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Authors: Sylvia Smith

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BOOK: Misadventures
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Jenny and I became friends when we lived in the same furnished house. I had the bedsit downstairs in the front of the house and Jenny shared the garden flat behind mine. One year later she bought a one-bedroomed flat a short walk away. We continued our friendship. She was thirty-two. I was thirty-eight.

enny had a long-term boyfriend called Dave who owned his own property but preferred to live with Jenny in her small apartment. She told me, ‘He's a lousy lover. He smokes thirty cigarettes a day and when we have sex he has to stop halfway through and have a rest for ten minutes to get his breath back.'


Jenny told me Dave was filled with remorse when his father died. She said, ‘Dave's father suffered from depression. Dave saw him talking to someone in the street about a week before he died and Dave walked straight past him, ignoring
him completely. A few days after that his father went to Dave's flat but Dave wouldn't let him in and told him to go away. The following week his father hanged himself and Dave can't get over his guilt. It plays on his mind that he should have helped him and perhaps if he had then his father might still be alive today.'

Ian was an eighteen-year-old bank clerk who wore
Brer Rabbit fun slippers behind the counter as he
served his customers. The other bank staff voted
him ‘the sexiest backside in the bank'. I was thirty-
nine and a temporary secretary for the same bank.
He had a flair for telling jokes. Here is one of them.

here were two punk rockers strolling through Trafalgar Square. One punk rocker said to the other, “What would you do if a bird shit on your head?” The other punk rocker thought for a minute and then said, “If she did that to me I don't think I'd want to see her again.'”

Janet was a married woman In her fifties and the
mother of four adult children. I had a three-month
booking as a temporary secretary in her office in
the probation service. I was thirty-nine.

anet was a very kindly and pleasant woman. Despite knowing me for ten days precisely she bought me a pot plant on my birthday.


One of Janet's daughters took a year out of university to teach English in China whilst improving her Chinese. As Janet and her husband hadn't seen her for several months they decided to holiday there. Janet flew, arriving many hours later, but her husband was so frightened of flying he travelled by train, arriving a few days later.


Janet said to me, ‘My second daughter told me she was leaving home to share a flat with some friends and I said to her, “Good luck dear, and don't forget you will always have a room here.”
Then I fell asleep in the armchair whilst she was packing. She came to say goodbye to me and I was still asleep. She woke me up and said, “When my friend June left home her mother was in tears,” and I said, “Oh, I'm sorry dear.” She was quite offended.'


My booking finished and my agency sent me to various other probation offices as I understood the work. Occasionally I had reason to telephone Janet and I noticed how abrupt and barely polite she was. I eventually returned to her branch but worked elsewhere in the building. I asked one of the secretaries, ‘What's the matter with Janet? She's not at all like her old self. Every time I speak to her she's just about civil and she gets rid of me as quickly as possible and doesn't really want to talk to me.' Her colleague replied, ‘Her marriage is finishing. She's getting divorced and she's sorting out with her husband who gets what and I don't think Janet wanted the marriage to end.'

had a three-month booking as a temporary shorthand secretary in a branch of the probation service. I was aged forty

found working in the probation service very interesting but it also had its darker side. In this particular branch, thirty chairs were nailed to the floor in the large reception area as a past offender had smashed a chair on top of a probation officer's head, fracturing the man's skull.

I shared the office in reception with five other secretaries. Halfway along one wall there was a wide opening where we would speak to the clients as they came in. It was fitted with iron shutters to be pulled down and locked should there be a disturbance.

One afternoon all the probation officers were out attending meetings or appearing in court, leaving the six secretaries on their own with just a middle-aged clerk in his office in the
long passageway adjacent to reception. A drunk stumbled in asking to see his probation officer and was politely told by a secretary that the officer was in court and no one else was free to see him but he could leave a message. This infuriated the drunk who shouted abuse at the secretary and started thumping the frame of the opening with the flat of his hands. At the same time the clerk stepped out of his office to go on an errand. The drunk turned and saw him and lurched towards him, focusing his shouting and swearing at him. This frightened the clerk who ran up the corridor desperately trying all the doors to find one unlocked, with the drunk now chasing after him. He frantically tried another door and, to his great relief, it opened. He quickly entered the office and locked himself in at top speed. The drunk, still shouting abuse, pounded his fists on the locked door in the hall while the clerk remained inside, too frightened to face him. Eventually the drunk stopped his pounding and staggered down the corridor, past reception, still shouting abuse, and out into the street. Hearing the drunk walk away and silence in the hall, the clerk unlocked the door and went about his duties. The comment from the supervising secretary was, ‘He's not much of a man, is he? He leaves us secretaries to cope with an aggressive drunk while he hides himself away trembling with fear.'

