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NORTH Nick Smalley

“Very funny and very real”


Copyright  Nick Smalley 2010 The right of Nick Smalley to be known as the author of this work has been asserted by him in accordance with the Copyrights, Designs and Patents Act 1988. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording or any information or any information storage and retrieval system, without prior permission in writing from the author and copyright owner. This item is distributed subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, sold, hired out or otherwise circulated without the author’s prior consent in any other cover than which it is published and including this condition being imposed on any subsequent user or purchaser. First published in the UK by N T Smalley 2010. All rights reserved.

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NORTH Nick Smalley

Follow the fun as hapless provincial newspaper editor Peter North deals with the people and dramas of life in a small British seaside town. Laugh as North attempts to hold an interview with a habitually drunk glamour model, inadvertantly puts a toilet attendant’s job in jeopardy and encounters a policeman who takes an instant dislike to the newspaperman. Add to the mix a scarecrow that frightens a pub cleaner, a disappearing cat and a painfully shy office trainee, and you have this amusing book that will keep you smiling from cover to cover. “A laugh a minute in this novel which shows the unseen side of life at a small British seaside resort.”

Copyright  Nick Smalley 2010 Published by N T Smalley http://ntsmalley.homestead.com


Copyright  Nick Smalley 2010


CHAPTER 1

The rain that Peter North had avoided all day finally caught up with him as he trudged back up the hill towards the office that he’d left just a few minutes previously. As he walked along, pulling his jacket tight against the sudden shower, he inwardly cursed whoever it might have been that had invented mobile telephones, and in particular text messaging, for without that same invention he would not have received the text from his boss a few moments ago, a message which told him to return to the workplace ‘urgently’. Instead, he would be on his way to a welcome pint or two at the Crown Inn, a much anticipated treat that would now have to wait, for a while at least. To passers-by, the dark haired man huddling into his coat wouldn’t have warranted a second glance, but had any of them happened, by chance, to be a mind-reader, they would have been surprised at the malevolence of his thoughts towards the faceless inventor of mobile telephony. Climbing the handful of steps that led to a shabby brown door, North pulled out his keys, at the same time checking his reflection in the shiny brass nameplate that declared “The Thorpe County Chronicle Newspaper Group. Head Office”, before opening the door and stepping into the building. To his right, a small room known grandly as the reception area, was dark and unoccupied, just as it should be at six o'clock on a Friday evening. A thin beam of light from the street lamp outside shone into the room, having found its way through a gap in the vertical blind. North crossed over to the window where he freed an overlapping slat, allowing the blinds to settle in the position they ought to be in. Stepping back out of the room, he turned on the light in the lobby and carefully picked his way up the stairs, keeping to one side to avoid the numerous cartons containing archived paperwork from previous years that took up the other side of the flight. Squeezing past the archives, in an attempt to avoid getting the dust that covered the boxes onto his damp clothing, he reminded himself – not for the first time - to suggest to his employers that these were moved elsewhere for reasons of health and safety. As he reached the top of the staircase, the sound of a phone trilling softly came from the darkened sales office before the call was intercepted by the answering machine. He glanced at a sign, which advised anyone who was unaware of the fact, that this was the “Main Office Suite”. He thought, not for the first time, that it was a grander title than the rooms in the shabby building deserved. 1


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North noticed that a light was on in the Director's office and the sound of muted conversation suggested there was more than one person in the room. A sliver of light showed that the door was open a fraction, so he stealthily approached and listened for a moment. He could make out the voice of Paul Carrington, the company's hard-nosed Director, whose call had summoned him, and that of a woman who appeared to be crying softly. He hesitated, unsure whether or not he should knock and enter, but was spurred into action when he heard the Director say, more to himself than to his companion, 'Where the hell is North? I sent him a text message fifteen minutes ago... I'll ring his mobile phone and find out what's keeping him.' These words sent North into a flurry of activity to try and find his mobile before it rang. In the pub the previous evening, he and his friends had been messing about, setting a series of 'humorous' ring tones on their mobiles. North had set a ring tone which – although it had seemed hilarious after a few pints and a couple of chasers – could not be deemed as one that a professional person, such as himself, would be expected to choose. He realised that he'd forgotten to restore the original, much more socially acceptable, ring tone, despite having meant to do so before he went to bed the previous evening. As he heard the Director begin dialling, North scrabbled in the inside pocket of his coat to retrieve his phone, but before he had time to turn it off, it slipped from his cold, damp hands and landed at the foot of the office door. Spontaneously bending down to retrieve it, at the precise moment that his fingers made contact with his phone, North's forehead made contact with the doorknob. This was the first part in a chain of events that lasted just five short seconds, but felt much longer. The force of the unintentional headbutt, which any pub brawler would have been proud of, caused the door to fly open and hit a water-cooler that stood behind it with an alarming crash, surprising the Director and his visitor who leapt from their seats, wondering what was happening. His mobile fell from his hands as he threw them up to nurse the agonising pain in his brow. The agony from casting his head against the solid, metal Victorian door handle caused North to involuntarily crouch down at the threshold and, as he held his head, in a desperate attempt to re-focus his blurred vision, he realised that his phone now lay on the floor, a few feet out of his reach. He watched in horror as its screen up, an indication of an incoming call and briefly considered pouncing across the room to retrieve the phone, however, before he could do so, the sound of someone breaking wind, long and loudly emanated from the handset's speaker. As the Director and his visitor looked on agog, this was followed by the sound of raucous laughter and a round of hearty applause, before the offending ringtone finally concluded with a short rendition of Handel's “Hallelujah Chorus.” As he slowly regained an upright stance, swaying slightly from side to side as he did so, North was aware that the only thing breaking the silence in


