Harriet was walking home in the late summer sun. She was feeling positive, and it had been a rare good day off. She had spent the day following up leads on workshops, railways arches, and smaller shared industrial units at Theraton Business Park.
Theraton was a market town, the sort where tourist bought souvenirs, crafts, and drank fancy coffee. There wasn’t any particular thing that attracted tourists, just shopping and it’s historic feel, the remnants of a town known for being a place to trade goods for the whole of its long existence as a settlement. Most of the commercial property was expensive shop fronts in the town centre mainly used for coffee shops, craft beer bars, and independent clothing and jewellery shops. There was very little in the form of workshop space in Theraton, except for a huge swathe of light industrial and warehousing units mixed in with offices that housed mostly agencies and call centres. Those were all far too expensive for Harriet, and aside from being too big also came with a ridiculous amount of service charges on top of the rent.
But Harriet had found a small secluded workshop building that was being refurbished, not too far from the town centre near Theraton Road Station. It was owned by an older man who seemed to be retiring from some sort of trade work and looking to rent it out. It came with conditions but nothing that Harriet thought would be a problem, if it was as genuine as it seemed. For that moment there really seemed to be a future that Harriet could look forward to, doing something she loves, being her own boss, taking her own chances. It was a good dream for her to hold onto if she could make it happen. Harriet felt a spring in her step as she walked back over the Uffta Bridge and turned right along Station Road towards home.
As Harriet rounded the corner into her road, she felt a heavy weight descend into the pit of her stomach. Marie’s car! The red Fiat 500 with the white stripe was in the permit holders bay outside the town house that Harriet lived in with Marie. Marie shouldn’t be home yet. She really shouldn’t.
What was she doing home so early? There’s still the busy afternoon teatime at the café! All I wanted was to come home and think about things. Harriet’s heart sank and her footsteps felt heavier. She closed her eyes for a moment and sighed a heavy breath, and the road suddenly felt like an up hill trudge.
As Harriet was about to put her key in the door it was flung wide open.
“And where have you been today?” Marie was visibly angry.
Harriet squeezed past Marie and into the kitchen to sit down.
“I was looking at a potential workshop space.” she said quietly.
“You’re actually gonna do this then?” Marie glared as she stomped in and leaned against the worktop, arms folded across her chest.
“It’s what I want to do, try to do, to try to make a proper go of it.”
“And what about me? Are you just going to walk away from everything I have done for you?”
“No, but…” Harriet felt so small sitting at the table. Her head dropped into her hands and she felt a lump building in her throat.
“No, but? Well you can’t do both. I gave you a job, trained you…”
Marie was spitting with anger, more anger then Harriet had seen for a while.
Harriet could feel the anger and the fear rising inside herself too, the anger won out. “Yeah, to serve tea and cake, like that needed a lot of training. I helped build the café!”
“Yeah, ok, you did a bit of crappy DIY. But I built my café! With my money, my plans, my brains! I gave you a roof over your head in MY house! I loved you, shared everything with you. Even let you do that stupid course. It was supposed to be a hobby, something to make you less boring…”
“It wasn’t a stupid course, and I’m not boring! I qualified, I am good at what I do, what I’ve always wanted to do.”
“Whatever! You have a shed to piss away your time in. My shed, in MY garden!”
“It is too small to make…”
“And what do you think you’re going to make in a workshop then? Furniture? And who do you think is going to buy that from you, little Miss Chippendale! You’re gonna have to sell a lot of little garden planters and bird boxes to pay for workshop rent aren’t you!”
“I found a place that I can afford. There’s an agreement on the rent if I want it, the Landlord said ‘peppercorn rent’, if I do some work…”
“Oh yeah, I can see where that’s going. Personal favours to get a few quid off the rent. I bet you were keen to offer him that one!” Marie mimed a sex act in a disgusting manner.
The thought of those words burned Harriet deeply and brought tears to her eyes. “Shut up, its not like that, I’d be building stuff for a project.”
