An Extract From The Book: Fish – Operation Electric Man By Kelvin Rush.
Some of the shoes in the cupboard must be at least fifteen years old. There’s also my very first pair of football boots, with all the rubber studs worn down to nothing. There are endless pairs of slippers, countless wellies, and even an odd looking pair of ski boots belonging to our Debra, which is slightly confusing as she’s never been skiing. I’ve no idea where she got them from. At the side of the electric meter is the main fuse box and the red power switch. When the switch is pushed down to the off position, all the power to our house is cut off. I’m familiar with this switch, as I’ve used it somewhat sneakily in the past to my advantage.
I would wait patiently until the kitchen was empty. Then I would quietly pull out the table and crawl into the cupboard. I’d push the switch down to turn off the power, so all the lights and TV would go off. I would then rush to dad to get fifty pence, pretending the electricity had run out. Finally, I would crawl back in the cupboard, and pretend to put the money in the meter, while at the same time pushing the red switch back up. All the lights and TV would then come back on, and I would keep the fifty pence. Mission accomplished. Quite sneaky aren’t I?
However, as with most deceptions it had its flaws. Firstly, I had to make sure that I was the one who got the fifty pence from dad. If any of my siblings got there before me, the plan would be ruined. Secondly, I had to time it just right. If I turned off the power using the red switch, and then shortly after the power genuinely went off, I would have some serious explaining to do. That’s exactly what happened recently, which is why I can’t do it anymore. I got the fifty pence from dad, quickly crawled into the cupboard, and pretended to put the fifty pence in the meter. I then turned the power back on using the red switch.
Unfortunately for me however, the power genuinely went off thirty minutes later, by which time I’d left the scene quick as a flash, and scarpered up the street. When I returned to face the music several hours later, dad was furious. I got no pocket money for a month, not to mention a good old whack around the left ear’ole, which left my ear ringing for a good few hours after.
The electric man removed the money box and emptied the contents onto the kitchen table. ‘This doesn’t look right,’ he said to dad, sounding rather concerned. Dad peered over the top of his newspaper a little anxious. ‘What do you mean?’ he asked. ‘Well, there’s only a couple of quid in here. That can’t be right for three months worth of electricity. According to your meter readings, there should be well over twenty quid in here.’
I didn’t wait for dad’s response. At that split second, I would have been quite happy to be swallowed up by a black hole, and never seen again. However, there wasn’t much chance of that happening, so I did the next best thing, I legged it. I shot up from the stairs, flew into my bedroom, and quickly pushed open the window as far as it would go. I climbed onto the windowsill and crouched down, tucking my knees tightly into my chest. I took a deep breath and leapt into the air like a mad monkey, before desperately grabbing hold of the drainpipe. I’d done this a few times before, when I’d sneaked out of the house after being grounded, but it was still quite scary. I knew that if I missed the drainpipe, I would end up crash-landing on the concrete ground below, and I certainly didn’t want that to happen.
I clambered down the drainpipe, jumped over next door’s privet hedge, sprinted up the garden path, and then straight across Mrs Place’s allotment, trampling all over her cabbages in the process. I then ran as fast as I could to the local park. You may be wondering where all the electric money had gone. Here’s what happened…..
I’ve got this mate called Peter Goodwin, everyone calls him Goody. Goody is a bit of a character to say the least. He’s been nicked a few times for shoplifting, and selling stolen goods, and he’s well known around our estate for all the wrong reasons. That being said, he’s a good mate of mine, even though mum and dad hates me knocking around with him, and won’t have him anywhere near our house. Goody was the one who taught me how to break into our electric meter. He’d been stealing money from his own meter, and had never been caught. I went to his house a few months ago on a Thursday night, for a demonstration. I know it was a Thursday night, because that’s when his mum and dad go to the Ring O’ Bells pub, for a few drinks and a go on the tote.
