Chapter 17: Things Turn Out All Right For Harold and Edith.
Say what you like about Whitefield, there is always a happy ending somewhere and things, are never as bad as they seem. Now, Harold and Edith were regulars at the Golden Gate’s Wednesday night pub quiz; you know what they say, those who quiz together, stay together. (No one says that actually, but you have to be in a team to enter). It was only fair, Harold had his hobby, complaining. Ricky had his hobby, cadging. Toonan and Wantha – partying. Patchouli – arson (actually that’s not fair, the hob neglect incident was due to her fear of empty nest syndrome). Even Edna had her hobby, art, and Mme Dubois’ hobby – being French. As you know, Edith’s hobby was watching TV quiz shows. With every familiar theme tune, every ritualistic tea drinking at the time her favourites were on, Edith’s eyes were glued to the TV. She watched all the greats, ‘Mastermind’, ‘Pointless’, ‘The Chase’. One day, Edith was trying to memorise all the questions and answers on the general knowledge section of ‘Eggheads’, in preparation for this week’s pub quiz. Harold was not much support, he had the most annoying habit of sitting in between Edith and the television, shouting out the answers before Edith got the chance. Harold would then congratulate himself by cheering. This meant that Edith would not hear the next question. Poor Edith, quizzing was her thing, not his!
Even though they had never won, Harold and Edith took the pub quiz very seriously. Every morning (apart from Sunday) they studied the newspapers for intellectual info. Harold had kept and studied a book he had borrowed from the library called ‘How to Win Your Pub Quiz’. Their first team name had been ‘Quizzy Rascals’ this caused offence to the other regulars, as the name had already been taken. (Folk can get really funny at a pub quiz). Harold and Edith’s team name then changed to ‘The Winners’ – also unpopular with the regulars.
Harold eventually noticed Edith’s vexation about him ruining Mastermind and promised to make it up to her by taking her to the pub quiz this Wednesday (even though they went every week).
‘Ah, but this week Edith, this Wednesday will be a special occasion!’ Harold winked and wobbled. Edith’s heart thumped in her barrel-like chest with excitement, and she forgave Harold for ruining ‘Eggheads’. It’s our anniversary! Edith thought…
Now, the landlord of the Golden Gate drinking establishment in Whitefield had his own set of guilty secrets. Not pleasures, secrets; internet gambling, beginner’s luck, all it took was a few wins before Nigel was hooked. He got used to the money, and so did his wife. Before he knew it, he was in a pickle, trapped in a jar of temptation and risk. Soon, Nigel started dipping into the business money. His wife Crystal (as sparkly as her name) had no idea where the increased wealth was coming from, she just knew where it was going to… shoes, jewels and holidays…
‘NIGEL!’ Crystal screamed from the very recesses of the Golden Gate’s private quarters. ‘You seen that message from your Brian? We’ve been invited to Tenerife. Two weeks, all-inclusive.’ Nigel did not answer his screaming wife. ‘I’m saying yes!’ Crystal decided.
Downstairs, Nigel dropped one of those big fancy gin glasses that are fashionable around the Manchester area. It smashed on the bar floor into a thousand tiny pieces of hopelessness (just like Nigel’s nerves). God help me, Nigel said to himself. Why would God help you now, Nigel? A bit of harmless fun is alright, but ‘borrowing’ the business money? You should be ashamed of yourself, Nigel! Internet gambling became lottery expenditure, which quickly became visits to the bookies (mainly because Nigel was scared of Mrs Ali telling Crystal about his fifty pounds scratch card habit). On the way to the out-of-town betting shop, Nigel had to pass a food bank. He tried to avert his eyes, knowing that he was about to squander vast sums of cash, however, the images of young women pushing prams full of cornflake boxes, and men, hugging armfuls of tinned anchovies burned into Nigel’s wasteful eyes.
Guilt and gambling can have a funny effect on folk, and Nigel was turning to every scrap of wishful thinking at his disposal. This is how he came to the decision that pub quiz night should become a charity pub quiz night. Give something back, and the universe might just forgive you.
