It’s the relentless “Hail fellow, well met” chirpiness of the boy that really makes my blood boil.
Sara used to have such good taste in boyfriends. There would be dozens of suitors calling round. All decent young men with prospects. Good families. Her last chap for example. Jeremy. Handsome lad. Good education. Well mannered. Father was a barrister, I remember. But not good enough for my daughter. Oh, no. And the one before him had already established himself in the city. Bright head on his young shoulders. Really going places, that one. He used to take her everywhere. Twickers, Henley, Wimbledon. Good chap. Drove a Saab.
But this one. Archie, for goodness sake. Folk clubs and beer festivals. That grotesque beard and filthy dreadlocks. What on earth does she see in the irksome wretch?
She could get any man she likes. She’s beautiful. Intelligent. She’s had the best education money could buy. The world is her oyster. Or would be if she didn’t go around dressed like a bloody gypsy since meeting him. New Age, they call it. What does that make me? Old age, I suppose. She’s becoming an embarrassment. And it hasn’t gone unnoticed at the rugby club either. Words have been said.
It’s not as if we don’t try to be nice. Only last week Amanda, my wife, suggested that we all go out for a pub lunch. Good idea. It was a glorious day and I quite fancied an outing to The White Hart. Excellent food, good company, always lively. But no. As soon as Amanda mentioned the word pub out came The Good Beer Guide and we were led off to some smelly old spit and sawdust place called The Goat And Spigot if you please, where you’d be hard pushed to get a decent cheese roll. Then to her mother’s acute embarrassment Sara asked for a pint of Dog’s Scrotum, or some equally unspeakable concoction, and proceeded to waffle on interminably about its specific gravity, while I got sneered at by the publican for asking for a half of Heineken, and was told quite sniffily that the only lager they sold was some obscure unpronounceable stuff made from Czechoslovakian yeast, as if that made any bloody difference.
And when, in the course of trying to make polite conversation, I asked this Archie what he did for a living he said, “Oh, I’ll do anything, really.”
“What do you mean “Anything”?” I asked.
“Archie’s a bit of a renaissance man, aren’t you Babe.” Sara piped up.
“Renaissance man?” I asked, incredulous. “What’s that supposed to mean? Are you going to tell me he paints Sistine Ceilings?” Archie just chuckled infuriatingly and jammed his hairy face in his beer.
“Don’t worry, Archie.” Sara said, as if the grinning oaf needed comforting. “Dad’s in one of his funny moods.”
There was nothing funny about my mood, I can tell you. As far as he’s concerned I don’t do funny.
I know. I shouldn’t let Archie-The-Renaissance-Man get to me. Amanda says I’m always grumpy these days. But the boy wouldn’t be so jaunty if he had just one of my problems. A 250K mortgage for starters. A pension fund that’s virtually worthless. And a once brilliant career on the Stock Exchange that’s now fast going down the toilet. I’d like to see him giggle his stupid way out of that little mess.
Sir Henry called me into his office the other day. I haven’t told Amanda yet. I don’t want to worry the poor little dear, but things are bad. Share prices around the world have been tumbling for over two years now and forecasters say it looks like continuing for the foreseeable future.
There was a time when jobs on the trading floor were two a penny and stock broking was money for old rope. No skill involved. If things were looking a little shaky with some solid institution you had a lump invested in, one phone call to an old school chum on the board and you’d know exactly which way to jump. Different now. There’s no such animal as a sure thing.
I’m going to have to sell the house of course. Downsize. That’s the buzzword of the moment. Move the family into some squalid little hovel miles from anywhere, vermin crawling up the walls.
Actually, it’s not that bad. With the sort of equity I hold in The Old Rectory I could pay off the mortgage and still have money enough to get a quite acceptable property in a slightly less desirable postcode. Everybody’s doing it nowadays. Most of them scurrying off to The Dordogne like rats leaving the proverbial.
I don’t know how I’m going to tell Amanda. I’m sure she’ll take it well. Always does. Good as gold when we had to sell the house in Tuscany after the dotcom fiasco. Broke her heart, of course, but you’d never have guessed. She loved it there, strolling through the vineyards, sun in her hair. Radiantly beautiful she was then. Always laughing. Ever youthful. Looking much older now. Bound to take its toll, the worry. Women always know.
We first met the fragrant Archie at the end of last season. I’d taken Amanda to the game against Bath as a treat for her birthday and Sara had brought the new boyfriend to The White Hart afterwards. The whole bar went silent when she stepped in with this walking freak-show. Gave me quite a fright, I don’t mind telling you.
Not to be intimidated I offered him a drink.
“What have they got?” He mumbled.
“Anything you like.” I said.
“I doubt it.” Said he, looking over at the bar. “A pint of Guinness, just to be on the safe side.” What on earth did he mean by that? Beer’s perfectly good here.
“I’ll have the same.” Said Sara.
“What, a pint?” I couldn’t believe it. My beautiful daughter drinking pints.
