Working together

To stay the same, things must change. A neat quote. Some German guy. OK if the change fits your life-style, if not the change is incongruent and shouldn't be considered. This local government officer and his wife - assistant to the export director at Alginate Industries - have now become domestic cleaners and toilet attendants. There's some strange delight and even nostalgia for those green beginnings when Lizzie worked as a junior at Jones Brothers on Holloway Road and I worked at the fire and the forge, the sparks and hot metal of Mr Woods the Beeston blacksmith - well, in that small Midland town in 1942 there wasn't much else for a fourteen year old boy. My parents lived in a council house on Farfield Avenue. We had lino on the floor, a pegged rug by the hearth, a washtub and mangle and a coalhouse. In London Lizzie's parents were about the same. It measures our place in history, marks the distance we have travelled. Bettering oneself was the motive power, the familiar expression of the working class. So, toiling onwards for donks, you reach a plateau; you stop and look around, you become aware that over the years you have achieved little and are no longer right for the job, for those warning bells of oncoming crisis have suddenly become loud and pressing. Lizzie had also had enough; management were going to take away all the internal doors of their listed building on Henrietta Street, so that her new American directors could walk by and see what was going on, and British bank holidays would have to go too. "Stuff that! Not on your Nellie!" So, after great indignation about uncultivated Americans, the doors and bank holidays stayed put. Lizzie did not.

At grade 3 level I was expected to assume magical powers and take on more cases than I could possibly manage; and take students on placement, attend the cheesy blight of cosy case-conferences that meant well but achieved little, act on reports from child psychologists that followed almost word for word my introductory reports, attend juvenile court and see the stricken looks on magistrates' faces when the same young thugs came back time after time. A supervision order meant little to some children. It was a badge of esteem on the street.

It became clear to me that what I had achieved after all these years was little better than doing nothing. The poor sods I was supposed to be helping deserved better. At my level there was nothing I could do to change anything, for the service worked to support itself. Held in place by its legal framework it suffered scandal and derision. And my sweet lady did not like the way Americans did things. So we quit the scene before we got too old to enjoy pastures new.

OK. But could we work together, like all day and every day?

So, here we are, loo brush and mop, clean linen, fitted undersheets (God, how I hate ironing fitted undersheets!) milk tea coffee in the fridge with two bottles of drinking water, and please God don't let them arrive late!

I mentioned the matter to wryface Dick who nodded, thinking of himself and Jess working together "Jess was head chef, I did the books, general maintenance and the gardening. Yes we grew a lot of our own stuff for the table. We were too busy to squabble. But kids! Couldn't do your bloody job for all the tea in China, Alan mate. Kids these days have no moral guidance. They do what they bloody like. If I bunked school my parents would get a visit from the school-board man. Then I'd get a belt from me dad and the cane from the headmaster. Elders and betters got respect in those days. Now in Franco's time..."

I didn't really want good old Franco, but I listened as we walked along the harbour mole. I was more concerned about our good name in the management business. It's so easy to cheat your trusting owners, accepting lettings and not informing the owners, pocketing the money and saying nothing. Subsequent events may uncover this sort of behaviour, and when it does, word gets around and you are out of business for good. I think it was Thomas Paine who said something about character being much easier kept than recovered.

"Yes, we heard. Jess was speaking to Maeve. They've lost their respect, the silly buggers. Their owners set a trap for them."

El Vigilante

Our vigilante opened his book on a page marked Respect. To start with he banged a few heads together. Some parents complained. Many parents did not, their approbation of silence won a vote in his favour. We don't know what was said in the officina but he gave no reply to charges of molesting children, merely offering his resignation. Thereafter, his silent and formidable presence around Cristimar was sufficient to deter loose balls, climbing over fences and general rowdiness. We decided we liked him. And, surprisingly, he liked us. We got a nod and a smile and a finger pointing at the 2 Para badge on my jersey - a gift from my son-in-law - that reminded this ex-military man of the Falklands war. Too shy to ask, I took a photo of him in his capacity as route master for the carnival then drew him at his usual stance at the gate of Cristimar.

We kept a chart of our bookings which came in mostly by mail and from the owners. Vacationers arrived by taxi and we would meet them at their apartment with the keys. This was OK unless their plane came in late which meant I could be waiting for their arrival until 3am. We desperately needed a phone, mainly so we could check arrivals with the airport. So we made an application. With Bernardo's kind assistance with Spanish officialdom we waited almost a year before the telephone was installed, and almost another year before our line was connected. Occasionally we might hear a click and a buzz and we would race for the phone placing bets on the way. But it was still dead. It became a sort of ritual, picking up the phone, saying something rude before hanging up. Then, one magical day, we were rewarded with a low hum.

"Isn't it marvellous!" said Lizzie. "I'll bring it some flowers!"

First it was to phone home, excited shrieks coming from the other end. Then they rang back. We had drinks with Anton and Maria, Bernardo and Berenca. "You perfectly know us for to speak on this telefono?"

"Of course."

Most people at our end of the town used El Stablo which was our name for a wooden hut containing six phone booths controlled from a switchboard. Sometimes there was a queue waiting outside. Based at the lowest point almost at beach level, and at similar level to the Costamar building half a mile away the smell from the cess pits was pretty awful. They didn't have drains when the Guanches lived here, they just dumped in the nearest corner. Now we have moved one step forward to these primitive pits that simply dump in the sea when the tide is right. So we call it Pooh Corner. Phone home and they say they can smell it! And whenever the wind comes off the sea the tainted breeze penetrates uphill past the Victoria Court complex where two of our best apartments stand.

A second El Stablo was erected near Edificio Funchal which did not seem to ease the problem greatly. People clung to their public phones like isolated rocks in a rough sea. We did see one elderly lady in the queue with a camp stool. Even so, progress was creeping forward, a sort of osmosis, hardly noticeable. Bars like ¿Que Pasa? still made money selling coffee to people waiting to use their phones. In the meantime mobiles sprang up, just a few to start with, people wielding them for show even though The Canaries were only just within the communication footprint.

"How did we manage, dollychops?"

"Like living in the middle ages, my prince, makes working together easier. We can phone for a gas bottle."

"Actually, I prefer to walk to the bottle store. I meet people."

"Well, yes. If it gets you out of ironing, my man!"

Mysteriously, D4/4 remained empty. The owner never appeared. Furniture had been delivered but the door remained tightly shut. There were no strangers in the lift or on the stairs. Puzzlingly, one morning I heard the lift door close at 2am. OK, maybe Alfonso coming off duty. No. Alfonso and Maria Carmen were in Arona last night.

And, at that late hour, it certainly wasn't B and B. Julio doing his rounds? Well, maybe. D4/4 faced the back of the complex, its veranda overlooking the wild and woolly wasteland from where I could see the veranda empty of furniture and the shutters closed. "Maybe they just use it for holidays," Lizzie suggested.

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