An Extract From The Book: Fish – Operation Electric Man By Kelvin Rush.
After spending at least four hours in the park, it was now getting really cold and I was hungry. I’d been sat on the bench for some of the time, going through endless scenarios in my head, most of which made me feel sick to my stomach. I knew I was in for a rough time, especially from dad, and there was no escape. I’d also walked around the park and through the woods a few times, and on one occasion I’d bumped into Freddy Green, who lived at the end of our street. He couldn’t wait to tell me the news.
‘Your Billy’s looking for ya Fish, tha’s bin nicking money from the electric meter, asn’t tha?’
‘How do ya know that Freddy?’
‘Billy told mi, how much did tha nick?’
‘Don’t ask Freddy, too much if ya must know.’
‘Guess what else Fish? Tha knows Goody, dun’t tha? He owes Psycho Sid money, and Psycho’s threatened to break his arms if he doesn’t gerrit back.’
‘Yeah, I know all about that Freddy. Goody also owes me money.’
‘Are tha gonna break his arms anall Fish?’
‘I’ve got too much on mi mind Freddy, to think about Goody’s arms. Although it’s partly his fault that I’m in this mess.’ ‘What’s tha mean Fish?’
‘Well….. some of the money I nicked from the electric meter, I gave to Goody. He said he would give it me back when he’d sold his bike.’
‘Do ya mean his chopper bike Fish? His dad won’t lerrim sell that. It warra Christmas present.’
‘I know that now Freddy, I didn’t know it at the time. How’s ya mum by the way?’
‘She’s not bad thanks Fish. She still can’t walk right though.’
‘What actually happened Freddy? Did she really fall down the stairs? Or did ya dad push her?’ Freddy looked angry and agitated. ‘Erm….. erm….. Well, to be honest Fish, I don’t really wanna talk about it. Anyway, I’ve got to go, see ya Fish.’ ‘Yeah see ya Freddy, take care pal.’
I felt really sorry for Freddy. He was a good kid, but his dad was a right bastard, especially when he’d had a few drinks. He’d been arrested on more than one occasion, for hitting his wife Margaret (Freddy’s mother). But for some reason he always got away with it. He’d be detained in the cells overnight, and then back home the next day. You’d often see Margaret with a bruised face, or a black eye. God only knows why she didn’t leave him.
I was still sat on the park bench worried sick, as it began to get dark. I knew time had finally run out. I stood up, took in a long deep breath, and prepared to face my fate. I felt just like Colonel Custer, making his last stand, at The Battle Of The Little Bighorn. I walked slowly out of the park gates, and down the road towards our house. As I turned onto our street a few minutes later, I began to take small precise steps, trying to prolong the inevitable. Shortly after, I was right outside our house. I felt sick, as I stood there staring at the windows, wondering which room dad was in. My brilliant, carefully thought out plan, was to sneak in the back door, go through the kitchen, and then straight upstairs to my bedroom, before dad got hold of me. That was it. After that I had no idea. The kitchen curtains were closed, but I could see the light was on, so I presumed someone must have been in there. I quickly nipped over the wooden gate at the front of our house, and very nervously walked through the passage, leading to the back garden. I then walked up the garden path and hid behind the shed, waiting for the kitchen light to go off.
It was now getting really cold, and I was only wearing jeans, a blue nylon jumper, and my tatty black sneakers, with no socks. I must have been waiting a good twenty minutes, before the light finally went off. As I walked back down the garden path and up to the back door, I was shaking like mad, mainly due to the fear, but also because of the cold. I was desperately hoping the back door wouldn’t be locked, as I gently grabbed hold of the handle and turned it slowly. Thankfully, the door opened. I instantly felt the soothing heat, as I walked into the kitchen, turned on the light, and then closed the door behind me. The first thing I noticed, was the dining table had been pulled away from the cupboard door, which was wide open. I bent down to look inside, and was shocked to see a brand new electric meter on the back wall. This time however, it wasn’t the usual slot meter with a money box, it was one of those modern ones instead.
You didn’t put money in the meter anymore, you paid what you owed, when you received the bill through the post. The electric man still came and took a meter reading every three months, so at least the bills were always accurate. It was good in one sense, as it meant the electricity never ran out, and you didn’t have to mess about putting coins in. However, the downside was, unless you saved a bit of money each week, it was a shock when the electric bill dropped through the letter box, and you didn’t have enough money to pay it. It was a struggle for some families on our estate, to have enough money to buy food every day, let alone save a few bob each week, to pay the electric bill. That’s why the modern electric meters weren’t that popular. At least with the slot meters you never got into debt.
