It is five years since I published ‘Flipside’ my only novel set in a real place, Oldham. The story is set in 1989 when Jaz moves from Bristol to Oldham to start a new job teaching in a school near where her brother Kiran lives. Here is an excerpt from the beginning:
Yesterday…Yesterday, Monday, had started off so normally. It was my third week teaching English at James Kellogg High School and familiarity was already beginning to take over from nervous novelty. I caught the bus for the first time as my car had broken down and I’d left it at my brother Kiran’s garage on Saturday. His surly and silent partner had taken the keys without a word, and disappeared back under the car he was working on.
I caught an early bus to school, afraid of being late and was there at 8:15; if the buses were always so regular and speedy, perhaps I needn’t hurry to replace my car if, as I suspected, its trouble was terminal.
The bell rang at the end of the last period, and I spent some time mounting my Year 8 ‘s work on the display boards in my classroom, ‘1990, the year to come’ and I wondered what the New Year would bring me.
I caught the bus outside the Lido Hotel; the lido itself had long disappeared and houses stood on its site. I got off in Lees and walked down Spo Street to Kiran’s garage.
There were three large mills left in Lees, Kiran’s business was in a small corner of the smallest, Spo Mill. I had to get out of thinking of mills as windmills; mill up here meant factory. The mill where Kiran and Des had their garage was huge but small compared to some of the red monsters still lurking in the area. I thought they were magnificent, older people who’d worked in them didn’t always think so despite viewing them through a cloud of nostalgia for the ‘auld days’.
Kiran was part of the reason I’d moved to Oldham. It was time for me to move on but everyone who knew me was stunned when I applied for and got the temporary job at JKH as the school seemed to be called.
“But you’re head of faculty, you should be applying for senior teacher posts!” Friends were aghast. “You are so impetuous!”
Impetuous, that was me. Kiran needed me, I replied and it was partly true, I wanted to be near him.
My brother Kiran; he was five years older than me but we could have been twins, and people sometimes asked if we were, apart from the colour of our skin, mine was brown like our father’s, his white like Mum’s; facially we were identical, the same black hair, his cropped and fashionable, mine a shaggy mess, we had the same sharp nose, high cheek bones, the same shaped eyes, his blue, mine green.
And here Jaz meets Kiran’s friend and partner Des:
Yesterday, I’d walked into Kiran’s garage at about five. There was a small workshop, big enough for a couple of cars. The main office was up a wooden staircase with a washroom and shower, but a small office area was partitioned off in the workshop. It was neat and orderly, unusually so because Kiran was even more untidy than I.
He was standing at the back in the doorway of the little office talking to the floor. He glanced up, saw me, smiled and raised a hand in salute. Des, to whom he’d been speaking, climbed out of the inspection pit and emerged from behind the car. He was wearing green overalls and was filthy, his face smeared like a coal miner.
My brother gave me a hug and a kiss, he was immaculately clean, wearing smart trousers and an expensive shirt.
“I hope you tuck your tie in when you mess around with engines,” I said, flipping his silk Taz tie with my fingers. “I can see who does all the work around here, Des,” I joked.
Des looked at me from the back of the garage, his teeth flashed white in his begrimed face but he said nothing.
“How’s Jaz’s car, Des?”
“T- totalwriteoff,” the words, when they eventually came, shunted together into one. Des was rubbing Swarfega into his hands. “Not worth repairing, c-c-cost t-t-t-t- ”
“Cost too much,” Kiran finished the sentence for him. Des turned to sluice his hands and arms at the sink. “Do you want me to get you another car, Jaz? I’ll get you a few quid for scrap and then I could look around for something else.”
Des disappeared up the open staircase at the side of the workshop and I followed Kiran into the little office area. I told him about my day as he cleared his desk and checked diaries and ledgers and looked through papers.
Des came clattering back down, clean now, his hair damp and glistening. I glanced at him, stuck again at the apparent oddness of their friendship; they seemed so different. No-one seeing Des now, the rough, silent, working man, the grimy mechanic, would guess he’d been Kiran’s brilliant friend at University.
Like me, Kiran had been a teacher, unlike me he escaped. What started as a hobby, fixing first his own, and then his friends’ cars, become a profitable side line and then a business. Des became Kiran’s partner and it seemed the ideal partnership. They complemented each other in appearance and character, it seemed. Des was tall, big, thinning brown hair, trim moustache, aggressive chin and usually mute, silenced by a dreadful stutter. Kiran was smaller and darker, thin and wiry, always talking, constantly moving, fingers drumming, feet tapping irritatingly even when he was sitting at a desk working.
Des was quickly and efficiently tidying everything away and I realised that Kiran had only been shuffling through things, making more of a mess. This was why the office was so neat, Des tidied it; the thought amused me, big, silent, tough Des being so house-proud.
© Lois Elsden 2018
Here’s a link to Flipside: