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U3A Writing: A Tale Of Two Settees

...if age hadn’t weakened the adhesive powers of the only roll of Sellotape found in her home, and if rain hadn’t stopped play in the Fourth Test Match, then Sid’s life would doubtless have jogged on in its humdrum daily pattern. But happen these circumstances did, and the consequent changes they wrought in his life were cataclysmic...

Patrick Hopton tells a tale which will make you chortle.

With what random and inconsequential links our destinies are fashioned. Take the case of Sid Carter, for example. If old Mrs Baxter hadn’t wakened from slumber feeling peckish, if age hadn’t weakened the adhesive powers of the only roll of Sellotape found in her home, and if rain hadn’t stopped play in the Fourth Test Match, then Sid’s life would doubtless have jogged on in its humdrum daily pattern. But happen these circumstances did, and the consequent changes they wrought in his life were cataclysmic.

On the way down to her refrigerator in the wee small hours of one cold February morning, to grab a peanut butter sandwich, poor Mrs B tripped on the top stair and tumbled down the flight from top to bottom, there to lie spread eagled - and dead. It was her home help who found her on the following day and who set in motion the melancholy train of events that culminated in a garage sale of those few remaining items of the dead woman’s possessions that her voracious family had chosen not to grab.

It was inevitable that a sale of this nature should come to the notice of Mabel, Sid’s wife of thirty years, who made a habit of scouring every sale - jumble, car boot, public auction or whatever - that happened within a ten mile radius of their home. Mabel, honed by many hours watching Antiques Road Show, fancied herself as something of an expert in all things antique – for their mercenary rather than their aesthetic content it has to be said. For years she had been buying up what she considered to be bargains at sales and second hand emporia, and had even managed to sell on the odd item at a modest profit. The big break through for which she craved had always eluded her, however. She was convinced that waiting for her out there somewhere was a priceless artefact that had been overlooked by everyone, and whose true worth only she would recognise. In the garage of the late Mrs Baxter she was convinced she had found her treasure at last.

‘Sidney,’ she instructed her husband, ‘get hold of that awful drinking crony of yours, the one with the van, then go to Mrs Baxter’s garage to collect a chaise-longue I’ve just snapped up. Nobody else managed to spot it,’ she went on smugly, ‘but I’m convinced it’s a genuine Louis Quinze. Just three hundred pounds I got it for – a real bargain. With a bit of restoration work it should fetch thousands.’

Sid shared neither his wife’s enthusiasm nor her expertise in such matters. ‘What’s a chaise-longue?’ he wanted to know. ‘How am I supposed to recognise the thing?’

Mabel raised her eyes to the heavens in exasperation. Her husband’s ignorance and stupidity were beyond belief. ‘It’s a very old and valuable French sofa,’ she snapped. ‘This one bears a large lot number six and it’s got a big notice on it saying sold. Even you should be able to recognise the right piece of furniture armed with that information.’

After thirty years of marriage Mabel should have known her husband better. In Mrs Baxter’s garage, faced with two sofas carrying ‘sold’ notices, each with a piece of cardboard bearing the number six secured by sealing tape, Sid scratched his head in perplexity. One sofa was scruffy, badly upholstered, with half the back missing - an arm too. It looked thoroughly uncomfortable. The second was of studded red leather, worn thin in places, but - or so he reckoned - which might be construed as imposing with a bit of imagination. It certainly looked the more comfortable of the two. The Baxter heirs seemed to have lost interest in the sale, for there was no one in attendance to advise him.

‘Which one d’you suppose Mabel means, Charlie?’ he asked his mate. ‘I don’t know much about this Louie Kunz bloke, but he wasn’t much of a workman. I don’t reckon much on either of ‘em.’

‘It must be the leather one,’ Charlie assured him. ‘Even your missis wouldn’t cough up three hundred nicker for that other piece of tat. Let’s get it loaded up. If we hurry we’ll have time for a pint at the Dog and Gun after.’

If they had not been in such a hurry to quench their thirst they might have noticed that the numbered piece of cardboard had originally been secured by two strands of Sellotape, one of which had peeled from the upholstery of the sofa, allowing the cardboard to swing one hundred and eighty degrees, and thus refashioning the original figure nine as a six.

Their pint at the Dog and Gun turned into a quart. But it was not just the beer that detained Sid. The ample blonde charms and sympathetic air of Gloria Potter behind the bar - always a refreshing change from his shrewish and demanding wife - were even more of an incentive to delay his return home. It was nearly midnight, therefore, before he and Charlie had unloaded the sofa and stored it in Sid’s garage, to await inspection by Mabel in the morning.

We will draw a veil over the distressing and violent scene of early on the following day. Suffice to say that a chastened Sid was despatched post haste to the Baxter household to rectify his blunder, a task he failed to accomplish because both house and garage had been cleared completely in the meantime. None of the neighbours had any knowledge of the dead woman’s family or where any member of it might be contacted.

As part of his punishment Sid was banished from the marital bed to the spare bedroom: a sentence he made the best of by converting the room into a sort of den - blessedly free of both Mabel and antiques - in which he installed the red leather sofa and a portable television set.

One day, several months after the affair of Mrs Baxter’s chaise-longue, he was in his den watching cricket on the television. England were in trouble against Australia (nothing unusual in that) and defeat loomed. It was then that the good old British climate came to England’s aid. Rain tipped down and play was suspended for the day. Fortunate for the nation this might be, but it was frustrating for the viewer.

Waving the handset at his TV, idly Sid flicked through the channels. For want of anything better his search was arrested by the solemn visage of Moira Stuart reading the early evening news. ‘It is reported that thousands of pounds are lost each year in the upholstery of furniture,’ she intoned.

Instinctively Sid allowed his hand to explore the hidden recesses of the red leather sofa. The wretched thing had brought him nothing but hassle and owed him a favour, however small. With luck it might disgorge enough for a pint at the Dog and Gun.

Predictably it denied him even that. He retrieved nothing better than a grubby handkerchief and a crumpled lottery ticket. So old Ma Baxter had played the lottery. Fancy that!

It was as though Moira Stuart were telepathic for she too was talking about the lottery.

‘The owner of a national lottery ticket purchased almost six months ago has only until midnight tonight to redeem an unclaimed prize of over six million pounds,’ she told him gravely.

* * *

Hand in hand on the terrace of the villa they surrendered themselves to the scents and sounds of the Mediterranean night. About them fragrant baskets of honeysuckle and bougainvillea creaked in the gentle breeze; far below the sea murmured softly; somewhere behind and above a church clocked chimed. Sid breathed a sigh of satisfaction and gestured with his champagne glass to embrace it all.

‘Here’s to the bloke who’s made us a part of all this,’ he announced. ‘Here’s to Louie Kunz.’

Their glasses clinked. ‘To Louie Kunz,’ echoed Gloria happily.

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