The alarm shrilled it’s incessant tone as Nick flailed about until finally connecting with the off switch. “Oh God” he groaned as he opened his eyes, one at a time and came back into the land of the living. Forcing himself out of bed towards the shower, was a trial of strength. As he entered the shower he slipped on a rogue piece of soap and grabbed the temperature control lever to prevent himself from falling. “Shit!” He exclaimed, getting it back to the correct temperature would not be easy, he hadn’t touched these controls in years. Nick found it relaxing, never to have to consider such minor things. It was far better to just turn on the water and step into the shower, without thinking. After fiddling around for quite some time he finally achieved the perfect temperature. Feeling extremely pleased with himself, he stepped into the jets of pulsating liquid warmth and sat down on the floor, idly letting the water, just flow over his tired body. He couldn’t help himself, his eyes closed in appreciation of the moment, the sound of the rushing water as it massaged his aching muscles, lulled him into a dream like state. Today was Sunday, so he could indulge himself.......
However, just an hour later he was sat in front of his computer editing his report ready to send to Valerie. This was not exactly what he planned for his day off. His usual Sunday treat to himself would be a late up, a quick trawl through the papers and then a pub lunch. Well, even though the timetable may be slightly off at least he’d get rid of the report before lunch and although the papers would have to wait for a little while, he could now set about putting this Sunday, back on track. Having imbibed far too much cognac last hours, his second stint staring at the computer screen had the usual effect. He was now suffering the dagger like thrusts of, what was promising to be, the mother of all headaches.
“Whoa, tablets time Nicky,” he said to himself, as a drum roll went off in his head and his stomach did a somersault. “Definitely tablet time.” With one last glance through his report he hesitated for a moment then pressed send with a flourish he didn’t feel, “Be gone foul impertinence,” then set about closing his computer down for the day....... “Tablets!”
The remedy he sought was, as it had been for years, Andrews Liver Salts and three paracetamol. The fizzing effervescent bubbles and the taste, which he quite enjoyed, made him shudder, as he quickly drank the concoction and swallowed the pills. “There, that should do it,” he muttered, as he sat down and set about rolling himself, the days first Joint. His thoughts moved towards the idea of going to 'The Lady of Chalot,' for a roast lunch and a quiet pint, or two. Glancing at his watch he put his half smoked Joint, in the corner of his lips and having gathered up his jacket and his wallet, made his way towards the front door. The pale morning sun had been shining on the car for quite a while, so by the time Nick opened the door, the leather of the driving seat was all warm and soft to the feel.
“Ah, where would I be without you, girl,” he commented, as he sat there, for a few moments, just appreciating the elegance of his old Volvo.
Then, the routine that he’d been following for years, kicked in. Before starting the engine, he stubbed out the butt of his joint and having placed the key in the ignition, turned it and started the car. Next, he turned on the C.D, player and having attained the correct volume, he was then ready to rock ’n roll. Deek smoothly pulled out of the driveway and together they headed off to keep the appointment with “The Lady.”
Nick’s choice of Hostelry, was carefully selected for solitude, ambiance, good food and fine ale. It had taken quite a while to settle for “The Lady.” Nick had reckoned that finding a pleasant atmosphere in a place like this, would be easy. Wrong! Since Joanne’s death, working at St Josephs, with it’s long hours and strange crazy happenings had created his need for a place of quiet solitude, where he could get a nice pint of beer and some excellent food. He had tried several places, that on the surface appeared to fit the bill but on closer inspection, had fallen by the wayside. It was either, the wrong crowd with too many drunken clients, or the place was fine but it had awful music. Then of course, there was the endless problem of tasteless, mundane pub food. The list of duds simply grew longer. Then, when he had almost given up his quest, an older guy, who he had bumped into years ago, on his way home after a particularly long and exhausting shift, told him about a quiet old pub by the river, that used to be popular but fell out of favour as the 1960’s, drew to a close. Not holding out much hope but willing to give it a try, Nick, had driven down to the location and to his great surprise, had found his Shangri-La.
