Window of opportunity

15 Feb

I CLIMB the stairs to the Deputy Editor’s office to find him leafing through a leather-bound volume of the defunct Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Co-operative Society accounts. I notice a long metal object, shaped like a truncheon, on the desk next to his telephone.

I pull up a chair and gaze around the semicircular office at the wonderful things he’s managed to amass over the years: thirteen clocks, an Imperial typewriter, a set of Russian dolls, piles of railway magazines, a cobalt-blue Codd bottle and a complete set of I-Spy books. On the floor are more metal truncheons. These are a recent addition.

“What are those things that look like truncheons?” I ask, curiosity getting the better of me. “Truncheons?”

“Ahhhh . . .” he says, peering up from his account book. “They most certainly are not truncheons. They are cast-iron weights from sash windows. This one here on my desk is from a Regency window. The ones on the floor are largely Victorian. But the history and development of the sash window can be traced back as far as the 16th Century – in Britain at least. In Holland they go back even further. Did you know that Blenkinsop’s Foundry in Pontefract was a major producer of sash window weights?”

“Fascinating,” I say. And he laughs, because he knows I’m taking the piss.

“What brings you up here to my lonely garret, Pork Chop? Not that I want to be distracted, because I’m working on a piece for my Yesterday Today series and these accounts of the Newbiggin-by-the-Sea Co-operative Society are a mesmerising goldmine of facts. Did you know that one of the most popular commodities the Co-op provided in its early days was white doorstep paint? Doorsteps in Newbiggin – a colliery community – were all painted white, apparently, so that the women had to scrub them every day to keep them clean.”

“Fascinating,” I say again. “I just wondered why the Editor has been summoned down to head office. Is there something in the wind?”

“Ooooooh . . .” says the Deputy Editor. “I’d be surprised if he knew himself why he’s been summoned.”

“More jobs going? More redundancies? Another wave of terror and bloodshed about to sweep through the offices of the Observer and Bugle, Nitherley’s great family newspaper?”

“God, I hope not,” says the Deputy Editor. “I don’t expect there’s much demand for collectors of sash window weights.”

“I don’t expect there is. What about doorstep painters? There might be an opening there. Is there still such a thing as doorstep paint?”

“I say, what a splendid idea. What a marvellous way to make a living. Hang on and I’ll Google it.”

I watch his fingers – more used to clattering the Imperial typewriter – fumbling across his keyboard. The clocks begin to chime 9pm. One buzzes.

“Gosh. My goodness. There’s plenty of doorstep paint on the market. Ronseal do tins for £6. That’s cheap.”

“Charge £10 a doorstep.”

“It’s the future. My word, the past is the future.”

“Yesterday Today.”

“Everything that goes around comes around.”

“There’s nothing new under the sun.”

As I rise to leave, he says: “I can’t go into business by myself, Pork Chop. I’ll need a partner or an apprentice – someone to stir the paint.”

“Put my name down.”

“Can you come up with a snappy company title?”

“Step On It.”

“You’re hired.”

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