Based on Holly’s own experiences, The Coventry Conch shares days in a young girls life, growing up in 1990’s suburban Coventry.
I’m locked out.
My sister, Jenny, is meant to be home to let me in, but I reckon she’s forgotten and is probably cheesing around with her new senior school mates outside Happy Shopper.
Our next-door neighbor, Carol, is staring at me through her net curtains. Bloody Carol, she’s always spying on me when I’m just trying to do my own thing. Last week, she dobbed Amy and me in to my Mum for drawing a chalk knob on our garden path. We washed it off before Mum even saw it, but Carol must have had her beady little eyes on us all day.
From the kitchen I heard her telling Mum over the fence that we’d been drawing ‘men’s private parts’ in the garden. Mum said sorry and that she’d be having a word. Then she came into the kitchen and stuck her head into the mug cupboard. I could tell she was laughing, because she was shaking, but when she eventually took her head out she told me that I should know better.
I sit on the doorstep and start kicking up some of the weeds in the crazy paving.
Carol’s front door opens and she shuffles out; her whole outfit is beige apart from her pink slippers. Jenny says Carol’s the living dead and could be over 100 years old but I thinks she’s more like 70 summat.
Carol looks me up and down, then says, ‘Locked out are ya?’
‘You can sit round mine if you need to?’
‘It’s gonna rain you know.’
‘I know, but my Mum’s on her way back so…’
‘Well, suit yourself.’
There’s no way I’m going round Carol’s! She’s well moody and she’ll probably dob me in for eff all again.
It starts raining.
I press Carol’s doorbell and it plays a really long tune. Carol answers and says, ‘If you’re coming in take those shoes off!’
I’ve never actually been inside Carols house before, it’s done out in the same shade of beige as her cardigan. The fire’s one of those fake ones with the glowy coals and Carol’s got it turned up to a billion degrees centigrade. I can feel my armpits sweating, so I take my school coat off, Carol grabs it off me, then shuffles into her downstairs cupboard to hang it up.
I look at the photos on Carol’s windowsill. There’s a black and white wedding photo and some random kids school photo in a frame that says NAN. Next to the photos is a bowl of pot pourri, I reach down to pick it up so I can smell it, but old x-ray eyes shouts from the cupboard,
‘Before you touch anything go upstairs and wash your hands!’
I hate houses where you have to wash your hands, it’s like people think you’re a tramp or something.
Carol’s bathroom has thick green carpet. On the windowsill there’s a plastic dolphin with a stupid grin, holding a sign that says, ‘Please be neat and wipe the seat’. I go for a number one and smell my armpits, then I look in Carol’s cabinet for some Impulse but she only has a roll on and I don’t fancy using that!
I walk down the stairs into Carol’s living room. There’s no sofa, just two armchairs with little tables next to them and Carol’s sat in one of them.
‘You can sit down if you want’
I walk up to the empty armchair.
‘Not there, that’s Jimmy’s chair, children sit on the floor.’
I remember Mum saying that Carol used to have a husband, but he died when I was little. Mum said he was well nice though and even gave her a lift to the hospital when she was having Josh.
I sit down on the carpet next to a big glass cabinet full of ornaments. Carol’s cat, Mitsy comes in through the cat flap in the porch, she stares me out, then jumps up onto Jimmy’s chair. Carol doesn’t say anything.
Me and Carol sit looking at each other for a bit without saying anything. The only noise comes from the radio, which must be tuned to Granny FM, as all it’s playing is dodgy old people songs.
Eventually Carol says, ‘Well, I’m going to have a cuppa. If you want one too, you can come and help make it.’
I follow Carol into the kitchen.
‘Get that pot down from the top shelf’.
I use some little steps Carol has to help her reach things and pass the pot down to her. It’s covered in dust so she gives it a wipe with a dishcloth.
‘I haven’t used this pot in months. I just put the bag straight in the cup these days, no point going to all the effort for one cup. Jimmy liked the milk in first. I don’t think you can tell the difference, but he’d know if I’d done it the wrong way round.’
Carol puts the pot and cups on a tray with a little plate of Fig Rolls, and I carry it into the living room. When she pours the tea her hand shakes and it splashes all over the tray. I pretend not to notice but Carol tuts and says: ‘It’s no fun getting old you know! It takes me half an hour to get up the stairs these days. Sometimes, when I need to use the toilet in the afternoon, I just stay up there and get into bed to save myself going down and up again. I went to bed at three o’ clock last week!’
I sip my tea and look at all of the stuff in the cabinet while trying to think of something to take Carol’s mind off being dead old and that. ‘I like all your ornaments. My Grandad’s taught me loads about antiques, they’re probably worth a bit you know’.
‘Do you think so?’
‘Yeah, I reckon. Sometimes me and Jenny pretend we’re on Antiques Roadshow and value each other’s stuff. We haven’t played in a while though, because we had a fight last time when she valued my entire pig collection at 50p’
We set up a game of Antiques Roadshow on Carol’s dining room table. She gets some of the ornaments out, and I ask if I can use her magnifying glass next to the crossword on her side table. She’s the guest and I’m the expert.
One of the ornaments is Goofy playing Golf. I pick it up and turn it upside down. I use the magnifying glass to read the Disney sign on his foot.
‘So Carol, where did you find this lovely item?’
‘Well, my son, Terry, went to Disneyland a few years ago and bought it back for his Dad, because Jimmy used to say he always fancied playing golf.’
‘It’s a remarkable find Carol, dating back to the 17th century I believe, and it’s definitely a Disney, because it says Disney. I’d bet you’d like to know how much it’s worth?’
‘Oooh yes please?’
‘I’d say as a rough estimate you’re looking in the region of four thousand pounds…how does that sound?’
Carol laughs and says, ‘Oooh lovely’.
‘What will you be spending the money on?’
‘Well, I’d like to fly my son and his family over here from Australia. Do you know I haven’t even met one of my grandchildren and I’ve got two now! Oh and I’d love to go down London and meet Kilroy, I think he’s fabulous.’
Jenny walks past Carol’s window. I tell Carol that I’d best be getting back, and start to help her put the ornaments back in the cabinet.
‘I can come back and do some more valuations one day, if you want?’
‘Yes, that’d be nice.’