They go every Thursday night without fail, leaving Goody all on his own in the house. The electric meter was on the back wall, in the small cupboard underneath the stairs. I eagerly watched with amazement, as he removed the money box from the electric meter, and began extracting fifty pence coins. He started off by removing the two screws on either side of the meter. Each screw had a tightly twisted piece of security wire sealed around it. He carefully untwisted and then broke each wire, using a pair of electrical pliers. He then used a screwdriver to remove the screws. To get to the money box, he had to remove the black steel casing around the meter. The money box was attached to the steel casing with rivets, so it all had to be removed. He did this by pulling and twisting the steel casing vigorously several times to loosen it, before finally yanking it away from the meter.
To get the money out, he turned it upside down and shook it like mad, until the money fell out of the slot. He also used a small butter knife, which he poked into the slot to release the money. After he’d removed a few coins, he then meticulously put everything back in its place. On close inspection of the meter, I could clearly see that the screws and wire had been tampered with. But according to Goody no one ever noticed, and he’d never been caught, so who was I to argue? He eagerly picked up the coins off the floor, shoving them firmly into his jean pocket. ‘I never get too greedy,’ he said. ‘If you get too greedy you’ll get caught. I never take more than a couple of quid out each month. That’s why I’ve never been caught. Even when the electric man comes to empty the meter, he never suspects anything.’
I left Goody’s house full of excitement, and was already working out a plan of action. If I could get a few quid from our electric meter each month, that would be brilliant. Despite the possibility of getting caught and suffering the consequences, the temptation was too hard to resist. This would be one of my biggest challengers to date, and needed some careful planning. It also needed a name. I would call it ‘Operation Electric Man.’
I’d already gotten into mischief in the Fisher household on numerous occasions, but I’d never done anything as big as this before. One of my tricks was to steal a cigarette from dad’s packet without him knowing. He would often send me to the local shops to buy his cigarettes. He always had 20 Benson and Hedges. The packet was wrapped in cellophane and had two flaps stuck down at the top. I would carefully open up the flaps, shove the top of the packet through, open the lid and take out a cigarette from the back row. I would then rearrange the remaining cigarettes to try and hide the small gap, where the stolen cigarette had been. Finally, I would close the lid, gently push the packet back down, and stick the flaps down with spit. The spit lasted just long enough for me to get back home, and for dad to open up the packet, unaware of the deceit.
Unfortunately for me however, I got greedy one time, and took out two cigarettes. I got rumbled when dad removed the cellophane, opened up the packet, and noticed a small gap near the back. He then proceeded to count eighteen cigarettes, wondering where the other two were. I tried to plead my innocence, but it didn’t work. I lost two week’s pocket money for that little stunt. Suffice to say from that moment on, the trick was obsolete as dad meticulously counted the cigarettes every time.
One of my other tricks was actually quite skilful. When I was younger, mum and dad would always get lots of chocolate decorations for the Christmas tree. They were usually chocolate santas, chocolate bells, or chocolate snowmen. I could steal a chocolate from the tree, without anyone knowing. There were enough chocolates on the tree, for each sibling to get two each, (although for some reason that never seemed to happen). Considering there were eight excitable siblings in our house, it was a miracle that any of the chocolates made it through to Christmas day.
Mum and dad always put the tree up on the first Sunday in December. That Sunday was one of the most exciting days of the year. Not quite as exciting as Christmas Eve, or Christmas Day, or even a birthday, but it wasn’t far behind. Even normal Sundays were kind of special in our house. We always had a traditional Sunday dinner, with roast beef, Yorkshire puddings, roast potatoes, two or three veg, and thick gravy. Mum cooked the best Sunday dinner ever. Her roast beef melted in the mouth, and her Yorkshire puddings rose higher than Blackpool Tower.
