An Extract From The Book: Fish – Operation Electric Man By Kelvin Rush.
Goody had let me practice many times on his electric meter, until I was confident enough to go it alone. I’d been carefully planning things for the past few weeks, and now it was time to put the plan into action. It had to be carried out in the early morning, when everyone was in bed asleep. I decided the best time would be 3.00am on a Saturday. If everything went according to plan, it would take no more than twenty minutes from start to finish. It was 11.45pm on Friday night. ‘Operation Electric Man,’ had finally arrived. I was lying in bed waiting for our Billy and Robert to drop off to sleep. The three of us share a bedroom, so there’s not much privacy. I know when they’re asleep because they both snore. I also snore. In fact all our family seems to snore. It sounds like a farmyard in our house when everyone’s asleep.
Our Tracey’s the worst, she snorts like a pot-bellied pig. Even the next-door neighbour Mr Bailey, can hear our Tracey snoring. He’s always complaining about it. Mind you, the walls are really paper-thin in these council houses. I can hear Mr Bailey going to the toilet. Sometimes he can pee for England, especially when he’s had a few pints in the pub. I once timed him peeing for 45 seconds, followed by a rather loud prolonged fart. He burst out laughing, so did I. Dad says it must be something to do with his prostate, (whatever that means). Mr Bailey also bangs out Frank Sinatra songs early in the morning. You can hear ‘New York New York,’ all the way down the street, and his singing is worse than our Tracey’s snoring, so he’s definitely got nothing to complain about.
Our Billy and Robert finally dropped off to sleep. They were both snoring away dead to the world, unaware of what I was about to do. Shortly after, I heard mum and dad coming up the stairs. I listened intently as the bedroom door closed, and they both got undressed and got into bed. That was a crucial point in the operation. It wouldn’t be long now. Eventually, I heard dad snoring, and could also hear mum breathing slowly through her nose, making a kind of whistling sound. Even though mum and dad were now probably asleep, the operation wouldn’t begin until 3.00am as planned, just to be on the safe side.
I could just about see the clock face on the wall, thanks to the glare of the streetlight, peering in through the gap in the curtains. As each minute went by, I was getting more and more nervous. When it got to 2.30am, I spent several minutes going through all the procedures in my head, over and over again. The next thing I knew it was 3.00am. It was now all systems go and time for action. As I threw back the sheets and got out of bed, I had a horrible sickly feeling, churning away in my stomach. It was the exact same feeling I’d had a few weeks before:
I was sat outside the headmaster’s office, waiting to be caned. I’d been caught smoking once again, and this time I was facing three of the best. I walked in and saw the headmaster Mr Willshaw, stood there with the cane by his side. He told me to take off my blazer and bend over, until my head was touching the edge of his desk. I was literally shaking with fear, as he whacked me three times really hard, right on the top of my backside, where the bone is. The first blow was bad enough, but the second and third left me reeling on the floor, in a great deal of pain and distress. Mr Willshaw was always whacking somebody, and he enjoyed it too. You could see that by the smug look on his face, when the poor terrified kid started to cry.
And it wasn’t just him, some of the other teachers also loved to dish out the violence. I was punched in the stomach by the science teacher Mr Andrews. I told him he looked like Catweazle, the wrestler off the telly, with the long hair and scruffy beard. I was only repeating what everyone else was saying. Without a second thought, he gave me a solid punch right in the gut, that left me winded. Some teachers just don’t have a sense of humour.
I put my slippers on and carefully opened the bedroom door, then quietly tiptoed to the top of the stairs. I couldn’t simply walk down the stairs as normal, as I would have made too much noise, due to the creaks, (especially on stairs three and eight). Instead, I crouched down, and then got on my hands and knees. My heart was racing, as I crawled down the stairs on my belly, slowly and meticulously. I felt just like a slimy, sneaky snake, closing in on the unsuspecting prey. When I reached the bottom, I stood up and gently opened the kitchen door. I waited to see if there was any movement from upstairs, before going into the kitchen. I turned on the light and then closed the door behind me. I don’t know why, but the kitchen looked and felt different in some way. Maybe it was the deafening silence, or the lingering tension in the air.
The first thing to do, was move the four chairs away from the wooden table, which was pushed up against the cupboard door. I removed each chair from underneath the table, lifting the legs off the floor, so they wouldn’t scrape on the lino and make a noise. That was the easy bit. I then had to pull the table away from the cupboard door. The table was a bit rickety and also quite heavy. After a few trial runs over the past few weeks, I’d already worked out the best way to move the table, without making a noise. I folded two tea towels into squares, and put them under the two table legs, nearest the cupboard door. I then lifted up the back of the table, and slowly pulled it away from the door. The two table legs quietly slid across the lino, along with the tea towels.