“Yeah, right! And don’t think I’ll be keeping your job open after you’ve worked your notice, either!”
“Well you can’t be in your ‘workshop’ doing your ‘personal services’ and still work in the café, so I’ll take that as your resignation then, shall I?”
“But… Fine. Cool. Whatever.”
With that Harriet walked out as Marie continued to shout behind her. Harriet was angry and upset, and she wasn’t sure where she was going but after five years waiting tables for Marie she need to get away and do something practical with her life again. As much as she loved Marie…
Did she actually love Marie? Harriet wasn’t sure any more.
It was good in the early days, and even when Marie decided she wanted to open a café. Harriet did a lot of the practical work, building the counter, assembling all the furniture and decorating to make the place look nice, to save Marie some money. Not that Marie needed to save money, Marie always seemed to have more then enough money, more then her earning potential seemed to suggest. But after the café became successful Marie became stifling, controlling, and Harriet felt their relationship was going nowhere. Everything revolved around Marie, and Marie’s café, and what Marie wanted. Harriet was working long hours in Café Marie, often unpaid to ‘help grow the business’ as Marie put it. At home Harriet even took on all the household chores so that Marie could focus on the business, making plans, thinking about future trends in coffee sales. Harriet was already doing all the washing up and so it made sense to take over the cooking too. Then there was all the laundry, and the ironing, and the shopping, and keeping the house clean so that Marie would be ‘calm’ at home.
Then there was the shouting.
Harriet was shouted at for not cleaning the house, even when she had been at work all day on a double shift because Marie let someone else have a day off. Shouted at because the grocery bill was more then usual and she couldn’t find the yogurt Marie wanted. Shouted at because the washing machine flooded and Marie had to have that particular dress clean and ironed. Harriet had changed to suit Marie, she had started wearing the pretty frocks and short dresses Marie liked, bleached her hair blonde, wore make up and heeled shoes, became a waitress and a household skivvy.
What was it all for? It wasn’t what Harriet was, nor believed herself to be, but it had been so long, and so much, that she could hardly remember who she really was any more. She had long ago stopped being Harriet and was just Marie’s girlfriend, Marie’s waitress, Marie’s maid, Marie’s whipping boy whenever something wasn’t as Marie wanted it to be.
Harriet had felt the first moment of release when she finally plucked up the courage to enrol at college a couple of years earlier. She felt so old as a mature learner around all the teenagers, but was determined to enjoy herself, and she did. It was hard convincing Marie that it was a good idea, but as Harriet had paid the course fees and just needed to change her shifts a bit, and work a bit harder at home…
There was an argument then too, but that passed when she started bringing home little bits of project work that wowed Marie, or at least seemed to at the time. There seemed to be a little honeymoon period when Marie gave Harriet the use of her shed and even bought some tools and equipment, instead of clothes and jewellery, for birthday and Christmas presents. It all seemed to be coming back together with Marie then, but once in a while, and mostly as final exams became due, Marie seemed to begrudge Harriet spending more time in the shed making and studying, and the arguments became more heated.
Harriet found herself walking back to the workshop she had viewed earlier. She didn’t have an appointment now, nor did she need one to stand outside just looking and thinking. Dreaming.
Peppercorn rent, what was there to lose? And a built in project to work on too.
When you are young, conventionally pretty, and not so interested in college, the offer of some modelling work was too good to turn down. There was never a lot of work, but it was regular, and paid well. Well, it seemed to pay well when you were young and living at home, or flat sharing with friends. It was mostly clothing magazines, some advertisements, the occasional holiday brochure, but nothing really big. Nothing on TV, or advertising hoardings, nothing anyone could put her name to. But equally nothing sordid either. Even the agent seemed nice, if a little ineffective.
Of course, after fifteen, or was it nearer twenty, years of the same old same old, interspaced with part time and temporary work in admin, call centres, and… To be honest, thought Daisy, most of my modelling career was admin work and call centres.
And the jobs she was getting now solicited more mutterings of ‘Photoshop’ then it used to. Even the hand modelling, the work she liked best, tended to be more winter wear then jewellery and watches.
