An Extract From The Book: Fish – Operation Electric Man By Kelvin Rush.
I was sat about halfway up the stairs feeling physically sick. I was also sweating like a pig. ‘Guilt Sweat’ is what Gran would call it. I was about to be hung, drawn and quartered. That’s slightly over the top, but I think you get the picture. It was the moment I’d been dreading for weeks. I’d not slept properly for ages, waking up several times during the night. I’d just be laid there worried sick, my mind racing in all directions. I knew this moment would eventually arrive, and here it was, staring me right smack in the face. But that certainly didn’t lessen the blow.
It seemed like only yesterday when I was saying to myself: ‘Don’t worry, there’s plenty of time to get it sorted, something will turn up.’ But something didn’t turn up, and there was no more time to get anything sorted. Time had most definitely run out and I was minutes away from disaster. The second I heard the table legs drag across the kitchen floor, my heart literally skipped a beat, several beats to be precise.
For the moment, time had stood still for Martin Fisher, (that’s me). Known to everyone as Fish. Fish was about to be drowned. Up shit creek without a paddle. In fact, I don’t even have a canoe let alone a paddle. The electric man is in our kitchen. He’s come to empty the electric meter, or so he thinks. We have a slot meter that takes fifty pence coins. When the electricity runs out, we put fifty pence in the slot, turn the handle, and then the electricity comes back on. The fifty pence drops into a box, and the electric man comes to empty it every three months. Everyone on our street has a slot meter. We’re always knocking on each other’s doors, trying to cadge money.
‘Hello Mr Swift.’
‘What do you want Fish?’
‘Oh, have ya got a fifty pence coin for the meter please? Dad can pay ya back at the end of the week.’
‘No, sorry pal, I had to borrow a quid from Jean next door.’
‘Oh, ok Mr Swift, thanks anyway, see ya.’
‘Yeah, see ya Fish.’
‘Hello Mrs Bannon.’
‘Hello Fish, what can I do for you?’
‘Have ya got a fifty pence coin for the meter please? Dad can pay ya back at the end of the week.’
‘Yeah, no worries Fish, I’ll just go and get it for ya. How is ya dad by the way? and how’s ya mum? has she still got the flu?’
‘Dad’s fine Mrs Bannon thanks. Yeah mum’s still got the flu, she’s been in bed for the past few days.’
‘Oh I’m sorry to hear that Fish, tell her I said hello, I hope she gets better soon.’
‘Yeah, will do Mrs Bannon, thanks Mrs Bannon.’
— Mum seems to get the flu a lot these days, and she always looks tired and run-down. Mind you, that’s not surprising considering all the work she does. She’s always the first up every morning, getting the breakfasts ready for all the mouths that need feeding. She does the packed lunches, and makes sure we all get to school and work on time, and that’s just the mornings. She also does all the cooking, the washing and ironing, and keeps the house clean and tidy. We all help out as much as we can, but it’s mum who does most of the work. I don’t help matters much, when I get into trouble. For some reason trouble always seems to follow me around. I can’t think why.
Slot meters may be a convenient way to pay for the electricity, but it’s not nice when you’re laid in a hot bubble bath, or eating your favourite tea, and all the lights go out. And what if you’re watching an exciting episode of Coronation Street, and the telly suddenly goes off? When it eventually comes back on, the programme has finished, and you’ve no idea who stole Albert Tatlock’s carrots from his allotment, or if Annie Walker gave Fred Gee, Betty Turpin, and Bet Lynch a pay rise.
Also in the kitchen with the electric man is my dad. He’s sat in his armchair reading the Daily Mirror newspaper. He’s smoking a Benson and Hedges cigarette, and drinking his usual pint mug of very strong tea with three sugars. What dad and the electric man don’t realise, is that very soon, a large dollop of smelly shit will hit the fan big time. And unfortunately for yours truly, it’s heading for the fan quicker than a Chinese Space Station crashing down to earth.
On this day, the 3rd of September 1978, in approximately one minute from now, (that’s how long it will take for the electric man to empty the meter), all hell will break loose in the Fisher household. The electric man and my dad will soon discover, that very little money is in the meter. No more than a few quid I would guess. There should be at least thirty quid in there, which pays for all the electricity we’ve used.
The electric meter is in the small cupboard in the kitchen. To get to it, you need to pull out the dining table, which is pushed up against the cupboard door. You then get on your hands and knees and crawl in carefully, so you don’t crack your head on the concrete ceiling, which we’ve all done on numerous occasions. We only go in there to put money in the meter, or when the electric man comes to empty it every three months. To make it even more hazardous, it’s also where we keep all our old shoes, boots and slippers, which is quite substantial, considering there are ten of us that live here.
