God Speed you on your Journey Debbie…

Thinking of Debbie

“Those LEGS!” My sister exclaimed as we drove through Mildenhall. I turned to look, seeing a group of girls walking ‘up town’. I smiled as I recognised my friend Debbie; tight jeans hugging her super-model figure: legs up to her armpits! I felt a strange pride, as though admiration for my friend somehow reflected on me.

She did do a bit of modelling too! For David’s Hairdressers. She was his model and went to fashion shows and competitions with him. She had the most silken hair. Long and brown and unimaginably soft and shiny; like a shampoo ad. I compared it to my straw-like blonde mop! I could pin mine up with a pencil, but no hair clips would stay in Debbie’s hair. They slithered down her sleek hair, finding no imperfection on which to get any sort of grip.

The most efficient person I’ve ever seen. Watching her work was a sort of poetry to me. I, an awkward oaf in comparison. Her nimble fingers clicking away at the keyboard as she typed, lightning fast and word perfect. Click click click went the stapler as she grasped bunches of documents; more sections that she had fingers for it seemed! I would have helped her, she was always on some Marketing deadline, but my clumsy hands could never perform such magic tricks, I’d slow her down!

She ‘owned’ the Rank Xerox 9400 photocopier: an aeroplane of a machine, every bit as noisy, in a room all to itself.  She’d stand supervising as it devoured boxes of paper, spewing out reams and reams of material. Copying, collating, stapling. When it jammed as it was want to do, usually when she was trying to get a mailing out to her Reps in today’s post, she’d crack open lids and doors, pull out trays, manipulate, manoeuvre, free the smallest piece of torn paper or a scrunched up sheet. Where other mortals would have to call Paul Kippen, Chief Engineer, she’d just get on with it herself! Replacing ink and toner posed no problem to her and unlike most of the other secretaries who didn’t want to dirty their hands, she’d get stuck in; nothing would hold up her progress!

Paul Kippen, a chauvinist I suppose, but we had different values back then. He’d trace the outline of her figure; never touching, just outlining. “Looking for the string!” He’d say to our confused faces. “You two are joined at the hip!” he’d say, laughing at us.

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Debbie was “always” in Reception, drinking coffee and chatting to Peggy Colacchio, Receptionist for decades, trans-Atlantic accent and chain-smoker! Enormous ashtrays would adorn her desk; a great advertisement for a pharmaceutical company!

But Debbie wasn’t idle as she sat there. Her hands were busy always, stapling, labelling, stuffing envelopes, wrapping videos in silver paper to save the precious film from the scanning machines that were known to wipe them clean. It was sensible. The alternative would be to bring everything all the way back upstairs and into the Portacabins, which were the Marketing department. Crazy when the 9400 was just along the corridor from Reception. The post room too adjoined reception. That was my area, so I had “genuine” reasons for being in reception. Also it was my job to give Peggy her coffee breaks.

If Debbie wasn’t in Reception, then I was up in Marketing. Armed with huge catalogues of office equipment and stationery, I’d write down this week’s orders. Debbie’s grey area made more colourful by shocking pink files for Product Manager Chris Dewes (Palacos R with Gentamycin) and turquoise for Product Manager Paul Clinch (Intron A Interferon). It was ironic that Chris plugged Palacos when he could scarcely walk himself and badly needed hip replacements in both hips! He kept postponing it though because of his love of Squash! Truly! He was “slaughter” the young managers, wet behind the ears who gleefully accepted his challenge! They thought he’d be a walk-over! He was nothing of the kind! He had the eyesight of an eagle and lightning fast reactions. From where he stood he would send that small rubber ball flying in all directions, the youth running round the court sweating and breathless as Chris massacred their hubris!

Her other boss a handsome Rugby Playing Irishman; Captain of Lansdowne Rugby Club. He said to me once “I’d love to get in Debbie’s knickers!” Naturally, I told her what he’d said. She blushed pink but rose to the challenge in her unique and fabulous way! Next morning she brought in a pair of knickers and put them in a brown envelope and put them on his desk with his post. “What’s this?” he asked. “You said you wanted to get in my knickers; well here they are!” She had a brilliant sense of humour. A put down certainly, but all good clean fun!

She would pop to the canteen in the afternoon and bring us both a Cadbury’s Twirl and bring her handsome Irishman a Toffee Crisp as I remember. She liked KP Discos too as I recall! I’d get fatter as she’d stay as slim as a whippet!

She used to bring us in sandwiches too; cheese and chutney! And a yoghurt from her dad who worked for Bridge Farm Dairies. Sometimes we’d go round hers and she’d whistle up some scrambled eggs. She did them differently from anyone else I’ve ever known. Instead of whisking them and cooking them in a pan with the inevitable burning of the bottom, she’d put them into a non-stick frying pan with butter, using two wooden spatulas to blend the whites and yoke and move them round the pan. A buttery and delicious lunch! No-one’s ever cooked me eggs as nice since!

On Friday’s we finished at two. We’d head off to Bury St. Edmunds in her British Racing Green, canvas-topped MG Midget. In the summer with the roof down and our tape player blaring! The Midget needed a good bash from a hammer to get the starter motor working, and she had an enormous crook-lock which she fastened between the steering wheel and the clutch pedal. We had no idea what speed we were doing as the speedometer didn’t work either! “Get off the road” she’d say to pedestrians crossing our road “I don’t take passengers!”

A flash of M & S white knickers as she swung her long brown legs out of the low seats. Graceful and feminine. Her chubby friend scrambled out less elegantly!

We’d park on the Butter Market and go for a late lunch in her favourite Italian restaurant. Pizza and a cafetiere of strong, delicious coffee: NOT widely available back then!

Then we’d go shopping! We had store cards for all the best shops, Top Shop, Dorothy Perkins, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and we’d run up terrifying bills! I would try and exercise some restraint but Debbie would say “Oh, get it!” and I’d willingly obey!

Once when we were shopping in Mildenhall, in a little boutique called “Gaywear”, we both tried on the same dress: in different sizes I hasten to add! It had a fitted bosom , and was a lovely, feminine, floral, floaty thing. We nearly pissed ourselves laughing inside that cubicle! On Debbie the dress hung empty across her flat chest. On me, my breasts burst out over the top; Nell Gwynn with buxom bosom bulging! All I needed was the oranges! When we’d stopped laughing she said one day when we’re rich we would have joint surgery! She’d have half my boobs!

I remember her telling me that when she was at Newmarket Upper School her mum bought her a ‘training bra’. She wore it once. She was playing netball and when she raised both arms to shoot for the net, it came rolling up to her throat! Nothing to stop it! She never wore a bra again after that! (Or at least, she may have done during her two pregnancies!!)

It seems cruelly ironic that it should be she who got breast cancer.

I wish I could see you again before you go off on that journey that you must face on your own.  We none of us can know what lies ahead of us, but I feel certain that your dad will be there waiting for you. He’ll hug you as tightly as he did at the airport when you left to start your future in America.

God speed Debbie. Don’t linger and shrivel and suffer long. When you get there, look down at me and smile. Know that I love you so much my dearest friend.

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