the room was the gurgling of air bubbles as the water in the cooler resettled in its plastic container. He raised his eyes to see his boss glaring angrily at him from behind the desk, his palms pressed so flat on its surface that the knuckles of his fingers were turning white. Alongside the Director stood a middle-aged woman wearing a cheap-looking iridescent raincoat; although in his current battered state, North couldn't understand why she had camouflage paint on her face. For a few moments, all three parties looked at each other in silence, until the Director broke it by demanding, 'What on earth do you think you are doing, man?' North began an apology and started to explain, but as he realised that telling the truth wasn't really an option on this occasion, he simply replied, 'I tripped over the carpet.' 'Well now you are here, you'd better sit down,' said the Director, 'because it seems that you have some explaining to do.' Shaking his head to clear it of the stars and bright lights that were moving around his field of vision - which he presumed to be the effects of mild concussion - North took a seat at the far corner of the room. As his focus returned, he looked once again at the weeping woman, who was by now re-seated at the Director's side. He realised that the woman wasn't in fact wearing camouflage paint, as he had first thought in his befuddled state; it was, in fact, a combination of mascara and eyeshadow which had been smeared across her face when she had wiped away her tears. 'This is Mrs Etteridge,' the Director informed him, 'she says you got her fired from her job.'

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CHAPTER 2

North looked in bafflement at the Director for a moment, before flicking his eyes sideways to surreptitiously study the woman with the make-up smeared across her visage. Make-up or no make-up, she looked drab and worn out, the crease lines criss-crossing her pinched face perhaps making her look older than she actually was. Never in his life had he seen this woman before. Racking his brains to think of something appropriate to say, he became aware that the Director's unwavering gaze, and that of Mrs Etteridge, were of the sort that demanded an immediate explanation. 'Mrs Etteridge, did you say?' North babbled as he searched for words to break the stony silence. 'Etteridge? That's not a local name is it?' Immediately, he cursed himself for making such a banal observation. There was an “Etteridge's Amusement Arcade�, two chip shops and a bookmakers in East Thorpe that were all run by people called Etteridge. In fact, many of these businesses advertised in his own newspaper sometimes. 'I've lived here all my life, just like my mother and her parents and her grandparents did, so yes, it is a local name,' came the reply, which was accompanied by a hint of smugness. 'Well Mrs Etteridge, I don't recall ever meeting, or even seeing you before for that matter...,' he began, but was quickly interrupted. 'No, but you phoned me and that cost me my job.' She turned her head towards the Director as if seeking confirmation of this statement. A great believer in pouring oil on troubled waters, calmly and placidly, North said, 'I really don't understand that,' then paused for a second before adding, 'are you sure it was me?' 'Yes, you phoned me at my work. You told me who you were and asked me to go looking for a Mrs Tapper...' As if a hundred lightbulbs had turned a darkened room into a theatre of luminosity, in that instant that North realised, without any shadow of a doubt, exactly who this woman was. The previous week, he'd attended a marketing course run by the Great Thorpe Chamber of Commerce. Part of the course showed how a business could gain new customers and raise its profile by organising community 4


