Retelling a fairy story – Week 3 of the 52 week challenge



There was once a man called Colin who had worked hard all his life and was very honest: this honesty meant that he took pride in his work and made sure that everything was done properly. This did not go down very well with his colleagues, especially the management team, who wanted Colin to work faster and didn’t really care much about the quality of his work.  Colin smiled sweetly when his colleagues complained, and dreamed his secret dream of living in a shack on Venice Beach in California. He had been there on holiday with his wife Morag and their two daughters; the women spent their time shopping and seeing the sights but Colin just wanted to sit in the sunshine outside an old wooden shack and be happy.

His daughters grew up and left home; Morag became a senior executive in the same company as Colin. She did not want him to retire. She did not want him to live on Venice Beach. For some years Morag had been having an affair with one of her fellow executives. Carrying on the affair under Colin’s very nose added to the excitement for Morag,  she was also very possessive and wanted to make sure that she knew what Colin was doing at all times. As a consequence it was Morag that held the family purse strings and monitored their bank accounts.  Because of her position in the company, most of their wages were spent on ensuring that Morag looked the part; designer clothes, regular hair appointments to stop her grey roots showing and the odd spot of Botox so that she never revealed a wrinkle or a frown.

Apart from his secret dream, Colin had one other pleasure. He liked to bet on the horses. On Saturday mornings he would wander along to the village newsagent, buy a paper, sit in the cafe and study racing form before placing his bet at the bookmaker. Morag very graciously gave Colin thirty pounds each week from his wages for these bets. He had small wins sometimes but was too cautious to ever make any real money.

Every weekday morning Colin would sit at his desk and wonder why the pile of files in his in-tray never seemed to get any smaller. He knew that he had finished off innumerable cases, but however many he finished, the teetering pile was even higher the next morning. There were times when the usually genial Colin wondered if he would ever finish his work and be able to retire.

Due to a change of management, Colin found himself under even more pressure to speed up his working methods. His new manager, after a week of Colin’s snail’s pace progress, appointed a colleague to work alongside him. Young Alfie had already worked his magic in several other departments in the company and Colin’s manager considered himself very fortunate in acquiring his services before Alfie could be spirited away to another office.

Alfie and Colin got on with each other right from the start. Alfie understood Colin’s work ethics and managed to speed up the process without losing integrity. Colin told Alfie about his dream, and his sadness that Morag insisted that he carry on working because they needed him the money.  Alfie had the knack of getting people to confide in him and after making some discreet enquiries, he discovered the truth about Morag’s illicit affair, and her real reasons for blocking Colin’s retirement.

As well as helping him with his workload, Alfie  shared Colin’s interest in horses and made a few recommendations that increased the winnings at the bookmaker’s. He also persuaded Colin to open a new account at the Post Office with the proceeds. Colin didn’t really like the idea of keeping secrets from Morag, but was won round by Alfie’s suggestion that he see it as the Venice Beach fund and what a nice surprise it would be for Morag when there was finally enough for them both to retire on.

The biggest puzzle for Alfie was that however hard he and Colin worked to clear the backlog, the pile of files never seemed to go down. He decided to hide in the office one night and see if he could get to the root of the problem.

Not surprisingly, Morag was at the root. Alfie melted into the shadows of the large filing cabinets and watched as she crept into the room with her arms full of dusty files. She carefully cleaned them off and placed them at the bottom of Colin’s in-tray. Alfie watched her leave and decided to see what she did next. Colin had told him that Morag’s demanding job meant that she worked late most nights so he usually made dinner for them both after he had done all the housework.

Alfie disliked Morag long before he actually met her but working with Colin made him realise how much she took advantage of her kind and hardworking husband. That night he followed her upstairs to the office of her colleague. He couldn’t see anything through the frosted glass windows but judging from the noises that came from that room, they weren’t discussing business. Morag’s absence enabled Alfie to enter her office and have a look round. He didn’t know quite what he was looking for, but had a feeling that there was more to Morag’s behaviour than just the perpetuation of her affair.

It took a little while but magically, Alfie found just what he was looking for. The age of the Smartphone made gathering evidence SO much easier than it used to be in the old days. He snapped away happily and left the building long before Morag and her paramour had tidied up and departed by separate exits.

