Reg didn’t ask for any of the money. That concerned Mabel a bit, as she had been sure he would ask. So she decided to offer him an olive branch.
“If you want to buy a different car, Reg, I will get the cash out for you. Nothing too fancy, mind. No Jaguars or Humbers”. He couldn’t stop smiling. “Funny you should mention that, love. The place where I bought the Prefect has got a smashing Zephyr Six in stock, lovely cream colour. Only nine months old, almost no mileage, and it’s in mint condition. They are sure to give me a good part exchange on the Prefect. I will go and look at it on Saturday”.
He suddenly stood up, and leaned over to kiss her. It felt strange, as it had been so long since they had kissed. Then he said something unexpected.
“I’m happy for you to keep your money, love. And the money from selling Winnie’s house, if that’s what you decide to do. I really appreciate you thinking of me about the car, I really do. It won’t be too long before I am on very good money. I will be earning enough that you won’t even have to go to work if you don’t want to. You wait and see. By the time I’m thirty, I will be in top management”.
Mentioning Winnie’s house made her feel sad. She hadn’t had the heart to put it up for sale, as that somehow seemed disloyal to Winnie. Besides, house prices in the town were increasing steadily. Some people were moving out from North London, and commuting by train into the city every day. Mabel couldn’t imagine having to do such a journey, twice a day, five days a week. But the town was growing, there was no denying that. She spoke quietly when she answered Reg.
“Her house will have to be sold soon. I am paying the rates and standing utility charges for an empty house, that’s silly. But I just wish I could have some say about who buys it. I dread getting neighbours I don’t like. But I know I can’t do that. Give me a bit more time, and I will ask Mr Colyer about a good estate agent who won’t charge too much commission”.
Even a lot of money soon disappeared. By the end of the year, hundreds of pounds of Mabel’s inheritance had been spent. But Mr Colyer said Winnie’s house was worth a thousand pounds now, because of the commuters. Even with all the work that needed doing, he thought she should hold out for twelve hundred. He recommended Walker and Son to sell the house. “They will only charge you one percent commission, and they have a presence in London, Mrs Price. It’s the commuter market you should be looking at, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the house reached as much as fifteen hundred. Demand is high”.
On the third of August the following year, Mabel instructed Mr Walker to sell the house next door, and signed the contract.