No one on our street had a modern meter. In fact, the only person I knew that had one was our Gran. She had the old slot meter replaced, as she was sick of the electricity running out. She only had a couple of old electric fires, to heat the whole house, so when the electric ran out, and she didn’t have money for the meter, the house would get cold very quickly. She had to write several letters to the Y.E.B. (Yorkshire Electricity Board), before they eventually installed a modern meter. She even wrote to our local MP Stanley Crowther, to get him involved. I don’t know why the Y.E.B. made such a fuss. Maybe they preferred getting cash from the meters, rather than chasing customers, who couldn’t pay their electric bills on time.
I was just about to turn off the kitchen light and sneak upstairs to my bedroom, when the door slowly opened. I froze on the spot. Just for a split second, I thought of legging it through the back door, but then our Robert appeared. ‘Thank God it’s you Rob,’ I said, looking and feeling terrified. Our Robert had a cocky expression on his face, and an annoying little smirk to go with it. ‘Ya gonna get it Fish, when dad gets hold of ya,’ he said, revelling in my dire situation. ‘What do ya mean Rob?’ I asked innocently. ‘Ya know what I mean, nicking all that money from the meter.’ ‘How do ya know it was me?’ ‘There’s only you that would do such a thing Fish. I hardly think any of the girls would do it, and our Billy hasn’t done it, and neither have I.’ I couldn’t really argue with that analysis. ‘What’s dad said Rob?’ ‘He’s gone bananas. I’ve never seen him so angry. Yav really gone too far this time Fish. What on earth made ya do it?’
‘Well, ya know Goody don’t ya? and Sidney Marsden?’ Our Robert grimaced.
‘Don’t tell me yav been hanging around with those two idiots! Sidney Marsden is a lunatic, everyone knows that. They don’t call him Psycho Sid for nothing ya know. And Goody’s not much better either. Remember our lawnmower he nicked from the shed? Anyway, what have they got to do with it?’
I took a long deep breath…..
‘Ya sound just like mum Robert. As I’ve said a million times before, not that anyone ever listens to me, Goody never nicked anything from our shed. I said he could borrow the lawnmower, cos theirs wasn’t working. But when he went in the shed, the lawnmower wasn’t there, someone else had already nicked it.’ Our Robert simply wasn’t interested. ‘No, no, no, no Fish. The fact is Goody was seen snooping around in our shed, and the next thing ya know, the lawnmower has disappeared. And he’s been in trouble with the police before. Anyway forget all that. What has Goody and Psycho Sid, got to do with the money going missing from the meter?’
I took another long deep breath…..
‘Well….. I lent some of the money to Goody, and he was gonna pay me back when he’d sold his Chopper bike. He did sell his Chopper bike, but then his dad found out and got the bike back, and returned the money. And the next thing ya know..…’ Robert cut me off sharply mid-sentence, raising his right hand only inches away from my face. ‘Stop right there Fish! I don’t want to know! I can guess what yav been up to, with those two numpties involved!’
‘Where’s dad now Rob?’ I asked.
‘He’s in the living room, shall I go and get him?’
‘No no no, don’t do that Rob! I’ll see him tomorrow!’
Just then, our Tracey walked in the kitchen, followed in quick succession by our Julie and our Debra. The last thing I wanted was a kitchen full of bodies, firing questions at me from all directions. I quickly slammed the door shut, before anyone else walked in. ‘What do you three want?’ I asked. ‘Yav been nicking money from the electric meter,’ said our Tracey, smirking. ‘Yes you have,’ said our Debra. ‘And dad’s not a happy bunny. He’s gonna be jumping all over you pretty soon.’ Considering our Debra was twenty years old, she still acted like a child at times. Then our Julie piped up. ‘Wait while dad gets his hands on ya,’ she said. ‘Yarin for it this time Martin.’ I knew things were very bad, if our Julie was turning against me. And when she called me Martin instead of Fish, I knew she must have been really peed off.
That was a big blow for me, considering Julie was one of my closest allies, within the sibling community. And most of the time she stuck up for me, when I was in any kind of trouble. I was being attacked from all sides, and there was no way to fight back. It felt like I was in the court room, being interrogated by the prosecution team. They had all the evidence and witnesses, and all I had was little old me, a vulnerable ten-year-old, guilty as charged. They were right about one thing though, I was definitely going to get it from dad.
— My dad Ken Fisher, was a great dad and I loved him very much. He was a welder for British steel and worked long hours. He was always working was dad. Sometimes we never saw him for days on end. Mum said he needed to work all the hours God sends, just so we could keep our heads above water. He was also a very proud man. He was the head of our family together with mum, and they took their responsibilities very seriously. Dad would go and earn the money, and mum would look after the house and the army of siblings. They were a great team my mum and dad, and very rarely did I ever see them fall out over anything. They always said that family was the most important thing in the whole wide world. We were always brought up to look out for each other, and never to be cruel or nasty. I don’t think that quite resonated with us siblings though, cos we argue and fight with each other all the time.
