When I thought about it, I wasn’t all that enamoured of the place, but ‘needs must’ as some fellow once said; don’t know his name, just know he said it. Probably the same chap who comes up with all sorts of sayings that are trotted out all the time.
I looked from the outside noting it was the tenth house within a terrace of about twenty. Some things were rather good. Liked the lean-to at the front, liked the mini roof across the bay window and the entrance. Always quite fancied a Bay window.
It was Dad Fitrambler that noticed the place. I wasn’t looking to moving that much closer to the town centre. But the place was the right price. Anyway, taking a deep breath, we rang the doorbell and a few seconds later it was opened by a tall, thin man.
“Mr Fitrambler?” he asked.
“Yes,” I replied.
He showed Dad and I in. The first thing that caught my eye was the second door. Not the usual arrangement. Outer door, then inner door, creating small porch. No, this one, great big thing with a solid black pig-iron knob, letterbox and keyhole, solid wood, leaning against a wall. I deferred comment.
Taking things in some sort of order, he showed me the front room. It actually looked like a very small bedroom.
“There’re two rooms downstairs, so there is, and the front room has our lodger in,” he said in an Irish accent, which either made him Irish or someone who’d liked doing Irish accents. “We spend most of our time in the back room…that’s me and my girlfriend…”
“Ok,” I said, as he led us through.
In the back room, also rather small, was a settee against the wall on the left as we walked in, a sideboard to the right wall, a TV in the corner near to the only window in the room. On the same wall, but the other end was a door which led to the kitchen and another door to the right of that which was the stair cupboard. Other than that from the TV, there didn’t seem to be much light in the room.
His girlfriend was on the settee but I tried not to notice her. She was obviously comfortable and as such was showing rather a lot of leg.
In all fairness I’m as partial as the next man to a measure of thigh but wanted to keep focused on the house.
The man showed Dad and I to the kitchen. I guessed it was only fractionally smaller than the one I was used to. But I did find the dominant red and white colour scheme a trifle sudden…
We left the kitchen and he took us upstairs. The first room, was what used to be a third bedroom, was now a bathroom which made it very much bigger than average. The ceiling sloped at one end and was artexed. On the wall immediately right was a full length mirror, screwed in with four parts to it. On the left was the frosted glass window and to the left of that was the wash basin. In between was a hanging basket of real flowers. Couldn’t work out why you’d have them in the bathroom but each to their own.
Then there was the back bedroom.
“He’s not in at the moment,” said the Irish Owner, “away home for the weekend. He’s a salesman.”
Another lodger, I thought. Didn’t like the sound of that. Hoped they’d be out before I moved in.
I noted the room was a lot smaller than what I was used to. That also applied to the front bedroom.
Having seen the house and decided I could live there if I had to but wasn’t over keen, we got to the front door again; and the big one, near to it, leaning against the wall.
Dad was chatting away about the house while I just stared at the door. It looked a bit too big to be the replacement for the front door. Perhaps he was a door salesman.
Irish Owner caught me staring at the door. “Aye, that’s the wee door we were going to put up but never got round to it. Sell it to you for fifty quid?”
I smiled politely and refused. The current front door looked like it had enough life left in it. At that point we left. Dad was keen. I had mixed feelings.
We saw a couple of other houses but most of them were small in the kitchen and bathroom departments.
“Not enough room in the bathrooms to swing a cat,” said Dad, after we saw the latest.
I had to agree. Although the expression ‘not enough room to swing a cat’ made me realise why cats were so weary of human beings. Always a little afraid they’d be used as a primitive measuring device.
No wonder dogs were more friendly and casual, they weren’t under threat of being swung around by the tail. And bloody grateful for that to, no doubt.
So the sale of my old house went through and by September, some three months later, the latest dwelling was ready for me to occupy. I took a few days off work and with Dad did a few bits and pieces around the house prior to moving in on the Saturday.
One of the first things we noticed on getting the keys was how untidy they’d left it. Reminded me of a Game Show where you have so much time to do something and then when the time runs out you stop where you are.
Every room had a black bag half-filled with rubbish of some sort. The kitchen cupboards were empty except for crumbs and three Jacob’s Cream Crackers. Well, two and half, really, as one had got a couple of bites taken out of it before being put back.
Half a pint of milk was going off in a bottle on the kitchen sink. All the light bulbs were gone.
The crackers I discovered after I opened the second cupboard door. The first was a little stiff so I felt I needed to put a lot of effort into the second one. Unfortunately, the second had a loose handle so my hand shot out quickly catching poor Dad on the conk.
