By Samanthe Michelle Davies (SamanthaMD)

“Fred, you really need to get someone in to clean for you,” remarked Trudy as the state of his house just outside Blackburn.

“Ay lass. But who is going to want to clean for a crackpot like me knowing full well, that 5 minutes after they’d left for the day it would be covered in greasy finger prints?”
“Fred! I can’t argue with that logic”
Fred ignored her and carried on his speech that Trudy had heard many, many times before.
“What with me smoking my ‘roll-ups’ and liking a pint or three of ale in the evening I can hardly be high on the list of eligible people in these parts. Let’s face it Trudy that were the reason for my three marriages to date to fall apart.”
He sighed and carried on.

[Three months later]
Trudy came to ‘do the books’ and send the all-important VAT returns off before they were overdue. Despite all his failings Fred was always careful with the slips of paper he called receipts. Sometimes they were screwed up or even used as bits of drawings when the back of the inevitable ‘fag’ packet was not big enough.
Some of the people she also ‘did for’ were far shoddier with their records than Fred.
“How doo Fred? Made that Million yet?”

This was a standing joke between them.
“Not yet lass. Anyday soon”
They both laughed.
This was a common greeting for the pair.

“Is everything ready for me?”
“Aye Lass. As usual it is all there for you to work your magic. I think me & Bert may well have had a good quarter and most people have paid up” he replied somehow smiling yet still keeping his smouldering ‘butt’ from falling off his bottom lip.

“If you can find a bit extra in Bert’s wages this month, he wants to take his Missus to Blackpool for the Illuminations, I’d be grateful. Its their fortieth anniversary this year ”
“I expect so Fred. What about you? Can I put you down for a few new sets of overalls? Remember I get the VAT back”

Fred looked at the incredibly dirty & greasy one he had on. He couldn’t remember how old it was. The same went for his flat cap. That were the first thing the put on in the morning and the last he took off at night.

He shrugged his shoulders and gave out a big sigh
“Aye Lass do just that.”

He always called her Lass or Luv despite her actually being two full years older than him. None of her other clients dared do that but despite his often gruff exterior, Fred had a heart of solid gold and was a really nice man underneath. Trudy most certainly had a bit of a soft spot for him but she’d never let on about it lest her Tom found out about it.

A few hours later, Trudy was just finishing up the books and VAT return when the Phone Rang.
Normally, she’d let it ring and eventually, Fred would answer but she knew that he was out road testing his beloved Traction Engine ‘Ethel’.

She picked up the phone.
“Hello. Fred Barker, Iron & Steel Fabricators”

She breathed a sigh of relief. It was Tom, her husband.
“Hello Darling what’s up?”
“Yeah I remember. You said something a few days ago”
“He did eh? What a rat. As if he didn’t know”
She smiled.
“It does a bit doesn’t it…”
“Hold on Tom. Don’t you go putting your size 13’s into this! You know how prickly Fred can be at times. Let me work out how to ‘set him up’”
“Yeah. I will. Love you”
She put the phone down and sat for a long time staring into space.

[One Month Later][Fred never moves fast unless it is to get out of the way of a falling Chimney or Tree]

“Fred, for the umpteenth time, Sally is a nice girl. She won’t bite you”
“I dunno Trudy. I’m sort of stuck in my ways here”
“Fred! It is just one date. I’m signing you up for Blackburn Registry Office”
She nearly added ‘just yet’ but thought better of it.
“What’ll I wear? About the only think I have is my black suit”

“Frederick Dobson! If that moth eaten thing comes out of your Wardrobe for owt but Funerals then you can do your own books from now on”
He looked at her. Then he realised she was making sense. She only called him Frederick to his face when she was angry.
“I’d better get off down to Skinners and see what they have got to offer”

Trudy laughed.
“Fred! They closed down, what near on 10 year ago”
He looked very guilty indeed.
“Look Fred. I’ll take thee into Wigan on Saturday. Rovers are at home against United so most of the shops will be shut anyway”
Begrudgingly, he nodded his head.