Although dad worked very hard and had a regular income, money was still tight. We still bought things on HP, and me, our Tracey and our Billy, also got free school dinners, so I don’t think dad was on a fantastic wage. We may have struggled at times, but we were always well fed and clothed, and we got really nice Birthday and Christmas presents, and a chocolate egg at Easter. And there was one family ritual that was never broken. It was our one weeks family holiday, at sunny Scarborough. We stayed in the same rented house every year. It was a large house painted white on the outside, with five big bedrooms. It had a massive back garden, with a silver birch tree right in the middle, which we all loved to climb. And it was only a few minutes away from the beach. I’ve no idea who owned the house, but I often thought how fantastic it would be, to have it as a family home.
The weeks leading up to the holiday were so exciting for all the siblings, especially when we were younger. We’d all be talking about it non-stop every day. I remember one occasion, all eight of us were in the living room doing the hokey cokey, pretending we were on the beach. We always did the hokey cokey on the beach at Scarborough. We even did it around a donkey one year. I also remember lying in bed in the middle of the night, too excited to sleep, thinking about all the things I’d be doing at Scarborough…..
Sitting in a red and white striped deckchair on the beach, with the scorching sun beating down, licking a 99 ice cream, covered in raspberry sauce and hundreds and thousands. I always pushed the chocolate flake right down into the cone, to save it while last. Eating fish and chips with mushy peas out of a tray, with a wooden fork. I’d put tons of salt and vinegar on. If there was any vinegar left in the tray when id finished, I’d drink it all, before licking the tray clean. Frantically splashing about in the freezing cold sea, and searching for jellyfish and crabs. Watching in amazement, as the baby crabs furrowed down into the soft wet sand, never to be seen again.
Having rides on the donkeys up and down the beach, desperate to hold onto the reigns, and not the handle on the saddle, (only wimps used the handle). Spending loads of pennies in Jimmy Corrigan’s Amusement Arcade, and trying to win a stuffed toy, on one of those annoying claw machines. You know the ones, with the big silver grabber, that hovers over the toy, picks it up, and then right on cue drops it again. Leaving a trail of very disappointed kids in the process. I’ve never seen anyone win anything on the claw machines. The funfair with all the colourful rides, like the dodgems and the big wheel. And all the delicious treats like candyfloss, hot dogs, the endless variety of Scarborough rock, sugar dummies, and those gigantic rainbow-coloured lollies. And of course, the famous Kiss Me Quick Squeeze Me Slow hats. I’ll never forget the time, when all eight siblings and mum and dad, were sat on the wall overlooking the beach and the sea, eating fish and chips, all wearing a Kiss Me Quick Squeeze Me Slow hat. Happy Days…..
Considering mum and dad had worked so hard, to make sure we all had a happy and loving upbringing, it made me feel even more guilty, whenever I got into any trouble. This whole episode with the electric meter, was becoming quite a traumatic event for me, and I’d not even been reprimanded by dad yet. As I stood there in the kitchen, with our Robert, Julie, Tracey and Debra, I suddenly felt a cold sensation right throughout my body. Seconds later, the kitchen door opened and in walked dad. The look on my face said it all. It was a mixture of fear, more fear, and shock, all rolled into one.
‘Alright Dad?’ (What else could I say?)
I could see dad was definitely not alright. In fact, he was about to explode any second.
‘ALRIGHT…..!!? ALRIGHT…..!!? NO…..!! I’M BLOODY WELL NOT ALRIGHT…..!!’
Dad then swung his left arm in my direction. Unfortunately for our Robert, his big head got in the way, and he was walloped firmly across his face, by the back of dad’s hand. I think dad’s gold wedding ring must have connected, cos a red mark suddenly appeared on Robert’s left cheekbone. The kitchen erupted, as me and the girls burst out laughing. ‘That’s what ya get for having a big head,’ howled our Debra. ‘Yeah, he’s always getting in the way is our Robert,’ shrieked our Julie. Despite our Robert being a strapping twenty-four-year-old, and almost six foot, he reacted like a big baby. He broke into tears, and then stormed out of the kitchen, running straight upstairs to his bedroom.
At this point, I decided the best thing for me to do, was to leg it once again. I quickly retreated to the back door, and was about to vacate the scene, when dad shouted: ‘Don’t you go anywhere Martin! Come and sit down! And tell me what the hell’s been going on!’ I stood there in limbo, with the back door half open. I didn’t know whether to run or stay put. Before I could make a decision, dad intervened: ‘Come on Martin, come and sit down, there’s no point in running away. Right you girls, can you leave me and Martin alone please?’ The girls looked disappointed. ‘We want to stay dad, can we?’ pleaded our Tracey. ‘Yeah, can we stay dad?’ asked our Julie. ‘We want to know why Martin did it, and what’s he done with all the money?’ Dad was in no mood for any discussions. ‘Never mind all that, you’ll find out soon enough. Now go on, leave me and Martin alone please.’ The three girls reluctantly left the court room, and dad closed the door behind them.