projects, and he returned to his desk with his mind full of ideas, inspired by the examples of others who had launched successful community ventures. North decided to organise a show to benefit, and hopefully entertain, the towns' underprivileged children, whilst at the same time, gaining some considerable kudos for both himself and the East Thorpe Chronicle. First of all he contacted the owner of Woodlands Theatre. That grand old Edwardian building, which had been a very popular venue in the days of music hall and burlesque, was inappropriately named, as it stood amongst the sand dunes at the edge of town. Trees, let alone woods full of them, hadn't existed there since the 17th Century. The woodlands that did once stand there, were lost in 1625, when the original settlement was washed away by a massive tidal surge which ripped apart the old town, eroding it from the map and forming the current coastline. Having been promised that the theatre would be receive a free advert in both the Chronicle and the event programme, Barry Lloyd, the venue's proprietor, had been happy to donate the use of his establishment free of charge, but only on condition that he retained any takings from the bar. Next, North contacted several friends, acquaintances and friends-offriends, finally cobbling together a variety of multi-talented people who were willing to give up their time to help to put on the show. These volunteers ranged from singers, dancers and musicians through to a juggler, a comedian and a performing dog act. A few days after booking the venue, his post contained an envelope from an address on a run-down housing estate on the outskirts of Great Thorpe. The leaflet that it contained told him that the person - or persons who had sent it, going under the stage name of “The Sioux Sisters”, were inviting people to “Re-live the Wild West with a feast of fire-eating and knifethrowing, performed by the Sexiest Squaws you'll ever see!” Enquirers were urged to call a number printed at the foot of the leaflet. Furthermore, a badly handwritten note on the leaflet's unprinted reverse offered the act's services for just £50 (“half of our usual performance fee”). North had initially made the decision that he wanted only volunteer acts to take part in the show and that he would not pay professional performers, but, having read the remainder of the note - which explained that although 'The Sioux Sisters' hadn't had a particularly deprived childhood, they believed they had something to offer to those youngsters who had - he decided that it was worth fifty quid to finish the evening with a professional act. He pencilled in “The Sioux Sisters” as the highlight of the day’s programme, assuring himself as he did so, that his decision hadn’t been swayed by the colourful photograph on the leaflet which portrayed two leggy blondes dressed in short, native-American-style outfits made of chamois leather. He picked up the phone, confirmed that the act was available on the night of the show and made a firm booking. With the acts all arranged, North began the search for other kinds of local support.

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He was hopeful that the firm of “Tapper and Company Limited”, who were a confectionery manufacturer with a long-standing presence in the area, would donate some bags of sweets to be handed out to the children that attended the show. Tapper's sweet factory was an austere monument to the industrial revolution which stood on a mound at the edge of Great Thorpe. Known locally as “The Sweetie Mill”, the tall, red brick Victorian building had been built in 1851, dominating Great Thorpe's skyline ever since, with its belfry and towering chimney visible from many miles distant, across the county’s flat, agricultural landscape. In the company's heyday, hundreds of workers from all over the Thorpes travelled from their homes each day, to work at the factory making luxury items of confectionery for the gentry. These quality treats quickly became renowned all over the globe, but with the advent of cheaper - but equally tasty - sweetmeats imported from overseas, the company's fortunes took a dip in the 1930s, followed by rationing during the Second World War a decade later, which almost sounded the death knell for Tapper & Co. To their credit, the owners fought hard to keep the firm afloat and their staff employed, but by the 1980s the order book had dwindled to such an extent that the workforce, nowadays, comprised of just two dozen veteran factory staff and a handful of clerks; all of whom were overseen by the venerable Miss Frances Tapper, matriarch of this long-standing family firm. Regardless of her company's ill fortune over the last few decades, Frances Tapper - known to her very small circle of friends as Fanny - was a kindly soul who, as an unmarried lady and the last of the Tapper lineage, had donated considerable amounts of her family fortune to good causes in recent years. North dialled the number listed in the telephone directory for Tapper & Co., scribbling it down on his notepad, as the phone at the other end rang and rang. Just as he was about to give up and put the handset down, a genteel female voice said, “Good morning, Tapper and Company. How may I help you?” 'Oh, Good Morning. Is it possible to speak to Miss Tapper please?' North put on his best telephone voice, 'This is Peter North, the editor of the East Thorpe Chronicle speaking.' 'This is Miss Tapper speaking. How may I help you Mr North?' North explained in detail about the charity show and put in a request for a donation of some goodie bags. 'I'd be delighted to help,' North was pleased to hear the lady's words. 'You will need to telephone me again this afternoon though, to clarify the details. We are holding a staff meeting at the moment, but it will end at just before 3pm. I have a visitor calling to see me at 3.15, so please call me back promptly at 3 o'clock and we can finalise the details of this matter. Remember, three o'clock prompt Mr North.' The line went dead. 6


