On their way home from the boy scouts’ meeting, Billy and Sam talked idly about school, television and girls. Billy was in particularly high spirits as, now that he was sixteen, he had just earned his badge for cigarette rolling. In his glee he revealed that he had struck up a relationship with Mandy, who was a year above him at school. She lived with her father on the Oakwood estate, but he was very protective of her and he was known to have dished out a hefty clout to one of Mandy’s former suitors. Billy explained that Mandy’s dad goes out to the pub quite often so there is the opportunity to sneak into the house for some teenage kicks. “The problem is,” he said, “I never know whether or not her father is at home.” Sam laughed.
“You need this,” he said with a wink. He handed Billy a small, grubby piece of card on which a list was printed. Billy studied it.
“What is it?” he said.
“The soap box semaphore,” Sam said, “Give a copy to Mandy and she can place household cleaning items on the windowsill to relay different messages to you.”
“I’ll do it,” Billy said, smiling.
And so Billy got the card copied for Mandy and they agreed that she would place the required cleaning product on the kitchen windowsill that would signal to Billy whether or not it was safe to approach the door. That evening Billy picked up his binoculars and tore across the meadow on his bike to put the system to the test.
He took up his position in the bushes at the bottom of her garden and held the binoculars to his eyes. As he focused he saw on the windowsill a box of Tide, the net curtain draped over it. “Hmm, Tide,” he said, running his index finger down the card in search of that brand. When he found it his heart sank. “There Is Danger ‘Ere,” he read, miserably.
He rolled a cigarette and contemplated going home but, just as he was about to light up, he noticed movement over at the kitchen window. He looked through the binoculars and saw that the Tide was gone and in its place was a box of Fairy Snow. He consulted the list and was delighted to see that Fairy Snow signalled Father Away – I’m Ready. YES Signal Now On Windowsill. He threw his cigarette into the grass and ran up the garden to the side door. He enjoyed a full hour of snogging and goofing about before her dad was due back. As he pedalled home across the meadow he patted his shirt pocket that contained the card and smiled to himself. “What a guide,” he said.
The following evening he was back in the bushes with his binoculars. There was nothing on the windowsill but suddenly the kitchen light went on. He watched Mandy appear then disappear as she ducked to rummage in the cupboard below the sink. She came back up and pulled the net curtain aside. Billy could see that she had in her hand a bottle of Doby washing up liquid, which she was about to place on the windowsill. He scanned the list and found that this signalled Dad Out – Budge Yourself. With a whoop he put the binoculars back in their case and was just about to dart across the garden when he noticed that Mandy had not placed the Doby on the windowsill at all, but something else – there had clearly been a last-minute change of plan. He got the binoculars back out and zoomed in. There was a bottle of Stardrops there instead of the Doby. He pulled the card from his pocket and checked. Stay There As Rotten Dad Ruled Out Pub Session, it said. Billy let out a ‘phew’ at this close shave. He continued watching and, some time later, Mandy removed the Stardrops and placed a box of Bold on the windowsill. This meant Be Out Later, Darling and, true to her word, she came out ten minutes later. They walked around the park in the drizzle, Billy pushing his bike and miserably reflecting that this was not nearly as much fun as snogging on the settee.
So it went on. Billy turned up in the bushes one Saturday afternoon on the off chance, and he was particularly pleased to see a box of Daz on the windowsill. This meant Dad At Zoo, and as he scampered across the garden, Billy hoped that Dad would be eaten by a polar bear. His relationship with Mandy flourished and the semaphore messages were generally reduced to only a green or red light – the trusty old Tide box if Dad was in, and a box of Ariel (All Right Inside – Enter Lover) if he was out.
Then one evening he was there with his binoculars and he was surprised to see an unfamiliar box on the windowsill. He consulted the list but this brand wasn’t on it, and he didn’t know whether it was a danger signal or a go ahead. He puzzled for a while and then decided to ask Sam, who he thought might have access to an updated version of the list. He pulled his mobile phone from his pocket and dialled. “Hi Sam, it’s Billy,” he said.” What on earth is Clear Blue?”