THE ADORABLE MR FINCH                   

Old Issac Finch used to clean our chimneys. They were tall and old but this didn't daunt him. He had tackled every type of chimney, large or small since he'd begun work at the age of fourteen. When he'd arrive in his overalls and cap carrying his brushes, his vacuum cleaner and a camera, I would offer him his usual mug of strong black coffee before he started his sweep; and it was during these times that he would tell me his stories. Here then is one of them. A tale told by the adorable Mr Finch.


'My wife Millie enjoyed her sit downs. Not too many of them neither since it seemed we was continually at our work; she washing and ironing, not hers and my bits and bobs mind, but other people's. I learned how to fold our clothes so as to save her the bother. If you fold 'em right they don't crease that bad. She'd offer to iron mind, but I never agreed since her work was hard and relentless whilst mine...well, sweeping chimneys with them long bristly brushes is pretty hard going an all. But we needn't go into that now. We was a happy couple. Oh yes. Didn't care if she thought me persistent, I met her, wanted her and no-one else and that was that. We married in our village church and lived henceforth in that old thatched cottage next to the sweet shop with the wobbly front gate.

We had to be frugal first off. There was enough for the rent, food and the electrics and I had me savings, all set for a rainy day. Before I was married I had managed to squirrel away seven hundred pounds. A goodly sum, mostly won over time on the dogs. This money was precious and set aside.

We had nothing to sit on first off and only a makeshift bed that was two camp beds pushed together. So Millie, thumbed through the local paper one day and come up with the idea that we try the local auctions since new furniture was too pricey for our pockets. We needed real bad a couple of comfy chairs as we only had two thick cardboard boxes which after a couple of sittings and our mighty weight, sagged something chronic. So after scrutinising the ads, I got out my blue pencil and drew a circle round an auction sale to be held locally in someone's house. Perhaps they was selling up and wanting to be rid of stuff or maybe the owner had died. Or perhaps they just wanted the extra cash, not my business to know the whys and wherefores.

When I turned up you could hardly get through the front door it was so crammed with folks nosing around looking for what they hoped would prove a bargain. There was a pile of catalogues on the hall table so I took one like everyone else. I thumbed through it and saw there was a couple of carpet armchairs going which would have suited Millie and me down to the ground and because it was a bit frayed here and there I reckoned would be within my budget. Only trouble was I saw this Spoon Chair, you see. Oh it were a beauty. The seat was covered in some gold brocade that had a bit of a tear in it. My heart started to beat hard like it does when I treats myself to an afternoon at the dogs. I stood all excited with the others and soon the auction began: So much stuff there was up for grabs it fair took your breath away and folks took it real serious too. I listened closely to how things was done for I'd only been to a couple of auctions in my time and was a bit wet round the ears. I think the atmosphere and the heat must have gone to my head because the thought of them two frayed carpet armchairs went clean out of it. I was set on that Spoon Chair and no mistake. It was a beauty. I'd made a note of the lot number and so when the auctioneer announced lot 15 we was told that the Spoon Chair chair was late Victorian, the wooden legs mahogany and it was upholstered in faded, torn brocade. The auctioneer described it as fine. Well, that did it for me. I real fancied being the owner of a fine chair. Not any old fine chair but this fine Spoon chair. As I say, it was a beauty even with the tear in it. I liked the sound of Spoon an' all! I came to repeating the word in my head like it was some charm as would help me win it. There was a few folks bidding but as the bids went up so there was less people interested. Then it was me against one other; a tall fat man with a beard. Well, I won. I did! I wanted to do a little dance, I was that chuffed plus the fact that I'd outbid this other chap made me feel damned smart it did. I'd clean forgot my budget, I had. And by the time the hammer went down, and I was declared the winner I realised that all the savings all seven hundred pounds of it had been blown and not on the two chairs we needed mind, but just on the one. That of course raised another question: which of us would come to sit on it, Millie or me? We'd have to take turns and that wouldn't please. It made me uncomfortable the thought of me seated and her standing waiting for her turn and t'other way round. It might cause ructions and I wouldn't want that. Too late now to change my mind, I thought, as I parted with my precious notes and loaded the chair into my van. I didn't have far to drive but by the time I'd reached our village I was panicked. I couldn't go home and confess to Millie what I'd done, she'd throw me out for sure. And so I took myself off to our local Bear and Hounds and drank a glass of best bitter to calm me nerves and have a think. What was I to do? What was I to say? Shame brought tears to my eyes and a blush to my cheeks. It was while I were puzzling thus that my mate Issac breezed in. I was mighty glad to see him, even though he had a soft spot for my Millie and liked to give her the eye and a bit of a squeeze at our local barn dances.

