“Sally, it’s for you.” James was holding the phone, as I came out of the kitchen.
“Who is it?” I asked, reaching for the handset.
“I don’t know. A woman,” He said. That was helpful, I thought.
“Hello, my name Julie Knowles, and I’d like to rent your room. I saw it in the Post Office window. Can I come and view it tomorrow afternoon?”
It had been a year since I become involuntarily unemployed. Then out of the blue, James was made redundant. Trying times.
“Why don’t we make use of our resources and start a home-based business venture?” I said to James, having been toiling with the idea for a while. The more I thought about it, the more it made sense, but what?
Taking a look at my CV for the umpteenth time, all I could see was that the most ideally suited job had failed me, and the dire, ever-worsening economic depression did nothing to help. “You’re overqualified” felt like a constant, bloody slap on the face.
I joined a short training course provided by the local Job Centre, and wrote a business plan. “Let us advertise for a lodger. It would give us a little income.” I needed to persuade James.
His response was exactly what I had expected: “It’s not worth the hassle.”
Time and increasing financial pressure proved the best persuasion. He typed out a short advert and shortly after it appeared on the window of the Post Office.
Double bedroom in modern, warm and well-equipped family house. Room only – £50 per week or half-board – £80 per week. Non – smokers preferred. References required. Telephone Sally on 0161 293 5432 .
“You’ve got a nice house,” Julie commented.
“Thank you,” I smiled, “We like it here. Where do you live now?” I asked.
“Not far from here.” Short answer.
“How long have you stayed there?” I showed her the spacious kitchen.
“About a month” was her reply.
“Why do you want to move?” Curiosity crept in my voice.
“Oh, I had something stolen from the house. You know, some cash. My camera disappeared. You know, pictures which have sentimental value to me…”
“Oh, I am so sorry,” Geniune sympathy filled in my reply. “I’d lost a camera once myself.” It touched a nerve when I remembered my train journey through the South of France and the sudden, mysterious disapperance of my treasured camera.
“So what do you think, James?” I asked when she’d gone.
“Well, she seemed mature. I used to work as a bus conductor during university holidays. A non-smoker, and at 42, she’ll probably be low maintenance.” He replied, slowly coming around to the reality of having to tolerate a stranger in the house.
I laughed, “When she first came into the house with her uniform, I thought she was a policewoman.”
“I can see why. She did look a bit butch, burly with those awful dark-rim glasses. Anyway, we’ll see how it goes.” James turned back to his football match – the Owls were losing to its arch rival the United.
Burly Julie moved in the very next day, her clothes neatly packed in polythene bags, with the help of her even burlier boyfriend. “Hugh is a builder and is going through divorce,” Julie volunteered the information.
“Can we have your reference, please?” James asked.
“Of course,” she handed him a hand-written piece of paper. “Mr. O’Neill is an Education Officer at the Thameside Council.” She added with pride.
“I’m sorry but I can’t afford deposit,” she continued. “My salary as a trainee bus driver is not much.”
The day before we had agreed on a deposit for one week’s rent. I was put on the spot; throwing her out seemed not an option. “In that case, you can give us this week’s rent,” I conceded.
I showed Julie her cupboard in the kitchen and her personal fridge, which I had emptied for her. She had opted for cooking for herself.
“Better than the last place. The landlord was mean;” Julie commented.
“That’s a shame. What did he do? ” I asked.
“He’s a retired teacher. A strange old man, I must say,” she went on, chatty. “I am from Huddersfield. I’ve moved here to be closer to my boyfriend.”
No kidding. Big Hugh was often around and stayed over, moaning sounds mixed with the bed creaking noise, sending shocking waves across the house, up and down, like minor, yet continuous earthquakes.
“They’re treating this house like a knocking shop,” James observed, with more than a trace of displeasure.
(End of Part One – Part Two to be published on the 20th May 2013)