There’s me, my two brothers Billy and Robert. My five sisters Julie, Tracey, Sharon, Debra and Brenda. My mum Kathy and dad Ken. I’m 10 years old, the baby of the family and our Robert is the eldest, he’s 24. The others are somewhere in between. We’re all crammed into a three bedroom council house. Five girls in the first bedroom, three boys in the second, mum and dad in the third.
That’s ten people under one roof. Now there’s a melting pot, if ever there was one. Living in a crowded house does have its advantages. For one thing, there’s always lots of birthdays, and that means birthday cake, and the possibility of a party. However, there’s not much chance of a party anytime soon, as the last one was a right disaster.
— It was our Sharon’s 18th, and when she told everyone, it was going to be the biggest and best party ever seen on our council estate, I don’t think even she was prepared for what actually happened. As it turned out she was half right. It may have been the biggest party ever seen, but it most definitely wasn’t the best. Not only did she invite all of her friends, she also invited just about anyone who knew her. The problem was, they in turn invited their friends. The party started at 7.00pm and by 8.00pm our house and street was swarming with partygoers.
By 9.00pm it was absolute mayhem. There were drunken fights, people being sick, teenagers urinating in the streets, and in neighbour’s gardens. Screaming and shouting, loud music, and a very strong smell of cannabis consumed the air. One of the very angry neighbours rang the police, who arrived ten minutes later, mob-handed. Five police cars and two police vans screeched outside our house, just like The Sweeney. They quickly rounded up the drunken louts, and made several arrests for drunk and disorderly and drug offences. The police reckon there were at least 150 partygoers, most of which scattered like terrified turkeys on Christmas Eve, just as the police arrived.
Mum and dad weren’t even invited to the party. They went to the pictures in town, at the insistence of our Sharon, who didn’t want them anywhere near the house. She was eighteen now and a proper adult, she certainly didn’t want mum and dad cramping her style. Even the siblings weren’t invited. Mum and dad went to The Roxy to see the film Grease, staring the heart-throb John Travolta and the gorgeous Olivia Newton-John. They’d already seen the film a few weeks before, but they both enjoyed it so much, they decided to go again. I think the truth was dad fancied Olivia and mum definitely fancied John.
When mum and dad drove onto our street around 10.15pm, the last thing they expected to see were police cars and vans, and officers taking statements from the angry neighbours. However, that was nothing compared to the utter shock they got, as they walked through the front door. The first thing to hit them, like a frying pan in the face, was a nauseating, revolting stench. It was a mixture of urine, vomit and cannabis. Dad was close to being sick himself. He gipped a few times, almost bringing up the hot dog he’d eaten at the pictures. The house looked like it had been hit by an earthquake. Admittedly, it was nothing like the Great Chilean earthquake in 1960. That earthquake was the most powerful ever recorded, with a 9.5 magnitude. Looking on the bright side, our house wasn’t that bad, and at least it was still standing.
Mum and dad were in a trance-like state, as they slowly walked around the house in total disbelief. The house had been well and truly trashed. Dad compared it to the taproom at The Red Lion pub on a Saturday night, only a million times worse. Thick cigarette smoke lingered in the air with no escape, as all the windows were closed. In the living room and kitchen, there were tab ends, beer and wine glasses (some smashed), pickled onions, half-eaten sandwiches, crisps, sausage rolls, pork pies and slices of quiche, strewed all over the floors and furniture. The sofa and chairs had been tipped over, and stood on several times. The glass coffee table had a large crack down the middle.
The kitchen sink was full of urine, with faeces floating on the top. Wine and beer had been spilt over the record player, and all over the units. Vinyl records, including singles and albums, had been used as frisbees and were scattered all over the place. Some had also been smashed into tiny pieces. Even mum’s favourite Cliff Richard album had been damaged. She was absolutely livid. ‘Bloody Hell!’ she screamed. ‘They’ve even had a go at our Cliff!’
All the bedrooms were just as bad. Someone had been rummaging through the wardrobes and drawers, no doubt searching for money. (They’ll be lucky, no one has any money in our house.) Clothes, coats, handbags and personal belongings, had all been riffled through, and thrown willy-nilly on the beds and the floor. They’d also nicked a box of Terry’s All Gold milk chocolates, belonging to our Grace. She’d bought them as a surprise present for mum, to thank her for all the work she does. It took Grace ages to save up for those chocolates.
Mum and dad found our Sharon sprawled out on top of her bed fully clothed, snoring away, dead to the world. There was a large pile of disgusting smelly sick on the floor nearby. She’d obviously had too much to drink, puked up and then crashed out. ‘Leave her where she is. There’s no point waking her up now. We’ll sort all this out in the morning,’ said mum.
The next day Sharon woke up with the worst hangover ever. After a real good ear bashing from mum and dad, she spent the whole day cleaning up the mess. All the family helped out, and eventually the house was back to normal. However, the damage had been done, and suffice to say we haven’t had a party since.
An Extract From The Book: Fish – Operation Electric Man By Kelvin Rush.