'Here, Gideon, why is you so glum?' he said coming over. 'Thrown you out has she?'

'She not thrown me out yet but I ain't been home yet.'

'Whatever you done? Lost all your money on the dogs?'

And when I shook my head: 'What then? Not caught poaching on his Lordship's estate?'

'Worse.' And I told him my story.

'Right,' he said. 'I'll be back with an idea.' And off he sauntered to the bar to replenish my beer and buy himself a pint; his baggy trousers so wide with wear you could have placed another pair of legs in them no trouble. Within minutes he was carrying over two flagons of best bitter and a large bag of cheese and onion crisps; I'd have preferred plain but was in no mind to argue.

Issac took off his flat cap and gave his bald head a good scratch. 'Tell you what,' he says, 'You shows me the chair and if I likes it I'll make you an offer. How much you paid for it?'

'Seven hundred quid.'

He didn't go white or exclaim or nothing. The price which to my mind was a mighty fortune didn't phase him one bit, but then he did a bit of buying and selling here and there to supplement his income on his small holding. Anyway, he said that if he liked my Spoon Chair he'd buy it off me.'

'Drink up and we'll take a butchers,' he said tipping his beer back in one.

Well, he can down a pint in seconds whereas I takes a bit longer. So I took my time trying to play it cool and asked him casual like who he planned to sell on to.

'Who knows? Plenty of folks out there looking for antiques. Don't you worry about a thing.'

So I drank up and we wandered to my van in the car park and I unloaded the Spoon chair. He ran his eye over it, gave a small grunt afore feeling it all over and under, pronounced it a solid piece of furniture and asked me to make him an offer. When I said I needed the seven hundred pounds I'd spent returned, he laughed. He got an awful loud laugh has Issac. It would frighten all the birds off the trees it would for sure.

'I got to make my profit Gideon. Tell you what, seeing as you're skint, I'll give you five for it.'

'Five hundred, is that all?'

He stood his ground. 'That's right,' he said, hitching up his trousers.

'But I paid two hundred more.'

'You was at an auction Gideon. There's buyers and there's sellers. My offers a good one, take it or leave it.'

I nodded. 'I'll take it.'

Issac rummaged through his trouser pocket and brought out a great wad of notes so as I was dumb struck. He licked his fingers and counting the readies paid me and I handed over the chair. I can't say as I was sorry to see it go. It's astonishing the effect a bit of panic can have on the nervous system. Of course, I never mentioned any of this to Millie who was downcast when I returned empty handed, her little round face flushed with disappointment. But she was not one to bear a grudge and she reckoned I'd do better next time. I know it was dishonest of me, but I couldn't bring myself to tell her the mess I'd got myself into. The seven hundred pounds now reduced to five hundred, I tucked inside one of my boots and hoped to God she wouldn't think of giving them a polish.

The following week I found another auction in our local rag, this time forty miles away at a stately home. Honest to God I didn't intend going but there were no others advertised in the paper and our two cardboard boxes had collapsed completely. With no proper carpets, only the odd rug collected from someone's skip, we was obliged to fold the rugs and place them close to our fireplace so as we could sit warming ourselves.

Well, as I says, I sorely fought the temptation to attend this posh auction, but you know what temptation does to a man, it nags and nags like some old woman until he gives in for the sake of peace and quiet. And so the following Friday, with the five hundred pounds in my pocket that Issac had given me for my Spoon chair, I travelled to Southville Hall. Now as the saying goes, faint heart never won fair lady, and so in I strode through the posh front door, straight backed, head held high trying as not to think about the hole in my left sock and my best brown shoes with the flapping sole.