Now my father’s got a cracking sense of humour but it diminishes somewhat when his conk is bopped. While rubbing his nose he gave me a severe stare.
“What the bloody hell are you playing at?” he retorted.
“Wasn’t playing at anything. Handle’s loose,” I defended myself.
“We’re supposed to be clearing up, not messing about,” said Mum as she approached the kitchen doorway.
“He hit me on the nose,” Dad defended, but sounded like a little sneaky child.
“Not deliberately…” I responded, sounding equally childish.
Mum sighed and went back into the other room which was in need of a clean. Minutes later, a truce was called between Dad and I, we went into the back room. It was cleaned of all rubbish. That was Mum, she only seemed to walk into a room and a few minutes later it was immaculate. I used to dread going to the toilet in the middle of the night, and coming back to find the bed made…
So we ventured upstairs and to what turned out to be the worst room of all. The bathroom.
The potted plants, both hanging ones and ones on the window ledge were gone and the mud from the pots had been walked into the carpet. There was a hole about a quarter of a centimetre in the ceiling near the sink where the basket had hung. The mirrors were gone and holes where the screws went were prominently displayed.
The following day with all rubbish removed, Dad decorated the downstairs rooms, that is, emulsion on the walls, repainted the frames of the doors and the skirting boards.
It was a little cold that day so dad suggested putting on the gas fires. I made the effort but couldn’t get them to work. It didn’t bode well.
“They don’t work, “ I told him.
Dad stopped what he was doing and sighed, gave me a look of ‘do I have to do everything’ and then tried himself. Ten minutes later…
“They don’t work,” he told me.
Not new information, I thought, but said nothing.
Then Dad said. “Is the Gas turned on at the meter.”
I shrugged. We checked under the stairs for the Gas Meter, in the kitchen and even in the cupboard in the bathroom. No meter. Then we went outside and saw the little white box. We managed to get it open only to discover there wasn’t a meter inside it; just two unconnected pipes. New ones, though.
This was pre-mobile phones, so without a landline connected I decided I’d ring through to the Gas Company on Monday.
We finished up at about 6pm and went home. I’d move in on the Saturday.
On Saturday I moved in. All furniture was in place by 4pm. With not much daylight left, Mum and Dad left and I was alone in my new dwelling.
One thing I discovered quite quickly in the house was although the bathroom was a lot larger than conventional bathrooms, the ceiling was lower than I was used to and sloped.
When performing a quite natural function, as a chap does standing up, one lowers one’s head to make sure the aim’s ok. As soon as I moved my head to look, my forehead scraped across the sloping ceiling with its rough artex and took a layer of skin off.
I managed to avoid that the next day but when taking off my t-shirt I scraped the old knuckles across the ceiling taking a layer of skin off one set.
All male visitors who used the Fitrambler bathroom were warned to mind their heads. Unfortunately, most of them thought I meant when they entered the bathroom so were surprised they got in without trouble. Of course, the sloping roof got them.
For a couple of weeks afterwards you could tell who amongst my male friends visited the new Fitrambler dwelling and who hadn’t by the piece of loose skin on the forehead….
Monday and back to work. By about late afternoon I found time to ring the Gas people about my missing meter. I spoke to a very polite woman.
“There’s one registered to the property,” was the response I got.
“Sorry, but there isn’t one there. I looked all over the house.”
“Well, our records show you have an active meter at your house.” She confirmed the number with me again and then repeated her statement only to add: “Have you looked outside. Often it’s in a white box….”
“Yes, checked the white box. Nothing inside except two new tubes connected to nothing. Meter is there none!” I said, trying to emphasise the point.
However, she still insisted there was and to prevent the whole conversation going the whole way of a Monty Python sketch, I promised to check again that night.
I left work that night, got home and made my tea. Couldn’t cook anything because I didn’t have a cooker. Got rid of the old Gas cooker because there weren’t any gas pipes going into the kitchen. Top of the list, buy a new cooker.
Within an hour of being home I searched the house again from top to bottom. Still no Gas meter leapt out a me crying:
“Bah, yoo-hoo I fooled you, here all the time!”
I decided I’d insist the woman herself come out and have a look. And that sarky remark about it being in the white box outside. Dad and I checked and it wasn’t. However, just so that I could say I’d checked again and be telling the truth I went outside and opened the box…
There, in the failing sunlight glittered a brand new Gas meter. I shut the door then opened it again. It was still there. Perhaps I was going crazy?
I rang Dad Fitrambler up. Told him and he was puzzled as he reminded me he’d checked the white box as well. It hadn’t been there.
