The Feel Good Factor – a new short story by Bill Keeth – Two

Two

Monday morning, when Al finally managed to get through to Building and Planning he was put through to a Mr Raphael Godlington, B.Sc. (Hons.), Dip. T.P., MRTPI, who answered Al’s query succinctly. ‘Concerns about the water table,’ said he..

Par-ding?’

‘Global warming.’ Godlington sucked his teeth like a two-some of Mint Imperials, seemingly content with this eventuality.

‘Been very wet this last twelve month or so. Meanwhile, Ship Canal’s not that far away as the crow flies. Canalised Irwell, you know: water drains into it from all the surrounding area. Tell you the truth, at this stage in the proceedings, we’re not at all sure whether we’ll be demolishing the Solferino Street properties or refurbishing them.’

‘But you’ll keep me informed, won’t you?’ pleaded Al.

‘Assuredly,’ Godlington lied, as would eventually become apparent to Al Horrows. Because, throughout the Council’s deliberations in the matter only the owner occupiers were kept in the picture. Private buy-to-let investors like Al heard nary a dickie-bird.

‘Sell the place, Alb,’ was Suzie’s continuing advice in the matter, she now cradling a pyjama-clad infant named Jake in her arms.

‘Mind you, maybe Godzilla wasn’t lying exactly.’

‘Godzilla?’

‘Godlington.’

This was twelve months later, with Al Horrows in the Barbers Arms one night, dealing Gus Holtby playing cards sufficient to a game of Crib plus his personal four-pennorth in the matter of Mr Raphael Godlington’s forty-faced reassurances over the past year, and subsequent to yet another fruitless attempt to persuade the guy to talk turkey. ‘Maybe he’s been kept in the dark, too.’

‘Yeah, like as if!’ said Gus.

The upshot was that, given the uncertainty about the house, Al Horrows’ plans for a third bedroom had to be put on hold, of course. Henceforward, running repairs would necessarily done on a make-do-and-mend basis. And this was a situation that obtained at Solferino Street for upwards of three years, at the end of which time the Council decided to refurbish its housing stock on Solferino Street, leaving Al Horrows and other private landlords with properties needful of substantial accumulated repairs and attention not less than immediate now that the crisis had been unilaterally resolved without consultation.

In the case of Al’s property this meant the house was in dire need of a new UPVC front door and windows, a new roof to the rear lower level extension that housed the kitchen plus damp proof course repairs to four interior walls. That is to say, Al’s house on Solferino Street needed something in the order of £6,000 worth of repairs.

‘Steady as you go.’ Gus Holtby was at present engaged in directing Al in matters constructional and into the Lounge Bar of the Wilton Steak Bar, with both wives in tow for a change – Suzie Horrows, Jessica Holtby. ‘You can’t possibly tackle all the work at once. Windows first maybe. Get the exterior lookin okay, that’s the first thing.’

There was a blast from the past playing on the juke box when they went into the Lounge Bar: Del Shannon singing ‘Kelly’, the B-side to ‘Two Kinds of Teardrops’. So their conversation was briefly sidetracked into Gus and Al’s habitual debate about the lyrics of the song. That is to say, did Del Shannon sing:

We are so in love

But he loves her, too?

Or was the best friend to whom Del referred in the song a guy called Buddy –

Buddy loves her, too?

‘Off-load the place, Alb,’ said Suzie, ignoring their pop chart tomfoolery – further advising him that she’d have the sirloin, and bien cui, if you please. Which made them laugh.

Then came a further crushing blow for the private landlords on Solferino Street. This was delivered in the shape of a decision to rename the former Council Housing Department – dah, dah (flurry of ragmen’s trumpets) – “High-Five City”. Whereupon (for reasons similarly unfathomable to Solferino Street landlords and tenants) the Council sloping-shouldered its responsibility for housing in the area, as £10M in government funding was showered upon the aforementioned High-Five City.

‘£10M, you credit it? (Al once more.) ‘Meanwhile, there’s me, strugglin to set things right at a cost of six-thou for one house,’ Gus and Al were in the Joiners, Archer Park, one night, with the Grand National replaying on TV. ‘All the Council property on the street – sorry, all the High-Five City property – has been refurbed to the tune of three times as much as my repairs will cost. Result: a really high standard of refurbishment inside and out being effected by more men and materials than it took to build the Great Pyramid.’

‘Which will naturally guarantee the Government candidate gets in with an increased majority at the next General Election,’ Gus told him, wife, Suzianne, adding immediately he stepped inside the door at home: ‘Get out while the goin’s good, Alb.’

But it was Props, the pull-out property section in the Daily Mess one Friday night that had Al figuratively foaming at the mouth. This, coupled to some cleverly-angled  photography featuring a couple of wide perspective shots, depicted the partially efurbished Solferino Street housing as being uniformly Tyrolean-fronted and pristine white. Alongside the photos a High-Five City spokesperson boasted of their having refurbished as many as 45 dwellings on Solferino Street.

So Al was on to Andrew Gutter, the editor of the Daily Mess, come Monday noon, demanding the right to reply, considering all he personally had suffered over the years, courtesy of High-Five-kin-City, formerly the Council Housing Department. (Naturally, Al had the good sense to leave the single swear word unspoken.)

‘I would suggest. Mr Horrors, that you write in to our Portfolio letters page like everyone else.’

‘Horrows,’ said Al.

‘You’ll just have to take your chance like everybody else on whether your point of view is selected to see the light of day.’

‘Take a chance on it, you say? While you get away with publishing a damned lie.’

‘I’m not at all sure what you mean, Mr Harrows.

Horrows.

‘Were 45 houses not refurbished by High-Five City, as indicated?

‘Well, ye-e-es.’

‘There you go, then, Mr Herrors.’

Harrows.

‘45 houses was the figure reported – and 45, it is.’

‘But there are 90-odd houses in Solferino Street. Your photographs tells a deliberate lie.’

‘The camera cannot lie, Mr Harrows.’

Horrows,’ said Al, despairingly. ‘People like myself are struggling to catch up with repairs after years of Council neglect . . .’

‘All I can advise you to do is to write in to Portfolio,’ repeated Andrew Gutter. ‘I’d best warn you, though: you’re on a hiding to nothing.’

‘Why? You sayin you’ll refuse to publish my letter.’

‘Notta tall. The letters editor has a free rein in the matter, Mr Arrows. The trouble is your story has no feel-good factor.’

‘That’s all that matters to the Daily Mess, is it? The feel-good factor. What about the truth in all this?’

‘What is truth?’ asked Andrew Gutter with Pilatian aplomb.

‘High-Five City refurbished 45 houses: that’s the truth. Maybe it’s not the whole truth. But it’s the kind of truth that’s got a feel-good factor to it. And that’s to everybody’s benefit. High-Five City gains in reputation – and so does Solferino Street. ’

‘Only because the Mess is prepared to tell a lie,’ complained Al.

February 2012


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.

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