The gas explosion hit Al’s house on 18 December, the blast reverberating through from the house next door. Headlines nationwide were gleefully reporting this disaster within the next twelve hours. The house next door to Al’s (one ofHigh-FiveCity’s) had been totally flattened; Al’s house losing its bathroom and kitchen. Only the Christmas season was the salvation of both families: the next-door neighbours (newly-weds the previous month) were out at the time at a work’s do; Al’s tenants, Janice and the two girls had gone to the pantomime at St Teresa’s parish hall.
Al’s moment of fame!
Al was glimpsed briefly on the Granada News, as he roamed Solferino Street seeking news of his tenants. Not that it occurred to the Granada News presenter to approach Al for his comments. Because Al was unknown to the Granada News presenter unlike the High-Five City bigwig, Mr Raphael Godlington, MBE, B.Sc. (Hons.), Dip. T.P., MRTPI, who had already pinned the blame for the explosion on “private landlords who are rank amateurs in the buy-to-let market, ignorant of and very often unwilling to practise the high safety standards set by High-Five City in accordance with HM Government statute’.
‘Yeah, like cavalierly installin a job lot of 45 dodgy central heating boilers, sourced in Turkestan, one of which had been duly installed in the next-door neighbour’s house exactly one month previously,’ complained Al to his best pal Gus, as they returned from Al’s final visit to Solferino Street with a refund of his tenant’s deposit.
One month into the New Year this was, and the story about the Turkestan job lot had already hit the fan. Despite this, Al’s tenants had become High-Five City’s tenants, since Al had no alternative accommodation (certainly not a three-bed) to offer them and High-Five City had half a dozen such houses standing empty on nearby Magenta Street, which were needful only of a change of boiler . . . possibly, a gas stove and hob, too . . . a new toilet bowl, just to make sure . . . and new door handles throughout subsequent the site foreman’s having complained that the door handles from Uzbekistan tended to bend under hand pressure and a hot sun.
‘Two kinds of tear-drops!’ said Al, quoting Del Shannon’s backing-singers who were letting rip every time Del sang ‘Two Kinds of Teardrops’ on the new Radio/CD-player in Gus’s Ford Fiesta. (Gus was chauffering, Al’s Astra being in dock.)
‘Just the once, though,’ Gus conceded. ‘Every other time after the first one it’s “Two kinds of Tear-dop!”’
‘Listen to em,’ Gus insisted.
Gus was not wrong.
‘Why’d they do that, d’you think?’
‘Why’d anybody do anythin? said Gus. ‘Like why’s High-Five City wanna pinch your house off you?
‘They’re not pinchin it: They said they’ll give us twice what I paid for it.’
‘Because house prices have gone up since then. An by three times what you paid for it, if you ask me.’
‘Just as well they offered, though, seein I can’t afford to repair the place.’
‘Your buildings insurance will pay for that.’
‘Aye, so they say. But how do I know they’ll do it right? I’m no builder. Besides, Suzie’s been mitherin us for ages to get shut of it.’
This was the first time Al had admitted it to himself, never mind to Gus. Suzie had been against his housing rental project from the start. But only because she didn’t understand it, and he did. That is to say, he had done: he had understood as a matter of financial principle. But what he could not get his head round – and never would – was the principle of non-communication embraced by the former Council Housing Department, now become High-Five City, funded to the tune of £10M. Way beyond Al’s grasp, too, was the unprincipled willingness of the Daily Mess to let High-Five City get away with it.
He said as much to Suzanne immediately he got back home, adding: ‘They’ve offered us Fifty Thou for it. I reckon I’ll take it.’
‘You’ll do no such thing, Alb Horrows,’ declared Suzanne, glancing round at him.
Her hands were moving deftly amongst the pots and pans and kitchen utensils in the washing-up bowl. She now addressed the tiled kitchen wall above the kitchen sink. ‘The going price for houses in M50 is Sixty-Thou nowadays. There was something about it on the Granada News today. So Sixty-Thou is what we’ll settle for.’
‘You say so, Suzie. I was just thinkin you’d be glad to get shut. At least, that’s what you was always tellin us’
‘That was then and this is now. I never told you to let em steal our house.’
‘Our house?’ said Al.
Al went up close to her, slipping his arms around her waist, at which she inclined her forehead towards his.
She turned, kissing him briefly, before turning back to her work once more.
His eyes began to prickle as he smelled her hair. Because now she had begun there was no shutting her up:
‘We’ll get hold of an insurance loss adjuster, a surveyor – a good lettings agent maybe. We don’t need Solferino Street, or any house where High-Five City has a say in the matter. But with Sixty-Thou in the bank we could finance maybe three houses.’
‘What’s the matter with your eyes?’ She asked him.
‘Tear-dop!’ said Al Horrows, inanely.
‘What’s a tear-dop when it’s owt?’
But Suzanne was now preoccupied with ministering to baby Jake. So Al Horrows never did need to explain to his wife Suzanne what a tear-dop might be.
Bill Keeth’s books, Every Street in Manchester ISBN 1859880649 & Write It Self-Publish It Sell It ISBN 97809558863 are available from Amazon and all good book shops. Bill can also be contacted via his website, http://www.novelnovella.com.