tagLoving WivesKnow Nowt Nigel

Know Nowt Nigel

bySpencerfiction©

Clueless, absolutely clueless, I was. Didn't even have an inkling and I would have continued to have lived in ignorance if it hadn't been for that blasted leaking factory roof.

I loved that sodding woman, my wife Pat, and I would have given my life for her in a heartbeat if I had to. And to have our life together ended in such a cliché, well the heartbreak was almost unbearable.

Oh, I'm Nigel, by the way, Nigel Billings, just your average guy, medium height, medium build, pretty well unremarkable in every way. I don't do anything smart, I'm just a cog in the wheel. I worked in a printing factory all week on a graveyard shift 3pm to half-past midnight, Tuesday to Friday.

A normal life for a normal guy. I didn't think my whole life was all a lie and that it would collapse so quickly around my sticky-out ears. But there you go, what do we know what's going on around us until it hits us between the eyes?

So that was me, "homme ordinaire", what about my wife Pat?

She's so much more than better than average, my wife of 25 years, in fact she's a walking wet dream, always has been and still is. Don't ask me how I landed her in the first place, because I'm totally clueless, right? Tall, at 5-8 she's already an inch taller than me and when she wears killer heels she towers over me, but I got over that little complex while we were still courting. It was never an issue all the while she was on my arm, I revelled in showing her off. Blue-eyed and blond, beautiful, goes without saying, although at 45 years of age her blond locks do now have the fortnightly assistance of the colourist at Marlene's hairdressing salon in the village.

To some, her slim figure might be regarded as a little too flat-chested, but to a dyed-in-the-wool arse-and-leg man like myself, her tight buns and long slim shapely legs are absolutely to die for. As for her small breasts, well they managed to raise our three kids without any complaints from them and with her regular fitness ritual of three two-hour sessions a week at the gym, they are still pert above a flat stomach and are a perfect handful for me. Why would you need any more?

As far as anyone was concerned, including me at the time, I was one lucky son of a gun and should count my blessings. Oh, I did, every day I thanked my lucky stars, until the night of that bloody leaking factory roof. Then the sky was so overcast you couldn't see any stars at all, whether they were lucky ones or not.

It was a year ago to the day that the incident that completely buggered up my life happened. I guess the consequences of that night ruined a number of people's lives but I'm selfish enough to ignore everyone else in this. I know that I lost out big time and don't really give a toss about what it meant to anyone else. Fine, I do concede that others suffered and are still suffering from the fallout and I guess if I am honest the majority of the consequential events are pretty well down to my actions at the time. But do I give a damn? Course I bloody don't, why should I? They don't give a damn about me! No. Not one of them.

Where do I begin? Well, I suppose I better start with the fire.

Of course it was Old Jack Grafton's fault, the tight old git, and his incompetent son Jack Junior only compounded the original error. The roof of the sixty-years-old building in which we worked had always leaked and every time it rained heavily we had to place up to a dozen plastic dustbins to catch not just the drips but in some places a constant stream of dirty rust-contaminated rainwater. The Grafton Graphics' owners were a bunch of cheapskates and, rather than replace the entire roof, which it really needed, they just patched up the worst bits from time to time. All that did was move the leaks further along the roof, giving the disadvantage of not being able to predict each time where all the drips, or what often turned out as babbling brooks, would end up.

The night of the fire was a wet thundery autumn night, when it absolutely tipped down like a tropical monsoon for about 45 minutes. At the far end of the building, where I worked alone in the plate-room, I only had a single leak, the stain on the wall signified its regular route. I didn't need a dustbin for this one as it just streamed down the wall to puddle on the floor. As usual, I simply chucked a pile of cleaning rags down to soak it up and prevent it reaching the gangway where it would have been a slip hazard. I carried on running sets of printing plates as I was unaffected by that particular leak.

Then, about twenty-five minutes after the thunderstorm started, the lights in the plate-room flickered before the room was plunged into darkness and all the machinery stopped working. The green emergency exit lights came on within a matter of seconds but the generator back-up for the mains power simply failed to kick in. The street lights were still on outside so it was clearly an issue isolated to our old building. I grabbed my coat and bag from next to the doorway and left the room by the internal door and walked down a short corridor.

