The here and now and a bit of way back then

I relived my journey to 40 and found there's so much more to say

Janice and Frank

on November 29, 2013

Do you know about the ‘Other’ Inbox on Facebook? I didn’t until Mrs Shell mentioned it and what weirdos had randomly been in touch. Whilst you and I can see a weirdo message for being exactly that, I do wonder about the people who don’t and what consequences that could have.

Anyways, being curious I thought I’d check to see what was in my ‘Other’ Inbox. One advertisement. Two weirdos. One that read, ‘Are you the Karen who worked at the R.A.C. and lived with us before you went to London?’.

It was sent 4 May 2012 by my former colleague and landlady Janice, and I only just came across it last month. I probably never would have done either if it wasn’t because of that chance remark.

For once I’m not going to conceal their given names and I don’t think they will mind.

I met Janice through work back in 1997. My first full time job since graduating. It started off as a temp position and I ended up staying for two years. I was house sharing with Elbear, Ms Beefy and Mr G but when that tenancy ended I felt that age old cliche of ‘needing space’ and decided I wanted to move out and find something else. Either side of flat sharing with someone new, I lived with Janice and Frank on two separate occasions. Neither time for long. I think the first time was a matter of weeks and the second time a year later for about five or six months.

Janice and Frank never behaved like typical landlords. Especially Janice. You just can’t keep anything from her. I suppose the fact that we worked together for a year beforehand made a difference because she had me sussed out already. The first time I moved in was to tie me over until I found my next flat. I lived in the guest room with a green tartan check duvet on the top floor. I never thought I’d move back in again but Janice and Frank were planning on renting out rooms in the whole house eventually so I did.

Along with Janice and Frank there was also George and Kevin, the two cats, and Gemmel and Megan, the two Welsh springer spaniels. Ever since telling Husband about Kevin and George the cats we have always talked about how brilliant it is to call your pets very normal human names. His favourite is to have a dog called Phillip. Though recently this was topped after watching that YouTube video of the dog Fenton chasing a herd of deer.

The house was a three storey townhouse set off a busy road in Manchester. I think it had always been their family home. It was so different to the kind of houses I had lived in before. Downstairs had two living rooms for everyday use and a massive kitchen with an old Aga it might have been. The second floor had the bathroom, an odd shaped back bedroom (which eventually became mine), a kitchenette and the ‘posh’ living room where visiting guests were received. There was usually a gate on the door so Gemmel and Megan couldn’t just wander in and lounge across the good couch, unlike George and Kevin who could come and go as they please. Upstairs was another three bedrooms.

You could only ever describe Janice as being motherly. With an interest in everyone and everything. I very much doubt her three boys ever got anything past her growing up. She is always entertaining and has that way of telling a story that reminds me of Mrs 192. Frank would roll his eyes at her because she’d be asking a dozen questions that my own parents wouldn’t ask me. I enjoyed living with them because I’d never seen anything like it! So regular.

There are several Janice-isms I still recount even now. One is as you get older, you can choose between a less fuller figure but look old in the face or a fuller figure and look young. Nice. There was also the time Dean Gaffney, at the height of his fame as Robbie off Eastenders, crashed his Vauxhall Corsa Sport and requiring assistance and advice from Mrs F which she thought was hilarious. So respectful he was she said and she milked it. Putting on her best telephone, authoritive voice and telling him he could only get help from her. Then there was the time she thought she had shingles but actually had burnt herself on the metal plate of the cooker. But I think the best memory I have, which still cracks me up, is when she turned 50 and how she nearly had kittens when she came home from work and saw the ‘Happy 50th Birthday’ banner I had tacked on the living room window facing out onto the busy main road! I genuinely thought she’d be pleased! Touched even. She just went apeshit.

Anyone who knows me will know that I am not one that has a natural way with animals. I think most people would trust me with their children but never their pets. Not Janice and Frank. With me moving in, it gave them the freedom to go away which left me in charge of two dogs and two cats. Can you imagine?

Thankfully the cats never saw me fit enough to bring me gifts. George, who was a huge tabby, often disappeared days at a time. Janice could often be heard yelling, ‘George! George!’, out of the back door. Kevin was more of a homebody. Cats are ok but not my favourite. Especially not when they insist on sitting on your lap, dig their claws into your thighs, get up, stretch, pivot and wave their tail up in your face. I never understand that.

