Take a Heart

We got to know him after his greyhound, Zoltan, broke into our back garden and tried to kill the tortoises. I was about 15 at the time and he’d just moved in next door ; a flat-backed truck had been parked before the slim front garden and I’d loitered alongside watching him carry boxes of books and furniture into the deserted house. I helped him get some of the things down from the truck, but he said that he could manage on his own. I asked him if his wife and children would be arriving soon and he smiled and said that he was all on his own with his dog.

That afternoon, with Zoltan tethered to the rusted pole for the washing line, he talked to my parents as they drank from those reduced cans of Tartan Bitter that my father used to favour. He was called Wez Finley, and he told us that he’d lived in London for the last ten years or so but now needed to get some distance between himself and the city. My father asked him what he did for a living ; the kind of question that my father was always guaranteed to ask another man. He swirled the half-sized can around in his left hand before replying :

« Well, I was involved in what I suppose you’d call showbusiness »

My mother audibly gasped ; for her showbusiness was The Generation Game, Brotherhood of Man, Ed Stewart’s Breakfast Show on the radio, and to think that here she had a new next-door neighbour actually involved, that was the word he’d used, in this mysterious thing called showbusiness. Mr Finley quickly moved to reassure my mother that he hadn’t been moving in any high-flying circles : he’d been in a musical group in the ’60s :

« I was the singer in a minor group about 15 years ago. We did a few records and tours and all the usual stuff before calling it a day »

My father looked at him closely ; he was always suspicious of people who seemed to get by without following the normal channels. My father was an estate agent, worked pretty much non-stop, and expected everybody else to do the same. He offered Mr Finley another can of Tartan Bitter, and I spoke for the first time :

« What was the name of your group ? »

My mother dug her elbow into my skinny ribs because I hadn’t said « sir » or « Mr Finley ». Mr Finley turned and looked at me. He certainly seemed faintly glamarous ; he was tanned and had those thick well-haired forearms that Gary Player had in those golfing tips cartoons that appeared in the Express.

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