When I entered the factory doors it was clear that we had serious problems. The place was filled with black smoke and the sprinklers were on. That was a total disaster in any printing works.

I ducked back into the plate-room and out through the nearest emergency exit at the back of the factory. I made my way to the evacuation meeting point round the front of the building through a continuing heavy rainstorm.

Toby Mullens, the assistant night manager was in charge this Friday night and ticked me off his increasingly damp muster list. Looked like I was last one out (but you guessed that anyway, didn't you?) because he then announced that all were present and correct. I liked Toby, he was young and ambitious but fair and always appreciative. Toby asked rather than ordered people to do things and people generally responded positively. One thing he knew how to do was make decisions.

"Right, we are all present and accounted for, the Fire Service are on their way. " he said. "Can we get these cars moved from the front car park, otherwise they'll be blocked in?"

A few people groaned, as they realised their keys were still inside, securely inaccessible in their lockers. I was parked around the back near the car park exit, so I had no problem. A few of us, me included, cheerfully rattled our keys, to the groans of those trapped with their keys and coats still in their changing lockers.

"The leak found its way into the electrical box for the five-colour press," continued Toby, "And the explosion blew the door off; the sparks ignited the nearby dirty rag bin full of ink solvents, which then spread to the press. So, we are probably out of action for the rest of the night. Once the fire fighters have damped down the electrics, the night shift will have to clean up and assess the damage. All the printed work from today and all the paper set out for tomorrow's jobs are going to have to be replaced. It's clear that no printing will continue until late morning Saturday at the earliest, possibly not until Monday."

We could hear the sirens from at least a couple of fire engines which made their way up the bypass. As a few guys who did have car keys on them hurried to move their cars, Toby approached me.

"As it is an electrical problem, once the fire is damped down the sparks engineer will have to check the box and put it right, possibly replace it. They have a two-hour response time before they even turn up and you finish in less than three hours, so you might as well push off home now."

The plate-room was the only production department on a two-shift system, everyone else was on three-shifts. If a plate went blind on the press between half-past midnight and six in the morning, the machine minders would have to make it themselves.

I told Toby what he probably already knew, that there were plates running through the processor, which would have to be removed and dumped and probably all the chemicals cleaned out and replenished, before restarting plating again. That would kill off half the next platemaking shift. He did say a few rude words. We both knew we would have to re-make all the plates on the seized-up presses as well as run out fresh plates for all the spoiled print work from the last few days, all part of the accumulating costs of not spending a few timely quid on the dodgy roof.

So I rushed off to shift my car out of the way before the firefighters decided to approach the fire from both ends of the building and block my escape. As I drove out of the trading estate I glanced at the time, not quite 10.30pm, over three hours early. With any luck Pat would still be up and possibly horny. OK, I'm an optimist at heart, so what's wrong with that?

As it worked out I was correct on both counts but failed to benefit from either.

To get her in the mood for a bit of unscheduled loving, I stopped off at the all-night supermarket just off the bypass and picked up a bottle of wine, some chocolates and a bunch of flowers, roses I think they were. Hey, I can put in an effort on the romantic side when I need to.

As I pulled into my road, which is in the form of a crescent, a quiet road with an opening at each end, I noticed a bright red Porsche reverse throatily out of my drive ahead of me and scoot up the road driving swiftly away from me. I instantly recognised the car, it belonged to Reggie Nicholson, Pat's boss. He had bought the nearly-new sports car that March or April and had invited everyone he knew to an unseasonably cool Sunday barbecue to show his bloody knob extension off.

I had the sinking feeling it wasn't just the extension he'd been showing off tonight.