The quiet retreat he had eventually found, was 'The Lady of Chalot,' or as the locals called it, “The Onion.” An old public house, on the road to Warburton Valance, a pretty rural village, that had between 1997 and 1998, finished Second and then Third, respectively, in the Britain’s Brightest Village competition. A competition organised by something like The Woman’s Institute, or it may have been The Rotary Club, or perhaps The Round Table? It didn’t matter, the most important thing was that nobody recognised him in,'The Lady of Chalot,' he could have been anybody and that suited him fine. Plus it had good food, great music and a fine ale. When he had first laid eyes on the place, it had made an instant impression upon him. It was tucked down an unremarkable cobbled lane next to the canal with an amazing, unrestricted view of the local cricket pitch. Nick, had always connected cricket, its peaceful nature suited him fine. He had shared this love of cricket with his dad who used to take him to watch the various local clubs Sunday matches during the summer months of his childhood. As to which team had won these contests, to this day he was unsure because he and his dad always departed for home around 5.30pm when the matches were still in progress.
As he drove Nick’s thoughts drifted back to those times, pulling away from the ground in his Dad’s rather plush saloon car, making their way home in time for Tea, which Mom had made ready for them. Why was he thinking about Cricket, after all this time? Granted, he had retained an interest in the game but mostly, it never crossed his mind. These days, his favourite sport and it had been for the past thirty something years, was American Football, closely followed by Rugby League. “Normality,” that’s what was required right now. The impending meeting at Peninsular House, now less than twenty-four hours away, was weighing heavily on his mind. Perhaps cricket was being used by his brain as a salve for what was to come tomorrow? Perhaps his studied indifference, was merely a front for him to hide his obvious fears behind?
Nick pulled into the car park of ‘The Onion’ and soon dismissed his work troubles by spending the next hour putting the world to rights, with some of the locals, over lunch and a few pints of Beer. He then turned his attention to the ongoing cricket match but that only served to allow idle thoughts to flit from branch, to branch between deliveries. Cricket, on a Sunday afternoon, always provoked memories of his Dad and some faded childhood recollections. His thoughts turned to that haunting picture of a tall slender man, immaculately turned out in a tweed three piece suit, applauding every stylish stroke that was played by the batsmen, from either team, in an ostentatious display of overt sportsmanship. That man was his father and whenever he recalled his dad, Estelle, his aging mother, would surely follow.
Whilst his childhood memories of his father, were somewhat spectral, his mother, was a completely different matter. “The Lady Estelle” as he had laughingly referred to her in his youth, was in less than mint condition. The death of his dad, had knocked her for six to use an apt metaphor. She never seemed to smile anymore and her recollective functions, were becoming increasingly erratic. So far the dementia, wasn’t too bad, but the big old family house, had been beyond her capabilities for a few years now. The time was rapidly approaching, where a decision, would have to be made, as to her future. Ever since, Joanne past away, he had been used to living alone but there would be plenty of room, at Lilac Cottage, for both him and his dear old mom, at least, in the near future. Eventually, it may become too much to cope with and then, they would be looking at The Retirement Home solution. Those thoughts, always brought his musings to a crashing halt which, this time, coincided with a loud but fruitless appeal from the cricket pitch and Nick, was snapped back, to the present.
A quick look at the scoreboard, which read 147 for 8, convinced him that it was time to get off home. Willowbank, were never going to get the required 273 runs, before they were bowled out and it was getting late. He hurriedly glanced at his wristwatch and made his way back to the car, if he was lucky, he would be able to get home, prepare his tea, which was going to be another Pizza and then eat it while he was watching tonights Rugby League clash between Leeds Rhino’s and Wigan Warriors. “Magic,” he said to himself as he started Deke and slipped smoothly out of the car park and pulled away, toward Lilac Cottage, pizza and rugby league.
During the drive, his doubts and fears about the possible outcomes of his encounter with the disciplinary board in the morning, flooded back. It was entirely possible, that he could lose his job in a few hours and that would not be good. Shit, what was he going to do, if the old farts on the disciplinary committee, dismissed him? Christ, he was 46 years old and the options for taking up a change of lifestyle opportunities, were somewhat thinning as the years rolled by. “Who, are you kidding?” He commented with derision, it was going to take a mighty event, or something equally dramatic, to move him on nowadays. In his mind’s eye, he saw an older man, now in charge of the hostel, just waiting for the interminable hours to pass, so he could retire and write that book, which for some reason, never quite got started. In his youth Nick had been a risk taker but since Joanne’s death, he’d got used to playing things safe. It was at times like this, that he felt the full weight of the world and the ever growing sense of despair engendered by this bloody job, weighed down upon him. Sometimes, he truthfully felt as if it were trying to drive him mad. He had once stupidly thought, that this occupation in The Probation Service, was the best job in the world. Those illusions had quickly been shattered within three weeks, or so, of taking up his post as Deputy Head Warden of St. Joseph’s Hostel for ’Miscreant and Dissolute Young Men,’ as he liked to call it.
“Shit man, think about something else, you boring bastard,” Nick cursed, “tomorrow, will come soon enough and it doesn’t need you, hurrying it along.” This cycle of self doubt and questioning, was ended abruptly, when he inadvertently drove into and out of, the giant pothole, that had mysteriously appeared sometime during last winter at the end of the driveway leading up to Lilac Cottage. The jolt, rudely snapped him back from his troubled musings with a resounding thump. “Fuck it,” he said, as his head and the roof of Deke, met involuntarily, for the umpteenth time. He instinctively reached for his scalp, to make sure that there was no blood flowing.
“Jesus Christ, Nick, how many times do you need to do that before you remember?” He rubbed his head and waited for the pain to dissipate. “Never mind, at least it’s Sunday.”
Parking up he smoothly opened the Volvo’s heavy red door, “back home at last,” he said to ‘Deke,’ as he shut the drivers side door and locked it. “Yes, it is indeed, Sunday,” he muttered under his breath, as he let himself in through the front door. The prospect of the imminent evening meal, eaten sitting in front of the ’telly,’ with a couple of cans, while watching the much anticipated clash, between Leeds and Wigan, sent an excited shiver down his back as he put the kettle on. 'Cool,' he thought. 'This is what makes life worth living.' He swiftly set about, getting his evening meal underway. 'No time to waste Nick, you don’t want to miss the kick off.' Dials, were turned and buttons were pressed and in no time, the Pizza, went into the oven, a coffee was in his hand and he was sitting in the lounge turning the television on. Nick, decided he’d had enough beer and reached over for the Cognac. 'There’s nothing wrong with a little bit of serious self indulgence at times like this,' he mused whilst the pundits gave their preamble to the match and he waited for the oven to ‘ping.’
Twenty minutes later, having been rudely summoned by the electronic timekeeper, Nick, retrieved his over optimistically large twelve inch pizza from the oven and added a suitably large slice of Blackberry and Apple pie, with lashings of fresh cream to his now inadequately small tray. Nick, walked carefully back to his armchair, while keeping his eyes firmly fixed on the television screen.
“Good timing, man, they’re just about to kick off.” He exclaimed as the ball was gathered in goal, by a Wigan player, who carried it back upfield for a few yards, until he was smashed to the ground, by a group of stampeding Rhino’s. The contest, was totally engrossing and it remained relatively close. The clash, had been a trial of strength throughout and consequently had been low scoring. That was, until Leeds, ran in two rapid tries in the last ten minutes, which somewhat distorted the contest if you just looked at the score. As the final whistle sounded, harsh reality reasserted itself. His team had lost and tomorrow, was now one hundred and twenty minutes closer.