* * *

Another afternoon all the probation officers attended an AIDS-awareness demonstration. Each officer was supplied with a banana and a condom and they were taught how to use a condom with the banana representing a penis. Once they had mastered this art the idea was that they would show their clients how to do so correctly, thereby reducing the risk of them catching AIDS through casual sex.


I was offered a job at that probation office but I considered the salary too low and I didn't like their set-up of a supervising secretary being in charge of the daily workload and of all the other secretaries, which would have included me.

reached the age of forty. It was such a milestone I took a hard look at my past life. I felt I hadn't done very much with it. I had never married or lived abroad. I had led the life of a single woman, having nice clothes, nice holidays, nice cars, nice evenings out, and, despite the fact that several men had fallen in love with me, I'd had few romances. I thought to myself, ‘What can I do about this? I don't want to get to sixty and find I still haven't done anything worthwhile.' I decided I would like to achieve something and I thought, ‘What can I achieve?' My next thought was, ‘How about I make myself rich.'

I decided to make long-term investments which I hoped would eventually make high profits. I bought one hundred shares each in five leading British companies and I slowly bought large blocks of Premium Bonds because I thought ‘How else can I make a hundred thousand pounds?' Also, I saw an advertisement in a newspaper which stated that if I invested in a leading bank's
investment scheme and put down at least a one hundred pound deposit and invested a minimum of twenty pounds per month over a period of nine years, my money would treble. I considered this investment to be a first-class idea so I filled in the bank's form, enclosed my deposit and sorted out a Standing Order with my bankers.

Six years passed by. During this time I made approximately sixty pounds a year in premiums from my shares. I won fifty pounds four times on my Premium Bonds and I had continued investing my twenty pounds monthly. Then the recession caught up with me. I was made redundant by a building company and I returned to temping halfway through the summer, which is usually the busiest time for temps, only to find there was no work available. Despite trying my best to find work, I was to be unemployed for the following two years.

Faced with unemployment pay of thirty-nine pounds a week to live on I decided to look at my investments to see if they were worthwhile.

I went to my bankers and spoke to one of their executives. I said, ‘I have a lot of shares in various UK companies and I'd like to sell them subject to the shares being worth at least as much as I paid for them. So could you tell me the selling prices before we start filling in forms?' The executive consulted a newspaper and informed me that all my shares were currently selling at half their original value. As I couldn't afford such
a loss I chose to keep them in the hope that at some time in the future they would return to the price I had paid for them.

I kept my Premium Bonds as I still considered them a good idea despite only winning a total of two hundred pounds during the six years I had owned them.

I telephoned the famous bank whose investment scheme I had joined and discovered I had not trebled my money but had actually made a loss of some twenty-six pounds. I decided not to lose any further monies and cancelled the agreement. I received a cheque for the amount I had invested minus twenty-six pounds.

It was quite obvious to me that I would have fared better if I had put all my money in the Post Office and had not attempted my ‘get rich scheme'.

Elaine was a bank clerk aged twenty-seven. I
worked for the same bank as a temporary secretary
with a three-month booking. She was married but
had no children. I was aged forty.

laine and I shared the same lunch break and we would chat to each other. During one of our conversations she told me she was the youngest of five children and her mother had died whilst they were all of school age. Her father didn't think he could cope with raising a large family single-handed and working full-time to support them so he gathered his children around him and said to them, ‘I don't see how I can look after each one of you and keep you at the same time. I've thought about it very carefully and I've decided you will have to go into a Home until you are teenagers.'

Elaine laughed as she told me, ‘We all burst into tears and cried our eyes out until my father felt so terrible he couldn't go through with it and
he said, “Alright. I've had enough. I won't put any of you in a Home but well have to look after each other as best we can.”'

Elaine told me her father continued working and managed to cook the dinner every evening and get the shopping at the weekends, leaving the children to share the household chores, with the eldest supervising the younger ones. She said that despite this she had a very happy childhood.

I was aged forty-one

middle-aged woman and her elderly mother moved into a newly refurbished house in ‘our' street. We saw beautiful furnishings being carried up the path by various deliverymen.

Both women lived together very quietly, not mixing with the neighbours. The older woman was never seen and it was rumoured that the younger woman only left the house for work in the City or to buy the weekly shopping. We did not see any visitors.

The following year the elderly woman died of natural causes. Some weeks after her funeral a neighbour told me the daughter had committed suicide by jumping off the roof of the office block where she worked, the assumption being because she could not face life alone.