^^^***^^^

Patricia Bellows was a secretary in the office at the factory where I worked at the time I first met her, about 28 years ago. It was not an auspicious start to our long relationship, as I originally went up to the office to have a whinge at the wages clerk about cocking up my overtime pay for the previous week. We got paid on a Thursday night in those days, proper fat envelopes of actual cash, folded notes, loose change and a payslip. Once we got our hands on the cash the younger element of the workforce, me included, decamped to the nearest pub for a few pints and games of darts, bar billiards, shove ha'penny or cribbage before comically stumbling home on foot or push-bike. That was my simple Thursday nights pleasure each week, those were the days.

I was 23 at the time and a journeyman printer, just two years out of my apprenticeship and with seven years' single-colour offset litho press experience behind me. Over my first pint of light and bitter, checking my pay slip, I discovered that I hadn't been paid for a Saturday morning's overtime, which at time and a half was six hours' pay, meaning my wages were about 12% light, a good chunk of change, that I had looked forward to spending on wine, women and song at the weekend. I told you earlier I was an optimist, didn't I? Well, I always was until recently. The working week ran from Monday to Sunday, so any work on the Saturday was paid on the immediately following Thursday.

So, come 9 o'clock Friday morning, when the tardy office staff decided to stroll in leisurely to reluctantly start working their last day of the week, I stormed up to the wages office and slammed my pay slip down on Polly Campbell's desk and told her how I was pissed off that I was missing six hours' pay. Polly calmly said she would look into it, check the appropriate clocking-in cards and come and see me in the press room later.

I spun around intending to stomp off, as you do, and I collided with a new girl I had never seen before. She was carrying two plastic cups of coffee, one presumably for Polly, and colliding with me meant that coffee splashed all over her smart lemon-yellow print dress.

Of course I was sorry, profusely told her so and offered to pay for the dry-cleaning, but she was very nice about it and sweetly said she was sure it would wash out. She had a nice smile and I'm an absolute sucker for a sweet smile. It was only later when she headed back to the coffee machine for refills that I had a chance to check out her more than admirable legs and arse.

So I followed my apology up by catching up with her at the drinks dispenser and asking her out for dinner. She was very young and shy and blushed crimson, before declining. Damn, she probably already had a young lad slathering after her. Lucky bugger! Couldn't blame him, really, she was gorgeous.

When Polly caught up with me later, I was working on my single-colour offset press printing magazine covers one colour at a time. She gave me a fresh wage packet with a new payslip and the balance of the cash I was owed. I asked Polly about the new girl, well I would wouldn't I?

Pollyanna was quite a chatty married lady with young children who had just stared school, so Polly was back working full-time. She was very platinum blonde, tended to wear short tight skirts and she more than made up for whatever was lacking in the young lady I was interested in, as regards the chest department. It was always a treat for the whole press room to lure Polly into where we could enjoy a good ogle. I could see my grubby workmates gathering around to enjoy the view. Fortunately, the noise in the press room took some overcoming to have a conversation, so I put my head close enough to Polly's to be almost overcome by her perfume - and I thought the volatile solvents we used on the presses were heady enough!

Polly grinned at my interest in the new girl and was prepared to give up what little info she had on her. I found out that her name was Pat, she was only 18, fresh from secretarial college, shy and single, and didn't appear to have a steady boyfriend, either. This was only her fifth day in the company and she hadn't ventured out of the general office yet. Polly thought I might have a good chance with her as Pat had asked Polly who I was immediately after I had left. I thanked her and asked if she had a mind to send Pat down to see me by my machine over some pretext or other. She laughed, saying the state of my handwriting on my time sheets meant that she could probably send Pat down half-a-dozen times a day!

Good old Polly. I still see her round town nowadays. Likes a drink does Polly, but has let herself go a bit. Had an affair with a bloke in the bindery a couple of years after I met Pat, which cost her the marriage, the house, and alienated her kids. Sad, really, feel sorry for her even though we're now both in the same boat.

Sure enough, Pat was sent down to find me later that day. Fortunately, the press was idle when she arrived as I was washing down, either between colours or from an earlier job. I asked her if she'd had a chance to walk around the factory yet. She had, when she came for the second job interview, but had been shown around by Joan, the office manager at the end of the afternoon and everyone who had a clue what went on the factory had long since gone home.

