"Piss off you prick teasing bitch!"
"Piss off yourself, you think you're God's gift to women and you have no idea how to treat one. You're just an arsehole!"
"You're all take and no give, bitch."
"Well you haven't much to give."
From my quiet corner in the pub I watched the sparring between Sarah Lee, an attractive late teenager and Dave Bignael, a soccer player in the local league. Eventually the barman stepped in and asked them to take their row elsewhere and not to disturb the rest of his customers.
"I'm going now, this is no place for a woman when vermin like him are in here," Sarah spat angrily, turning to get her coat.
Knowing she lived a mile across town in a less than salubrious area and the last bus had gone, I finished my shandy, grabbed my anorak and quietly followed her. "What do you want, Neanderthal Man?" she yelled when she realised I followed her.
"I'm going to escort you home, whether or not you want me to. It's not safe for a young girl to be out alone on the Bowthorpe Estate."
Ten years previously, at fourteen, I'd put on a growth spurt and stood taller and broader than all my classmates, this together with my slightly stooping posture coinciding with a series called 'Origins' on BBC TV, earned me the nickname of 'Neanderthal Man' or, more frequently these days, 'Ned'. My unassuming, quiet nature, labelled me as 'harmless' to most girls but they only sort my company when they had a computer problem they needed someone to fix without costing the earth.
"I don't need an escort!"
"I hope you don't, but I'm here if you do."
We'd barely entered the Bowthorpe Estate when I spotted two youths lounging against a wall, looking in her direction. I hurriedly caught up with her and clasped her hand, and fortunately she'd seen them as well and didn't make a fuss.
"Wanna hand with 'er mate?" one asked with a leer.
Standing to my full height, I replied, "Nope, I can manage." Fortunately my size daunted them and they accepted it and didn't stop us.
I continued to hold her hand until we reached the door of her block of flats where she quickly released it and with a quick, "Thanks Ned," fled inside.
Dave Bignael together with his boisterous cronies and a couple of girls, were in the pub when I entered on a Friday evening a fortnight later. I nearly left because of the noise they were making but decided to have one drink and had hardly settled in my usual corner when Sarah arrived together with a slightly older girl, who stood a head taller than Sarah. Her buxom figure and sombre dress attracted my attention but I didn't expect to meet her. Seeing and hearing Dave, Sarah came to me, "May we join you Ned?" I agreed of course and she went on to introduce her companion, "This is Marion Scott, Marion, meet 'Neanderthal Man' or Ned, sorry I can't remember his real name."
"Michael, Michael Edwards."
During the course of the evening I learned she studied accountancy in the local college and expected to graduate in a few months. "That accounts for her suit and jacket style of dress," Sarah joked. I'd noticed.
Marion's dark suit reflected her reserved, quiet nature, and I soon found that our conversational skills matched, and only Sarah's bubbly personality kept us together, at least until a lad came and took her to the pool room, then we lapsed into intermittent mundane sentences. Despite that I enjoyed her company and learned she had a temporary job with a local firm of accountants while another woman was on maternity leave. In turn she learned that I owned a small computer repair business.
We met at the pub on the following Friday and again three weeks later, each time she arrived with Sarah and each time, a different boy whisked Sarah away and left Marion and me together. "I think Sarah's playing matchmaker," I commented.
"Not much chance of that." Marion forcefully dashed any hope I had of her becoming more than a drinking acquaintance.
On the Friday before Christmas, with the pub more crowded than usual and everyone in a festive mood, Marion sat next to me and Sarah left to join a party of friends across the room. I'd had a couple more drinks than normal, and wondered if I dared ask Marion to go to a pantomime with me. With the loud noise in the room, I sat close to her and tentatively slid my arm along the back of the seat and around her shoulders. Her reaction was immediate and unexpected. Abruptly standing, she glared at me and raised her hand. For a moment I feared she would slap my face but she controlled herself, lowered her hand and grabbing her purse said, "Tell Sarah I'm getting the early bus." I didn't see her in the pub again and mostly sat alone on a Friday evening because if Sarah came, she no longer spoke to me.
"Hi Ned," Sarah's cheerful voice came through on the phone and I rightly guessed she wanted me for something, "Would you mind having a look at a friend's computer? It's Carol Simes, and she's in the same dorm block as me, she's a student too and I suggested you as you wouldn't overcharge her."
"It just went completely dead," Carol informed me. After a few tests I said she'd need a new power unit that would only cost a few pounds. "Sarah said you'd charge me for the parts but I could pay for the labour in other ways." She wriggled her body suggestively.
"If you are expecting me to have sex with you, Sarah told you wrong, however, I want to go to the Classical Concert at the Regent on Saturday evening and would appreciate your accompanying me to that. I'll buy the tickets." She agreed and I only charged her for the unit. Saturday evening she didn't show and when I phoned her mobile, she said, "Sorry Ned, Mark came by and we're going to a disco." That pissed me off and I resolved never to make the same mistake again.
Mid March Sarah phoned again and I curtly told her. "I'm not taking any more freebee computer jobs for your friends, not when they cannot even come to a concert with me."
"You remember Marion?" I grunted something unintelligible. "Well she's in a terrible state. Her computer with all her dissertation on it has given up and she's only a month before she has to hand it in. We took it to 'Bytes' but they said it would cost more to repair than the old computer was worth and that recovery of the data would be horrendously expensive even if it were possible. Please, Ned, see if you can help her. She's out of work now so she can't afford much and if she cannot get her data back, she won't be able to graduate."
Marion looked fearfully at me when Sarah virtually dragged me into the room as soon as the door opened and I knew Marion hadn't wanted me to even look at the computer. "If you can fix it Ned, I'll pay you the going rate as soon as I get a job but at the moment, I have almost no money. I won't be paying Carol's way by spending a night in bed with you. Let me make that clear before you look at what is wrong."
"The bitch! Is that what she's saying?" I explained what happened and I think in the end she believed me. "What happened with your computer?"
"A week ago the hard drive started clicking so I backed my stuff up to disc but then the clicking stopped and I carried on using it and two days ago, a message came up briefly saying something like POL POT and it all went dead. Screen lights up but I can't do anything, I just get the blue screen."