A Place for Everything

Submitted into Contest #54 in response to: Write a story about a TV show called "Second Chances."... view prompt

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General

You know the old (and not very complimentary joke) about someone having a “good face for radio”. Well, I’ve been told I have a good voice for television, and I’m not sure that’s much more of a compliment either. Oh, not that I’m against voice-overs, and when it comes to trying to earn some money instead of what I’ve rarely heard anyone actually call resting, it beats pot washing or flogging time shares. 

     Anyway, I suppose partly as a result of my family coming from different parts of the country, and moving around quite a bit when I was in my teens, I don’t have any obvious accent, neither one of the ones folk like nor the ones that grate – which is hideously unfair, but the trouble is, people genuinely do prefer a soft Scots accent or a Geordie one to a Brummie twang or Essex Estuary, and I don’t know how we can do anything about it. My accent isn’t posh, for all some say it is, and isn’t quite standard Received Pronunciation, but it’s sort of Everyvoice. The kind that doesn’t tend to annoy anyone, but not to be anyone’s favourite either. 

     I won’t deny it, I was pleased when I was offered a chance to work on the new daytime show Second Chances. There was a certain irony (or fittingness, if you prefer) to the fact that one of the co-presenters, Stephanie (call me Steph) Dwyer was being given a second chance of her own after that unfortunate business during her spell on Breakfast TV. True, it was just before Christmas, and true, she wasn’t the only woman who would have welcomed the chance to get a little intimate with Rick Molloy – who was actually a very genuine and intelligent person despite his tag of soap hunk, which conjures up a somewhat bizarre mental image. But Steph had been at the sherry, and quite possibly at the brandy as well and let’s just say it was as well it was on a commercial channel so they could cut to the ad break. The other presenter, Nico Robins, wouldn’t have minded being a soap hunk himself, but hadn’t yet received the offer.

     It was the kind of show that had almost been done before, and not quite. Or if anyone had seen a version of it, it was good manners not to mention it. It wasn’t one of those shows that repaired stuff, or at least not as the main thrust of the programme, and didn’t exactly preach recycling or (heaven forfend!) getting rid of your clutter. 

     Basically (and I know that’s one of those red rag words for some folk, but it’s also undeniably useful!) it invited people to produce some item of furniture or (on occasion) apparel that had been hanging around and was literally in the last chance saloon before the decision about giving it a second chance

     And as Steph and Nico sat in the studio, looking intense and empathetic, but ever so slightly stern, I informed people about the items destined to be reprieved. Or not. I was Charlotte, the voice of the Second Chance. Whether the alliteration helped me get the job, I will probably never know. 

     Anyway, to the accompaniment of tinkly piano music (or occasionally violins, or even, if the producers thought it was justified, the two together, I provided the voiceover. Most of it was scripted, of course, and though I had some facility with words, I wasn’t sorry. But I was allowed to “embellish” a little. That word seemed oddly apt. Like the little decorations that keen crafters often put on their creations, especially their cards, when sometimes they would frankly be better without them.  But if the script referred to, say, a “horse-hair stuffed settee”, then I could say something along the lines of “A horse-hair and memory stuffed settee”, and a “brass-framed mirror” could have “seen a thousand reflections”. I did once push that to “a thousand reflections of love and hope and fear and courage” but one of the producers politely pointed out that I wasn’t writing for Harlequin

     Things were shot in – not exactly soft focus, and certainly with no sepia tints or the like, but in a way that evoked a costume drama more than a property show. The owners of the relevant objects were presented, but often played second fiddle. Theoretically they had free rein over whether their artefacts got a “second chance” or not, but there were most definitely nudges. At least if they wanted their five minutes of fame. 

     Not that I had any jurisdiction over it, but in most cases, as an unrepentant clutter-bug myself, I would have given practically everything a second chance, and positively coveted some of the items. How could anyone even think of parting with that standard lamp with the beautifully carved stand, or that pair of plaques with the three dimensional Dutch (at least I think it was meant to be Dutch) scenes on them, or that long case clock with the sonorous chime (though I’d probably have stopped it chiming the quarter hours!). We (by which I mean the production company) had certain obligations. If our “experts” thought an item was potentially high value, we were obliged to tell the owners so they could choose to sell it on the open market, and if it contained either anything now deemed morally unacceptable (such as ivory) or potentially dangerous (such as lead) it would not feature on the programme. Our researchers also operated what they termed, though never, of course, to perspective participants, a tat filter. If anyone thought that rug with stains and holes in it, or that quilt the moths had made their own was going to get them on the telly, they had another think coming.

     Naturally, some items were “borderline”. I was surprised that the old TV cabinet passed the tat filter. Now there are some of these that can be converted into nice pieces of furniture, but this wasn’t one of them. It was just MDF with a pine veneer, and a great big hole where the TV had once been, and where no modern flat screen one would fit. Even the drawers were fake, and one of the knobs was missing. “It’s not even bonfire night soon,” said Nico (behind the scenes of course). My script leaned heavily on the era, waxing as lyrical as one could without seeming ridiculous about the seventies (the sound track almost, but not quite, meandered into hints of Slade and Bay City Rollers songs). I found it hard to read some of it with a straight face and, more importantly in a voiceover, without an ironic tone that screamed “You cannot be serious” (thanks, Mr McEnroe) without actually saying it. And this is coming from someone who has sung the praises of toilet cleaners and pizza flavoured cat food. They should have consulted Garfield and at least made it lasagne. 