The factory worked from 8 to 4.30 and the office hours in those days were an hour later, from 9 to 5.30. So I showed Pat around, aware I was going to come in for some considerable stick from my leery mates later on. When we got to the paper store at the end of the factory, where it was relatively quiet, well as quiet as any printing factory gets, I popped the vital question again to ask if I could take her out to dinner. She coloured up prettily, I thought, saying she would think about it. I was about to beg, just before we got to the big rubber doors leading to the binding department, when she suddenly said yes.

We stopped there while I dug out a stub of pencil from my inky overalls and tore off a piece of paper wrapping to write down her telephone number and address. We arranged to meet up that very night at 7 and she toddled off on her precarious heels with me watching the nicest view of a girl departing that I had seen in a month of Sundays. I had to sneak into the foreman's office to make a call to the restaurant to make a reservation, crossing my fingers that they had a free table for two. They did. Woo-hoo!

I checked my finances. I used to put a few bob away each week in my building society account on a Saturday. This meal tonight was likely to cost me more than I had in spending money for the whole week. I had to get a sub off my old mother from my rent that I had left on the side board after coming home from the pub on Thursday night. I needed that cash until I could get into town to the building society after overtime Saturday morning and draw out enough to pay her back.

Mum could tell I was impressed by this girl, I had my Saturday night bath on Friday night and put on my best suit, make that my only suit. I didn't really think through what I was going to do for the second date, or if there was even going to be one, I went all out on that first night.

I had checked out where she lived on my way home from the factory, in the beat-up old Vauxhall car I used to drive back in those days, so I could find it again easily in the dark. No satellite navigation in those days, how ever did we manage?

We came from different backgrounds, Pat and I. I was factory floor blue-collar, she worked in the office. Her parents were middle-class and owned a sweet shop in the High Street, while my dad operated a lathe in a factory, making washing machine parts. I lived with my parents in a rented house in the middle of a terrace block in a tightly crowded council estate, Pat's parents' house was rather more up-market, an owner-occupied semi-detached with a garage and space at the side to expand into if they wanted.

Their back garden I later found out had a gazebo and was laid to lawns and shrub beds; our back yard was concreted over and we had my Dad's pigeon loft in a shed at the back. They had a village green out the front with its own rustic duck pond. The only grass around our way came up through the cracks in the pavement.

I was due to pick Pat up at 7. Of course she wasn't ready, so I was shown through the square expansive hallway into a front sitting room where I had to wait on a chintz-covered settee for ten minutes, entertained by her little sister, Eveline.

Now, Evie could make any man squirm, she still can actually. At that time she was only 12 and kept on asking me embarrassing questions, like had I kissed Patricia yet and where were we going and what were we having to eat and when would we be back and when would I'd be taking her out again? Oh, and did I know I had sticky-out ears? Yes, I knew. All these questions delivered with her all-encompassing earnestness which persists to this day. I felt I'd heard enough "when-where-why" words to last until the world ended.

Evie and I have been dancing around each other teasing and flirting, without any serious intentions either way, for getting on for thirty years. I found her exhausting most of the time, but we always seemed to get on. Pat once reckoned Evie had a crush on me when she was a kid but I could never see it.

When Pat waltzed into that cosy sitting room, it was like the walls melted and we were alone in the middle of a ballroom and for just an instant I felt I could dance from here to the moon. And I couldn't dance for toffee, I was the original wallflower that had ivy growing up me. But I floated out of that grand semi-detached with the glamorous Pat on my arm like I had wings.

Until I got to my rusty heap of a car that is. I kept forgetting that the passenger door in old car used to stick like a bitch. I never used that door myself. My passengers only ever used that door on a Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning when I picked up a few chunky mates to watch the match in the afternoon, and play Sunday football in the morning. Damn, I pulled and pulled at that stubborn bitch of a door and swore, then I went round the drivers' side and gave it the full force of my size tens to open the son of a bitch from the inside.

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bySpencerfiction© 124 comments/ 79043 views/ 40 favorites

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