‘I’m going to fill that food bank with proper food, there will not be an anchovy in sight!’ (calm down Nigel, some people like those small salty fishes).
Nigel posted advertisements all around Whitefield. He invited the local newspapers and the local television news. Still in the dark about Nigel’s clandestine hobby, Crystal put on a bit of a spread. ‘The winners’ (Harold and Edith) were getting ready to go to the ‘Skint-a-thon’ at the Golden Gate. On this particular evening, the sky matched the pinky-purply nail polish that Genevieve had left behind in Edna’s bedroom. Harold was talking about a different special occasion to Edith .. tonight was the anniversary of their first date! Tonight of all nights! After some heavy hinting, Harold remembered and realised his mistake. He crept out of the house backwards, and after a short search around the back streets (and open gated back yards), he hurriedly grabbed the first thing that seemed like a suitable present for Edith…
‘Oh thank you, Harold! This dress is definitely for me! No one else wears floral frocks, it can’t be re-gifted!’ Edith gushed romantically.
‘Well get changed, Edith, quickly! Get ready! Quick! Tonight is the ‘Skint-a-thon’ we need to get there early to get a good seat!’ Harold ordered Edith about, even though her nail varnish was still tacky.
Usually, Harold and Edith arrived at the pub just before the questions started. They often ordered one lemonade with two straws. Tonight, however, they turned up early. All the other punters had the same idea and gathered at their usual tables. Nobody wanted to sit next to ‘The Winners’, Edith was always telling Harold ‘Shhh!’ for shouting the answers out, and Harold always shouted out the answers. A team of women named ‘The Dinner Ladies’ (Harold and Edith’s pub quiz rivals) were talking about something terrible that had happened to one of them. Edith listened in eagerly to their mini-drama. Dinner Lady One had arrived home from work that day, only to find that her washing line had been disturbed. She checked the laundry basket, the washing machine, then she rechecked the line. She was sure of it, an item was missing! Her floral night-dress! Who would do such a thing?
‘It must’ve been bloody kids messing about’ The Dinner Ladies unanimously decided.
Edith looked down at her new floral dress. The gift that Harold had hastily wrapped up. The women looked over to Edith, then looked at her floral dress.
‘Hello, Love’ one of them said, she received a nudge in the ribs. Eyebrows amongst the women raised and wiggled. Edith opened her mouth to say something, but with Harold at the bar, she was not sure whether to speak to their rivals. Edith let out a quiet acknowledgement, she was wearing a floral dress that looked like a nightdress, after all.
Edith got out her lucky pen, reserved for use at the pub quiz that they had never won. Harold was surprisingly not put off by tonight’s lack of prize fund, because tonight Harold’s eyes were on a different prize; fame. Although the World Black Pudding Throwing Championship brought him some notoriety. At least two people had shouted out his name. And his hand had been captured in the photograph behind Pauline Foote. Tonight’s quiz boasted newspaper and television representation, surely they would notice Harold? He had already planned the whole evening out in his mind. He would win the quiz, he would be interviewed by Gemma Hampsons (local reporter, and rival of Wantha.) A front-page spread, dedicated to Harold, would follow. This media coverage would free him of his secret life. It would be Harold’s proof that he no longer needed to hide, and he could leave Edith if he wanted to, because, as Harold saw it, he was too young to settle down.
‘One of me on my own?’ Harold imagined saying to the photographer ‘Just let me finish my interview with the TV people first.’
Harold was getting carried away on one of his daydreams, all on their anniversary…
‘Harold! Harold!’ Edith tugged at his trouser leg under the pub table. ‘We’ve missed the first question!’ Edith folded her arms ‘It was something about the nickname for Bolton Wanderers Harold! We’ve missed it now.’
‘Shhh, Shhhh’ came from The Dinner Ladies’ table. Harold could not think; he had a vague idea. He wrote the word ‘pig’ next to question one on the answer sheet.
