Some people should never play poker

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Cavendish Avenue

CHAPTER ONE: Cavendish Avenue.

The very large, spacious Victorian houses in that part of the city had once been single dwellings. They were essentially the London bases of well-to-do families. They were almost uniformly designed with ‘below stairs’ kitchens, scullery, pantry etc. – the bowels of the house - that relieved the family and guests from the inconvenience of being spectators to the ‘workings’ that kept their lives warm, fed and comfortable.

Above the two ‘family floors’ was an attic where the staff could rest their weary heads during the hours of darkness before the morning saw them up – usually way before daylight – to start the early morning chores that would make the family’s day go well and without aggravation.

So, 25 Cavendish Avenue was easily capable of being divided up into four very attractive, comfortable, spacious flats. It was close to transport, to parks, to lakes and to sporting and leisure facilities. In fact, everything to make those tenants’ lives fulfilled and happy. If only people were always that easily satisfied!

Georgia Taddei and her long-term partner, Neil Bamford, lived on the ground floor. In truth, Neil objected to the title ‘partner’ on the basis that it seemed to lend an element of permanency to their relationship that he was not sure about. Despite the fact that they had already been living together for eight years he preferred to give the impression that ‘he was just seeing if she suited’ … ‘if she came up to scratch’! Georgia was the ideal foil for this strategy because she had long since learned that it did no good to take offence at anything that Neil did – she either accepted him warts and all, or she moved on. Before she had had the most blessed change in fortune, she had always thought she stayed because she was too scared, too financially dependent on Neil, to make any other choice.

Then, somehow, really without trying she found herself bucking the usual trend. She had been ‘scribbling’ for years and had used her writing as an escape, as a way of developing another personality, as a bolt hole. Then completely unexpectedly her ‘bolt hole’ had become her ‘profession’. Fate had saved her from subservience and soul-neglect so fast that she felt almost embarrassed and apologetic.

The whole of the first floor was occupied by Gio and Alice Scarletti and their two sons, Carlo and Michele. Gio, a cousin of Georgia, was an accountant and Alice was a housewife …. And a happy housewife, perfectly content with her lot, and not at all hankering after a career or independence. She had been nearly seventeen when she had married Gio – with Carlo already on the way – and mothers and fathers on both sides modern enough to be unhappy at the ‘waste’ of two lives, but old fashioned enough to be agreeing enthusiastically to the wedding. Not quite a shotgun wedding, more a ‘make the best of it’ wedding. And make the best of it the young couple certainly had done. They were still together – apparently happy – coming up to their 14th wedding anniversary – and even the seven-year itch seemed to be passing them by for the second time. Apparently.

In the basement, lived James Longstaff and Geoffrey Klein. James was, in fact, the landlord for the property – one of several around the metropolis. There was frequent speculation amongst the other tenants as to why James would choose to occupy the basement – which was by far the least attractive part of the house – and it was generally agreed that it was because he could charge more rent for the other flats. He was a thoroughly nice man in his early fifties, who understood the benefits of money, was not ‘tight’ but did not let go of his money easily. He was pleasant enough but was not well known for his generosity and certainly was more of the school that thought that ‘charity began at home’. An arch Tory, who passionately disapproved of the Welfare State and who wore black and sulked for a month to protest at the ‘overthrow’ of Margaret Thatcher.

The strangest thing in all of this was that his partner (soon to be husband – the date had been finally fixed!) was the complete opposite of all of those things. A Consultant Paediatrician in the local hospital, dedicated to the National Health Service and offended by the way that some children had to live. Arguments were fiery and fierce, voices were permanently raised, neither gave an inch …. But they were as happy as could be wearing their different sashes, waving their different banners and supporting their different champions. Their tenants anticipated their parting of the ways on a regular basis, but James and Geoffrey enjoyed their spats almost as much as their making up. Almost.

In the attic lived Francesca Taddei, a dance teacher, and 13 years younger second cousin of Georgia, and her flat-mate Amanda Bamford, niece of Neil - a would-be actress but more often unreliable waitress, barmaid or sometimes – if she was being given a second chance – a demonstrator of gadgets in the larger chain department stores. This was hit or miss, because Amanda’s sense of her own worth was often greater than the people employing her. If Amanda had an engagement to demonstrate, say, a new kitchen mop at a store, and an audition came up for something worth pursuing, she would see it as perfectly right – since it could be more in her own interests – to go to the audition: Would she let anybody know she was therefore ‘unavailable’ …of course not! An actress, apparently, had to nurture her art … in her eyes it certainly took precedence over a stupid kitchen mop! So she had been blacklisted by some agencies. Some though could not but like her – and forgave her much because she was scatty and young …. In other words, she talked a good line! It helped too that she was 5ft 2 ins of blond, pretty, bubbly femininity – a fact she knew perfectly well how to exploit. She had many of the qualities of her Uncle Neil (though he never, ever, allowed her to call him that!) but with redeeming features! Literally features that were redeeming – pretty face, slim but curvy body, and she was 20 years younger!

Francesca and Amanda had been at school together, though truth to say they had not been friendly – each being part of a different group – one might even say ‘gang’ - that took great pleasure in antagonising the other. That having been said, both the girls were well matched. Neither of them was a shrinking violet and they could have traded blow for blow or insult for insult quite happily if the need had arisen.

It had been pure chance that they ended up harnessed together in the attic. When the sudden vacancy occurred in the attic flat, both girls thought they were a ‘shoo in’ for the tenancy because in each case one of their own relatives was already in situ. It was Georgia that had brokered what could have been the judgement of Soloman. Not quite as horrific as Soloman’s suggestion of cutting the baby in half, but given the girls’ past history, just as big a gamble. Why did they not share? Strangers answered adverts all the time! You didn’t have to be bosom pals … Why not divide the attic flat in half? They could both live there – separately, but jointly.

Unlike their relatives in the ground floor flat, their living together – or at least on the same level – had improved their view of one another, and both now felt comfortable with the arrangement. They each ran with a different ‘crowd’ and had different friends, different interests, different ambitions, but upstairs in their attic flat, they got on very well – each with their own space, and respecting ‘the rules’ of the arrangement.

So those were the residents in 25 Cavendish Avenue.

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