Brian was a thirty-eight-year-old Director of
a local company, I was his secretary, aged
forty-two. His wife Sue, aged thirty-six, was a
solicitor. They had a four-year-old son called
Simon. I worked for Brian for one year, until I
was made redundant. The company eventually
closed down.

rian and his family went on a two-week package holiday to Spain. On his return to the office I asked him if he'd enjoyed himself. He replied, ‘Not really, no. The first week it rained every day and all day and the second week Simon broke his arm.'


Brian and Sue attended many official dos throughout the month. I asked him, ‘Wouldn't both of you rather be at home of an evening? Surely all these functions are boring?' He replied, ‘Some times they're very interesting. For example, Sue went to an official dinner last Tuesday and she
told me the highlight of the night was when a fellow diner vomited all over the table.'

Pat was fifty-six. I was forty-two. We were
secretaries in the Directorate of a local company
and were both made redundant. The company has
now ceased trading.

uring one shared lunch break Pat chatted about her life. She told me she had been married twice. The first marriage produced a son and then a daughter, but ended in divorce. The second marriage was childless, finishing with widowhood. She now had a live-in boyfriend.


Pat told me her mother felt very proud when her grandson was born and insisted on pushing the pram on the child's first outing. Pat said, ‘We were walking up the road talking away when we heard a terrific bang. We looked round to see the pram had hit a tree. We rushed to see how the baby was and he wasn't there! We took the cover and all the blankets off and we found him right at
the bottom of the pram. He must have had one hell of a shock and he was only two weeks old.'


After our redundancies I had a weekly dinner date with Pat and I met Brian, her boyfriend. He was forty-seven, divorced and the father of two adult daughters. Pat told me that Brian liked his drink. He would go to the pub after work and spend the evening downing pints of beer. He would stagger home to her and would lean on the street doorbell making it ring continuously until she answered it, despite having his own key.

Pat told me that Brian's boozing got him into trouble. He had been to court several times on drink-driving charges and on his last appearance he had been sentenced to one-month's imprisonment in Pentonville and banned from driving for two years. Released from prison, he sold his car but still continued his heavy consumption of alcohol.


Brian suggested the three of us should go to dinner as his treat and the date was set for the following Saturday. Pat booked us in to two restaurants, one Greek and the other traditional English in case we didn't like her first choice.

She picked me up by car from my home in Walthamstow and drove to a pub in Hackney to collect Brian. We entered the saloon bar and
heard Brian's loud voice cracking dirty jokes with the barman and some of the customers, I saw he was having difficulty standing. Brian welcomed us and ordered a round of drinks, Pat and I choosing orange juices. After much effort we managed to drag Brian away from the bar. We returned to the car and travelled to the first restaurant with Brian sitting on the back seat telling more dirty jokes. At the end of each one he would burst into peels of laughter.

We ordered our drinks in the Greek restaurant with Brian still talking at the top of his voice. His conversation turned into noisy complaints at the poor service and fifteen-minute delay of our order. Pat decided we should leave and move on to our next reservation.

Returning to the car we walked through a small green just off the main road.

I noticed Brian was lagging behind and turned to see him relieving himself over a bush in full view of the other pedestrians and the cars that sped by. Judging by the torrent of urine coming from Brian I guessed he must have swallowed at least a dozen pints of beer.

At the second restaurant we were asked to wait in the bar until our table was free. Pat said, ‘I must go to the loo and I'll get the drinks on the way back.' In Pat's absence Brian looked me over. Suddenly he reached out and squeezed my left boob and said, ‘Oh, what a lovely pair of tits.' I was so surprised I made no comment.

Soon we were ushered in to our seats in the crowded restaurant. Brian was quite obviously very drunk and the other diners quickly became aware of that. By this time his speech was slurred and he was almost shouting but he did manage to choose his dinner from the menu unaided.

Despite Brian's condition things went fairly smoothly until he spotted two black couples sitting at a table on the other side of the room. He yelled, ‘Niggers. I don't like niggers. You dirty bastards. Why don't you go and swing through the trees.' Pat tried to quieten him down but he still continued with his abuse of black people. The other diners forgot their small talk and laughed as they listened to him. One of the black ladies passed our table on her way to the powder room. Brian bellowed, ‘Go home you black bitch. We don't want you here.' The woman ignored him completely and walked by without glancing in our direction. This state of affairs amused the other diners who sat in their chairs laughing. His racist remarks continued for the remainder of the evening and the entire restaurant became his attentive audience. Finally, Brian paid the bill and Pat suggested we leave. She helped him from his seat and eased him into his jacket. On the way out we had to negotiate twenty concrete stairs leading down to the street. Pat turned to Brian and said, ‘You hang on to my arm and watch where you tread otherwise you'll have
an accident.' All three of us got safely back to the car.

She drove me home, she said ‘goodnight' but I have not seen or heard from Pat since that evening.

BOOK: Misadventures
2.91Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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