[One week later]
“Well, Trudy how do I look?”
“Fine apart from the fag end hanging off your Bottom Lip”

He smiled back.
Fred had been through the wringer, literally. Three complete changes of water in the bath, a trip to the Barbers ( £15.00 for a haircut? You have to be joking) and wearing his New (How Much?  £150? I’d better be buried in this one then) suit & shoes, he looked half presentable.
“Then lets be off courting then”
Trudy sighed.
He’d never change even in a million years.
She wondered if the other more famous local ‘Fred’ Fabricator & Steeplejack, Fred Dibnah had been as awkward as this one. With him having died a few years ago, this one was more of a local celebrity than a national one. Still, she knew of at least 20 men of a similar age to Fred. They were just as cantankerous as Fred but had hearts of gold. They all got their hands dirty, wore overalls & a flat cap every day except to Weddings & Funerals.

“The Taxi will be here in an hour. So no going down the workshop in between times and getting your new clothes all mucky. Ok?”
He just glared back at her as if to say, I’ve spent a lot of me hard earned cash so I’ll get dirty if I want to.
Trudy on the other-hand knew he wouldn’t at least this once.

“How will I know her?”
“She will find you. I keep telling you that she’s met you before”
“And I still can’t place this lass among the people I met over at Winthrop Engineering in Skipton all the times I was there”
“Just meet her and I’m sure you will remember her”

Fred arrived at the Hotel where they were going to meet 15 minutes early. Despite this, his date was there before him.
“Fred? I was wondering if you’d turn up,” said Sally as she came up to him in the bar.

She did a small curtsey.
“That’s me. Sally Field”
Fred looked at her hard for a few seconds.
“I still can’t place you. The face is a bit familiar though”
Sally went red in the face.
“Why don’t we sit down and get to know each other?”
Trudy had briefed her about Fred’s directness.

They found a table and Fred headed off to buy them a rounds of drinks. When he tried to order two pints of Old Peculiar. The barman told him that the ‘Hotel’ didn’t serve pints which made Fred a bit irritated. He had to settle for a couple of bottles but because of her choice of drink, Sally was already on his good side.

As he carried them back to the table, he realised who Sally was.
For a split second he almost turned and ran but the Gentleman in him prevented him from doing so.

As he sat down with the drinks, he said.
“I know now”
Sally looked crestfallen. She’d hoped that it wouldn’t be until much later that her secret was revealed.
His next words shocked her even more.
“I take it Trudy is in on this?”
Sally nodded. She looked really sad.
“Cheer up lass” said Fred trying to get his big size 12’s out of the mess they were in.

“We are both here looking all spick & span and ready to eat summat nice. There is a table booked in my name so why don’t we try to enjoy the evening”
He raised his glass. Reluctantly, Sally did the same.
He looked at his watch.
“Do you have somewhere to go?” asked Sally.
“No lass. I was just wondering where the Head Man is with the menus. It’s past time for our booking”

Fred sat back.
“I know them old so called workmates of your’n thought you were a bit queer. They kept telling me so whenever I came over to your place. I can’t get my head around the change from then to now.”
A tear was almost forming in her eye.

“Don’t get me wrong Lass, you scrub up very well indeed”

Those words coming from Fred were a real compliment. Trudy had told her about the sort of compliments Fred might give. According to Trudy, Fred had just given her top marks. There might be a change yet she thought to herself.
“So what happened? Well, I can see the end result buy how & why?”

Trudy’s lesson on Fred’s bluntness was paying off. If that had come from anyone else, it would have been an insult but from Fred it was merely a question.

“I won the Lottery. You know that Euro Millions thing on a Friday night. IT was a double ‘Roll-Over’”
Fred laughed.
“At least you won’t be after me money then. Not like the last floozy I were dating a year or so back”
Again, Trudy’s lessons prevented her from taking that the wrong way.