On the odd occasion when mum couldn’t cook the dinner, (like when she spent time in hospital, having her thyroid seen to), dear old Nan stepped in to do the honours. I’m not being funny, but our Nan’s cooking wasn’t a patch on mums. Her roast beef was as tough as leather. You could have easily got lockjaw after chewing Nan’s roast beef. Our Billy said you could make a pair of football boots with it. And her Yorkshire puddings weren’t much better either. They were as flat as a nun’s fart, and they tasted like one as well.
Sunday dinner was always dished up at 1.00pm on the dot. Some of us would be sat at the dinner table from 12 o’clock onwards, just in case it was served early. By 12.50pm everyone would be in their positions. We all had our own places at the table. Mum sat at the top, dad was at the bottom, and four siblings were on either side. It was always the same routine. We’d all have an empty dinner plate in front of us, and in turn we’d pass the plate to mum, who would fill it with all the delicious grub, before returning it to the hungry recipient.
Dad always got served first, then it was the eldest sibling, right down to the youngest, (that was me). By the time I got my dinner, dad had nearly finished his. Mum always made sure that everyone got plenty of food on their plate. On many occasions there wasn’t much food left, by the time she served herself. That’s what mum was like. She was always thinking of other people, and we sometimes took advantage of her good nature, and we also took her for granted. I remember on one occasion, we were all sat at the table waiting for our Sunday dinner. Because it wasn’t ready by 1.00pm, all eight siblings started banging on the table with knives and forks, singing: ‘Why are we waiting!? Why are we waiting!?’ It was just like a scene from Oliver Twist. Mum wasn’t impressed, although she did see the funny side….. eventually.
So when the first Sunday in December finally arrived, it was a double celebration. A lovely Sunday dinner, followed by an exciting afternoon of sitting on the settee, watching mum and dad putting the Christmas tree up, and all the decorations. Life just doesn’t get much better than that. The tree was stood on the coffee table in front of the window, next to the telly. We’d had the same tree for years. When it was removed from the box, it always looked a bit old and shabby. But by the time mum and dad had finished with it, it was a work of art. They meticulously decorated the tree with a selection of baubles, silver and gold tinsel, flickering red and yellow lights, chocolate decorations, and finally, the icing on the cake, dear old Matilda, our loyal and trusted fairy. She’d been sat on the top of our tree for as long as I can remember. According to dad, Matilda was over a hundred years old.
She’d been passed down from generation to generation, along with the Christmas lights. Dad said not one of the Christmas lights had ever blown or packed in, and they’d never stopped flickering once. He said they don’t make lights like that anymore. Our tree was easily the best one on the street. We couldn’t wait for it to get dark outside each night, so we could turn the lights on. You could see the tree through the window when you walked past our house, and I often saw people standing there admiring it. We even left the curtains open until mum and dad went to bed around midnight.
One of the best things about the tree, were the chocolate decorations. You’d be watching the telly, then all of a sudden, your eyes would glance over at all the tasty chocolates dangling from the branches. The colourful wrappers would sparkle against the black and white television screen. Inevitably one of the siblings would get all excited: ‘Mum, can I have a chocolate santa from the tree please?’ Mum would shake her head. ‘No you can’t, you can have one on Christmas day.’ The sibling tried again: ‘Dad can I have a chocolate santa from the tree please?’ Dad would shake his head. ‘What’s ya mother just said? You can have one on Christmas day.’ Minutes later someone else would have a go: ‘Mum can I have a chocolate snowman from the tree please?’ Mum would get annoyed. ‘How many more times!? No! You can have one on Christmas day!’
The temptation to nick a chocolate from the tree was overwhelming. We didn’t have a lot of chocolate throughout the year, so Christmas, Birthdays and Easter, were always special occasions. Of course you couldn’t simply nick a chocolate from the tree, you’d be found out straight away. That’s because we all counted the chocolates on a regular basis, (three or four times a day on some days). We protected our two chocolates like they were the crown jewels, and woe betide anybody who tried to nick one. There were also countless arguments and fights about who was getting what.