He pulled out a chair from underneath the dining table. ‘Come and sit down Martin,’ he said, in a calm considerate manner. I was still stood at the back door, when I finally realised the game was up, I couldn’t run anymore. I closed the door and sat down at the table. Dad lit a Benson and Hedges cigarette, and sat down in his armchair. (I could av done with a fag myself.) ‘Right Martin….. I want you to start from the beginning, and tell me exactly what’s been going on.’
I spent the next forty minutes, telling dad just about everything. I told him it was Goody who showed me how to break into the electric meter, in the first place. I said I’d lent Goody some of the stolen money, assuming I would get it back, once he’d sold his Raleigh Chopper bike. He did sell his bike, but then when his dad found out, he bought the bike back. His dad also caught him trying to steal a fiver from his wallet, and stopped his pocket money for two months, and grounded him for six weeks. So I’ll never get the money back. I also told dad, that I’d been threatened by Psycho Sid, who was gonna beat me up, unless I gave him some of the stolen money.
By the time I’d finished telling the story, I’d convinced myself, that I was the victim in all of this. I was even beginning to feel sorry for myself. Ok I admit, I’d slightly exaggerated, but when ya back’s up against the wall, you’ll do anything to get out of it. I laid it on really thick, as I knew dad didn’t like Goody anyway. Like the rest of my family, he thought Goody had nicked our lawnmower. I don’t know if dad believed me or not, but it seemed to go down ok. He was still sat in his armchair, as he lit another cigarette.
‘Oh yeah….. I thought Goody would be involved somewhere in all of this. He nicked our lawnmower from the shed, didn’t he? And he’s been in trouble with the police before.’ I certainly wasn’t going to defend Goody on this occasion, after all, his criminality was the main part of my defence strategy. ‘Ya far too easily led Martin, that’s your trouble. With regard to Mr Psycho Sid, I’ve no idea who he is, and frankly I don’t want to know. There should have been twenty seven quid in the electric meter, and there was only two pounds fifty. That means you owe twenty four pounds fifty, and you’ll pay every penny of it back. You’ll get no pocket money, and no Birthday or Christmas presents, until it’s all been repaid. And ya grounded for the next month. And stay away from Goody and Mr Psycho Sid. And there’s one other thing…..
Ya know what this means don’t ya Martin? We might have to cancel next year’s holiday to Scarborough. We’ve got to pay the deposit on the rented house, by the end of the month. And how can we do that, when the electric bill hasn’t been paid? Cos you nicked the money!’ To say dad had just dropped a bombshell, would be the biggest understatement in the history of civilisation. I felt bad enough as it was, without dad piling even more guilt at my door. To think that our weeks holiday would be cancelled because of me, was absolutely devastating. I felt like I’d really let the whole family down. It was all too much for me to take. I got really upset, and before I knew it, tears were streaming down my face.
‘Ok, that’s enough of that,’ said dad.
‘Crying won’t pay the electric bill, now will it son? Oh, by the way, Benny came round this afternoon looking for ya. I think he said something about a paper round. Do ya know anything about it?’ My attention was grabbed instantly. I’d forgotten all about Benny, and the paper round. ‘Oh yeah, there’s a job going at Kirkies for a paperboy. Benny said he can’t do it anymore. He’s been getting up early every morning to deliver the newspapers, and he fell asleep at school, in the middle of the history lesson. Mr Langdon, the history teacher, sent a letter to Benny’s parents. They said he’s got to pack it in, so he’s working a week’s notice.’
‘What’s that got to do with you son?’
‘He’s asked me if I want the job dad.’
‘Oh I’m not sure about that son. What time do ya have to get up?’
‘Six o’clock every morning dad.’
‘What’s ya mum said about it?’
‘She’s ok with it dad. It’s three quid a week. I could pay back the money I owe, in no time. And we could pay the deposit on the rented house at Scarborough.’ Dad thought for a few moments, as he took a drag of his cigarette. ‘Well son, I suppose you’d be better off earning money, rather than nicking it. Ok son, but make sure ya not late for school, and don’t fall asleep in the history lesson.’ ‘Great! Thanks dad! And I’m really sorry about the electric meter! Does that mean we won’t have to cancel the holiday?’ ‘We’ll see how it goes son….. We’ll see how it goes.’
I don’t know why, but for some reason when the chips are down, I always seem to land on mi feet. Our Billy said I could fall in a bucket of shit, and still come out smelling of roses.
An Extract From The Book: Fish – Operation Electric Man By Kelvin Rush.