It took Philip thirty five minutes to reach his home in the nearby town. He and Mary had lived with her parents for the first six months of their marriage but it had not been a happy start. In the end they had moved out into a dingy one bedroom rented flat. If anything that had been worse. At least when they lived with her mother there was always a hot meal to look forward too. The flat had paper peeling from the walls to reveal a black damp mold underneath. What paint had not been chipped or flaked off had once been white but was now a nasty tobacco stained dirty yellow. One broken window was patched with a piece of wood. The carpet was threadbare and the bath had an ingrained water line of filth. The only hot water game from an ancient wall mounted gas heater that banged at rattled whenever it was lit. Heating for the flat came from a three bar electric fire that most times was too expensive to turn on. The plus side of the miserable place was the spur to save some money and move out. When Philip landed a job at the huge factory complex on the edge of the town he had taken every shift he could manage, often working seven days and a few nights a week. They had somehow been able to survive on Mary’s wages most of the time and so their savings grew rapidly (despite the extortionate rent on the flat). In three years the had enough behind them to put down a deposit on their first home, and moved into it in the spring of 1966. It was the year that England won the Football World Cup, the year of Aberfan – the Welsh village that was buried beneath a coal slag heap, the year of Freddie Laker’s Skytrain, of Barclaycard – the first credit card, and the year that ‘Keep on running’ by Spencer Davis was the year’s first number one.
The house that they set out to buy was modest by any standards, but it was still a big step up. Both their parents lived on the vast council estate that lay between the factory and the town. Neither had been able to buy their own property and were more than a little proud when Philip and Mary invited them round to see their new home. The kitchen was tiny, and there was a small combined diner/lounge, two bedrooms and impressively, an indoor bathroom. There was even central heating provided by chunky radiators and a small garden to the front and back. They had both worked hard redecorating the whole flat except for the second bedroom that they used as a junk come storage room to begin with. Now the room was their son’s bedroom, and their family had begun.
“Hi darling, what are you looking so pleased with yourself for ?”, said Mary as Philip came into the house.
“Merry Christmas or what !”, he said with smile that split his face.
“Eh ? I’d think we won the Pools only we don’t enter them. What’s got you so fired up then ?”
“I’ve been promoted to staff, starting when we go back in the new year!”
“That’s wonderful! Well done. Tell me what happened then.”
“Mister Cunningham, the Production Manager, called me to his office. I was a bit bothered to be honest but I couldn’t think of a problem – and there wasn’t one. We had a bit of a chat and then he came out with it, I am to work as his assistant. Mind you there is a catch.”
“A catch ?”, she said suspiciously.
“Yes, I have to finish my night school and qualify.”
“Well you can do that I am sure. I hate to ask this but can we manage okay if you lose your shift pay ?”
“I won’t lose it. My new salary rolls that in, plus, plus I get a company car into the bargain!”
“A company car ? Very posh”, replied Mary in a fun mocking tone.
“It means we can ditch the old Cambridge, mind you its not been a bad old car.”
“So what kind of car are you getting ?”
“It’ll be a nice new Ford Escort. I chose a blue one.”
“So tell me more about this job then. What will you be doing ?”
“I am not sure exactly what I will be doing, to be honest, except that I will be the assistant Production Manager. I think the idea is to take some of the flak from Richard, that is Mister Cunningham, at least that’s how he put it.”
“I think its great! Things are definitely looking up.”
Philip’s expression changed then, a more serious look clouded his happy smile. “There was one other thing though, a bit of bad news I am afraid”.
Mary’s smile vanished. She had thought it all too good to be true and now here was the sucker punch, the catch that she knew had to be in there somewhere, “what, what bad news ?”
“Its Stan next door. He got the sack today.”
“Stan ? What happened ?”, she said incredulously.
“Not a word to anyone Mary, he was caught thieving. Instant dismissal.”
“Stan, pinching from the factory ? I don’t believe it.”
“Its true alright. He was lucky they did not call the Police in as they usually do.”
“God! He is going to have an awful Christmas.”
“Yes I know. The car wouldn’t start again and I saw Stan leaving and asked if he could give me a jump start. He told me to ‘eff’ off. I know he blames me but I had nothing to do with it, really I had no idea.”
“He must know you wouldn’t have set him up, surely?”
“I do hope so. Right now he must be pretty worried, but I’ll see how things go.”
“Poor sod, but its his own fault if he was pinching things.”
“Still, I can’t help feeling sorry for him though.”, said Philip, “but there’s nothing I can do for him. Anyway, how has my son been today ?”, he asked brightening up again, after all he could not let the troubles of his neighbour take over his life too
“Daniel has been his usual happy self. The health visitor called today to see how we were getting along and she says that already he is advanced for his age. He seems to take in everything which is a good thing, she says. We could have a very bright child on our hands there, like his dad.”
“Well I’ll just go up and see him before dinner”, said Philip.
“Okay, it’ll be ready in five minutes”.