The Rent Man Cometh

When your Dad is dead and gone, there isn’t much you can do on Father’s Day. Cards seem foolish and a phone call would either be pointless or very strange indeed, such that one would rather hope for the former. Even the customary annual bet on a soccer tournament would bring little pleasure and even less if, for the first time ever, it actually paid out. There is really not all that much you can do.

Except remember.

So here’s some random things about Eddie Snr. Things that may not be written down anywhere else. A small act of remembrance for a guy who was a very good man and, in terms of the day that’s in it, a very good Dad too.

Dad was the ‘Rent Man’ for the local authority for our part of town. When he had some heart trouble, around the time I was seventeen, I spent a long hot Summer doing the Rent Man job myself. That was how I learned about all the little kindnesses he did on his weekly round of the council houses. 

For instance, one particular woman used to call to our house on Tuesday evenings, every Tuesday evening, promptly at seven. If Dad wasn’t there, she would leave a five pound note for him, neatly folded into a tiny rectangle. I thought it was her rent but it wasn’t. I found out what it was when I did the job myself. Every Monday morning, while on his rent collection round, Dad would call to this woman's house and give her a fiver then, on Tuesday, she would come to our house and give it back. Her husband, you see, had a drink problem and, over the course of every weekend, he would find, and drink, every penny in the house. So, on Monday, when all the money was gone and the husband was in his bed, Dad would give her the fiver to tide her over until she got her weekly social payment on Tuesday. Then she gave it back. This frustrated me for a little while. 

“Every Monday you give her the note and every Tuesday she gives it back. Why don’t you just let her keep it one week?” 

Dad explained it to me. If the fiver was in the house at the latter part of the week, when the drinking was bad, it would be found and spent. Having it between Monday and Tuesdays when the drinking was quiet after the weekend and when there was no money around, was the saving grace. I carried on this practice during my own Summer. It actually seemed to work well.

That was typical of Dad. He was always quietly doing stuff. Nice stuff.

Many other things spring to mind whilst recalling this. Silly things.

How he would bring comics home on Friday night and we would lie on the floor and read them.

How the altered accents of the poor American Emigrants bugged him whenever they came home to visit. How he would sit out on the stairs and say “Riight, Riiiight” to himself until he calmed down a bit.

How, when fishing out on the lake, he could do a wee out the back of the boat and never ever hit the outboard motor.

How he would extend his left arm away from his torso to counterbalance the weight of a petrol can carried in his right hand.

Brylcreem and Old Spice.

Always managing to get a second dessert at Weddings.

How he went to the cinema seven nights consecutively to see ‘The African Queen’ when it came to town.

How he stayed up all night looking at the river on the night before he got married.

How we were never supposed to make him angry and how we never once saw him angry.

Random things, often silly things, but it’s Father’s Day and he's gone on ahead and all that is left to do is to remember them and smile.

Once, when I was fairly small, I walked home from town behind two chattering housewives. I didn’t have any interest in overhearing their conversation but I did anyway.

“I hate that Eddie Armstrong, coming around looking for the rent laughing and smiling all the time.”

I can’t remember what the other woman said, I was too angry.

I like to remember how I cut in and berated that lady, telling her that that was my Dad she was talking about and that he was a good man and she was damn lucky to have him as her rent man. But, of course, I didn’t. I was just too little to be arguing with the ladies of the town.

Can I do it now? God knows, I’m not too little any more.

“Hey missus. Yes, you with the scarf. That’s my Dad you’re talking about. Eddie Armstrong Senior. You just stop there for a minute and let me tell you a few things about him…”

Two Versions of Not Submitting

This week, I was getting a writing thing ready for submission to another writing thing. You can sense we’re not going to get too specific here. I put a lot of time into it, writing, rewriting, editing, honing, thinking, shaking my head, rethinking, polishing and drinking tea. I finished the thing on schedule and it sat there on my computer, gleaming in its preparedness, ready to be dispatched.

And then I didn’t submit it. 

So it’s still sitting there, still gleaming in its preparedness although now there’s a kind of subtle taunt built into it too. “Chick-Chick-Chicken, you did all the work and then you chickened out.”

There could be a bit of truth in that. I’m honestly not sure. Self confidence, for me at least, comes in waves. The good parts are right up there on the peaks while the other stuff lies waiting down in the troughs. Maybe the old self-confidence wasn’t as high as it sometimes is when the time came to submit last week. Maybe the battle of inner voices was won over by that dull insistent one who reckons you’re just a bit shit really. 

It could be that, it really could, but I think not. Maybe I’m simply guilty of post-rationalisation but again… nope, 'don’t think so.

Here’s what I think.

I think there are quite a few ways of ‘not submitting’ and I think I actually did two of them last week. 

In earlier times, I used to read scripts for a number of competitions. Mostly these were radio plays. I would get lovely big packages in the post with twenty or twenty-five play scripts in them and I would have to read them, write a little report, and select maybe two of those scripts to go on to the next stage of reading. I enjoyed it. I found I could learn a lot, particularly about how not to do things. 

At first glance, it may sound like a reasonably skilful job, requiring years of experience and knowledge. I’ll let you in on a little secret, if you don’t know it already: it’s easy to spot to best ones. Just that. It’s easy-as-hell to spot the best ones. I reckon anyone could do it. We all love a good story. We all love to be gripped, We all love truth and emotion, wrapped up in a winning package, and we can all spot it when we see it. I never had any problem finding the best two plays out of my stack of twenty-five. They shone out. There was never any mistaking them.