Where does one go with that? Daisy had no useful academic qualifications, no realistic career path, well, not ones she’d entertain despite the offers, and time seemed to be running out. Even the temping agencies were tutting at her lack of up to date skills.
While there was still some work coming in Daisy felt she needed to make plans. At thirty-seven she was still flat sharing (though now her flat mates saw her more like the sensible matriarch of the house then her fashion model career would suggest) and chasing agencies for any odd scraps of zero hours gigs she could find.
Daisy was sensible though. She hadn’t frittered away her earnings, never did drugs, didn’t smoke, hardly drank… She had wondered if that was why she wasn’t a famous model, nothing for the tabloids to write about. But also maybe that’s why tabloids never knew she existed anyway! Daisy figured that she should see that as a bonus.
Daisy had savings. Her parents instilled that in her, despite not approving of her career path and lack of qualifications, they made sure she understood that even if she was successful, it wouldn’t last for ever.
She was at that stage now and she hadn’t become really successful either, they were right, and she was glad she took their advice and made it a rule in life. She was quietly proud of having been paying continuously into a savings account, and a private pension since she was eighteen, and grateful the pension company was still trading and solvent!
Daisy now felt she needed a proper job, and proper jobs needed proper qualifications. Daisy pondered her options. What sort of job? What sort of qualifications? How long would it take? How much would it cost?
She decided that there was no point looking at anything she wasn’t genuinely interested in doing, or would not be relevant to any career after the ‘however many’ years of study. Not media studies, or fashion, or photography.
Been there, done that. She thought. Turned the tee shirt into a floor cloth!
It would take actually going to a college to see what was on offer.
There is that time of the year when colleges suddenly become clothed in bright banners, declaring their success rates, and encouraging new learners to ‘apply within’ for the latest courses. The technical college in Theraton was no different.
Does one just walk in and enrol? Daisy wondered as she stopped to stare at a college poster at the bus stop by the supermarket.
Maybe not at the local Technical College she thought, rubbing shoulders with 16 year old apprentice plumbers and brick layers wasn’t really her thing, whatever her thing would turn out to be.
But still, got to start somewhere and maybe just going in to see what other courses there were, and getting an understanding of the process would help.
She decided it was worth a visit, as she walked home from the supermarket.
A few days later Daisy found herself standing inside the main doors of the Theraton Technical College. There was a large reception lobby separated from the road outside by a huge curving wall of glass and automatic doors. There were banners against the windows promoting construction courses with images of bright young faces in hard hats and safety glasses. At the far end were tables with signs adverting a queue for each area of study, foundation courses, literacy, and arts. Construction was divided into the various trades and took up most of the allocated space. In the lobby young men and women bustled around forming lines, and waving bits of paper. For a moment she felt like she was a Mum at the school gates looking out for an errant child who had forgotten their PE kit.
She turned to go but as she did so a voice enquired of her.
“Hello, I saw you standing there and was wondering if I could help at all. You seem a little lost. Are you looking for someone?”
It was an older man in a suit. The suit suggested management, but his complexion suggested he had probably spent a lot of his career outdoors.
“Oh, ummm, no. Not looking for someone, I was thinking of enrolling for a course.”
“Ahh, of course. What subject was you thinking of? Most of the course tutors here today are catering for apprenticeships, but we can still enrol you.”
“Oh, OK.” No time like the present, Daisy thought. “Do you do courses that are not building work?”
“Yes, we do. We have basic numeracy and literacy, a range of media studies, performing arts… Tell you what, take this and have a look to see if there is anything that suits you. We are enrolling all week.”
Daisy took the flashy corporate looking brochure, thanked the man before turning to leave. As she glanced at the brochure she wondered if there was something similar somewhere, lost in an old archive, with her face on the front. That would be a bit of history! she thought.
Daisy turned back and just caught the eye of the man again. “Umm…” She started while flicking through the brochure. “Do you have history courses?”