My next tale begins way back in 1982. Me telly ads 'ad been over a few years, and the Missus an' me were still runnin' the shop. Nowt much 'ad changed really. Sharon, the Missus's niece, 'ad grown up and married young Pete Hardcastle, who worked at the dry cleaners in Victoria Road. They'd got a nice little council 'ouse an' just 'ad their second, kiddie - a little lad they called Adam.
"Why 'Adam'?" I asked.
"Ooh, Uncle, yer are be'ind the the times!" giggled Sharon. "'E's named after Adam Ant, of course!"
Well, this thing about namin' kiddies after pop stars 'as been goin' on for donkey's years an' I think it's daft. Mrs Thirkettle called 'er little lad Engelbert after that Humperdick bloke. Engelbert Thirkettle - 'e was in and out of Strangways for decades. Reckon 'is name 'ad warped 'is mind an' given 'im criminal tendencies. I shouldn't be surprised.
Anyway. one mornin', Sharon brought little Adam into the shop to buy 'er fags an' get some pear drops. She's a terror for pear drops, our Sharon!
"'Ave yer 'eard?" she said, going all serious, which were very noticeable cos she's a giggly little thing.
"'Eard what?" said the Missus, weighing out the sweeties an' slipping a few extra in, like we always did for family.
"The Pickering's 'ave split up!" said Sharon, a bit dramatic, like.
Well, you could 'ave knocked me down with a feather. Bert and Eileen Pickering were two of our oldest friends - I'd been at school with Bert - and they'd been married for over twenty years.
They lived in a one of those high rise blocks off Belmont Road, and they seemed devoted. Their two children, Gary and Christine, had left 'ome a couple of years before - Christine 'ad gone off to work in a posh 'air dressin' salon down near Birmingham, and Gary 'ad gone to work on an oil rig.
The thing with the Pickerings was they always seemed in tune with each. And with the telly. If you popped up to see 'em on the fourteenth floor (an' if the lift were out of order, which it often were, that were no easy feat) you'd likely find 'em watchin' telly.
One of 'em would let you in, they'd say " 'ello", then go on watchin'. The conversation was non-existent. You might get the occasional: "Ooh, I'd 'ate it if Eamon crept up on me like that! I'd tell 'im where to stick 'is red book!" or "This isn't the same without Noele Gordon!" or they might sing along with an advert - WE 'OPE IT'S CHIPS, IT'S CHIPS!" or somesuch, but that was about it.
After a while, you'd say "tarah", they'd say "tarah", and you'd leave.
If Bert came out to the Foundryman's, 'e used to talk, of course. An' 'e talked at work. 'E worked as a bus driver an' 'e was always chattin' with passengers. An' 'e 'ad ideas in 'is 'ead - opinions - watched World In Action, Panorama an' that sort o' thing.
We all watched a lot of telly of course. It 'ad taken over our lives a lot since the '50s. My aunties were always on about 'ow they made their own amusement back in the "good old days" an' that telly 'ad "killed the art of conversation", but they watched a lot all the same.
My mother-in-law wouldn't 'ave one in 'er 'ouse. "It booms too much!" she said. An' that was it.
But the rest of us 'ad tellies and square eyes to match.
But not as square as the Pickerings'.
I don't think they were un'appy together. They seemed contented, sat there night after night.
Then Bert got a CB radio rig. That was all the rage back then. It 'ad swept in like a hurricane in 1981. An' it was all language - all "Eyeballs" and "Ten Ten Till We Meet Again" - stuff like that. I knew a bit of the lingo back then, but I've forgot it long since. I didn't 'ave one, but Bert 'ad bought 'is off Cyril Palmer, whose wife 'ad ordered it out of the 'ouse after just a few months.
And, it seemed, 'e'd discovered the art of 'ome conversation through it.
Of course, the Missus set straight off to see Eileen as soon as Sharon left the shop. When she came back, she looked fagged out.
"Flamin' lift was out of order again!" she said. "I can't be doin' with those stairs - not at my time o' life!"
"But what's goin' on?" I asked, a bit impatient.
"It's all up," said the Missus. "Bert's been spendin' most of 'is time in the spare bedroom with that CB thingy. An' apparently the other night 'e didn't even come out for Quincy - though Eileen called an' called 'im. She'd made the Horlicks an' all. Stone cold it got.
Now, some couples 'ave an "Our Tune", a special song they like an' they share together - often a memory of courting days. Me an' the Missus are partial to How Much Is That Doggie In The Window because it was all the go when we were doing our courtin'. But Bert an' Doris 'ad "Our Programmes" - particular programmes they both liked specially, an' Quincy was one of them back in 1982.
"You know 'ow much it means to Doris to cuddle up with Bert when Quincy's on," said the Missus. "It reminds 'er of their first night with the new washin' machine a few years back - the one Bert got 'er as a surprise for their weddin' anniversary."
"It was second 'and and conked out after about eight months," I said.
"I know," said the Missus. "But it's still a fond memory. After all, Bert bought 'er it special an' 'e didn't know it were gonna conk out. That was the night they first watched Quincy."
The shop bell tinged and Mrs Conroy came in, followed by a couple of scruffy little kids - the Mitchell twins from Broadhurst Street.
Mrs Conroy was a bit of a misery who lived a couple of streets away from us. She 'ad a lazy 'usband, but some folk felt 'e'd just given up on life after 'e married 'er.
"I've come in for me order," said Mrs Conroy, "and you'd better add an extra tinned of corned beef an' a box of fish fingers."
"Expectin' visitors, Mrs Conroy?" asked the Missus, a bit incredulous. The Conroys never 'ad visitors usually.
"I've got a payin' guest now," said Mrs C. She puffed 'erself up. "Gotta look after 'im proper. I've told the old man to put that bloody dog of 'is in the out'ouse. Filthy 'abits that 'ound's got. Puts yer off yer tea. I reckon 'e's takin' after 'is master. Anyway, things are gonna change now we've got a payin' guest."
"Who's the payin' guest then?" I asked, going over to the freezer cabinet for the fish fingers, and keepin' 'alf an eye on the Mitchell twins who were 'overing over the blackjacks. They were known for being a bit light fingered, those two. I think I knew what Mrs Conroy was gonna say. And she did.
"Your pal, Bert Pickerin'. Could of knocked me down with a feather. We''ve been advertisin' that room in Mr Patel's window for six months. Five P a week! I was gonna take the card out next week. An', last night, I was just watchin' Crossroads an' Bert turns up. 'E moves in tonight. An' that bloody dog moves into the out'ouse!"
Mrs Conroy paid for her goods, made a couple of disparagin' remarks about our display of Alpen, then left.
"'E must be desperate to get away if he's going to the Conroys," said the Missus.
"I know," I sighed. "It's a funny old do this!"
"I'll tell yer what else is funny!" said the Missus, casting an eye over the shop.
"What?" I blinked at 'er.
"Them thievin' little Mitchells 'ave made off with all our blackjacks!"
Well, bit of a cliffhanger there for yer. But that's all for now. I've gotta go and get a tin of spotted dick from Asda. I've a got a right cravin' for it, an' the Missus won't buy it coz she sez I'm fat enough. See yer soon.