This was going to be an entry for a competition where the theme was “Going For Gold”, ostensibly in salute to the Rio Olympics. However, I couldn’t get the piece down to the required word limit, so I’m posting it here instead.
Have you ever felt like your own name’s held you back? Well, mine did. Seriously, it’s not my own brain arsing around with me. My name has caused me troubles that have stuck with me to this day. I blame the BBC. Well, them and a creepy little tosser named Michael Randall.
I called myself Harry in school. Henry sounded too posh next to my brothers; Joe, Mike and Ron. I went back to Henry in ‘77, when I started working for Foresight Advertising under an old Etonian named Alistair Fortescue-Stanley. But while that decision tickled the old toff nicely, it came back and bit me in the Khyber later on.
For ten years, things were great. During the week, I ate out with clients at posh restaurants and pressed weights at the gym. At the weekends, I went trail biking in Charlton Park and got pissed at the Beetroot.
“Life is bloody brilliant!” I yelled out to my mates one night, trying to be heard over the latest Howard Jones hit.
Joe, Mike and Ron all settled down pretty quickly. They had seven children between them, all boys. I, however, didn’t hit the jackpot until ’87, when me and the lovely Audrey Baines tied the knot. I was made assistant director of Foresight the same year, when Mr. Fortescue-Stanley retired. It seemed things could only get better.
But by the time the song of the same name was in the charts, everything had gone tits up. God, I could smack you one, Michael Randall…
He came to work for Foresight in ‘88. I clocked him for what he was at once; a slimy, shifty-eyed, ambitious little git, fresh out of college and eager to advance himself. Unwittingly, I gave him a means to do so when I first shook hands with him.
“Henry Kelly, assistant director,” I said.
To my surprise, Randall began sniggering uncontrollably. Naturally, I asked him what was so funny.
“Never mind,” he snorted.
Henry Kelly. How could I have known, how could Mum and my Old Man have known, that my name would turn out to match that of the host of the cheesiest, most inane gameshow in the BBC’s entire history? (And it was that too. I watched it a couple of times on days off.)
Since Going For Gold had only been on in the daytime I had never heard of it until then, whereas Randall had often watched in between lectures at college. It became his ammunition in his fight to the top.
In the weeks that followed his recruitment, people weren’t nearly as straight-faced around me as they used to be. They hummed or sang the show’s theme at their desks and sometimes broke down in giggles after they walked past me. This went on for months and of course, it was Randall who started it.
When Randall was promoted to boardroom level four years later, I resigned. I couldn’t bear the thought I’d ever be working on the same level as him, or worse, beneath him.
Next year, Audrey and I started having Barnies. A choice phrase of hers, which she screamed at me one night, sums it up pretty well…
“It’s been seven bloody years, Harry! Seven years and not so much as a late period! Are you sterile or something?”
Of course, it couldn’t last. We sold the house, signed divorce papers, I moved into a flat in Deptford and she moved to Canada. She’s remarried now, but not me. Why bother when that’s what can happen?
Joe, Mike and Ron are all dead now. Heart attacks, just like Dad, and not too late in life either. What does that say about my prospects, I wonder? Who’s to say my old ticker won’t say “sod off” any day now?
As for my career, I didn’t get beyond middle management for ten years in my new firm. I only just made the board and never even tried to make director.
“You’ve got no ambition, Henry!” said Bob Waters, my new boss. He was right too. I didn’t, not any more.
After my retirement party Patrick, Joe’s youngest lad, insisted I drive to their place for a family gathering.
“We always love seeing you, Uncle Harry,” he said over the phone. “The kids especially. Lord knows you could use the company. I’m sure the others will come too, if I ask them nicely.”
Eh, why not, I thought. May as well be a granddad to those Karen and Charlie now that Joe’s gone.
Patrick and his family live on a wide, quiet suburban road in Maidenhead, so finding a parking space presents no problems. Soon I’m striding up their driveway, ready to announce my arrival. Yet Patrick’s already opening the door wide to greet me.
“Uncle Harry!” he beams, throwing up his arms. “It’s so good to see you again!”
“Wotcha, Patrick,” I reply, turning the corners of my mouth up in response. “You must be psychic. Didn’t even ring the bell.”
We embrace in the middle of the driveway.
“’Fraid not, you grumpy old so-and-so,” Patrick chuckles. “I saw you pull up through Karen’s bedroom window. Bet you didn’t realise you’re the only person we know who drives a convertible.”
I sigh reflexively. My car’s a lovely old motor (metallic powder blue with only 3000 miles on it), but being reminded I don’t need a back seat secretly hits me where it hurts.
Patrick shows me into the hall.
“Gwyneth, Karen, Charlie!” he calls. “Come on down. Uncle Harry’s arrived!”
Gwyneth comes in from the kitchen, tossing a tea towel over her shoulder. Karen and Charlie thunder down the stairs like the Lone Ranger and Tonto. I scoop all of them into a broad hug.
“Harry! Hello again!” Gwyneth beams. “Ooooh! Sixty-four and you still hug like a bear!”
“Hi, Uncle Harry,” Charlie and Karen sing together.
“Hi, kids,” I reply, genuinely smiling now.
The other Kellies – my nephews and their wives – arrive two at a time throughout the day, their children with them. It’s a beautiful summer’s day, so the French windows are opened, allowing the kids to flit between playing in the garden and nicking bits from the cold collation Gwyneth’s laid out in the lounge. There’s too many of us to sit round the dining table, so we eat off paper plates on our laps.
Richard’s the last to arrive, along with a little surprise.
“This is Jean, everybody,” he grins.
“Hi!” she calls out. She doesn’t strike me as too bright.
“Your latest roll in the grass, eh Richard?” jokes Darren.
“Oh, it’s better than that, you old cynic,” Richard continues. “Show them, Jean.”
When Jean shows them the diamond ring on her left hand, everybody cries out with joy. Even I can’t help smiling a bit. There’s a flurry of questions about how Richard proposed, when the big date will be, if she’s picked out a dress and so forth, which I step out of. Suddenly, a very big thought occurs to me. I wait until Jean’s free of the group and hold out a hand.
“Jean, I don’t believe we’ve met. I’m Richard’s Uncle Harry.”
“Hello then, Harry.” Jean shakes my hand. “Here to offer congratulations, are you?”
“Well, that and a piece of advice,” I say, shrugging. “Have you considered whether or not you’ll keep your surname?”
Jean starts a moment. “Do you know, I don’t think I have, Harry! It’s Saunders, which I don’t mind losing, but…”
I jump in on her hesitation. “Well my advice is, change it. I find it so confusing greeting a man’s wife and not knowing whether to use her name or his. Changing your name to Kelly will simplify things.”
Jean grins with pearly white teeth.
“Do you know what, Harry? I might just do that. Jean Kelly; it has a nice ring to it. Thanks for your advice.”
“You’re welcome, Jean.”
After all, I think mischievously, If you do, it’ll give us something in common.