We decided in the end that the box was fitted between the time we first looked and the time I made the call to the Gas people…
Bedtime and I’d got no more than four hours sleep when there was a banging on my front door. I was sleeping in the front bedroom so could see the reflection of a flashing blue light. I trundled downstairs.
I opened the front door. “Yes?”
Confronting me were two policeman. Both wearing their hats.
“Mr Irish Owner?”
“Er, don’t think so, but in my dreams I’m so many things,” I tried to quip.
The talking policeman had an expression of someone who sucks sour lemons as a hobby.
“Are you Mr Irish Owner?” he demanded.
“Er no. No, he moved away.”
“Yes, just little old me here now.”
“You sure you’re not Mr Irish Owner?”
I was getting worried so I moved quickly and got my wallet and showed him my driving licence and cheque book. He still looked a bit dubious but the evidence was stacked against him.
“Sorry to bother you,” he said in a tone that precluded any feeling either way.
I got back to bed but it took me a couple of hours before I was able to get to sleep. I kept wondering what Irish Owner had been up to? Why were the police after the chap. Constable Sour Lemon seemed to be very serious. Maybe it was murder?
I sat bolt upright. The overactive imagination had kicked in and I was wondering if there were bodies going to be buried under the floorboards or in the garden…
I sniffed, and couldn’t smell rotting flesh, not that I knew what rotting flesh smelt like?
The next morning, feeling tired, I got ready, ate breakfast and heard the post plop onto the floor. I put the dirty plates into the washing up bowl and picked up the post.
The first letter contained a cheque from my insurance company; a refund on my endowment. £300. Just in the nick, as they say, as most of my money for the month had been absorbed in the move, paying for new curtains and nets and so on and so forth. Was beginning to wonder how I was going to manage with three weeks left to payday? Now I knew.
The second letter was from the Gas Company. It told me I owed them £106.92 for gas used. I baulked at that. Hadn’t been able to find the damned meter let alone use the bloody gas. Only three gas heaters in the house and hadn’t used any of them. Have something to say to those people when I got into work.
The third letter was in a brown A5 envelope with a white sticky label which I didn’t read straight away. Inside was a colourful catalogue. For a minute or two as I stared at it, I thought I was still asleep…
There were pictures of whips, anal bungs, leather masks with zips, leather clothes with zips. Well, if I was half asleep, the pictures woke me up. I think it was my imagination working overtime on the anal bungs that got the old eye liquids going…
I looked at the label on the front and saw it was addressed to Lodtoo. Ah, I thought, the lodger in the back bedroom. Irish Owner did say he was a salesman.
Another day at work and I got home fairly early, just after 4.30pm. By 5.15pm there was a knock on the door as I was half way through my tea.
I growled, almost literally. It’s where dogs and I have something in common. We don’t like people interrupting us while we’re eating or go anywhere near our nosebag.
I opened the door and it was the TV Rental Company. Oddly enough, the TV Rental Company I hired my TV and Video from.
“Come to take your TV and Video back,” he grumbled.
“What?” I expounded, puzzled. He repeated what he said but in a more irritable tone than before. “Any particular reason,” I asked, feeling it’d be nice to know.
“Non-payment,” was his short response.
I frowned even deeper. “Non-payment?” says I, “I’m up to date.”
“Not according to our records, sir.”
“Well, your records are wrong and I can prove it.”
I felt a little sorry for him as it was cold outside and let him into the narrow hallway. In the back room I opened a drawer in a cabinet and got out my latest bank statements. Once back with the chap I showed him the payment details on the Direct debit.
He frowned hard at me. For a few seconds I thought he was going to accuse me of some elaborate fakery.
“Mr Fitrambler,” said he.
“Yes,” acknowledged I.
“Mr Fitrambler?” he repeated, irritably.
“Yes, yes,” I replied, a little puzzled.
“You’re Mr Fitrambler…”
“Eh, yes, thought we’d already got there on that one…”
“Not Mr Irish Owner?”
“Er, no, he moved out two weeks ago…”
He sighed, shook his head and made for the door. “Thanks for wasting my time,” he muttered.
He slammed the door behind him. I stood there quite stunned, trying to figure out how I’d actually wasted his time?
I went back to my tea, which, luckily, was something cold.
In work the next day I managed to get through to the Gas Company and after half an hour, managed to persuade them that I hadn’t used £106.92 worth of Gas in 6 days. It hadn’t been easy…
That afternoon I played 5-a-side football, a rather reckless thing to do as I hadn’t played for over ten years. It was one of those things where you forget that to keep going in a fast-moving game like that you need to be training regularly. At some points throughout the game I was almost blacking out.
