The gas fire was hardly ever on. It was set into the open fireplace with a constant freezing draft from the open flue coming through the cracks of the ill fitting frame that froze feet - even those wearing thick socks. Only on the coldest winter days when condensation turned to ice on the inside of the windows was it lit. Flash Gorden would say whilst sporting a blue, dribbly nose, “I’m not cold, in fact it’s so warm I think I’ll open a window.” But of course the windows did not open. The two bed-roomed apartment converted within the roof voids of the large, old, rambling building had suffered years of inferior decoration resulting in the sash windows of the lounge being painted shut. Sash windows had a habit of being a nuisance. In the main bedroom the window opened but the ropes supporting the lead counterweights had snapped so it was propped open with a hardback copy of War and Peace which Flash had decided was the best use for such a tedious read.
His father thought himself a joker and demonstrated this by naming Flash, Flash but it was Flash who had to suffer the consequences of all the torment not his impostor of a funnyman father. So he changed his name to Freddie. His father was the sort of person who took great delight in what he called “entertaining the kids” but in reality only succeeded in antagonising them, teasing them to distraction and tears even though his motives were in the right place and he would dress in garish clothing alluding to a clown.
On a warm sunny day on holiday climbing the cliff path above their holiday beach his father was pretending to fly. He would run towards the cliff edge yelling, “look at me I can fly,” and things like that and feign leaping off into the void to soar up upon the thermals. Ten times he did this, the last too close and stepped onto an overhang which gave way, crashing him onto the rocks a few hundred feet below. The rescue services did not have any problem spotting the bright yellow trousers and hauled him up in a box. Freddie’s mother was not at all distraught, quite the contrary. She was glad to be rid of the fatuous nightmare so she married an Australian, dumped Freddie with her mother and took off for Down Under never to be seen or heard of again other than a card for a few years at Christmas and birthdays with an Australian twenty dollar bill and a note that said, “buy yourself something nice,” which, after exchange costs left not enough for something nice and only enough for something mediocre. Thereafter Freddie was brought up in an almost penniless house and had to make do with his dreams as the only way of ever having anything nice.
The vivacious Charlotte Gorden was swept off her feet at the age of twenty one in the bar of the Marlborough Hotel, London on a warm June evening with the promise of dinner, brandy and a life of happiness and wealth.
Married and ensconced in their apartment Freddie said to her, “I’m going to make us rich by designing many inventions, with patents, that will be sold around the whole world. To do this I’ll need funds, lots of funds, before I can start inventing, so we’ll need to save, be frugal, store up the cash, invest it to grow into a mountain, a big enough mountain to get my inventions into reality.”
The whole concept gave Charlotte the most beatific smile. She liked the thought of a famous inventor husband and the rich person’s trappings she would enjoy and in anticipation was content to put up with some small discomfort, maybe for a few years.
Freddie was a man with twinges of possessiveness, mainly money and his wife. This was a bit of a double edged sword, a classic catch twenty two. On one hand he quite liked the thought of Charlotte working, extra money to save, but on the other he disliked the thought of overzealous men at her place of work and he was sure it would be packed with such types trying to tempt her off the straight and narrow with lewd promises and other things. That thought ended the argument and he insisted she give up work with the pretence of tending him and the house to help with his earning potential. So the fire was never lit, the lights were limited to one for Charlotte to do her work and hobbies in mild gloominess and the windows remained unfixed.
Her father who initially was equally absorbed in Freddie’s scheme began to have doubts as time went on. But he stayed schtum. He had never said a bad word to Charlotte all the time she was growing up and would not begin now. She remembered he would refuse her nothing, let her do whatever she wanted but she also remembered that she actually did very little. She always made up her mind to cancel any plans or outings after conversations with her father.
For instance when she was nine she went to him and said, “Daddy, my friends and I want to go ice skating on Saturday. Would it be OK for me to go?”
Her father replied, “Sure honey that’s fine with me. It’s no problem. Just a few things to remember though. It’s a long way to the Ice Rink and you will need to cross the busy main road to get to the bus stop so take care not to get run over. You will probably have to go upstairs on the bus as downstairs is usually full so mind the swinging stairs that sway with the motion of the bus and throw people down them if they are not holding on tightly and cause nasty, blood running head wounds. You have not been skating before so remember that the ice is very slippery and prone to launching people off their feet causing broken ankles, cracked knees or damaged elbows and you would not want to lose your nice new front teeth. Anyway when you're ready to leave I will give you enough money, an apple for lunch, although perhaps you might not be able to eat it, and some plasters just in case and will send you off with wishes of a good time.”
