Battle Street Primary

‘Smile,’ Matt says. His camera is flashing and I’m thinking… whatever you do, don’t ask me to stand up. 

I was over the moon when the Chair of our committee asked me to show the Duchess around the new community centre.

‘But I haven’t done anything!’ I protested. 

‘Oh Angie, don’t you see? ‘We really couldn’t have done it without your encouragement.’ 

I felt really chuffed. Of course I never told her I only volunteered to be on the committee to get my mind off men, or rather my lack of one. 

Tom started it all. ‘Angie, have you seen what they’re doing with Battle Street Primary?’ 

Tom is from Accounts. I like Tom. He’s solid… reliable. He and I have known each other since we were five when he protected me from some bullies in the cloakroom on our first day at school. I laugh to think about it now, but back then, with him by my side, I dunno, I felt safe.  

Battle Street Primary was all boarded up, but even I could see its huge potential. It didn’t take much for me to persuade a few people that it would make a great Community Centre and that’s when we started our fighting fund. 

The guys at work were fantastic. They gave us loads of stuff for boot sales and we did a silent auction in the pub round the corner. And when Daniel Overington (Mr Sex on Legs himself) promised to do an abseil down the building, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. I didn’t notice Megan Parsons waiting on the street below but he did. They’re getting married next month.

Tom said our first hurdle was getting planning permission. I thought it would be easy peasy but wouldn’t you know it, some big developer had cast his beady eye over the property, or rather, the land underneath. He wanted to bulldoze the lot and put up twenty warden-controlled flats. 

‘But if we re-develop the site into a Community Centre,’ I argued for the benefit of the local newspaper reporter, ‘we could have everything from a lunch club to bingo, Mums and Tods and evening classes for all ages.’ 

Rick, the rookie reporter, a blond, hazel eyed hunk with what romantic novelists call chiselled features, took it all down and submitted his piece but it ended up as a tiny insertion on page 23 near the amateur weather forecast column called Bill’s Bunions

Rick, Tom and I commiserated with each other over a pint at the Cricketers.

‘I’m just as fed up about it as you,’ Rick said glumly. ‘If I’m going to be noticed, I need a story with a difference. I need a new angle…’

‘And if we’re going to get the community centre off the ground,’ I interrupted, ‘we’ve got to get some real publicity.’

‘Preferably with pictures,’ Tom said staring into the depths of his beer glass.  

The first real break came when we were invited to state our case on the local radio. On the day in question, I was the only one available. 

The presenter, Zog, (Zog?) was a dishy looking bloke who put me in a bit of a fluster. He had beautiful dark eyes and the most amazingly long fingers. He flirted outrageously but I didn’t notice the thick wedding ring he sported until right at the end of the programme and the surprise made me knock over my glass of water. 

Rick turned up at the studio with a photographer called Matt… tall, quite nice but a bit too serious. Matt took a picture of me holding a half empty glass of water and Rick’s headline was Accident Prone Angie Attracts Anger

Later that week, I went for a drink with Zog, Rick, Tom and Matt. 

 ‘After that broadcast,’ Zog said gloomily, ‘we got the largest number of phone calls ever recorded for the radio station.’

‘That’s good, isn’t it?’ said Tom. 

‘Not when they’re all complaints.’

‘I only used one little swear word,’ I protested. 

‘And now my job’s on the line.’

I felt dreadful. 

‘You have to admit that Rick’s headline was a bit corny,’ Tom observed.

‘It got a few comments on the Letters Page,’ Rick said defensively. ‘What you need is plenty of sex or somebody making a right pig’s ear of something you’re going to sell papers.’ 

‘It sounds like a good idea,’ I commented. ‘But we are trying to make a serious point.’ 

Rick gave me a withering look. 

‘And,’ I added, ‘before you ask, I refuse to be set up as some kind of air-headed bimbo.’

The atmosphere had definitely chilled, but it was my round. 

‘If that development goes ahead,’ Rick was saying as I came back with the drinks, ‘this pub is due for demolition as well. Let’s get a picture of the barmaid.’

I felt encouraged as Matt clicked away, but then Rick suggested she, lean forward a bit… a bit more… a little bit more…’ until the centre of attention shifted. 

Property man pulls Pattie came out the following week. I was livid and I wasn’t the only one. The property developer threatened to sue for defamation of character, so the following week he was given a full page ad for free. Twenty warden-controlled flats one, community centre nil.

Several of our key fighters dropped out then but I managed to persuade Carole, Cindy and Tom to keep going. Rick suggested doing a piece with the headline, ‘Committee Chicks Carry on’ but I dug my heels in. Besides Tom said there was no way he was going to be labelled a chick, not even for a good cause. I don’t blame him either. I never really noticed before, but he’s in pretty good shape.  

‘Why does everything have to be so suggestive?’ I complained to Rick. 

 ‘To get noticed,’ he said. 

Well, I was having none of it so we lobbied our MP, applied for grants and generally made our presence felt until Carole packed it in when the newspapers suggested some sort of shady goings on behind the scenes. 

