The Jolly Boys

Shirley Stephenson is a bored housewife who never stops day in day out, its the same humdrum existence. Bob her husband is a lazy good for nothing. who lost his leg in an industrial accident and is claiming benefit fraudulently. he keeps her short and moans because she goes to the bingo. Shirley finds the courage to file for a divorce and free herself. her life is suddenly transformed after she finds all of the compensation that Bob has been hiding from her. she orders a taxi she takes £30.000 and takes a box with some things that her gran had left her.

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The waiter came over and handed them all a menu and asked if they would like a drink before their meal. Shirley ordered a vodka and coke but Gary asked for mineral water.

"He looked at Shirley and said that he did not drink and drive ever.'

"I have too much to lose if I lose my licence and my job.'

"Sensible at least thought Shirley.'

Shirley studied the menu before deciding on a prawn cocktail to start then ordered a sirloin steak medium to well done with a medley of vegetables and baby roast potatoes.

"Gary ordered a Waldorf salad and a T bone steak, cooked medium rare with asparagus and new potatoes.'

Both Joyce and Ritchie ordered soup to start and then pork medallions with French beans and new potatoes for their main course.

Gary did not mention Bob once throughout the evening it was Joyce who brought it up.'

Shirley explained what she had done and what her plans were now that she had left.

When dinner was over Gary paid the bill and Shirley left with him. It was now just after nine thirty. Gary drove them down towards the harbour at Blyth where he parked and they just sat in the moonlight. "It is so peaceful here isn't it, Shirley finally said breaking the silence between them."

"Yes, it is, people don't realise how beautiful our coast line is. We are lucky to have it.'

"These old cobles over there have some history behind them; this place used to have fishing cottages all along here. men and the fishermen's wives would haul the boat on sleepers to the water’s edge then set sail. They fished long lines five miles out. The fish they caught was brought ashore then sold. This is how they made a living. Others fished for herring. The silver darlings as they were called by my grandfather.'

Your Grandfather was a fisherman then?'

"Yes, he lived over there, both my Grandparents died by the time I was fourteen. The cottage was sold and my mother got the money.'

"Are your parents still with us?'

"Oh yes, they live in Berwick now. My father Ronnie is retired and my mother Elsie spends her days in the garden tending her flower beds and cutting the lawns.

"I go up to visit them usually on my holidays, they have a caravan that I use when I go up there. They let it out and it helps pay for the little luxuries that they have.'

"Was your father a fisherman?'

"No,' my father was a draughtsman.' My mother is a retired postmistress.' She worked for over forty years in the little sub post office not far from here. Actually, it is no longer there it was turned into a flat.

"Is that where she met your father.'

"Yes, he said he took one look at my mother and knew she was the girl for him.'

"Funny how some people just seem to hit it off isn't it.'

"Yes, and some go through life not knowing their partners or even themselves come to that.'

"Take you for instance, would you have envisaged being divorced?'

"No, I wouldn't, not in a million years.' I have felt like I was on a treadmill and I couldn't get off.'

"Life was the same day in and day out and it never changed.'

"Well now you have a chance to change all of that. Tomorrow I will take you to the estate agents and then we will go to the job centre. Did you manage to find your CV?'

"Yes, and I found a lot more besides.'

"What do you mean?'

"I found out that Bob had hidden his compensation from me, we had been struggling for years and he had £120.000 pounds.

"Wow, where was it hidden?'

"All over the house Gary in boxes sealed with duct tape. I found ten thousand pounds in a box whilst looking for my CV then he'd hidden some in a box behind the Christmas decorations in the loft and more in a box in the cupboard where my shoes were stored.

"I took £30.000 pounds Gary, I feel like a thief taking it but I figured he owed me that much.’

"Will he go to the police once he finds out that you took his money?'

"No because he's been claiming social security benefits for years knowing he had all of that money stashed away. He told me that he only got ten grand from his accident. He must have withdrawn the lot then hidden it. I wondered how he was able to go on trips to Blackpool and then have a bet on the horses every day. he'd come in with take away food and he was obviously spending a lot of it on drink.’

