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

One

Albert Horrows – Al to his friends and family, Alb to his wife (Suzanne always seemed to say Al but it was Alb if you listened closely, and even if you didn’t), Al Horrows bought a two-up two-down on Solferino Street, Manchester M50 when his maternal grandmother died, leaving him a fewbobin her Will. That was in the Year of the Millennium when houses were cheap in the UK.

Cheap indeed.

Because the asking price for the turn-of-the-previous-century terraced house Al fancied on Solferino Street M45 was just £25,500, with the Mortgagors only requiring 25% down and the house itself in need of not much more than a cosmetic refurbishment. Gloss and emulsion paint to the walls, ceilings, skirting boards and doors; a new gas fire as a focal point in the living-room; a bit of damp proof work to dado level on the house wall abutting the pavement; a replacement free-standing oven, and a new worktop plus minimal tiling to the kitchen and bathroom walls. Maybe mixer taps, too, providing a shower facility; with carpets laid upstairs and down to complete the job. (Buy-to-let landlords weren’t in the habit of installing window blinds back in the year 2000; neither were laminate floors much in evidence either.)

Al Horrows went in at £22,500 to set the ball rolling and clinched the deal at Twenty-Three Five. (Unbelievably, the electrics were okay. Because the previous owners – the old lady’s family rather, had panicked when a fuse blew the previous Christmas and arranged for Marcus Daly from Old Trafford to re-wire the place.)

Al got to work organising a mini refurb with no further delay and within a month of its being carried out he had his first tenant installed – a mithering single mother whose name was Janice, for whom the DSS was prepared to cough up £325 a month, in rent – well, £285 a month in actual fact. Because it was Janice herself who volunteered to contribute an extra tenner a week to cover all running repairs.

‘Jeesh!’ Al confided to Gus Holtby in the lobby of the Waggon and Horses, Rhodes Village, one night ‘I wish someone would keep me an Suzie for a tenner a week. Kin central heatin boiler’s cost us a small fortune in the past twelve months. Never mind that downpipe that sprung a leak.’

‘You watch the crafty cow,’ Gus Holtby advised him, necking a mouthful of his fifth pint of Boddington’s Best.  ‘She’ll have you wipin condensation off the window ledges to get her money’s worth.’

‘Sell the house on, Alb,’ said his other financial advisor, Suzie – Al’s wife of two years, at present enceinte.

For Al, though, the only problem with the house on Solferino Street was one of distance. Because it was 32 miles there and back.. So, Janice’s serial pleas for domestic assistance apart – a snapped washing-line; a blocked grid; a leaking soil pipe; an unhinged rear gate in the first six months alone – Al got in the habit of viewing the house just four times a year. That is to say, he’d pop round to the house in the early hours of four successive Bank Holidays per annum – New Year’s Day, Easter Sunday; Spring Bank Holiday and August Bank Holiday Monday, when his Astra 1.7 diesel Estate would carry him to and from M45 via a virtually empty M60 in fewer than sixty minutes. Unless, of course, Al decided (more often than not, it just so happens) to grab a bit of breakfast (two eggs, bacon, toast; beans, mushrooms, fried bread, plus a pint bottle of pure orange juice and better coffee than Kenco knows how) at the transport café on the left-hand side of the A57, just short of Cadishead.

The house on Solferino Street was in a good position. Al had sensed this from the start. A quiet side street on flat hard standing, with a choice of schools nearby, and within reach, too, of a supermarket, a chip shop, a late shop, a post office, a couple of pubs, a cinema, churches, a social centre, and regular transport services to and from Manchester by means of bus and train.

True, Janice was a bit demanding, as Gus had predicted from the start. Who in their right mind would have dreamed of complaining about a nest of money spiders in the back yard? Or asbestos in the coal shed of a house two doors along? But the two kids who took up the bulk of Janice’s time were below school age. So Al had a certain amount of sympathy for her, taking her various complaints and appeals for help in good part. In any case, reasoned Al, it couldn’t be easy for her (a girl of – what? – 21? 22 years of age?) – stuck in all day and of an evening, with one of the kids (the younger one, the girl) being personally incapacitated in some way or other.

Al never did comprehend the nature or full extent of the child’s incapacity except for the fact that Janice had long predicted the child was going to need a room of her own before she was very much older. Hence, Janice (good payer that she undoubtedly was), would soon be looking for a three-bed house as opposed to Al’s two-bed . . . Unless, of course, Al could perhaps oblige her by adding a third bedroom to the house on Solferino Street.

And certainly, this was something Al was prepared to consider. He knew a guy who’d done a marvellous job of this sort over in Wythenshawe (Baguley, to be precise), and told Janice so, building her hopes up quite unnecessarily as it happens. Because what Al did not know at that point in time was something he was due to discover on his next tour of inspection, courtesy of Vauxhall Motors, the M60 and the A57. Because, come Easter Monday, 2005, the “good position” that had been Solferino Street intact had become:

‘A mirror image of downtown Beirut’ – as Al angrily relayed this information to Gus Holtby in the tap-room of the Gardeners Arms, Rhodes Village on the evening of that same day.

‘Eh?’ Gus was giving his divided attention to Al’s information and the double-top he was after, now an oche’s length away from his extended arm and third arrow.

‘Every second house boarded up; street littered with bricks an that, wood off-cuts, waste paper. You name it. Looks a right dump compared to what it was like when I bought the place.’

‘Solferino Street, this?’

‘Solferino-kin-Street! I was down there this mornin.’

‘So what’s goin on there?’

‘Bloke in café blames Council.’

‘Council?’ Gus strolled across to the Manchester board to retrieve his three arrows, checking what Al had told him upon his return: ‘The Council?

‘Yeah, seems Council owns, bulk of the housin stock. It’s them houses that’s boarded up.’

‘You’d best have a word with ’em, then.’

‘Too right I will.’

‘Sooner the better, too.’

‘Fully intend doin. First thing tomorrow.’

‘It’s Dorvy’s, by the way.’

‘What?’

‘That café you use on the A57. Fetch us a couple o’ them vanillas they have next time you’re in there.’

‘You can fetch your own kin vanillas,’ Al told him.

January 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.

Click here to return to the index of stories for W I S P


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