When the property developer put up a board, ‘Luxury flats’, it looked like a done deal and our Community Centre was doomed. 

We all met up for lunch and Matt dropped his bombshell. ‘Count me out,’ he told us. ‘From now on, I’m doing what my partner says. I’m sticking to official openings and baby’s christenings.’

You have a partner? Oh Matt…

Imagine our surprise when we heard that the behind the scenes ‘done deal’ was to be the subject of police enquiry. I was just about to burn all my placards when the developer had ceased trading and was under investigation by the Inland Revenue as well. Tom went straight round to the council and we got the go ahead. I rang Rick. 

‘Success stories,’ he announced, ‘are boring.’

Exit Rick. Pity I hadn’t noticed what a pratt he was. 

That left Tom, Cindy and me with masses to do. Cindy got us a Grant to re-build the toilets into adult sized and refit the kitchens. Tom persuaded local firms to sponsor or donate most of the equipment we needed. I mucked in wherever…

At last, the official opening day arrived. 

 When I turned into the car park, there was no doubt about it, the Community Centre looked wonderful. The only blot on the landscape was in the street outside where the telephone cable company was digging up the pavement.

Mr Harris, our old school caretaker, had put up red, white and blue bunting. I did a final tour of Ms Turner’s Self-discovery class, Rev. Robertson’s model train group and Bunty Baskins ’s Tai-chi for the Physically Challenged.  The kitchen was a hive of activity. Mrs Williams had her cookery class well organised. Everything looked great. I felt great too. For the first time in my life, everything, absolutely everything had gone exactly to plan. Not a pig’s ear in sight.

All at once, there was a loud bang in the street and all the lights went out. People filled the corridors.

‘What’s happened?’

‘Is there a power cut?’

‘The cable company have gone through the mains,’ Tom said as I ran into the office.  ‘I had to use my mobile to find out what happened. It won’t be back on for ages.’

‘Oh no! What a disaster,’ I groaned.

‘And the Duchess will be here in less than an hour,’ wailed Cindy.

Well, I wasn’t going to be beaten. Half an hour later and we’d replaced the coffee with a crate of wine from the local wine merchant. The jacket potatoes (only half done) were off the menu and bread and butter put in its place. Finally, Cindy had dashed off to buy extra quiche from the supermarket.

With fifteen minutes to go, I changed into my outfit and chucked my other clothes into the car. Then I whizzed around one last time. Every scrap of paper had been picked up, the ‘Do not use. Duchess Only’ notice taken down from the outside of the door to the loo, a chair straightened here, a pot plant moved there. In the kitchen, which was reasonably tidy after the panic of a few minutes ago, I found a plate of bread and butter left on the table. I took it with me into the luncheon room.

Everything looked so wonderful, I couldn’t help but complimented Mrs Williams. 

‘You are such a great encourager, my dear,’ she smiled.

‘Where shall I put this plate?’ I asked, but at exactly the same moment a horn sounded in the road and Tom shouted, ‘She’s here!’ 

It was pretty nerve racking but thankfully, the official walk around the Centre went without a hitch.  

At lunch time, I made my way up to the top table and showed the Duchess to her seat. As I pulled my chair out, Matt (strictly openings and christenings now) distracted me and we posed for pictures before starting lunch. We all sat down and that’s when it happened. Thank goodness Rick the photographer isn’t here anymore and our trusty reporter Matt has gone back home to his boyfriend.  

The Duchess is quite chatty, but I’m having a job concentrating on what she’s saying. What am I going to do? 

‘You know,’ Cindy whispers out of the corner of her mouth, ‘I’m sure we had another plate of bread and butter.’

We did, I think to myself. I’m sitting in it. 

All at once, I’m conscious of someone standing directly behind me. I turn slightly and Tom lowers his head to my ear. 

‘If you get up slowly,’ he whispers, ‘I’ll deal with it.’

I blink back my tears and swallow the lump forming in my throat.

‘Excuse us M’am,’ Tom says to the Duchess, ‘but Angela is required in the office.’

As I stand up and he deftly removes the plate from my back-side. Then keeping very close, we walk swiftly from the room and head for the office. My relief is tangible.  

 ‘My other clothes are in the boot of the car,’ I tell him. 

He takes my car keys and I’m eternally grateful. He’s saved me from making a right pig’s ear. 

It’s only while I’m waiting for him to come back that I start thinking straight. They say I’m a great encourager, but who’s the one always there for me? I watch him striding across the car park and the light dawns. I wonder why I didn’t see it before? I loved Battle Street Primary because he was here. Always protecting me… loving me.

He slams the boot shut and my heart lurches as he comes hurrying back. 

It takes me no time at all to get change but when we finally get back into the luncheon room they’re doing the speeches. Nobody seems to notice that I’ve changed my dress although later on Cindy did point out that my lipstick was quite smudged. 

Leave a Reply

XHTML: You can use these tags: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>