Hef first turned up at one of our meetings looking, and smelling, the worse for wear.
“Wife problems,” he said. “Can I come in?”
I was secretary of the Hoddesdon Model Railway Club. I looked at the huge, squint-eyed bloke swaying at the door, his overalls stained with oil and the smell of alcohol layering over a sulphurous reek, and decided he’d fit right in.
“Are you interested in trains?”
“Come in. We’re always looking for new members.”
“Can’t say I’m much of the joining kind.” But he signed the guest book where I indicated in a black scrawl, then held out his hand.
“Hef,” he said, crushing my fingers and half burning them too – he had the hottest hand I’ve ever grasped.
“My name’s Colin,” I said, “and I’m club secretary.”
“Good to meet you.” Hef looked over my shoulder at the assembled members of the Hoddesdon Model Railway Club. “No women. Good.”
“Oh, I’m sure we’d be happy to have some female members, it’s just that none have ever applied.”
“Make sure they don’t.”
“I can hardly stop…”
Hef left me bleating about equality legislation and fairness, and stomped into the clubhouse, over to where Barry was inspecting the skeleton of our new layout. He held out his hand, crushed Barry’s proffered reply, and slipped a pair of glasses over his nose.
“Now, what have you got here?”
I left them to discussing the finer points of the plan and set about arranging the chairs and putting out the agenda. Tonight was our annual general meeting and since we’d completed the move from our previous club house – which actually was in Hoddesdon, unlike our new premises down the line in Broxbourne – and had settled in nicely, I didn’t anticipate any problems.
“I move, under article 3, clause 4 of our constitution, that Colin is asked to step down as club secretary and I nominate Hef in his place.”
Sitting at the table that served as the focus for our meeting, I fear I must have appeared about as witless as an unexpectedly stranded fish, mouth opening and closing more in surprise than for breath.
Barry sat down.
“Seconded.” That was Simon. I’d never heard him express interest in anything other than trains before. To hear him call for my removal was like your own mother telling you that you were a complete disappointment to her – and mine did, so I know what that’s like.
Another hand rose, and another voice, and another, and another. I would have probably continued my stranded fish impersonation indefinitely if Hef, from where he was sitting in the front row, hadn’t stood and raised a hand.
The seconders and thirders and fourthers immediately fell silent, which was odd, because trying to get that lot to be quiet was like asking a cage full of budgies to stop tweeting.
“Thank you for your faith, but I fear I can’t accept…”
Chorus of “Nos” and boos. This time Hef simply raised a finger and they fell silent. I remember thinking I ought to try that next time.
“No, I cannot. Colin has held the position for many, many years and it would be grossly unfair to cast him aside now. If, however, he were to admit that the job has grown taxing, and were to resign and the position fall vacant, I would be happy to put myself forward for election.”
As he spoke my name, Hef turned to look at me and it was that more than anything else which prompted my next words.
“If you want me out, you’ll have to kick me out.”
If Hef had just left it with all the blokes I thought were my friends calling for me to go, I’d have stepped down without a murmur. But not only was he trying to sack me, he wanted me to do the dirty work for him.
I stood up.
“Come on then. If you want this to be a vote of no confidence, someone’s got to propose it.” I scanned the room. Eyes dropped, or suddenly found the ceiling joists a matter of intense interest, or began cataloging back issues of ‘Railway Modeller’.
I was just about to sit down when a voice piped up. I looked around, trying to see who was speaking, for it didn’t sound like anyone I knew. Then I saw him: Simon, poor, slightly mad Simon, twisting his leather cap in his hands, the thin strands of his comb-over glistening on his scalp. I noticed he’d taken to tucking his trousers into his socks. His eyes, which normally either fixed on you with unwavering intensity or wavered around the room, were now attempting to do both.
“I… prop…pose a…vote…of no…con..fi…denCE.”
The last syllable came out as a shouted gasp and Simon clapped his hands over his mouth as if he’d just said a rude word. He looked surprised at what he’d just said.
But the motion was proposed.
“Any seconders?” I sounded weary even to my own ears.
Hands were raised. Tentatively, one or two at first, and then a veritable copse of arms pointing heavenwards.
I put my pen down on the table. I wasn’t going to look at Hef, I wasn’t….
I looked, of course.
He sat in the front row, positively glowing with self satisfaction, and already receiving congratulatory pats on the back.