It was becoming obvious that most of the case files that appeared on Colin’s desk were those that had been abandoned by other staff, usually because of the death of the person concerned or due to a complete lack of interest by the case holder. Alfie sorted through the files and took the moribund cases for himself before Colin arrived for work. The pile of active cases was very small in comparison and by lunchtime the in-tray was empty for the first time in years.

Colin’s manager was very pleased by this increase in productivity – and at his own bright idea of getting Alfie transferred to his department. He suggested that Colin and Alfie take an extended lunch to celebrate. Morag, dropping into the office to check on Colin, was not best pleased at his absence or by his empty in-tray. She would have been even more unhappy had she known that Colin and Alfie were in the bookmaker’s waiting for the results of an accumulator that Alfie had put on in Colin’s name.

Colin won more that morning than he had ever won in his whole history of betting. Deciding that it was now or never, Alfie took the opportunity to advise Colin of Morag’s affair while they were sitting in the cafe eating an all-day breakfast.

Colin knew already. He had known about Morag’s infidelity for some time but turned a blind eye to it, hoping that it would stop when his daughters left home. What Colin didn’t know however, was that Morag and her lover had also been embezzling money from the company for years and putting most of it in an account in Colin’s name. Alfie explained that she probably intended to lay the blame at Colin’s door if the discrepancies ever came to light.

Alfie and Colin made a few stops on their way to the office, ensuring that they had assumed a more serious demeanour by the time they got back to work. Morag, undoubtedly tipped off by one of Colin’s colleagues, stormed into the office and gave Colin a good telling off for going out to lunch when there was work to be done. Not surprisingly the in-tray had filled up again in Colin’s absence. Morag also informed Colin that she was going to a conference in London for three days and would be leaving within the hour.

Using the luggage that he and Alfie had purchased, Colin packed up his world that night. It didn’t take long. He and Alfie had made some significant bank transfers at lunchtime so that Colin’s new account reflected his wages and winnings whilst the embezzled funds were to be found in an account that Morag had opened.

Colin was on his way to Venice Beach with a healthy but honest bank balance. Alfie saw him off at the airport before handing in Colin’s notice and presenting evidence of Morag’s duplicitous behaviour to their manager. Morag and her beau were arrested for fraud at a hotel in London at about the same time that Colin was sipping champagne over the Atlantic.

Alfie didn’t turn up for work the next day. He had problems to solve elsewhere.

And Colin? Well Colin Schumacher lived happily ever after of course.





Bring it all back home – Day 4 – Named and shamed – Ronnie’s story

Tuesday morning, the boys are in bed, Hub and I are off to the sticks.

My much-missed step-dad Ronnie had a history that I only picked up in small pieces over the years.  I knew that he had an older brother who had done the dirty on him in some way, that he had left Ronnie with debts that my Mum spent two years fighting with tax man over – and won – GO Mum!   I also know that my Mum tracked his relatives to Mallorca and wrote to them asking them to get in contact with Ronnie – not about the money but because they were his family.

She must  have got too close for comfort because they moved to Australia.  Always indomitable, she tracked them down again and wrote to them – again.  Still no response.

Ronnie  married my Mum back in 1972 when he was a hospital porter and she was on the hospital switchboard.  They were great friends with two couples who Ronnie had known for many years.  I heard about them but only met one of the couples and that was a long time ago.  Even after they moved up North, Mum kept in touch and they exchanged Christmas cards.  One couple parted company but that’s Sylvia’s story and not mine to tell.  When Mum died from a stroke in 2009, Jean, one of  the other couple, also had a stroke but she was more fortunate and although she has some paralysis on her left-side and has to use a wheelchair, her faculties are still razor-sharp.

Ronnie  kept in touch with Sylv and got regular updates on Jean and her husband Bruce.  He sent her one of our family Christmas cards every year so although we had never met, she knew what we looked like and what we’d all been up to.

It wasn’t easy summoning up the courage to phone and  tell her that Ronnie had died.  She made it a lot easier for me though.  We talked a great deal about Ronnie and Mum, and I promised that I’d look out some photos of Ronnie and visit her when we went down South in August.  Listening to that real Hampshire burr made me feel even more determined  to fulfill a promise that I made to Ronnie when Mum died – to try to track down his family down one last time.

Sylv was all I’d hoped she would be and was delighted with the photos, but confessed that it was Bruce and Jean who knew more about Ronnie than she did.  So she phoned them and five minutes later the three of us were off into even deeper Hampshire to pick Jean’s brains.