I decide to take the easy route – or so I though – and go in goal. It’d been my favourite position in my school days.
Just before I did, the current chap in the position tried to save a really well-hit slammer of a shot. He was successful but only by getting his face in the way. Seeing his nose squash across his face, blood spurt out over the deck. Well, I had to look away.
And I’d just volunteered to go in goal? I was now wondering how wise that was!
By the end of the game I’d got away with scrapes to the knee, and let in ten. Fortunately, not one ball tested the strength of my conk.
That evening I relaxed as best I could with my aches and pains and decided to get an early night.
By 3am I was graced with another visit from the boys in blue.
I walked slowly from my bed, downstairs and to the door like an arthritic old codger and opened the door. Two policemen on the doorstep. Fortunately PC Sour Lemon was nowhere in sight!
“Sorry to bother you, sir, but are you, Mr Lodtoo?” asked a polite young policeman.
“Does he live here?”
“No, no, they moved out a couple of weeks ago.”
This time I supplied them with a forwarding address. I was getting a bit fed up with the visits.
“Thank you, sir. Sorry to have troubled you,” said PC Polite.
So Lodtoo was a bit of a villain. Perhaps the anal bungs were illegal or something.
I went back to bed and was tired with all the aches, fell asleep fairly quickly…
The next morning, still feeling bad, I decide to have a long soak in the bath before going to work. I’d turned on the emersion heater when I had my early morning walk to the toilet at 6am, so by the time I got up for good at 7.30pm the water should’ve been hot. I set the bath running, then found the water was cold.
Checked the emersion heater and it was stone cold. The light was on so it wasn’t the electrics. I sighed, boiled the kettle twice and got enough water for a full body wash. Not easy with the aching muscles.
Spoke to Dad Fitrambler and he suggested it could be the element in the emersion heater. We’d get one sorted out at the weekend.
It was the Friday that the hall lights played up. Flicked the switch and the light would stay on for a couple of seconds.
Then, not long afterwards, while I was relieving myself of surplus fluid the bathroom light popped and made me jump.
A few minutes later, with a mop and bucket and torch, I cleaned up the resulting accident from the popping light bulb!
The trouble with the bathroom light was that it’s a fish eye style bulb. Fortunately it was easy to remove and after a few days without light I managed to remember to get it replaced.
That still didn’t put right the hallway lights but I’d a temporary solution for them, discovered quite by accident. Trying to switch them on, they did their customary two second flash so I thumped the wall in frustration. They came on and stayed on!
Fortunately, they switched off in the conventional way.
Although we’d agreed to replace the element in the emersion heater the first Saturday after it failed it was actually three Saturdays before it was replaced.
We drained the emersion heater, which went well and then with a special spanner, took out the old element.
Since his late thirties, Dad Fitrambler’s had shaky hands. So much so that tea is served shaken not stirred from the tea-pot. As a painter and decorator, the need to keep a still hand and make sure the paint was applied in straight lines when cutting in was important. Oddly enough, the shaking never stopped his accuracy.
But, while he was trying to connect the element wires the shakes were at their height. It took a little longer to do the job.
I watched the shaky hands for a while and then said: “We’d make a cracking pair of bomb disposal chaps, wouldn’t we?”
The serious atmosphere was destroyed instantly. Dad lost his concentration and we were laughing for what seemed ages.
Needless to say, the element was eventually fitted. And it worked beautifully for three months and then the electrics went and I was without bath facilities again.
There’s lots of blokes about who are real DIY enthusiasts. You know, ‘Do It Yourself’? Me, I’m more of a GSE sort of bloke. You know, ‘Get Someone Else’. After all, why should I be selfish and deprive someone who obviously loves doing that sort of stuff?
It’s like gardening. Can’t stand it. Contrary to popular opinion, old Fitrambler here has done a fair bit of it over the years but not on anywhere near a regular basis that it needs. So if someone who loves it feels the need to step in and do a spot, who am I to stand in the way of their pleasures?
Within the next month, the bathroom light was working again, I’d got the hallway lights working, the leather catalogues had stopped arriving and so had the early morning police visits.
No visits from repossession blokes, nor were there Gas meters that took off for little holidays and all was peaceful in the new Fitrambler dwelling.
I looked back while sipping a hot, strong cup of Earl Gray, and thought there’s been quite a few oddities since moving into old 53. But, thinking about it, they weren’t all that bad. After all, it’s not like the ceiling or roof had fallen in…
Funnily enough, that thought was far more prophetic than I could’ve imagined at the time.