Oh, but that house was grand make no mistake and set in lovely countryside. It seemed a crying shame that all contents was to be sold. Heartbreaking for the owner, I daresay. Any road, having had a gander at all the stuff up for grabs I took my seat along with the gentry who all seemed to know each other and spoke about everything and anything but money. Well, they has so much it don't mean a lot to them I daresay. I'd taken a catalogue from a very smart lady what wore a tweed skirt and some very posh pearls around her short turkey neck.

Like I said, I'd had a good look round half hoping I wouldn't be too drawn to anything. There was tables, mirrors, sculptures. oil paintings and a very posh sofa that would go for a fair bit I guessed. I well feasted my eyes on how the other half lives; but as yet I hadn't seen two comfortable armchairs for Millie and me to sit on. I was sure as things would go for far more money than my five hundred pounds would stretch and I was just of a mind to call it a day and take my leave, when I spotted a perfect set of Victorian tub chairs: Four to be precise. Well, I only wanted two but they was being sold as a set, see. I tried to justify bidding for them thinking that the extra two chairs could be for guests to sit on. My, were they pretty; mahogany legs, and plush pink seats. They'd cheer up our drab little living room something lovely.

I took my seat in the back row all excited like and waited for Lot 20 to come up. There was a few what made bids but in the end just me and a toffee nosed gent sitting on the back row. We fought it out between us, him and me and I won. Six hundred pounds them chairs went for. I had in my pocket the five hundred pounds from Issac and lucky for me an extra one hundred pounds I'd won that week on the dogs. That extra hundred afforded me the chairs. But that extra hundred I'd been planning to lay aside to take Millie out for a meal, give her a chance to dress up a bit, and try some cordon bleu cooking. But like as before, my joy, my elation turned to misery when having loaded the four chairs into my van, I realised just what I'd paid, and my conscience was stricken by the now defunct evening meal. By the time I reached the village I was sick to the stomach. I felt like I'd let Millie down again,

As before, I dropped into the Bear and Hounds for a glass of beer. By the time I was half way through my half pint of shandy, the pub door opened and Issac marched in, saw me and came over.

'You look as though you're all set to cut your throat, Gideon. You been to another auction?'

I nodded.

'How much you spent this time?'

When I told him he gave a loud whistle through his stained cracked teeth, and like as before, took my empty glass to the bar for a refill.

'You show me them four tub chairs you just bought and we'll see if we can strike a bargain,'

When we'd finished our drinks we went outside. I opened the back of the van and Issac examined the four chairs, proclaimed them sound and bought them for three hundred nicker. That was half of what I'd paid for them and when I protested:

'Business is business Gideon. Take it or leave it'

I took it of course. Now I had to face Millie.

When I arrived empty handed and with just three hundred pounds in my top pocket, Millie was fair disappointed. I didn't tell her what had happened and she didn't ask. She never knew about my win at the dogs neither or that extra bit of cash I'd intended for our dinner date. In fact Millie never knew I went to the dogs; more like gone to the dogs, that's how I felt. Well, a man has to have something for himself.

'What! You come home empty handed again? How come?' she asked in her best snooty voice, and I felt compelled to tell my sorry tale. She gave me one of her steady stares that said everything and nothing and I felt as low as if I'd been sent up to bed without me supper.

And so the next weekend she was the one who scoured the local rag and come up with an auction not five miles off. Well, of course I didn't want her to go, 'cause it would mean giving her the money to buy something and I'd only three hundred left so as then she'd have to know the full story.

When it came to the Saturday, I felt real poorly. Something I'd eaten maybe, I don't rightly know, but my stomach was churning away and I was in no fit state to go anywhere, let alone an auction. Any-road, Millie said that she'd take herself there on her bike. Feeling and no doubt looking right sheepish, I handed over the money and waited for the blast.

'Is that all?' she stared at me as though I were barmy.

I nodded.

'Where's the rest of it then? Where's the seven hundred? You never bought nothing at them auctions you went to.'

There was nothing for it but to tell her the truth: how I'd bought, sold, and lost.

Well, there was now one of them silences that sometimes prevail amongst couples. A darn nuisance they are too 'cause it holds everything up and things one wants to say has to go on hold 'cause the other person ain't speaking. I did, however manage to ask her how the devil she planned to transport a couple of armchairs on the back of a bike. But when Millie sets her mind to do something there's no stopping her, and anyway she didn't have a license to drive the van, so she couldn't take that. I handed over the three hundred pounds and off she peddled the five miles to some house or other. That was in the morning. By tea-time she'd not returned. Time went on and still no Millie. I started to get real worried wondering if she'd met with an accident. I put to the back of my mind the fear she might have left me, and I wouldn't have blamed her neither.