Anyway, we’d got a damned good thrashing that day, forty-eight to nine. Dreadful. And on top of all that, it had to be the day that the car let me down. Brand new top of the range Merc. Bugger wouldn’t start. I rang the RAC, but they were going to be over an hour. Archie thought the whole thing was hilarious, of course. Then he offered to have a look at the car for me. I said not to bother as the rescue service would be here soon, but he insisted and before I could stop him he’d snatched up the keys from the table and was off to get his tools from the back of his beaten up old Morris Traveller. A few minutes later he was back and the Merc was purring away outside like a contented kitten. I don’t understand anything to do with engines and all that nonsense, but it was damned embarrassing when the RAC turned up, I do know that.
Amanda sees no harm in him, but that’s just the kind of person she is. And the boy Archie knows a soft touch when he sees one. He spent one afternoon in the garden with her a couple of months ago and had her eating out of his hand. Amanda says he’s green fingered. Light fingered I wouldn’t be surprised, and I told her so. Apparently he specialises in cultivating some rare form of pentstemon, whatever that might be. Probably a skin disease. Anyway, the two of them spent ages in the potting shed taking cuttings and she came back in at the end of the day singing the cretin’s praises as if he was Alan bloody Titchmarsh.
He’s now got his hands on a parcel of hay meadow on the other side of the valley with an tumbledown old barn in one corner, and has wangled planning permission to convert it into a house. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to hear that he’s doing the conversion himself, cheap little cowboy. You only have to imagine what that’s going to look like.
He uses any old scrap material he can lay his hands on; reclaimed doors, floorboards, that sort of thing. The whole place is being done on a shoestring. He’d never get a mortgage, of course. No credit rating you see.
The axe fell today. Leave straight away, they said. No notice. No pack drill. Thirteen years loyal service counts for nothing these days, it seems. I was obliged to put my personal belongings in a plastic bin liner and was escorted from the premises by security like a bloody criminal. Damned humiliating.
They gave me three months money as severance pay, which, strictly speaking, they were not obliged to do as my contract had just about expired. Good of them really.
I had to tell Amanda, of course. No way out of that one. Took it on the chin, dear old thing. I knew she would. Takes more than a little setback like this to ruffle her feathers. She has a small sum put away that brings her in a little money each month, and once we sell the house our outgoings will be quite drastically reduced. Although I did hear on the news this morning that there’s a bit of a downturn in the housing market. Just my luck.
I haven’t the foggiest idea what I’m going to do with myself. I’ve been scouring the recruitment pages in the financial papers for some weeks now but there’s nothing suitable for someone with my experience. On the scrap heap at fifty, that’s me. Experience counts for nothing, apparently. It’s the ruthless young bucks that are taking over in the profession these days. Rogue traders to a man, but who cares? As long as the money comes rolling in there’s no questions asked.
At least Sara’s looking on the bright side, bless her. She’s going into business with the wretched Archie. The boy’s put some polytunnels on his land and they’re starting a nursery business growing these pentstemons of his. Apparently there’s quite a demand for the things.
The barn conversion’s coming on at quite a pace as well. Amanda and I went round to look at it last Sunday. Reluctantly on my part, I might add. But I was pleasantly surprised, I have to admit. The windows and floors are in, and, to give the boy his due, he appears to be making quite a decent fist of it. Not to my taste of course, but you can’t have everything. An eco house, they call it. All wind generators and compost toilets if you please. Might just as well dig a hole in a field, I said. Archie simply gave me his usual self-satisfied grin and offered me a glass of his home brew. Disgusting looking stuff, it was. I declined, of course, but Amanda accepted and said it was really rather good and that I should try some. So I did, and I have to admit it wasn’t so bad if you like that sort of thing.
We’re settling in to the new house reasonably well. Had to drop the price of The Old Rectory by a few thou. Buyer’s market, you see. Still, I mustn’t grumble. This house is perfectly adequate for our needs now that Sara has moved in with young Archie. And of course I no longer have that bloody mortgage hanging around my neck like an albatross. I sleep better too.
Archie’s business is really doing rather well. He’s got a couple of nationwide garden centres after his pentstemons, and working all hours to keep up with the demand. Sara is dealing with sales and making a jolly fine job of it too. And Amanda is looking after the office. It gives her something to do. Bookkeeping, manning the phones and all that. She’s also doing a correspondence course in computing, and is now designing a website for the business. Clever old thing.
I pop over occasionally, just to keep Amanda company. I said to her the other day that I’d be quite willing to lend a hand myself in some capacity or other. They only have to ask.
Generally speaking I manage to keep myself busy, what with one thing and another. I do a little to help out at the rugby club. Secretarial duties, stuff like that.
But the important thing is to keep myself available. Markets will start moving soon. Bound to. And when they do, I must make sure that I’m in a position to snatch the opportunity. I’ll bounce back. The very next phone call could be a head hunter looking for a top man with just my sort of qualifications. Who can say? I had a fine reputation around the city at one time. My phone never stopped ringing. Everyone wanted me. I was the hunted man.
© 2004 by Bill Philpot