Two days later when he arrived home from work Charlotte was standing on the doorstep, “Hi Daddy,” she said, “my friends and I have decided not to go ice skating on Saturday. We do not want head wounds or broken limbs and as two of them favour apples and one hard pears and even though I like bananas best and could manage without front teeth, we have all decided that lost front teeth are to be avoided. We are going to leave this particular adventure until next year when we are all ten and will hopefully be able to avoid the hazards associated with ice skating.”
At Christmas there was an amnesty with the fire at eleven o’clock in the morning when Charlotte’s parents arrived for a festive dinner. Turkey being so expensive the main event each year was brisket of beef which Charlotte dressed up to look like best topside but the disguise failed miserably as the brisket took some serious chewing and even then lumps were surreptitiously spat out. As they were arriving Charlotte could hear her parents talking on the stairs coming up. “I do hope they have that useless fire on. It’s so cold in there,“ her mother said. Her father replied, “and that wine. I don’t suppose Freddie has managed to find something less… well less… certainly more drinkable anyway.” Gifted with the palette of a connoisseur he was famous for his taste in wine and found the bottom shelf offerings at Christmas destroyed his talent for many months after,
Freddie worked as a bank clerk, a counter teller, and found that dealing with thousands of pounds of cash a day, hundreds of thousands a month and millions a year, handing it out to rich people, made him miserable, the thought of all that money slipping him by, depressing. Being embarrassed by the name Flash, and not sure if Freddie was bank employee appropriate, to secure the job, he had changed his name to Derek. It had worked and what is more he discovered that his manager’s name was Derek Johnson and the area manager was David Derek which provided him with enough confidence that Derek was the appropriate banking name for rapid advancement and he was most ecstatic with his choice. That was eight years ago.
He hated his customers who were typically akin to Glorianna Tweeksbury. A plump, dressed up lady with a sparkling neck, dachshund under her arm, sable wrap, bright pink hair and matching lipstick, her lips moving up and down, alternating between open and shut and displaying pink smeared yellowing teeth as she said, “I need two hundred pounds today please Derek. I’m meeting my good friend Digby Dashwood-Smith for afternoon tea at the Ritz you know. He tried to lose the Smith, you know, as he thought it common, you know but his mother would have none of that, you know she being a Smith and proud of it. To compensate she did allow the change from Colin, you know.” Derek was reminded of Morse code when she spoke, the dots and dashes of her lips and teeth very synonymous with lessons learnt when attempting to be a Boy Scout and failing.
But all that said banking suited him very well in his wait for glory. A cheap mortgage and an extra two percent on a staff savings account and free trading facilities were ideal. His fortune slowly amassed and his obvious ability in the trading department enhanced this greatly. In fact by many percentage points. It was a continuous bone of contention that even after conversations with his manager, who looked on him in a disparaging fashion, his talents were deliberately overlooked despite him having all the seemingly correct name credentials and that, he was convinced, probably cost them millions in lost revenue.
Charlotte lived in thermal underwear during the day and the thickest winceyette pyjamas at night. She had been surveying her warm clothing orientated wardrobe and her two elderly summer frocks feeling a trifle fed up and wishing for some stimulation to enter her life. She had endured the austerity biased regime for seven years. There had been no holidays even though they were promised. They walked everywhere, that is when they did go out and ate a rigorously restrained diet. Charlotte was beginning to feel that some action was needed.
Sitting at the dining table in the summer in the cold as it was still cold and gloomy in their apartment in the summer due to the fact that it was north facing and offered only a modicum of sun’s heat and light. Eating diner Charlotte said, “wouldn't it be nice to have children to cheer up our place. When you start inventing and we move to a nice house the children would be old enough to enjoy all those fabulous facilities such a property will provide. I know I have not asked this before because I’ve been patient but when do you think you will be able to start on your great venture?”
