The Last Lino-Fitter in Peckham

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: CLOG
Simon Strudwick is an essential character in 'Strudwick's Successor. This story is an outline chapter that I never included in the finished book. I just could not find enough humour to make it flow. It was originally intended to sit somewhere just after chapter 22 'Caution! Femmes Fatale At Work' It might stiil make it into a later edition of the book.
Here Simon reacts to his day at work, totally unaware that every conversation and tear had been carefully scripted, and supported by revealing clothing, perfumes, makeup and cut onions to induce the tears.

Submitted: October 29, 2016

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Submitted: October 29, 2016

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Simon Strudwick had had a very odd day. As a shareholder in the family firm he got by on his dividends, free meals in the factory canteen, and occasional work fitting or repairing linoleum floors. Today he had been repairing the floor of the family factory’s dispatch department. In itself that was not unusual. His oldest brother had bought a considerable amount of bankrupt stock of lino some years ago, and fitted out the entire factory with it. Lino was the only covering that prevented the pungent smell of boiling cabbage from creeping up through the floorboards from the basement canteen, to merge with the equally distasteful smell of boiling shellac from the production areas, before invading the gentile noses of the ladies in the company offices.

Some two or three times a year, Simon was called in to repair the covering in one room or another, so when Stanley Capes, the general foreman, phoned him and asked him to repair the floor, it was not unusual. What was unusual was the way in which he had managed to wheedle information out of the dispatch staff while he was there, and what he had learned troubled him.

Several months ago, by chance, he had the good fortune to meet Sir Arthur Brain; and the even better fortune to wake up in bed with the lovely Tracey Mulligan. To this day he could not fully explain the later occurrence, but he considered his meeting with Sir Arthur to have been one of his finest moments. As a result of that meeting, the company had employed Sir Arthur as managing director, and Simon was proud of the part he had played in making that happen – until today!

Simon was socially clumsy, and his lack of social skills, together with a rather boring intermittent work record, generally starved him of female companionship. But today he had managed to engage in conversation with a number of very attractive members of the dispatch department. Even now, after a dinner of packeted Vesta curry and a bottle of Watney’s Brown he had only to close his eyes to vividly bring back those fluttering eyelashes and heavenly perfumes that had made his workday such a pleasure.

Not only had he spent the day in wonderful company, but during that time he had developed friendships with several of the girls. He had worked at the factory on occasions for years without talking to anybody except Stanley Capes, nor learning the names of anyone other than the company’s managers. But tonight he was sure he would dream of Amanda, Fiona and Suzie – especially Suzie. Beautiful, violet eyed Suzie who poured out her heart to him: tearfully confiding her fears and hopes, and putting her trust in him to help her and her friends.

Simon was proud of himself for the way in which he had coaxed the girl into expressing her fears, but what she had told him worried him. He had no doubts whatsoever when he had played his part in installing Sir Arthur as MD, but what she told him came as a shock. Unguarded comments made by other members of the staff supported her story, and he was determined to do something about it. Clearly, appointing Sir Arthur was not the heaven-sent solution that he and the other shareholders had thought it to be.

He picked up his telephone, and dialled his older sister’s number.

“Hello!”

“Catherine?”

“Of course it is, Simon. Who else would be answering my phone?”

Catherine did not see her baby brother very often, except at family functions organised by their brother Malcolm at his rather grand home in Dulwich. Malcolm, who ran a betting shop in the High Street, had a rather Victorian attitude that included a strong sense of family togetherness, which required regular family gatherings. Catherine generally shared his ideals, but was prepared to make an exception in Simon’s case. In her view the youngest of the Strudwicks was a feckless individual, with no drive or ambition. It was clear, for example, to all except Simon, that linoleum had had its day, and he should be looking for another trade, rather than do less and less work while waiting for the product to make a comeback.

She waited for Simon to speak. Eventually she could wait no longer.

“What have you called about?”

“I, err… was at the factory today. I don’t think things are going as well as Sir Arthur has been telling us.”

“What makes you think that?” she asked. She frowned as she waited for him to continue, recalling her lunch with the company accountant the day before.

“Well, he’s upset the staff, for one thing,” said Simon, visualising Suzie’s beautiful violet eyes and tear-stained cheeks as he spoke. “And most of the initiatives he claims to have introduced were actually the work of Mr Cortina in sales, and Stanley Capes.”

“And the girls in dispatch told you this?” She marvelled at them even speaking to him, let alone taking him into their confidence.

“Not without a lot of coaxing,” replied Simon. “I had lunch with two of them, and I could see right away that something was bothering them. But it took a time to get them comfortable, before they would confide in me. Even then I had to listen carefully, and pick up on little things before I could persuade them to open up.”

Catherine listened carefully and wondered where her brother had suddenly developed a similar skill, probably those Open University programmes that he watches at two in the morning, when other busier folk are enjoying a well earned night’s sleep. She was still mulling over what she had learned from the company accountant. For several minutes she listened as Simon recalled the various conversations he had had with the girls at the factory.

“I think we need to have a family meeting,” she said, interrupting Simon as he began to tell her of the plight of one girl, who struggled to supported her elderly grandmother on her wages. “I’ll phone Malcolm and see if he is free on Sunday.”

“Thank you, Cathy.” said Simon, using the pet name he called his big sister when he was a child, “I feel better now you know. Those poor girls at the factory are so worried about their future.”

Catherine smiled. If a family discussion concluded there was a problem then she could get back to the accountant, Lionel Dee, and arrange to meet him again. She enjoyed lunch with him, even if the wine did result in difficulty concentrating on work in the afternoon. She put the phone down, and reached for the mug of coffee that was growing cold. She had just swallowed a lukewarm mouthful when the phone rang again.

“Cathy? It’s Malcolm. I’ve had a very strange phone call at work today. Have you heard anything about the factory? A punter wanted to lay a bet on it going bust.”

“What made him think that?”

“Some whisper in the city. It seems that Sir Arthur Brain might not be the dynamic leader we hoped he’d be.”

“I’ve just had Simon phone me, with much the same idea. He was at the factory today, and it seems that the man is wasting money and cutting staff bonuses. And from my own investigations I know he is not giving us his full attention. I had lunch with Lionel Dee yesterday, and it’s obvious that Sir Arthur is treating it as a part-time job.”

“All right, old girl, I’ll have a word with Harold in the morning, and see if he can come to lunch on Sunday. He might have heard something from the workers in his shop. Can you let Simon know?”

She agreed and hung up. If they were right then they had two problems. How to get rid of Sir Arthur without paying him the full three years pay that his contract stipulated, and who could they possibly get to replace him.

She pushed the cold coffee mug away from her, and got up to fetch the bottle of Bols that she was saving for a special occasion. As well as the problems at the factory, she had also heard rumours that the department store where she worked was in trouble, and could be closing down.

By midnight Catherine Strudwick no longer cared about the factory. She was gently snoring in the worn old armchair with an empty bottle on the occasional table beside her.

 

*****

Simon, Catherine, Malcolm and Harold Strudwick are siblings to Herbert Strudwick, the rascally older brother who is currently in a coma in a hospice, and not expected to recover. Prior to the accident that put him there he was the owner of Strudwick’s French Polish & German Sausage Company. His brothers and sister had, over the years, bought shares in the company to allow him to expand.

This short story was originally intended to be a chapter in Strudwick’s Successor, but I never managed to inject enough humour into it to make it worth including.

 


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