‘Next question folks’ Nigel said ‘According to the 1980s TV advert, what is too orangey for crows?’
‘Oh, I know this one, Edith! We are on fire tonight!’ Harold was getting overexcited.
‘Moving on, another TV advert from the past, what is drunk in the Congo?’
‘What!’ Harold threw Edith’s pen down on the pub table ‘It’s a trick question!’ Edith was silent. One of the Dinner Ladies rolled her eyes at Harold. This is part of the reason no one wanted to sit next to them, Harold was so annoying.
‘Next question, this one is about Doris Day.’ the landlord said.
‘We’re in Edith, our era this one!’ Harold’s head wobbled and clamped his hand on Edith’s knee. ‘Actually, I admired her from my cot, I’m not that old!’ Harold said, correcting himself with a lie.
‘One of Doris Day’s songs was ‘Que Sera, Sera’ but what does this saying translate to in English?’ The landlord put his microphone down. Heads down, people started scribbling the answer.
‘Bloody hell! Where is that Genevieve when you need her?’ Harold took his hand off Edith’s knee and slapped it on the table. There was much eye-rolling from nearby tables and Edith. Because that was the problem with Harold, listening to half of the sentence, then repeating it as fact. ‘Que Sera’ is not even French! And if he had thought through the question, the answer was right there in the song lyrics! Edna would have got it, if she was there, Edna could think through things logically. Edith knew the answer, of course, but Harold would not let her use her pen. He was chewing the end of the lucky pub quiz pen. Poor Edith, this was meant to be a bit of fun on their anniversary.
‘Next question’ Nigel said, the news reporters were looking a bit bored, and he wished he had a few jokes. ‘Don’t forget, we’ll be doing the raffle soon!’ Nigel looked over at Crystal, she gave him a specific look. He knew he was in trouble. Deep trouble ‘Which of the Bronte sisters wrote ‘Wuthering Heights’?’
‘Oh! I know this one, it’s a trick question. Yes, you can’t fool me, Mr Landlord!’ Harold whispered in Edith’s ear ‘It’s Jane Eyre… Yes, classic pub quiz trick, it wasn’t even written by a Bronte sister!’ Harold wobbled triumphantly, he wrote what he thought was the answer down. Saliva from the end of Edith’s pen dripped on to the answer sheet like tears. Edith tried to pull the paper away from Harold… Harold got all uppity.
‘Excuse me! Snatchy!’ Harold pulled the answer sheet back towards himself.
‘Not everything has to be a trick! Harold!’ Edith lowered her voice to a loud hissy whisper ‘Jane Eyre was the name of a book by the other Bronte sister!’ Edith had started this, but now could not be sure which Bronte sister was which. A classic pub quiz error. The Dinner Ladies and the reporters were now listening in to Harold and Edith. Partly because they were making a racket, and partly because they might know the answer after all.
‘Right Edith, here is your quiz sheet. And here is your precious pen. From now on, I am not allowed to touch it!’ Harold said, in a very matter of fact clipped way before storming off to the toilet.
One of The Dinner Ladies leant over to Edith, nudged her and said ‘Your Husband’s taking things a bit seriously tonight!’
‘Oh, he’s not my husband, we’re not married… Edith proceeded to prattle on about the Harold and Edith story – too much information in response to a passing comment, Edith. ‘The Dinner Ladies’ missed the next question because Edith was talking too much. Harold returned and sat down. Head wobbling. Nigel announced that it was now to be the ‘pop music round.’
‘Quick Edith, go to the loo and hang around that table of teenagers, you’re good at ear-wigging, get a few answers off them!’ Harold instructed. The table of teenagers was a bunch of sixth form students. They called themselves ‘The Not Rights’ they had never won either. Edith was disgusted with Harold, she did not ‘earwig’ as he put it. She just listened sometimes to what people said, usually without their consent. But always because Edith thought she could meddle and do some good. Her listening skills were not for cheating at the pub quiz. Never the less, she walked down to the other end of the Golden Gate. She hung around a little before slipping into the ladies. Long enough to hear the answer to a question she did not know.
