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In Loco Parentis

February 3, 2013

I can’t deny it, I’m rather given to 60s nostalgia.  I entered that most amazing decade as a grammar school boy and left it as a young draughtsman going steady with a wonderful girl called Stella, who’d one day become my wife. 

Between school and the drawing office, I served an electrical apprenticeship and was fortunate enough, in my first year, to be paired up with a “spark” approaching retirement age, who was an absolute master of his craft and a great guy.  He was proudly working class and I can see him now with his flat cap and Daily Mirror, chuckling over the Andy Capp cartoon.

He’s not the “Gilbert” of my flash fiction story ‘In Loco Parentis’ but I hope something of the admiration and affection I felt for my mentor comes across.  I wrote the story in the first person to give it a more authentic ring.

I visualised the story as occurring in ’63, when the Beatles were making their mark at The Cavern club in Liverpool, Mods and Rockers were beginning to brawl and girls still wore dresses below the knee, the mini-skirt not having yet come into fashion. 

I read a hastily completed first draft at a BLAZE poetry meeting last Wednesday evening and kicked myself for not waiting until I’d licked the story into shape.  The version below has been pretty well licked!

 

IN LOCO PARENTIS

 

Aye, Owd Gilbert, the boiler-suited Maestro of Wires and Wives.  Just a couple of years off retirement, gaunt, jaundiced, but the finest “spark” of my apprenticeship half-a-century ago.  Still a ladies’ man too, in a gentlemanly sort of way.

I thought the world of him…well, except that one time in the late-summer, when we found ourselves at a shaded semi in the suburbs, with a job to do for Mrs F.

***

A perfectionist he was, Owd Gilbert; a grafter too.  His Maestro of Wives charm was reserved for tea breaks and lunch; the rest of the time he was the Maestro of Wires, whose junction boxes were to die for.  And woe betide me if I put a clip wrong or slacked for a moment!

The trouble with Mrs F was that she wouldn’t leave him alone.  Every time I looked round, there she was, rabbiting on about something – the bastard who’d abandoned her when Ruth was six months old; Ruth’s recent success as a teenage ballet queen…

On and on… Gilbert was too much the gentleman to ignore her.  Instead he’d block her chatter with a spirited rendition of his favourite ditty, The Floral Dance.  Only to have his pliers whipped away by Mrs F, who’d then proceed to dance him around the room!

The job was dragging on.  Our boss was in despair, but certainly not I.

Ruth was ohhhh…I’d never felt my heart bump around my chest so much, never known such tingling excitement.  And nearly a fortnight on now, I was no longer a bumbling wreck in her company…

***

It was our last day, had to be, no question.  The boss-man’s words were like a slap on the cheek, bringing us back to reality.  Even Mrs F snapped out of it, or seemed to…

I was fixing the dining room light when she started again in the kitchen.  I caught Ruth’s name, then my own, so naturally my ears pricked up…

“Gilbert, you prude!  You’ve seen her room, those pictures of Nureyev, the way she ogles them…”

“I’m not a prude.”

“She ogles Dave the same way, and he’s such a nice boy.  Couldn’t he, you know, just once…?

Gilbert’s reply was firm: “Dave is just a kid and I’m responsible for him, In Loco Parentis.  So the answer’s no, I’m sorry.”

My sudden flame so swiftly quenched, I shook with rage.

***

If anyone deserved a happy retirement, it was Owd Gilbert.  But come that winter he was gone.

In quiet moments still, as if on the breeze, I hear his voice raised in song:  “All together in the Floral Dance…”

Aye, the boiler-suited Maestro of Wires and Wives.

-oOo-

 

© Copyright Paul Beech 2013

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