“Things are progressing nicely sweetheart and there are almost enough funds. I’m anticipating being able to start inventing next spring and then the following spring start production and then the following spring we can buy number sixty nine Park View Road which is a swanky up market property I’ve been looking at. It’s a big house on that very posh road by the park of course. I’m advised that the owners are wanting to move as they are becoming senescent and will take a reasonable offer from a rich industrialist such as myself. That’s how the plan has progressed to date. We’re nearly there Charlotte. Nearly there. Let’s think about children next spring when I start inventing as the timescale will then be cast in stone. That will be the perfect time to start such a dramatic new phase in our lives ”
Well, Charlotte was over the moon. She was just so elated and as they had no expensive telephone, she went straight around to see her mother and give her the good news. Having been permanently worried about Charlotte, but not caring about Freddie, her mother immediately burst into tears the stress of years gone by immediately lifted. Charlotte’s father came home from work early and they all had a fine dinner together brought in especially from The Blue Elephant Thai Restaurant accompanied by one of her father’s finest specially selected red wines.
Next spring came and went, and then the next, and then the next leaving Charlotte in the depths of misery. Having carefully reworked financial calculations Freddie had postponed his transformation into Inventor due to “a persistent lack of funds.” In truth though Charlotte suspected that he just could not bring himself to part with his money. He spent more and more time at home counting and recording, shifting funds from here to there to maximise returns. She was not allowed to inspect his portfolio, “you will not understand the intricacies of banking and investment,” he told her. She wanted to go to work to relieve the growing monotony of her life but he continued to refuse. Then they endured their first row.
Taken a bit by surprise Freddie suggested a very rare day out to London to visit the sights. They went by train and taxi and had lunch in Mayfair. They then went to see St Paul’s Cathedral, somewhere Charlotte had always dreamed of going and her mood did lift a bit. She did not want to ascend to the top of the dome but Freddie did and proceeded up the five hundred and twenty eight steps while Charlotte waited below.
A short while later there was a commotion and staff were running in all directions and telephone calls were being made. There was the sound of a siren and ambulance men came running in. Someone was being carried out of the entrance to the steps. She caught her breath when she recognised Freddie. A heart attack had done for him halfway up. He was lying on the ambulance trolley barely alive.
One of the ambulance men shouted, “does anyone know this man?”
“I do,” Charlotte said, squeezing through the inevitable, curiously minded and whispering crowd. “I do,” she repeated. “He’s my husband. He had gone to climb to the top. Is he all right?”
“Come and hold his hand Mrs, he’s in a bad way. Talk to him, he might hear you.”
“Freddie it’s Charlotte,” she said holding a cold and clammy hand. “Can you hear me?”
But it was too late he had gone, left her for good and she was sad but then she thought, “I’m not too sure if I’m sad after all. It’s sad of course but he has no one to miss him other than me and maybe I’ll not miss him at all. I might have been sad a few years ago but with things as they’ve been recently I’m not so sure I actually feel that sad. I’m not crying or hysterical am I?” So after a bit more discussion she decided that actually this might all prove to be for the best.
Sometime later, when Freddie’s estate had been settled, Charlotte was in the bank talking to the new manager Derek Williamson and his assistant Simon Derek, a relation of David Derek and a potential high flyer. All of Freddie’s accounts were now in her name and she was studying the grand total of two and a half million give or take a few thousand.
Mr Williamson said, “I’m sure if we’d known he was such a good investor he would have been promoted many times over by now but somehow he was always under the radar so to speak, even with the right name credentials. The bank has been somewhat tardy I think. It must have cost us a pretty penny I don’t doubt. Bit odd really. Anyway this is all yours. Do you have any plans? Can we invest it for you? We can make it grow into an extremely big mountain.”
“No thank you Mr Williamson I have been patient for the last ten years waiting for Mr Gorden’s grand scheme to come to fruition. I’ve gone without, lived in permanent cold, tolerated semi-darkness, eating cheap cuts and drinking lower shelf wine to the detriment of my throat and my father’s sanity. I’m fed up with creating mountains and I intend to reduce mine to a mere hill. I will be in touch in due course when I have decided the best place for the funds.”
And that was that. She saw the inside of the bank for the last time. Mr Williamson showed her the door where she bade him a not so fond goodbye and like her mother in law who she had never met of course and who she had no intention of seeking out, went to Australia. Unlike her mother in law she did not marry an Australian but the Australian authorities were more than happy to provide her with permanent warmth and almost perpetual sunshine in exchange for the depositing of Freddie’s legacy into one of their top bank accounts. She moved her parents out there and her father became addicted to Australian Red Wine producing a well respected select vintage, Charlotte Valley, on his small holding. Charlotte bought an extremely pleasant, hot, sun drenched property on the beach and learnt to play Polo on a horse she named Flash.
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