Deborah, Part I

DennisM2, Public domain

Oliver Harding is expecting a business-as-usual day at Bawlsinyore Court, a rather smart retirement housing scheme in a sleepy corner of Cambridgeshire where he’s the resident manager. Today the window cleaners will be here and that will take care of the morning. Fortunately, Baal is being kind to Oliver, the night’s near-constant dank and dreary drizzle is reluctantly surrendering the Cambridgeshire sky to a lazuline light as the new day dawns; a slowly-fading, slice-of-lemon moon just visible. Unlocking his office door, he thinks about the day ahead; he’s not to know it’s about to change dramatically. Lights on, laptop on, smile on (with a struggle) and Oliver’s ready for anything and (almost) anybody.

That unmistakeable Miele murmur from the nearby residents’ laundry suggests to him that Dima, who’s usually the earliest bird in there, hasn’t managed to trip the circuit breakers protecting the much used (and abused) equipment and that his unmentionables are in the midst of their daily drubbing. An interesting man, Dima: originally from Moscow, very clever — he narrowly missed out on one of those Swedish 23-carat gold medals apparently — he bought an apartment when he retired from a life of unfathomable research at Cambridge University. He has tried many times to explain his work to Oliver but after the first sentence he might as well have been speaking Klingon. He’s probably putting the world to rights with his mate Graham — who mysteriously deflects any questions about his curriculum vitae — the resident computer guru who moved in around the same time as Dima and has since rescued many a silver surfer here from the evil empire that is Microsoft.

So, another day begins at Bawlsinyore Court where Oliver endeavours to keep the residents happy, the building purring like a Bentley and himself sane, sanguine and loved by all. The milkman’s long gone and the ever-lengthening steady stream of crimson-coated carers is almost over; their path from the car park signposted by fag-ends, chocolate-bar wrappers and the occasional pair of pale-blue, five-fingered, nitrile discards. Rinse, repeat: lunch, dinner and bed-time. He really must have another chat with their manager.

At the touch of its large red button, the beige plastic box on the office wall comes to life and a voice from distant Dorset re-assures Oliver that all has been quiet during the night: nobody fell or failed to find the latest thrilling episode of Strictly or some other bread-and-circuses offering from the BBC. He says a silent prayer, thanking someone somewhere for small mercies as he takes control again of the door entry and emergency call system, the community’s vital 24/7 link to the outside world. It’s time for the first cup of Glengettie of the day; he switches on the kettle and a lonely tea bag wonders why it’s been chosen to be tortured by boiling water.

“Bugger! They’re early,” mutters Oliver, spotting the gaudy Krystal Klean van in the car park. He watches Paul, the Brummie boss, and a young lad who he doesn’t recognise, unload the impossibly-long carbon fibre poles that make it child’s play to reach the windows on all five floors of the fifteen-year-old building. It doesn’t take them long to set up and this time Paul has remembered the hazard signs. Oliver buzzes them through the main door and soon they’re standing in his first-floor office.

“Good morning Paul, nice to see you again, even though you’ve made me miss my tea.”

They shake hands like long-lost friends, Paul grinning like a daft thing as usual.

“Morning, you idle bugger.” They enjoy a good working relationship but before Paul gets too far explaining why Aston Villa lost again last night, Oliver raises a hand.

“Much as I like to hear about Villa’s steady but inexorable decline, why don’t you introduce me to your young friend here and then we can get started.”

“Sorry Olly, this is Jason. Just taken him on and today’s his first day. Thought I’d break him in gently and let him do the insides. I’ve told him about the residents who pay extra to have the insides done and warned him to be on his best behaviour.”

“Good to meet you, Jason. Don’t worry, it’s not rocket science, Paul just about manages it so you’ll have no problems. And make sure the thieving bastard lets you keep half the cash you collect.”

“Hello Mr. Harding”. Just six syllables of that tortured Birmingham accent is enough to make Oliver cringe.

“It’s Olly, unless you support Villa too”. A silly grin from Jason spares Oliver further aural hell.

“Good luck with the pole then Paul and don’t forget that north corridor window on the second, I don’t want number 39 bleating for a week about another missed spider’s web.” Paul heads for the door, smiling, gesturing obscenely.

“Right Jason, let’s get your bucket filled and make a start.”

© William 2023