‘Who was the singer in the band Nirvana?’ one of ‘The Not Rights’ shouted out the answer, not noticing Edith standing right behind them, then creeping into the ladies. She closed the door and sat down on the toilet. Edith hoped she would remember the name by the time she returned to the table… Edith also heard some other information while she was in that cubicle. She overheard the TV reporter talking on her mobile phone.
‘No problem, I know it’s been a slow news month, but they haven’t even raised fifty quid in this poxy pub quiz. And there is NO WAY we can let them use the name they’ve chosen. It’s offensive, not PC at all!’ (Edith continued to listen in) ‘Yep, yep I’ll get Alan to pack up the van. How far is the school did you say? In Tottington, a few miles away?’ Edith fathomed that the pub quiz had to be shelved for the next news slot. Seemingly, the producer had found a more exciting story; Every fire extinguisher had been stolen from a local high school.
When Edith returned to the table, she was out of breath ‘Harold! … The answer’s Kurt Cobain! … and the TV people are leaving! They’ve gone to report about fire extinguishers. Teenagers stealing! Again!’ Edith flopped down onto her stool.
‘Kids messing about, probably the same ones who stole my nightie, they want shooting!’ one of The Dinner Ladies said. They all looked out of the window and watched the TV crew drive out of the car park. Harold was devastated. Now there was no chance of a television appearance, so he pinned all his hopes on getting his photo in the local paper. He would have to win the quiz first though… Win the quiz with Edith, who was not having a good anniversary.
‘What’s up, sweetheart?’ Harold said… What’s up? Edith thought. The rushed anniversary present that may or may not have been stolen, the favourite pen now chewed at the end. Harold appearing more interested in the pub quiz than Edith, then Harold asks WHAT’S UP?… It dawned on Edith that she could use tonight to her advantage. She spoke in a little voice, preparing to put a cherry on top of her distress. Harold could hardly hear her.
‘When you were in the loo…’ (Sniff) ‘One of those women on that table (Edith pointed her little finger quickly and under the table) asked me why we weren’t married’ Edith buried her face in mock sobs. This was not how the conversation had gone, of course, if you can call it a conversation, the woman had just passed pleasantries, while Edith went on and on, and on with herself. Edith peeped through her fingers. Harold was distracted, looking at the photographer from the local paper. He had just finished his drink… He had better not leave too! Harold caught the last bit of Edith’s sentence about getting married. He had an idea…After eight more questions and eight more dubious answers, the pub quiz ended. Much applause was given to the winning team, ‘The Not Rights’ the bunch of sixth form students, Gemma Hampsons interviewed them as cameras flashed,. The Landlord filled in the details on the large comedy cheque. They all shook hands, keen to add they had all just turned eighteen. Only then, one of ‘The Dinner Ladies’ started making a whooping sound.
‘Oh, my God! Look! Loook! He’s down on one knee!’ she was not mistaken, and the camera commotion stopped. It was Harold about to propose to Edith! (EEEK!)
‘Edith, we’ve been living in sin for longer than is reasonably necessary’ Harold’s knees creaked, Edith’s eyes, wide. She clutched the bias cut floral rayon (night) dress ‘How about it Love, will you marry me?’ the room erupted in applause once more. The camera started flashing again. Nigel grabbed the quiz microphone.
‘How about that ladies and gentlemen! A proposal in the Golden Gate!’ just like that, things had turned out alright for Harold and Edith, it was the best anniversary ever.
‘Oh, Harold!’ Edith gushed out a squeaky ‘Yes!’ she was holding on to both his hands. The room started chanting ‘RING! RING!’ Harold had not yet acquired a ring, the proposal being just an attention-seeking ploy. Towering over Edith, he held her close in both his arms as the newspaper cameras flashed.
Join me next week when we find out if Harold and Edith’s engagement appeared in the local newspaper.
Happy reading, Samantha xx