     Anyway, I thought, doing it on autopilot, I’m not even sure it’s strictly speaking accurate. They almost certainly did make these in the 70s, but I can remember then from the 80s, when I was little. Rhoda had one. Rhoda was our next door neighbour but one. Her own grandchildren were thousands of miles away, in Canada, and she’d taken quite a shine to me. At her insistence I didn’t call her Mrs Somerfield, and didn’t call her Auntie Rhoda, I called her just Rhoda. The truth is, I’d have liked to call her Grandma – there was a definite Grandma-shaped hole in my life, as one had died when I was only little, and the other before I was born. But I knew what she’d have had to say about that, and didn’t want to spoil things. 

     That was an era when TVs tended to go to extremes, and be either enormous or tiny. We had the latter, and Rhoda had the former. There was something rather indulgent about visiting Rhoda. The thing is about my parents, they weren’t the kind who made a big show of forbidding things, but biscuits and sweets just didn’t tend to be in the house that often, and there were shelves of children’s classics. Now I’m not knocking that. To this day, the likes of The Secret Garden and Tom’s Midnight Garden are among my favourite books – but I liked to supplement them with the Secret Seven and Midnight Feasts. And oh, how I loved watching Rhoda’s big fat television in its cabinet. I remembered once I had a cold (that was back in the days when you weren’t threatened with fines if you dared to keep your child off school if they weren’t at death’s door – or course unless the government ordained otherwise!) and as both my parents worked, Rhoda said she’d look after me. “But no point to paying to heat your house all day while you’re out. Bring her round to mine!” It really wasn’t strictly necessary to wrap me in a blanket, but I didn’t object. Despite having a sniffly nose and a sore throat, that day was the nearest, I thought, I could get to heaven (though I rather guiltily told myself that of course it couldn’t really be heaven without my parents). Rhoda fed me cough candy and tinned chicken soup (which I privately much preferred to Mum’s home made variety) and I curled up on her sofa – which, by the way, wasn’t horse-hair stuffed, but modern and comfortable, and we watched daytime TV on her big fat television. Though it was a miserable day, one of those that are nominally in early spring but feel more like winter or worse, there were bright daffodils and roses in the room – artificial ones. My parents wouldn’t give houseroom to artificial flowers, though when I could afford to pay for them in my own room, they didn’t make an issue of it.

     Suddenly, instead of struggling to keep a sarcastic tone out of my voice, I was struggling to hold back a catch in it. I knew that Rhoda would not have wanted me to be sad in the least – she had lived into her 90s with her wits about her, and though she wasn’t a person to talk much about such things, had quietly said she was looking forward to seeing her husband again, though she wondered if he’d be looking forward to seeing her. I liked to think she would be proud of me ending up on daytime TV!

     I had a word with the “powers that be” and to be honest, neither they nor the owners needed much persuasion. It was technically a breech of the rules, but one that did nobody any harm whatsoever, even if some did probably suspect I was slightly mad. 

     I found a table that was just the right size, and took a vase that I had picked up at a second hand shop, and put the table behind the TV cabinet, and the vase on it, and filled it with artificial daffodils and roses. Rhoda would probably say “Now that’s being SILLY!” But I think, underneath, she’d approve!

August 13, 2020 06:46

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10 comments

Avery G.
15:29 Aug 13, 2020

Wow, cool story! I love how you kept it funny. Great job!

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16:54 Aug 20, 2020

What a sweet story. I had no trouble visualizing the giant tv cabinet but I did wonder why the table went behind it. In my mind, the cabinet was a pass-through, so it made more sense to me that the vase would be in the cabinet, not behind it. That is a failure of my imagination, I'm sure, because otherwise this story is seamless.

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Tariq Saeed
15:36 Aug 19, 2020

Deborah,you know what does this style call,Topsy Turvy.You did it very well.

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Keerththan 😀
03:25 Aug 18, 2020

Great story. Funny too. Your stories are amazing. Great job, Deborah. Would you mind reading my story "secrets don't remain buried?"

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Pamela Saunders
15:18 Aug 17, 2020

I really like this story overall - the context was really nice and I could visualise the objects and I liked how you narrated it. I just can't quite visualise the main object, the TV stand though, or how it ended up. I would have liked more description of it to clarify for example did it look as if the flowers were on it, or inside it (glass doors?) It's just a bit of a niggle for me. (would love an actually drawn illustration :D ) One other thing I think if you had used an alternative to "big, fat" twice, such as enormous, that might ...

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Deborah Mercer
06:13 Aug 18, 2020

Thank you for your kind comments, and the ones about actually visualising it are justified, but trust me, if I tried to draw it, you'd have even less idea :-)

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Pamela Saunders
16:26 Aug 18, 2020

LOL The only type of TV stand I can think of from way back was the type with the doors on the front that hide the TV when they're shut. I can't remember any with a hole in them. But the gist of the story was still good, I just wish I knew more exactly how it looked.

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Katina Foster
18:19 Aug 15, 2020

Funny and sweet! I like that you made the main character the voice actor instead of a host. The one sentence that I kept tripping over was, "Rhoda was our next door neighbour but one." I think you meant bought? Very enjoyable story, good work!

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Deborah Mercer
12:52 Aug 14, 2020

Thank you both for kind comments!

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D. Holmes
05:31 Aug 14, 2020

"I did once push that to 'a thousand reflections of love and hope and fear and courage' but one of the producers politely pointed out that I wasn’t writing for Harlequin." This line is hilarious :D

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