A couple of weeks ago I took myself off to the cinema to see “The Equalizer”. It is an old-fashioned morality tale, very loosely based on the TV series which made Edward Woodward a very rich man, before his sad departure. I can still remember “Callan” – a chilling and excellent series.
The premise is very simple. A mysterious middle-aged man, Robert McCall, (played with due understatement by Denzel Washington) works at the US version of Home Base. He is a teetotal insomniac. He frequents a night café in New York, where he has become familiar with a very young woman called Teri (the beautiful Chloe Grace Moretz) who has fallen into the clutches of a Russian Mafia vice ring, and these are very, very bad people. When he pleads with them to free her from their clutches, they refuse. Sadly, those Russians are very, very bad people indeed. So he goes to war with the Russian Mafia, exhibiting what Liam Neeson’s character in another recent film called “a very particular set of skills.” Mayhem ensues.
It is quite a violent film, which builds to a crescendo of ultra-violence which is so insane I actually started laughing. I won’t say more. Washington is an excellent actor, beautifully measured before he starts killing people, and I do love Chloe Grace Moretz, even though I now expect Operation Yewtree to be on my tail (they probably are anyway, because I am male and over 50). But there is a standout performance by a chap called Marton Csokas, who plays the psychopath from hell who, as the film critics say, chews up the scenery. If there was an Oscar for “Best Supporting Role as a Psychopath” he would be nailed on to win.
Which brings me to Suzi. That is, of course, not her real name. About a year or more ago my lovely friend Dominique who ran the bric-a-brac shop and read Tarot Cards (I know, I know, but she was really just a psychologist) asked me to help this young woman. She was 24 and had come from a difficult background on a council estate in Leeds. She was, as people of my age say, a bonnie lassie, and sometimes that can be a curse. She had been the subject of certain abuse a child, and although she had some decent relatives and loved her mum and granddad, she had left home and made her own way in the world as soon as she could. With a violent, erratic, drug-abusing brother I don’t blame her. She made the right call, and she has looked after herself since maybe 18. She’s a grafter. She started as an office “Go For” and worked her way up to be a general office manager – on not a lot of money, but OK.
Dominique asked me to help because the company’s HR department got leaky due to a drunk, and the personal details of her past had become common knowledge; she felt ashamed and unable to stay. It was a reasonably clear case of constructive dismissal. By the way, I’m not a softie or a bleeding heart liberal when it comes to such matters. I met her at the local coffee shop and she passed all the necessary tests for honesty and genuine distress. I’m not sure I passed her tests, being dressed as is my “habit” (pun intended) in my most comfortable ragged sweater, a standard British Army combat jacket and tatty trainers.
They sent a little delegation from the company to do a deal and pay her off. They expected to meet a vulnerable and upset young woman, and had come with a nice letter for her to sign and a cheque for £1,000 to give her in settlement. The delegation was ushered by her landlady into the dining room, where they did meet a vulnerable and upset young woman. And also yours truly, suited and booted. I can also promise that a suited and booted Gildas is a far cry from a cuddly fellow in a ragged sweater. I suit suits, so to speak – charcoal grey on this occasion, well cut, with a nice crisp white double cuff shirt and silk tie (red – a power colour, with matching cufflinks). Shiny Oxford brogues completed the outfit. I introduced myself very politely as a practicing lawyer and her friend, and they got the very best “smile”. Not every one can do “the smile”. It’s when there is a deliberate mis-match between the lower facial expression, which is polite, and the stare, which is not. It is cold, piercing and cruel, and a perfectly deliberate act of psychological intimidation.
I won’t go through all the details. She got a better settlement. Not massive, but OK, and enough to tide her over and give her a holiday before she started a new job. As I say, she’s a grafter.
We stayed in touch. Having realised that I was not, in fact, a tramp but quite possibly a card-carrying psycho of the “I know where you live” attitude to bad guys, she was very grateful, and I liked her. There was, by the way, nothing untoward or inappropriate in my interest. As I say, she is a bonnie lass, perhaps too much for her own good as will become apparent below, but whether she is just not my type or my avuncular responsibility had pressed an “off” switch, it doesn’t matter. I am quite sure she has no interest in me in that way and I don’t think about her other than as a good young woman who has not had the advantages I had starting out in life. And besides, it does me good to be “down with the kids” sometimes. What middle-aged man wouldn’t enjoy the company of a pretty and nice young woman, just, well, just because? Ask me about a mutual acquaintance with flaming red hair and I will give you a very different answer.
Anyway, we hadn’t been in contact for a little while when I met her for a coffee in the pleasant café in a Pennines’ village on Tuesday. It turned out things hadn’t been so great for her. She had resigned her new job because her boss’s husband had been persistently “hitting” on her. As I say, it can be a problem being good-looking, and you can see that she might have handled it differently and kicked up a fuss, but that’s how she felt. She was OK for rent but looked a bit tired and underfed and was a bit short. More worryingly it turned out that she had had a minor operation, and she was in some pain.
This clearly needed addressing.
The immediate issue was addressed by buying tea and the most immense slice of cream cake that I have seen for quite a while, which disappeared in no time at all. I offered her some money to tide her over for the week, but she refused, and good for her. I can see that it may have been inappropriate for a middle-aged man to be giving a young woman money, although it was meant well. I drove her home and slipped a block of very good chocolate which I had bought at the café and “forgotten” to eat into her bag. However, plainly this situation needed more attention. Coping on your own, with family far away after an operation can’t be fun, and I could tell she had been going without. I had a moment of inspiration.
On the Wednesday I drove back to her house, bearings gifts in the form of home-made soup and a Tesco “Meal Deal”, with which you get a “Finest” range starter, main course and side order, dessert and a bottle of wine for £10. Thank you Tesco. Some easy-to-cook luxury food for her at little cost. The home-made soup was important too. Although I will never win Masterchef, I make really good soups and casserole – an inheritance from my parents’ war time make-do attitudes. Also, I recognised the home-made nature of the delivery was important. Not money – a personal thing. She was totally delighted. As I guessed, she had nothing much in, there was only a poor convenience store nearby, and it was cold and gloomy for going out. She would be fine for a while.
Why did I do this? Was it vanity? Was it self-indulgent and for my own ego? I don’t reject these thoughts, but on the whole, I don’t think so. Because I can. Because it was simply the right thing to do.
She got a telephone interview for a job the next day, and she starts on Monday. I will keep an eye out for her.
I have found in my middle-age, after all my troubles and suffering which I recounted on this site a couple of weeks ago, that I like giving rather than receiving. But, curiously, what I give, I get back, and more. Not in the same way, but still more.
The next project is the home for stray and homeless dogs. They take them into care and re-home them when they can. This week they asked for volunteers on Facebook, and so I have put myself at their disposal. The Monk Mobile is a stately old Volvo Estate with 150,000 miles on the clock, with the nick name “Tilly”. Perfect reliable transport for a dog in need of a lift.
I suppose one doesn’t need to take out swathes of Russian Mafiosi to be an Equalizer. One can do it in small, quiet un-dramatic ways, but none the worse for that.
Here is some music. Have a Blessed Day.
Gildas the Monk
Gildas the Monk