By the time he’d cleared all the detritus of the evenings entertainment away and returned to the warm, softness of his favourite armchair, it was even closer.
“Get your fucking mind off that and on to something else,” Nick barked at himself and started flicking about on the T.V, looking for something to watch. Having gone up and down the channels, to no avail, he sat back and started to look around the room and wrack his brain, for something to do. The last thing, that he wanted to right now, was to sit around and worry about the morning. Then, it hit him. He hadn’t read the latest copy of The Willowbank Legend,
During, all the unfolding chaotic events of the weekend, he had forgotten all about it. That situation, needed rectifying forthwith. With a sense of glee he selected this weeks, as yet unread copy of his favourite free paper. The ever interesting and occasionally hilarious, Willowbank Legend was a true godsend. It often lifted the readers spirits, with one of it’s quirky eccentricities. It was The Legend, that had once run the headline 'Two die, in housewife inferno.' It wasn’t until later, that somebody spotted the obvious error but by then, it was too late, the print run was complete. Upon enquiry about this story, it was discovered that just two letters were the culprits. W I F and E should have read F I R and E. Mr. Desmond Desmond, the newspapers new proprietor, had recently appointed his latest Mistress, Miss Lyndsey O’ Sullivan, who was some ‘bigshot’ from London, as the new Features Editor. It was her responsibility to check such things out and correct any obvious mistakes, or untruths, in a breaking story. However, in his haste to currie favour with his latest illicit flame, he had neglected to take into consideration, the fact that she was Dyslexic and the headline had seemed fine to her, when she was checking over one the first edition mock ups.
Little did Desmond know, when he appointed her, after a drunken night of botched love making, on a lumpy bed in Room 13 of the Cadbury Lodge in Havertree, that she was truly hopeless at her editing job. She had only been given her position in London, because of a disastrous liaison with the son of the boss. They needed to keep her quiet and so the position of Picture Editor of 'Little Miss Pink,' a pre-teens magazine for young ladies, was invented as a convenience. It’s contents concentrated mainly on pieces about make up, non threatening 'born with silver spoon in mouth' wealthy boys and of course pony’s. Lots of pony’s. Very occasionally, it had a cobbled together feature, that hung precariously around the neck of something like a Royal Wedding, or another A-List Celebrity bust up. Most of Little Miss Pink readers, were under twelve years of age so any unflattering correspondence, referring to Lyndsey’s errors, rapidly found their way into the waste paper bin. To say, that she came to The Legend, highly recommended, was of no meaningful concern. Desmond Desmond, was infatuated and all suitability checks stopped in her panties.
Unencumbered by such concerns, Miss O’Sullivan carried on in her own merry way and Nick would not have changed one single thing about her incompetence. He still giggled inside, whenever he thought about the immortal, 'Housewife Inferno' story. The implications were indeed intellectually delicious and the pictures they painted in his mind, were priceless. Who could forget, the morning that it had appeared in the paper. All that day he had found, that he was giggling, sometimes inappropriately, every time the headline crossed his mind. Nick, was so impressed with the inadvertent comedic qualities of the whole farrago, that he had carefully cut it out of the paper and stuck it in his “Scrapbook of mirth.” This contained his collections of Steve Bell cartoons and the phenomenally funny, “Adventures of The Lone Groover,” by Ray Lowry, which had started the whole thing off, way back in the days when he subscribed to 'The New Musical Express.' To this day, he still laughed out loud, every time he thought of the immortal, “Cliff, Little and Keith Pillchard,” strips.
Having scanned the Legend but been disappointed due to a lack of cock ups, Nick rolled himself,one last joint to take to bed with him while he watched the end of some 'Sci-fi' nonsense on TV. Having checked the locks on the doors were fastened tight, he ascended the stairs and headed for the shower.
“Little Pilchard,” he repeated to himself and smiling, he opened the glass fronted cubicle door and stepped inside.