"Well now you have new found wealth what do you intend doing with it?'

"I thought I could buy a flat somewhere near my sister.'

That sounds like a sound investment, property goes up in value all the time.' "Sometimes you can pick up a bargain and do it up and make a fortune when you sell it.'  I can help you I’m not bad at DIY you know and I have all the tools.' Anyway, let’s get you back to your sister’s house it's getting late. "We have to be up early tomorrow to go house hunting. Gary drove out of the car park then back to Ilfracombe Gardens. "I will come for you about eight thirty okay.'

Shirley kissed Gary and thanked him for dinner then got out of the car and walked up the path as Gary dove off.

 

 

Shirley wore her black trousers and a white blouse with a red cardigan when they went to the estate agents in the town centre. They looked at many flats around the twenty -five thousand mark but liked the one on Marine Avenue it had just been done out and was just what she was looking for. it was not far from her sister's house. They made an appointment to see the owner later that morning and after stopping by the cafe where Kate worked for a cup of coffee and a sandwich they went to have a look. The flats were upstairs and down. the estate agent said there was a possibility to turn the two flats into one house or to let out the one upstairs. "I could do something with this said Gary as the owner Mrs Shuttlesworth let them walk around the place. The two flats were going for the full thirty thousand pounds she had but Gary persuaded Mrs Shuttlesworth to accept twenty- seven thousand. That would leave Shirley three thousand pounds to make reservations. Shirley decided that she would turn the two flats into one big house. The two bedrooms downstairs could be made into one big kitchen and the existing kitchen and bathroom knocked through to make a shower and modern bathroom. the upstairs bathroom would be made into an on-suit with shower, new toilet and wash basin. There was a small garden at the front of the house with rose bushes which she would keep but it was the back garden with the extensive lawn and a conservatory that she liked. There was a brand-new fence put up that gave them privacy. That afternoon the contracts were signed and number 7 Marine Avenue became hers.

 Gary said he would take a fortnight off and that he'd bring his tools around and a few of his mates from the paras to help him. Ritchie Smith and Joyce offered to help wallpaper and paint. For two weeks, they never stopped they hired a skip to take away the rubble and bits of old wood. The lads from the paras plastered and tiled out the bathroom then fitted the shower unit and the new bathroom suit whilst Gary fitted new kitchen units, cooker, and built in washing machine, then made room for a dish washer and tumble drier and fridge freezer.

Shirley shopped for new curtains, lamp shades and other fixtures and fittings. it was whilst looking in a junk shop that she spotted a picture similar to the ones that her grandmother had left her. she went inside and the old man who sat in one of the old leather seats came to assist her.

"I was just looking at that painting on the wall over there.'

Ah yes, the Lowry print you can have it for £15 pounds if you want it.'

"It is not a real picture then.'

"My dear, said the old man if that painting was real I would be lying on a beach in Monte Carlo and have my own villa. Do you not know how much his paintings are worth?'

"No,' but I have four that my Grandmother left me and they are oil paintings and signed by Lowry.'

"Really said the man; then you are a very rich woman indeed. Laurence Stephen Lowry was born in 1887 he was rejected you know as a full- time art student in 1903 and sought private lessons. His works of industrial landscapes are world renowned.

He was appointed as the official artist at Queen Elizabeth the seconds coronation in 1953. he rejected five offers of honours from the Queen including a knighthood in 1968. He died on February 23rd 1976.

"No so long ago then said Shirley.'

"How did your Grandmother come by these pictures?'

Well my Grandmother had a guest house and apparently Lowry stayed there. He said that he couldn't pay her rent but left her some of his paintings as payment in kind.'

"Could I possibly see the paintings; I know someone from Sotheby's who can authenticate the paintings for you.'

"Yes, are you opening tomorrow?' I can get someone to drop them in.'