‘I’m having a chocolate snowman, and a chocolate bell,’ announced our Brenda. ‘No ya not!’ snapped our Robert. ‘There’s not enough snowmen for everyone, and you had one last year.’ Our Brenda was having none of that. ‘No I didn’t, you liar! I’ve never had a chocolate snowman, that’s why I’m having one this year!’
‘No ya not! and I’m not a liar, cos you did av one last year!’
‘No I didn’t!’
‘Yes ya did!’ And so it went on…..
You had to really think outside the box, if you wanted to nick a chocolate from the tree, without getting caught. That’s just what I did. I could easily remove a chocolate from the tree without anyone knowing, no problem. Here’s how I did it…..
To successfully carry out the deception, I needed the living room to be empty. The only time that happened was when everyone was in bed. The last television programme finished around midnight. Soon after, mum and dad would be the last ones to go to bed. I would then sneak downstairs when I was certain everyone was asleep. Sometimes I would lie awake until two or three in the morning, just to be on the safe side. Once I was in the living room the fun would begin. I would remove a chocolate santa from the back of the tree, and then carefully undo the wrapper, to release the scrumptious chocolate inside. I would then take a small piece of toilet paper, and spit on it to make it moist, before manoeuvring it into the empty wrapper. Although it wasn’t perfect, after a slight adjustment here and there, santa didn’t look too bad, (albeit a little out of shape).
Once it was placed back on the tree it looked perfect, (from a distance that is). With the chocolate santa in hand, I would then go back to bed and snuggle under the bed sheets, savouring each bite of delicious creamy milk chocolate. In the end, I only took two chocolates from the tree, which I would have been getting on Christmas day anyway. So it wasn’t really stealing was it? When Christmas day finally arrived, and I was allowed to take my two chocolates from the tree, I knew exactly which two to take. I’d positioned them right at the back of the tree next to each other. I’d take off the wrapper and pretend to eat the chocolate, before discarding the wrapper and the toilet paper in the bin. I’m sure I saw our Sharon do the same one year, although she always denied it.
Another trick of mine, was to take a can of pears from the pantry, and pierce a tiny hole in the bottom, using a screwdriver and hammer. I would then drink all the sweet sugary juice, before returning the can back to the pantry. When mum opened up the can several weeks later, the pears didn’t smell right and the can had started to rust. Mum was confused to say the least. ‘Well that’s funny,’ she said. ‘There’s no juice in these pears. I’ve never known that before. There’s always things happening in this house.’
Then there was the time when dad made a load of mince pies for Christmas. — Dad’s mince pies were the best, far better than the ones you got in the shops. Dad’s had a lot more filling inside, and the pastry was tastier too. In fact, dad’s mince pies were famous on our street. All the neighbours got at least one at Christmas, and I never heard anyone ever complain. Dad put all the mince pies in a plastic tupperware container, and put it on the top shelf of the pantry, ready for Christmas. He told us he’d put a sixpence in a few of them as a treat. Thinking there was money to be made, one night when the kitchen was empty, I sneaked into the pantry, and opened up the tupperware container. I proceeded to remove all the lids from the mince pies, trying to find the sixpences.
Having removed all the lids, with not a sixpence in site, I left the crime scene confused and disappointed. When the container was opened up on Christmas eve, all the mince pies had dried up, thanks to me not putting the tupperware lid on tightly enough. As it turned out, our Debra had got to the mince pies before I did, and nicked all the sixpences. She was caught out, when mum found the money in her trouser pocket, while she was doing the weekly wash. Dad got his sixpences back, and our Debra got a stern telling off. Had it not been Christmas eve, I’m sure the punishment would have been much more severe.
As you can clearly see, there was always something going off in the Fisher household. And with eight siblings to control, mum and dad certainly had their work cut out.
An Extract From The Book: Fish – Operation Electric Man By Kelvin Rush.