Pleased with his morning's work, North decided to pop out of the office for an hour at lunchtime. This was something he rarely did, usually preferring to eat a sandwich at his desk whilst catching up with what was on the pages of the national newspapers. Heading towards the town's promenade, he nodded as he passed a few people that he knew by sight. As he climbed the wide concrete ramp which took him to the seafront, the sound of crashing waves told him that the tide was in. When he reached the promenade, the low sun hanging above the horizon gave out a watery light, whilst an unexpectedly chilly wind, that hadn't been so noticeable whilst he was walking along the High Street, caused him to head for shelter. He squeezed in between a pair of brightly painted, but currently unoccupied, beach huts, tentatively easing his backside onto an upturned beer crate that someone had left there, before taking his lunch, consisting of a packet of “cheese-and-something-indescribable� sandwiches that he had picked up at the local supermarket and a chocolate bar, from his pocket. Deciding that the blustery wind would make it nigh on impossible to read the tabloid paper that was rolled up in his pocket, as he ate he spent half an hour looking out over the cold grey sea and thinking about absolutely nothing. Back at his office, North watched the clock's hands as 3 o'clock approached. At two minutes before three, the phone on his desk rang. It was his wife Wendy, ringing for a chat as she sometimes did. He brusquely told her to hang up as he was busy and that he would phone her back. On the stroke of three, he lifted the phone and dialled the number that he had spent last twenty minutes or so memorising. 'Hello?' The sharp voice didn't have the same professional tone that Miss Tapper had used when she answered earlier. 'Good afternoon,' he responded politely, 'may I speak to Miss Tapper please?' 'Who?' The woman's reply was almost drowned out by various background noises, which North assumed were caused by the day-to-day operation of the factory. Something sounding like a vacuum cleaner joined in the racket at the other end of the line. 'Miss Tapper,' he said more loudly, 'Mrs Hatton?' Again the name hadn't been heard properly over the background noise. North roared: 'No I'm looking for Miss Tapper, can you go and find her for me please? It's very important.' The woman must have been surprised when a complete stranger shouted into her ear via the telephone. One by one, the various background noises dwindled away leaving only the faint sound of water trickling, as if into a sink. 'I'm sorry about that love,' the woman told him, 'the machines in here make such a din. Now who did you want to talk to, Mrs Hatton?' 7


'No, not Mrs Hatton. I'm looking for Miss Fanny Tapper.' Surely the woman must know her employer's name, thought North. Maybe she was a temp. 'Are you sure that she's here?' 'Well she should be. I spoke with her this morning and she told me to ring her on this number at three o'clock prompt. It's almost five past now and it is quite urgent, so can you please go and find her for me?' North's curtness obviously worked as the woman said she would see if Miss Tapper was there. The clunk of the phone handset being laid down was followed by the click of shoe heels crossing a tiled floor. “Miss Tapper? Hello! Are you in here Miss Tapper?” the woman asked, knocking softly on what he presumed was an office door. 'She's not in here,’ the woman said a moment later, ‘maybe she's in the other side, hold on and I'll see... what was her first name?' 'Fanny', answered North, 'Fanny Tapper'. 'Okay love, hold on a minute', was followed by the sound of her heels crossing the floor, then that of her knuckles rapping on a door. 'Yoo-hoo, is Fanny Tapper in there?' North couldn’t make out the muffled response. A few more heel-clicks were followed by the sound of her knocking at another door. 'Sorry to bother you, but I'm looking for Fanny Tapper...is that you?' Another muted response, although this one sounded somewhat angry. She returned to the phone. 'Sorry love, no luck so far but let me try one last thing, just hold on a second and I'll try the tannoy. It's hardly ever used, but I'll give it a go.' The handset was again clunked down and North heard the woman's voice, sounding tinny over an ancient public address system, make her anouncement. “Please pay attention everyone! Is there a Fanny Tapper on these premises? There's a gentleman on the phone who needs to get in contact with Fanny Tapper urgently. If that's you, please make yourself known at the front desk!” North was, by now, totally bewildered. A moment or two later, the woman returned to the phone. 'No love, I'm sorry, but there's definitely nobody of that name in here.' Disappointed by his fruitless efforts, North asked if the woman had a pen and paper handy. She had. 'Good. When Miss Tapper comes in, please make sure she gets the following message straight away. Please tell her that Peter North of the East Thorpe Chronicle phoned her at 3pm prompt as arranged, but she was not available'. The woman read the message back to him. 'Now, when will Miss Tapper to be in next?' North asked. ‘I beg your pardon?’ ‘When is Miss Tapper next expected to come in?’ North rephrased 8


the question. 'How on earth should I know?' The woman sounded astonished. ‘For goodness sake, you must have some idea when she's next due in there. Good Lord woman, she's your boss! Surely she keeps a diary to let you know when she'll be in the office doesn't she?' 'She isn't my boss,’ the woman reponded indignantly, 'and until you phoned I'd never heard of her. Besides that, this isn't an office, it's the ladies public toilets in Market Street.'

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I hope you like what you’ve read so far. There are many more chapters and escapades in the book which is now available. To order, please write to Nick Smalley, 3 Five Roads, Kilwinning, Scotland KA13 7JX enclosing a cheque or postal order made payable to N T Smalley. Each copy costs £6.95, Please add £1 postage for orders sent to the UK and £2 postage for orders to be sent to non-UK addresses. Please note that an estimated 50% of the profits from each copy sold will be donated to the Multiple Sclerosis Society. For more ordering options and information about the book, please visit www.ntsmalley.homestead.com ISBN 978-0-9556966-0-1

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