Considering I was only five stone wet through, and because the table was so heavy, I could only move it a few inches at a time. I eventually dragged it about two feet away from the cupboard door, which gave me just enough room to get inside. So far so good. I knelt down, opened the door and crawled into the cupboard. The electric meter was on the back wall. I moved several pairs of old shoes and slippers to the side, and then rested my knees on a pair of dad’s old black wellies, to make myself more comfortable. At this point I was getting a little scared. For a few moments, I was beginning to have second thoughts. I knew I could stop this right now, and forget about the whole thing. However, the next thing I knew, I was holding a pair of dad’s electrical pliers and his screwdriver. I’d hidden them in the cupboard a few days before, along with an old bath towel, which I would be using to remove the money box. There was definitely no stopping me now.
I went into auto-mode, as I followed Goody’s instructions step by step. The first thing I needed to do, was remove the two screws on either side of the meter. I carefully untwisted and then broke the security wire around the screws, using the electrical pliers, before removing the two screws with the screwdriver. I put the wire and screws in my pyjama pocket, and put the screwdriver and pliers on the floor. Now was the real challenge. I had to detach the money box from the meter. To get to the money box, I had to remove the black steel casing around the meter. The only way to do that, was to physically force it off. After many practice runs on Goody’s meter, I knew it would make a lot of noise. Considering it was now after three in the morning, not to mention seven siblings, and mum and dad upstairs, making any kind of noise was out of the question.
To muffle the noise, I would use the old bath towel. I fished out the towel that was hidden under several pairs of shoes. I could feel my heart beating frantically, as I folded the towel twice, before wrapping it around the black steel casing. I took hold of each corner and began to twist and pull it rapidly. After several attempts I could feel it getting looser. Finally, I managed to yank it completely away from the meter. I was now holding the black steel casing, along with the money box. I couldn’t quite believe it. It was about a foot square and quite heavy, due to the number of fifty pence coins inside. The only way to get the coins out, was through the narrow slot at the top of the money box. There were two ways to do this. The first was to turn the box upside down and shake it like mad, until the coins fell out of the slot. The second was to prod a small knife into the slot, and try to manoeuvre the coins out.
I chose the ‘shake it like mad’ way, as this was by far the quickest. However, it was also incredibly noisy, so I knew I couldn’t shake the box anywhere in the house. My plan was to take the box into the shed at the top of the garden, and do it there. I crawled out of the cupboard, holding the money box firmly under my left arm. The adrenaline was pumping big time, as I quietly unlocked and then opened the back door. It was pitch-black outside and kind of eerie. I can’t remember ever being outside at this time before, and I can’t say I was enjoying the experience. The cool sharp breeze cut right through my nylon pyjamas. I pulled the door closed behind me, and nervously walked up the garden path to the shed. I lifted up the metal latch on the shed door, gently pulled it open, and went inside.
The shed was dark, damp and very cold. I pulled the door shut and slowly knelt down, clumsily dropping the heavy box onto the floor. I then used both hands to feel for the lawnmower, which I knew was in the right-hand corner of the shed. We’ve got one of those old-fashioned push reel mowers, that you don’t plug in. The ones with a wheel on either side of the spinning blade. It takes a lot of energy to push it, and it doesn’t cut the grass very well either. Mind you the blade has started to rust, maybe that’s why. Dad said we’ll have to make do with it, cos we can’t afford a new one, and certainly not one of those expensive Flymo ones, that you see advertised on the telly.
I located the lawnmower and fumbled behind it searching for my torch. (It’s not actually my torch. I borrowed it from our Billy, without his permission I might add, which is why I keep it hidden in the shed behind the lawnmower.) I picked up the torch, turned it on and laid it on the floor facing the money box. I then picked up the money box, turned it upside down, and began shaking it slowly. It made a right old racket. After a good few seconds, no coins were coming out of the slot, so I shook it vigorously for several more seconds. Finally, fifty pence coins began showering down onto the floor, scattering everywhere. I got swept away with all the excitement, and continued to shake the box for two or three minutes.
By the time I stopped, there was more than eight quid on the floor. I couldn’t believe it, I’d never seen so much money. I eagerly gathered up all the coins, putting five in my pyjama pocket, and the rest back in the box. I stood up with the box firmly under my left arm, and paused for a moment. I smiled, daydreaming about how I could spend the money: I could buy sweets, crisps, chocolate, cans of pop, and cigarettes. I could also play golf and tennis. It was a great feeling having a bit of extra cash. I did get pocket money every week, but it wasn’t that much.