“I quit my job there & then. I didn’t tell them nowt though. I’d appreciate you doing the same Fred?”
“Aye. There’d be a lot of them folk beating a path to your door if them’s knew your good fortune”
Sally smiled back at him.
“He was right but for totally the wrong reason”
“They were right you know” she said quietly.
“Right about what?” asked Fred.
“Me being a bit queer. Not fancying women and everything”

Fred thought for several seconds.

“The way I sees it Lass, is that you are up shit creek whichever way you look at it. I mean that if you were a fella and fancied other fellas they call you queer. If you fancied women you’d also be called queer. And from where I sit, you are certainly neither of them and I’ll deck anyone who says otherwise”
He took a sip of beer.
As he did so, Sally let his words sink in.

As she saw it, apparently, Fred saw her as a woman and not as some bloke dressed in a skirt. Her heart raced a bit.
“Thank you Fred. No one has put it quite like that.”

Just then the waiter appeared with their menus.
“You table is ready Sir”

When they were seated in the almost empty dining room, Fred took one look at the dishes on offer and the seemingly outrageous priced they were charging for a bit of Chicken with no veggies and certainly no Onion Gravy, he put the menu down and calmly said to Sally.

“I dunno about you Lass but this is all sounding a bit poncy for me. How’s about we make a quick exit. I know of a really good chippy not far away”

Sally smiled.
“Would that be Chinese Harry’s by any chance?”
“Aye it would that”
“Come on then. “ she replied grinning from ear to ear.
“Their Haddock Batter is something to die for”
“What are we waiting for then?”
As they stood upm Fred downed the last of the Theakstone’s
“No sense in letting good beer go to waste even if it comes from wrong side of t’Pennines”
Sally turned and did the same.

“Hey, I was born in Halifax you know”
“I know. Your accent gives the game away. I bet you grew up in Heckmondwyte as well?”
Sally didn’t answer but made her move and coupled her arm in his as they walked out of the Hotel.
Fred didn’t resist.
On the way out she saw their reflection in a mirror. Fred was smiling.

Sitting on a park bench eating a ‘fish supper’ out of paper was not what Sally had thought about happening for a first date but when it happened, it just felt right.

They spent the next two hours just talking. She told him about what had happened after she quit her job in Skipton. Fred told her about his three failed marriages. All about the women who couldn’t put up with ‘Ethel’ often coming first.
It sort of cleared the air.

The hardest part for Fred was understanding the ‘why’. He made no bones about understanding that.

“Give it time Lass. Mebee I’ll get it in the end” were his only words on the subject.
At the end of the evening, he gave her the briefest of kisses on one cheek.
They parted with the promise that Fred would call her before the week was out.

For Sally, that week was never ending.
Well past the end of it and he still hadn’t phoned.
In desperation, she called Trudy.

“Hi Trudy”
“I’m fine. I was hoping to hear from Fred?” It was a sort of half plead, half question.
She breathed a sigh of relief when she heard Trudy’s answer.

“A heart attack? When did that happen?”
“Three days ago! That long. Why didn’t someone let me know.”
Sally realised that was a bit too forcing so she tried to change the subject a bit.
“When is Bert expected to be out of Hospital?”
Fred obviously had other things on his mind.

Fred called almost a week later than he should have.
“That’s ok Fred. Trudy told me about Bert.”
“A quadruple bypass? That sounds bad”
“Retiring eh. Well that is to be expected. When is he 65?”

“Oh, I see. Two years over. Then he deserves a decent retirement”
Then there was a pause.
Then Sally heard the words she’d been hoping for.
“Next Friday? I think I’m free”
“That would be nice Fred. I’ll see you then”

[Three months later]
Fred was getting smart for another date with Sally.
“Where you off to this time Fred?” asked Trudy who had been doing the books.
“A friend of mines got his ‘Victorian’ Steam Launch coming up the Anderton Canal Lift this afternoon. I thought me & Sal would take a little jaunt down there and see it.”