What’s this got to do with anything, Ken? Have you veered off on another of those tangents of yours? Is it an inevitable symptom of your age?

No, none of the above. At least I don’t think so. 

The simple fact is, the thing I had written and rewritten and polished… it just wasn’t good enough to send. That’s the truth of the matter. That’s why the email never flew. It was okay, maybe, but it was not good enough.

And this is a lesson that’s been hard learned. It’s knowledge gained from first hand experience and from having an opportunity to operate inside the system for a little while. It’s the knowing that submitting your writing is not like buying a raffle ticket or entering a tombola. It’s no use telling yourself that you might win if you can only get something in, get anything in. It’s not the case. ‘Never was, ‘never will be. If your writing does not shine greater than the rest then it won’t progress. So many of the scripts I read were clearly ‘raffle tickets’, a scrap of paper sent in with the writer’s name on it in the hope of getting lucky, of slipping through. 

A total waste of time.

I know this well, I really do, but there is a tendency to forget it or, at least, to shove it to the back of my mind. Maybe this thing I’ve written is a little better than I think it is. Maybe I should just send it away, take a punt on it.  

This is a way of thinking that we can all fall into from time to time. 

But I won’t submit to it. 

I won’t submit. 

Charlie Liked the Old Songs

This week, for a change,  I decided to write a little story. But about what? I went back to an interesting blog that I visit from time to time called ‘Prompted Tales’. Every month, nine writers each submit a new story based on a common prompt. Two of my friends, William Gallagher and Angela Gallagher, write there.  
Here’s the link. Have a look. It’s pretty good.

I decided to randomly pick one of their monthly prompts and randomly write something about that. Just for fun. The prompt I landed on was from April of this year. The word was ‘Fool’.  Here’s what came out. 

Charlie Liked the Old Songs

The notice I put in the paper had clearly said ‘No Flowers’ but most of the buggers had turned up with wreaths anyway. The grave was garlanded with them now. That’s a real word, isn't it? ‘Garlanded’. The grave was ‘Garlanded’, as if Dead Judy herself had crawled out of her own cold tomb to mouth some mournful dirge right there at the graveside. That would have been something to see.  Something better than all these damn flowers anyway.

You could tell who most of the flowers were from because they mostly spelled words that gave clues to who had bought them. ‘Chazz’ or ‘Pal’ or ‘Workmate’. ‘Workmate’, for fuck’s sake. That, right there, was a supreme waste of flowers if ever there was one.

At least the unruly pile of wreaths hid the rocks and clay beneath. As for the Astroturf draped over it. Was there ever anything that bleated ‘Funeral’ more overtly than poorly-draped and overworked Astroturf?

They were all hanging at the cemetery gates now. The remnants of the funeral party. Hanging around, waiting for me to buy them pints and a lunch in the local hotel. Let them wait. Maybe it might piss on them, if I hold out long enough.

I hadn’t been a model wife. Understatement of the century, right there. I had done some truly shitty things and I had also fucked around more than a mechanic on an hourly rate. He had known about it all, of course. My husband Charlie. I didn’t rub his nose in it or anything but he knew how the world turned. He should have done. He was a bloody copper, after all. I always had a good story whenever I came in late or didn’t come home at all. My excuses were always plausible and always well-researched and he never believed a word of any of them. Not one goddamned word.

I asked him about it once.

“Why do you stay with me?” I said, “You know what I am. You know what I do. Why do you stay?”

He smiled that Labrador-eyed smile, the same one that had driven me out of our flat and into town on more than one cold Saturday night.

“I’m a Fool,” was what he said, “And, now and then, there’s a Fool such as I.”

Charlie always liked the old songs.

Some of the wreaths didn’t spell anything at all. They were just flowers. You had to work harder with those ones. You had to stoop right down and read the little condensation-bubbled card in the cellophane cover that was attached to the wreath on one of those little green plastic stalks.

From Mary and John (Burns) x


All love from all at number thirty-seven.

Beeeep. Repetition. You lose, number thirty-seven.

“Eleanor.” Two of the boys had come up behind me. Full uniform. Hats and all.

“I’ll be along in a minute,” I said, making a show of continuing to read the damn cards, “Don’t fret. I’ll get the drinks in.”

“It’s not that.”

I kept stooping and pretending to read.

“What then?”

“Charlie left a file. To be opened after his death. It has evidence. Proof.”

“Proof of what?”

“The thing is, El. Sorry about this but you do not have to say anything but it may harm your defence if you do not mention when questioned something which you later rely on in court. Anything you do say may be given in evidence.”

I stayed stooped. “Are you boys shitting me?”

“He says you killed him, El. Says you did other things too. You’d better come along with us now.”

“In a minute. I just need to read a couple more of these cards.”

I worked my way through them. At last, I read the last card on the last wreath. I had to shift a few to get down to it. It was from Charlie. I knew the writing well enough.

The card read, “I’m a fool and I’ll love you, dear, until the day I die.”

In the car on the way to the station, there was another song about love and death playing on Oldies 107. A real old classic.

It was ‘He Stopped Loving Her Today’ by George Jones.

I wondered if maybe he’d asked them to play it.