Friday, December 28, 2007

Its useful to know a plumber

Thats my interpretation of Becky, Bob Beck, plumber extraordinaire, dead these past twelve years and one of our dads lifelong best mates.

It was Bob Beck who was the inspiration for my as yet unfinished story The Tomato Dip, the story of a debonair plumber and cafe owner in the late 1960's, the subject matter is true for Becky did own a cafe for a short while as well as doing his plumbing work, and he was what was coyly termed in those days "a lady's man".

Boxing Day 1968 and Ned and I are lying in bed, thick woollen blankets pulled up to our earlobes for it was another cold frosty morning in the bungalow without the benefit of central heating, central heating being a thing that only the posh kids families could afford.

The procedure each morning was for us to wait, rolled up inside our blankets for our mum or our dad to get up first, rake out last nights cinders from the coke burning stove in the living room (the only room to have a source of heat), stack the stove up with more coke and then light the gas poker and leave it burning for ten minutes or so for the coke to take a good light of.

Now some of you will be asking of yourselves here and now, "wait a minute, he mentions gas, they had gas in the bungalow, why did they not have a gas fire, or even gas fired central heating ?" and you'd be right to ask such a question, truth is the thought never crossed our minds in those heady days of space exploration, formica and nylon goods, the bungalow had a coke burning stove in it when we moved in that you had to use a gas poker to light it with, and that's the way it stayed.

Until Boxing Day 1968.

The coke burning stove wasn't the end of the matter, oh no, behind the coke burning stove was a "back boiler" which put simply meant that in order to have hot water in the house the coke stove needed to be lit and burning, it sounds quaint and old fashioned now but laying in our beds wrapped up in several thick and heavy woollen blankets listening to our mum raking out the grate on Boxing Day 1968, wondering how long we could "give it" before it would be warm enough to venture into the living room from our beds, gazing at the bedroom window which was once again covered in a thick layer of frost - on the inside (I kid not) - it was anything but quaint, it was just bloody cold, again.

Our mum kneeled down to rake out the hearth, we heard her knees creak and kneel down and then we heard a gentle "sploosh" as she kneeled down and we also heard a "Oh Frank !" as she realised that she'd kneeled down in a pool of water in front of the hearth where there should not be a pool of water, she was lucky, if that pool of water had been in our bedroom she'd have been kneeling on ice.

Our dad got up to investigate and amid curses and words we had never heard uttered before we came to realise that something was the matter with our back boiler, specifically it was "bloody burst".

No hot water, no fire, a freezing cold holiday, no tradesmen to call on, 'twas going to be a miserable day in the JerryChicken household.

Or at least it would have been had our dads best mate not been Bob Beck the debonair plumber. Not being on the phone at that time our dad had to get himself dressed and drive to Becky's house, get him out of bed, wait for him to get washed in hot water (what a luxury that sounded like by now) and then follow our dad back home to confirm the fact that "your boiler is goosed Frank"

They set to removing the coke stove and back boiler, a not so inconsiderable task as the back boiler was cemented into the chimney breast and the deaf people who lived next door came around to see what all the hammering and deconstruction work was all about (yes they really were deaf next door, imagine living in the 1960's as a kid when it didn't matter how loud you had your music turned up - and still your mum made you "turn it down, its like bedlam in here").

By that afternoon they had not only removed the coke burner and back boiler but Bob had crawled under the floor and laid a gas pipe then driven back home to bring us a brand new second hand gas fire, luxury, heat at the flick of a switch, well, several flicks of a switch because the ignition was knackered which is why the previous owners had gotten rid of it (see also my post on the new second hand cooker last month) - but still, luxury, of sorts.

Bob Beck worked for cash and in the true spirit of all self employed tradesmen of the time Bob Beck's cash was his own affair, tax returns were few and far between and only completed upon final demand from the tax office and then never in complete truth.

Bob was no different to any self employed tradesman, he was loaded with cash, embarrassed with cash riches he had to eventually buy a safe and dig and cement it into the floor of his garage just to have somewhere to keep all of the undeclared income and when one year a tax inspector turned up at his house to ask why he had not completed a tax return for the last three years he blamed it on his accountant, a dwarf named Bruce, who when questioned by the same tax inspector blamed it on Bob as he'd done the accounts but Bob had thrown them in the bin without forwarding them to the tax office, Bruce was telling the truth, Bob was not, the taxman returned to Bob's house.

Three years worth of tax had to be paid in an instant, Bob asked for time but the taxman asked how much more time he thought he deserved given that he'd already had three years, Bob pleaded poverty but the taxman had seen the brand new bungalow with the Jaguar XJS parked outside and suggested that some asset selling might be in order.

Finally cornered with inescapable logic Bob went to the garage safe one morning and withdrew huge fistfulls of cash, counted out the amount demanded and drove his Jag down to the tax office to hand it over. The tax inspector received the money, checked the amount, gave a receipt and then bade Bob a friendly farewell.

But just as Bob reached for the office door handle the taxman used the classic line that appears in all those old Peter Falk "Columbo" tv movies, "Just one more thing..." he said, "...where did this cash come from ?"

It was a fair cop, after pleading poverty for months Bob had suddenly appeared with several thousand pounds worth of hard cash and he had to admit to having "a little bit stashed away" and in order to prevent a threatened police investigation he had to seccumb to a second tax office assesment and a subsequent demand for more cash a few weeks later.

Bruce the dwarf accountant was sacked the following day even though it was none of his doing.


Anonymous said...

I luv the new look! :lol:

now I am going back to read the post.

Anonymous said...

Another great story.

I shivered at the memory of the frost on the inside of the bedroom window.

Back in those days I undressed at bedtime, donned nightwear and then dresseed again on top of the jammies with woolen socks and even a scarf on my head to try aned stay warm.

Boilers bursting were part of my childhood also.

Zoe's Dad said...

Ah, memories of a cold winter in college just came crashing back. I really should call my old roommate to apologize for never getting up to help light the heaters. I pretended to be asleep.

Gary said...

My kids have only ever known central heating - and they try and tell me they are cold some mornings even with the heating switched on !

I tell them of the mornings I was sent out with a shovel and told to bring in some more coke for the fire - a hard job when its all frozen together into one half ton lump :)