As soon as I saw them the memory of their faces and voices came back.  I still have no idea of when or where  we met but they hardly seemed to have changed.  Compared to Farty’s dithering and Mutti’s deafness, here were three people in their late seventies- early eighties who were very much on the ball and ready to fill in the gaps of Ronnie’s life for me.

So – set this down – Ronnie Milnthorpe was born in Romsey, Hampshire and had an older brother called Derek.  Their mother came from Cleveleys near Blackpool and was said to be a very astute businesswoman.  They owned a greengrocery business  in Commercial Road, Southampton and lived in a big house at the Bassett end of Burgess Road. Their father worked as a draughtsman on Spitfires at the Supermarine factory in Woolston, Southampton.  Ronnie was said to take after his dad, kind-hearted and a bit of a dreamer but always a stickler for payment if you came into the shop and wanted just an apple or something. Bruce used to deliver fruit and veg to the shop  and that’s where his friendship with Ronnie began.

Derek was called up and joined the army; the day after his eighteenth birthday Ronnie was on a train to Warrington to join the RAF. While they were away their mother died – no details known  – but shortly afterwards their father died and some said it was from a broken heart.  Derek – as the older son – was released from the army and came home to run the shop. At that time he was devoted to Ronnie apparently.

Derek met a girl called Doris; no need to name where she came from but Derek was definitely considered a catch in her eyes.  She fell pregnant and they got married; their son was called Raymond and later they had a girl called Sandra – or Sandy.  Doris didn’t like Ronnie.  Whilst he was still in the RAF she got Derek to sell the house that had been left to both sons jointly and used the money to buy a big house in Bullar  Road, Bitterne.  the house has been knocked down now and flats put up in its place.  When Ronnie came home Doris refused to let him live in the house that was half his and he was sent to live on the other side of town in a B&B.  According to my trio of informants, Derek loved his brother but it was Doris who ruled the roost.

They sold the house in Bullar Road and moved to Crawley where Derek opened a betting shop.  The greengrocers was sold to buy more betting shops, and all this happened whilst Ronnie was gravely ill in hospital.

According to Jean, Ronnie was walking past a pub when a fight broke out inside, spilled out onto the pavement and Ronnie was knocked to the floor banging his head against the concrete paving.  He was in a coma and by the time he recovered, his livelihood was gone and all the wordly goods left to the two brother had come into Doris’s scheming hands. Ronnie went from being the owner of his own shop to being a poorly paid porter living in a council flat.  Cheers Doris.

Derek sold his four betting shops to the William Hill chain at a tidy profit; he sold the house in Crawley too and without telling Ronnie where he was going, he packed the money into a suitcase and drove to Newhaven with Doris and the children. They travelled overland avoiding major ports and eventually settled in Mallorca.

I have a postcard of Mallorca from Ronnie’s niece Sandy, dated 22 August 1969.  Ronnie’s birthday.  She says that there are no birthday cards in Mallorca so the postcard will have to do.  She says it is lovely there and that she’ll be sorry to leave. She signs it from Sandy, Mum and Dad – wonder what happened to Raymond?

Years later Mum and Ronnie went to Mallorca – ostensibly for a holiday but Mum wanted to try to  find Ronnie’s family for him.  By that time she had convinced the tax man that Ronnie had played no part in Derek’s fraud and that all the money owed and the proceeds from the sale of the businesses and house had gone out of the country in Derek’s suitcase.

Jean, Bruce and Sylv all blame Doris.  Apparently she and Derek didn’t just do the dirty on Ronnie, there were several other business partners that they left high and dry as well.  As far as we know, Sandy married and stayed in Mallorca, Derek died and Doris went to Australia with Raymond who had been set with an electrical business there.

I want to get in touch with Raymond and Sandy.  To tell them what a lovely man their uncle was and how they have really missed out on not having him in their lives.  He may have lost his blood family but courtesy of my Mum, Ronnie became a much-loved part of our big family.  He made a success of his life and despite being left with nothing because of the conniving Doris, he dabbled in stocks and shares and showed that he had indeed inherited some of his mother’s business acumen.

If my Mum, without the doors that have been opened by the Internet, could track down Ronnie’s family, then I’m sure that I can too.  Too late for his inheritance – that’s long gone – and thanks to his common sense they have no claim on his estate now – that goes to the people who loved him.  To his real family. Here’s to Ronnie – Here’s to us.