I was about to take the van out looking for her when back she came, but not on her bike. No. My eyes was out on stalks when Issac's van rolls up with her sitting next to him, her bike strapped to the roof. Well, I'm dumb struck I can tell thee.

'Where you been!' I was right cross, part with relief and part with seeing him and her together looking right smug. And when I asked what was going on, she just smiled and blushed real red, the colour of them rosy apples we store in our attic.

'Well?' I said. 'Did you or did you not buy us a couple of chairs at auction?'

` She looked at me all coy and Issac standing by said not a word which raised my suspicions and my blood. She looked at him and he looked at her and seeing them together, standing so close and personal like, the penny began to drop.

'You never went to yon auction did you?' I said, shaking in me boots.

'I did, so!' And she jutted out that pretty chin of hers.

'You been with Issac. Come on girl, own up.'

Millie nodded and turned to Issac.

'Millie found them easy chairs you both wanted but not at auction,' he said.

'So you never went!' My blood was up, I can tell you.

'She did, Gideon. Millie went to the auction.'

'Stop talking in riddles Issac. Where did she get them chairs, off a lorry?' I's shouting now and fearful, for I loves my Millie and don't want Issac to take her from me.'

'Maybe she did get them off a lorry,' he says. And they both giggle like a couple of school kids. My God! I could have knocked his teeth out. 'How many chairs you buy, our Millie. Two?'


'You bought four?'

'Four easy chairs. And yes, I got them off a lorry.'

'What lorry? Make sense woman.'

'My lorry, you daft bugger!' And Issac pushes me outside the front door to his filthy old truck parked in the street. He pulls back the tonneau and unloads my bucket chairs, the ones I bought and sold on to Issac. But then with the bucket chairs standing on the tarmac I gape speechless as Issac now lifts down the Spoon Chair.'

'I don't understand Issac,' says I dumbfounded. 'That makes five chairs in all.'

'Guess your Millie can't count.' And they both roars with laughter; but I's never been much for riddles nor practical jokes. 'You bought all them chairs from me, Issace, to sell on at a profit.'

'That's right, Gideon.'

'Well then. I's not buying them back. I sold to you in good faith. A bargain's a bargain.'

'I sold on,' he says all smug-like and he winks at Millie. A real broad wink.

'I bought them,' squeals Millie. 'He sold them on to me.'

'You bought them! All of them?'

'Yes. All five. Four easy chairs plus one more.'

'The Spoon chair.'

'That's right.'

'Will you explain, our Millie.'

'Oh Gideon!' My wife can barely contain herself. But then she sees my baffled expression, takes pity on me and pulls herself together. 'I bumped into Issac at the auction. |I couldn't see nothing I liked or could afford with the money you give me, in the sale. I told Issac what I was looking for. He said that in his garage at home he had four easy chairs and one other. They'd been put aside for an American couple who was coming back tomorrow for a second look. Issac took me to his home and he showed me the chairs. I liked them so he asked me to make him an offer which I did. Three hundred pounds for the lot. He accepted and I paid him the money you gave me for the auction.'

'What about the American couple?'

Issac shrugged. 'There's plenty more where they come from. And I'd not made a promise to sell to them neither.'

I looks at him and he grins. 'How much was the American couple set to pay you?

'One thousand five hundred pounds.'

''Why you do it, Issac? Why you let Millie have the lot for three hundred?'

It's then I looks deep into his crinkly face and sees his eyes grown tender and wet with tears. And another penny drops. I goes up to him and shakes him firmly by the hand.

'I think I understands Issac. I thank ye. That were mighty generous of you. But one day I'll pay you back that I will.'

Millie comes to my side, takes my arm and gives it a right good squeeze. I know then that everything's all right between us.

Our sitting room looks real grand now what with the four bucket chairs set around the fireplace and the Spoon Chair fitting lovely in the far corner.

Sometimes when the two of us are sitting there by the fire, I remember Issac, his regard for me and his love for Millie and I think what a lucky man I truly am.

END c: Jane Lockyer Willis