She sighed.
“You really know the most romantic places to take a Lass on a date don’t you?”
“Especially as Ethel is just about ready for steaming” he remarked.
Ethel was the name of Fred’s Traction Engine.
“She can wait another week can’t she”
“Yeah. Sally has been a real help with the painting though”
“True romance is dead as far as you are concerned.”
Fred gave her a look. She knew when to tread carefully.
“Anyways’ Sal says she has summat to show me when we are down that way. Won’t say what though. I don’t suppose you know pet?”

Trudy laughed.
“I don’t know Fred. Even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you.”

Fred knew from her tone that it was the end of the conversation. He picked up his favourite ‘flat cap’ and put it on his head.
“Fred Dobson? You are not going on a date wearing that thing” cried Trudy.
“That cap. It is filthy. Didn’t Sally buy you a new one just a week or so back?”
“Aye she did. But it just don’t feel right on me head”
Trudy held out her hand.

Reluctantly, Fred removed the cap from his head and retrieved the new one from his desk drawer.
He put it on his head.
He didn’t wait for an answer, he beat a hasty retreat to his van.

The lovely weather made the short ride on the Steam Launch to the Lift basin very pleasurable for all on board.
While Fred’s friend went to sort out the procedure for the lifting, Sally sat at the stern of the Launch with Fred. She’d worn a lovely summer frock for the day. Fred had to admit to himself, she really looked the part.

“Fred, when we are done here, I’ve something I’d like to show you”
“What’s that Sal?” replied Fred suddenly brought back from his little day dream.
“I’ll tell thee when we get there”

“Where’s there?”
“When we get there”
He sighed.

There was a little more silence.

Then Fred reached into his suit pocket and pulled out an object.
“Sal, I wondered if you’d like this”
She looked at it.
It was a metal ring.
It had a mysterious blue hue to it.

“What’s this?”
“It’s a ring. What else could it be?”
Without waiting for an answer, he pulled her left hand up and slipped it over her ‘ring’ finger.
“Fred Dobson! Are you trying to propose to me?”
“Aye Lass. I am that”
She didn’t answer but kissed him.

When they eventually broke for some air Sally asked in a quiet voice.
“Does it matter about me and what folk might say?”
“Nah Lass. You are far more a woman than wither of my ex’s could ever be. Besides, where am I going to find someone who can turn to a tenth like what you can eh? Especially now that Bert’s gone & retired to Morecambe of all places. Just answer me that?”

“Fred, you really know how to turn someone off”
“I do that lass. I do that”
They both laughed.

Sally fingered the ring on her finger. There were six small diamonds embedded in the metal.
“Fred, what’s this made of?”
“Oh that? I had a wee bit of Nmenonic 80 lying around. Had to use up 6 diamond tipped tools to get it like that. That’s why they are embedded in it. No sense in wasting good compressed carbon is there?

Just then one of the other boats in the lift body drew their attention. A radio was playing one of Fred’s favourite songs. From an era when you could hear the melody & understand the lyrics of a song.

“… Mockingbird don’t sing”

“Buy me a diamond ring”
He took his cue.
“Aye lass, we can get some real diamonds fitted to that ring at some point if you’d like to that is.”

Sally didn’t care in the slightest.
She just kissed him long and hard.
How many men could have even attempted to make an engagement ring? Let alone use the things they had at hand to make it totally unique.
She knew that Fred was a one in a million.

“As long as it won’t go rusty and make my finger all black Fred”
“Ney Lass it won’t do that. At least in this Millennium, or the next probably”

She never did get to show him her surprise that day. Somehow, it didn’t really matter. It could wait for another day.
On that day, the mocking bird would really sing its wonderful song.

[The end]

[Authors note]
Despite the resemblance to Fred Dibnah, forty years ago I knew several people who could have easily been Fred. The closect was Claude. He was into all things steam, wore a dirty boiler suit and a greasy Cap and smoked Roll-ups. Despite his name, he was born in Rawtenstall, Lancashire. Claude taught me to how to use the different grades of silver solder on a 5in Gauge GWR King Boiler in early 1972. I still have the Loco (6014) in my garage.

To Claude…

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