I turned off the torch and dropped it behind the lawnmower, before opening the shed door. As I walked back down the garden path, I certainly wasn’t smiling anymore. If someone had heard the noise and come downstairs, I would be in mega trouble. I couldn’t stop my hand from shaking, as I turned the handle on the back door and walked into the kitchen. It was such a relief to see the kitchen just as I’d left it. I closed and then locked the door. I was still holding the money box tightly under my left arm, as I quietly opened the kitchen door and stood at the bottom of the stairs. I was listening anxiously, for any signs of movement or disturbance from the bedrooms. Thankfully, all I could hear was snoring and heavy breathing.
Then the unthinkable happened….. I lost grip of the money box, as it went crashing to the floor, with a heart-stopping thud. I stood there frozen to the spot, not knowing what to do. Common sense would have told me to grab the box, and get it back on the electric meter as a matter of life and death. However, for some reason, I didn’t do anything. I just stood there motionless, in a kind of daze. I think I must have been in a state of shock or something, cos I couldn’t move a muscle. After about a minute or so, there was still no reaction from upstairs, so I assumed no one had heard anything. I bent down, and ever so carefully picked up the box. (It was like I was picking up a time-bomb, that was about to go off any second.) I took hold of the box with a vice-like grip in both hands, and went back into the kitchen, shoving the door closed with my right foot. All I wanted to do now was get the box back onto the meter, and go to bed.
I crawled into the cupboard, and quickly managed to manoeuvre the money box, and the black steel casing back onto the meter. I only needed to twist and push it a few times, before I heard it click, and then snap back into position. It was certainly far easier putting it back on, than taking it off, that’s for sure. I then put the security wires and screws back on, making sure the wires were twisted neatly around each screw. By the time I’d finished, it didn’t look all that bad. I suppose if you looked really closely, you could see the security wires were a little lopsided. But apart from that it was fine. I was quite pleased with myself, as I crawled out of the cupboard, and carefully pushed the table back up against the cupboard door. I removed the two tea towels from under the table legs, throwing them on the sideboard. I then put the four chairs back underneath the table. Finally, I put dad’s electrical pliers and screwdriver in the draw. Job done. I stood there relieved, thankful it was all over. I also decided right there and then, never to do it again. (And I really meant it….. at the time.)
I opened the kitchen door, turned off the light and crept silently back upstairs to my bedroom. Our Billy and Robert were still fast asleep snoring away, unaware of what I’d just done. I climbed into bed and pulled the sheets right over my head. I removed the five fifty pence coins from my pyjama pocket, clenching them tightly in my right fist, (like I was protecting precious stolen diamonds). Eventually, I dropped off to sleep. Unfortunately for me, my decision not to break into the meter again, fell on deaf ears quite quickly, as the temptation was just too strong to resist. Over the next several weeks my confidence grew, as I stole more and more money from the meter. I didn’t have to wait while everyone was in bed either. I’d now perfected my technique. I could steal money just about any time of day, just as long as the kitchen was empty for at least five minutes.
The best time was early evening, when we’d all had our tea. We’d either be playing outside, watching telly, or upstairs in our bedrooms. I also didn’t need to take the money box into the shed anymore. I could now easily remove money from the box, without leaving the cupboard. I would be in and out in less than five minutes. I would remove the wire and screws in just over a minute. I would then tilt the black steel casing slightly to the left, give it a few twists and pulls, and hey presto, it was off, along with the money box. And I didn’t need to shake the box anymore to get the money out. I could now extract fifty pence coins quite quickly, by using a small cheese knife. It easily fitted into the slot, and because it had a little hook on the end, I could grab a coin with the hook, and pull it slowly towards the slot, and right into my thieving grubby hands.
Because it got easier to steal the money, I got greedy and started taking more risks. This would eventually lead to my downfall. I’d also had a few near misses. On one occasion, I’d just tightened the last screw on the meter, as mum walked into the kitchen. ‘What are you doing in the cupboard love?’ she asked. My heart stopped….. I had to react instantly. ‘Oh erm….. erm….. I’m just looking for my old football boots mum. I want the laces just in case my other ones break.’ (You’ve got to think quick on ya feet in our house.)
On another occasion, I’d just pulled the table away from the cupboard door, before realising our Julie was in the pantry. She’d gone in there to get a carrier bag, to put the balls of wool in, that Aunty Jean gave her. (She loves knitting our Julie. She once knitted mum a ten foot scarf and a hat for her birthday.) ‘What are ya going in the cupboard for?’ she asked, as nosey as ever. ‘It’s none of your business Julie,’ I replied. ‘If ya don’t tell me, I’ll tell mum.’ ‘If ya must know, I need the laces off my old football boots.’ (It’s quite a good excuse this one, isn’t it?) Normally, I would have checked the pantry before each operation, but I got very slack on this occasion. That should have been a big red warning sign, that things were about to take a dramatic nose-dive very quickly. Unfortunately for me however, I carried on regardless.
An Extract From The Book: Fish – Operation Electric Man By Kelvin Rush.