Gemmel and Megan remain my favourite though. I do love spaniels, perhaps because of them. Gemmel the boy, was a little Rowlf looking. Big brown eyes, short and squat and long floppy ears. Megan the girl, so unlike Gemmel. Tall, slender and graceful. They looked such an unlikely couple. They were about four years old then. Now, Megan had never been spayed and every time she was on heat, Janice vowed to get it done. She didn’t want short, squat, graceful puppies and so for five or six days we endured poor Gemmel panting, whining and scrabbling to get hold of Megan.

Having never been in such close proximity to animal nature before, I got a short, sharp, Cliffs notes visual guide to it. I came home one day from work and was greeted by a particularly exuberant Gemmel. Flattered, I thought he had missed me as one of the family. Until he started humping my leg. Horrified, I yelled at him, ‘What do you think you’re doing Gemmel?? Get off me right now and do not speak to me!’. Exactly how you should address a dog driven mad with desire for his dog companion in heat. On one occasion Janice took pity on him and let them both out in the back yard. Didn’t feel like breakfast that day.

Although I’ve only ever had tropical fish (which I added to the family the second time I moved in), I can totally see how pets become such important, integral family members. I really enjoyed the time I spent with Gemmel and Megan. I took them out for walks, except they never walked and I must have looked comical half dragged around the streets to the moors behind the house. You’d never think there was such a vast stretch of fell right behind such a busy main road. Janice and Frank were very trusting. Though Janice probably had second thoughts when I told her how they both ran off into the river one time. On other occasions, Gemmel would just roll around in horse shit. Nice. Then I’d try to order him into the bath and that worked.

If I had to live in such a huge townhouse by myself now, I’d be nervous but the company of Gemmel and Megan at the time made it less scary. They would follow me around and Megan would sleep right next to me smelling strongly of wet dog and Gemmel down by my feet or on them cutting off the circulation. They were gorgeous.

Janice and Frank did as they planned and retired away from Manchester to Wales. A lovely beach area I’m told, somewhere we must definitely visit when we next go back. I’m looking forward to it.

It’s only now as a proper grown up, in years at least, that I recognise and appreciate the relationship and marriage between Janice and Frank. They met when they were 14, married, had three sons, grandchildren. They complemented each other. They had a lot to say each other in jest and affection.

When I moved to London at the age of 24 and they moved to Wales in semi retirement, I lost touch with them; too careless to take care of the past I’m afraid to say. I never stopped wondering how they and the cats and dogs were and sometimes I’d ask Elbear if anyone from work had heard from Janice after failing to find where they could be in Directory Enquiries.

So I’m glad this ‘Other’ Inbox exists. I messaged Janice immediately and impatiently waited to hear back. I wasn’t sure if I would. I mean she’s well over 60 now and do they use Facebook at that age? She does. And plays Candy Crush. And lunches leisurely with ladies. She is Grandmother to eight and I’m sure that keeps her occupied.

It is with a heavy heart though that she told me Frank passed away some years ago. I was so sad to hear that. Sad for Janice and sad that she won’t get to fill him in on all my goings on since I lived with them.

They asked me how would I like my room decorated. I said blue carpet and yellow walls please with blue curtains. That’s what I got. Plus a bracket on the wall for my tv. Frank did that for me. Ordered by Janice. Frank worked long hours and Janice would get annoyed with him for falling asleep at traffic lights. She often said she was convinced he had narcolepsy and he would counter back he was just bloody tired!

Janice and Frank. Frank and Janice. A lovely, warm couple who allowed me to share their home and never made me feel like a true tenant. In fact, I’ve just remembered towards the end of my stay, Janice even refused to accept my rent because I was doing such a great job looking after the cats and dogs. She forgot the time George tried to tell me he couldn’t get out the cat flap and did the biggest, longest pee against the wall by the telephone stand in the hallway. More shouting from me, ‘what do you think you are doing George?’.

Recently, Janice made a comment on my family photo that she was ‘proud’ and I don’t doubt that for a second. I’m quite convinced when #1, 2 and 3 meet her, she’ll be welcoming them with open arms and they probably can’t help themselves but welcome her back.

I can’t find my photos of Gemmel and Megan right now and whilst Manchester United is not my favourite team, when they did the double (or was it triple) victory, I certainly didn’t feel able to say No to watching the team bus pass by on the busy main road outside when I lived just a mile away from Old Trafford. So the only photo I could find that will have to do is this one of me and David Beckham taken in 1995.

I write this in fond memory of Frank.



2 responses to “Janice and Frank

  1. Lorraine says:

    Karen, another lovely and heart warming story. Thanks to you I have also discovered the other inbox only to find that some distant relative of mine who lives in Australia, but who is “banned” from contacting me (or anyone else I presume) on face book had sent me a personal message! I will sleep better tonight for knowing what my other inbox contains…


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