"Yes,' can you be here say at one o'clock.'

"Certainly.'

"Alright then I will ask Mr Arthur Jennings to come here tomorrow.' Can I ask your name?'

"Yes, I am Shirley Stephenson.'

"What was the name of your Grandmother if you don't mind me asking.

"It was Miller, Catherine Miller but everyone called her Kate.'

"I am Henry by the way, Henry James, I own this shop.'

"Pleased to meet you Henry said Shirley shaking the old man's hand.' until tomorrow then said Shirley as she made her way out of the shop and took the bus back to her new flat. the smell of paint permeated from the house as she went indoors. Gary was painting the bedroom when she went up with a pot of tea and some chocolate digestive biscuits.

"Gary I’ve just had an interesting conversation with an old gentleman who owns the junk shop on Whitley Road.'

"Oh, what about, was he trying to seduce you with his charm and charisma was he?'

"No,' but he gave me some interesting facts about my Grans paintings she left me.'

"What about them?'

Well he says if they are by Laurence Stephen Lowry then they could be worth a lot of money.'

"Really?'

"Yes, he wants me to bring them into the shop tomorrow where a Mr Arthur Jennings from Sotheby's in London wants to take a look at them.' could you give me a hand to take them in.'

"Yes of course what time?'

"One o'clock, is that alright?'

"Fine by me, maybe we can go have some lunch first then I’ll drop them in.'

"Sounds nice to me, she kissed him then looked at the bedroom. she liked the soft pastel shades that she had chosen they would go lovely with the curtains she had bought.

She couldn't believe how much Gary and his friends from the Para troop regiment had accomplished in such a short time the house was completely transformed. It was open plan which now lit up the whole living room and looked out into her conservatory and the splendid back garden. she had a kitchen and dining room combined. The wooden staircase led up to the two bedrooms with on-suit bathrooms the view that she had looked out onto St Mary's lighthouse and the beach.

Gary had given her a leather suit from his garage that he'd kept. They polished it and restored it and it looked as good as new. The Oak Dining table that Gary also gave her was sanded and then French polished. Gary had used his skills to lay wood flooring down in all the rooms so that she only needed to buy rugs. He made her a new fire surround and she bought a marble hearth and a new clock to go on top and it looked splendid.

The next day after they'd called in at the Cottage Kitchen for lunch where they ate mince and dumplings with carrots and spring cabbage. Shirly had asked Gary to bring along the old china and vases that she had been given so that Arthur Jennings could value them as well each item had been wrapped in bubble wrap to stop any breakages.

They arrived at the shop at one o'clock as requested. Henry introduced Arthur Jennings, He was a small man only about five feet four tall Gary looked at him after shaking his hand and figured that he was about fifty- five years of age. his hooked nose gave him a rather Jewish look. He had a neatly trimmed moustache and he was well dressed.

When Gary brought in the paintings that were well wrapped to stop any damage to Arthur Jennings carefully took out his sharp pen knife and cut the tape that secured the picture. When the wrapping was opened he looked down with an expert eye. he checked and then re-checked the colours, the style the signature. Jennings never spoke for a good ten minutes as he took out a magnifying glass and went over the picture again. then he looked at both Shirley and Gary and said "Unmistakable Mrs Stephenson this is a genuine Lowry alright; do you mind if I see the others.'

"By all means.’

 “Again, Arthur opened the other three pieces of art work. The first was a picture of Piccadilly Circus in London the others were industrial landscapes. There was a town square with factories behind with little men and women and children with dogs walking. the third was a picture depicting street musicians with again the matchstick figures the fourth depicted a mill in Salford with its gas works. They were all dated 1926.

"Amazing said Arthur, you are a very lucky lady to have these in your possession.’

"Are they worth anything asked Gary.'

"Oh yes, I would estimate about three to four.'

"Thousand pounds said Shirley, her eyes lit up at the thought.'

"No, no, no Mrs Stephenson.'

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