If you read back to Friday’s post, you’ll discover that the first Christmas Helen and I were together was marked by me losing my job on Christmas Eve. For most people this would be a bad thing, and indeed we were worried for a time, but in the end it proved to be very convenient.
In the run up to Christmas Helen was working in Denton, a suburb of Manchester so unappealing that it was entirely fitting that Mick Hucknall lived there. She worked for a department manager named Alex Spokes, who wound her up no end, to the point where she complained about him to the store manager. For some reason, this resulted in her being seconded to the store manager of the Telford store for a month.
Helen was, therefore, working in Shropshire for the whole of January, staying in something called the Buckatree Hotel. I was desperately trying to find another job, but driving down to Telford to be smuggled into her room in the Buckatree at every opportunity.
The problem was that although Helen had a double room, Sainsbury’s were only paying for her to stay there. Which meant that I had to leave when she did each day. I would spend most of my time sitting in the car, parked in a layby on a country road, listening to tapes – the Wonder Stuff’s ‘Hup’ was a particular favourite, I recall – and reading. And living off meals from McDonald’s.
The funniest part of this episode, though, came on one of the last Fridays Helen was in Telford. I had come home by train to leave her the car, for some reason. The car, by this stage, was not the one we bought when we first moved in together, but my parents’. That evening, Helen called me from a petrol station – bear in mind that this was before mobile phones were at all common, so she was on a pay phone somewhere – complaining that she couldn’t get the petrol cap to unlock. The petrol cap on that car unlocked using the ignition key, so I couldn’t really see what the problem was and told her to ask one of the garage staff for help.
I was therefore rather surprised when she turned up at the front door less than an hour later. Her explanation? “I still couldn’t get the cap off to put any petrol in, so I just drove as fast as I could so that I got home before it ran out”
And then it turned out that she had been trying to open the petrol cap with the garage door key.