Puppet Love

Puppet Love
A quirky tale of chav and cuddly romance


‘I’m tellin’ you, this Zippy is knackered!’

To demonstrate, Sammy’s customer pinched the cuddly toy’s squashy belly.  Where the raucous Rainbow character should have let rip with a Dalek-esque boastful cackle, he emitted a mere stutter of robotic bleeps.

‘See!  This was sold to me as a talking Zippy – ’ the girl fixed her cat-green eyes on the young market trader, ‘but he don’t talk,’ she added unnecessarily, though with a flirtatious tinge to her take-no-shit demeanour, which hinted at an interest in Sammy.  ‘Now can I get me money back?’

Marlene, the nosy, bubble-permed purveyor of kinky rubber and stockings at the stall next to Sammy’s, sniggered annoyingly at this.

‘Got a receipt?’  Sammy teased, ignoring her.  He was liking this girl, with the corkscrew black hair and freckled, tanned complexion.  She was perking up his dismal Monday.  She may be patronising an indoor market now, but her clothes were clearly purchases from swisher outlets.  The tight cut of the blue designer T-shirt and black jeans accentuated her toned, sunbed-kissed figure.  Her accent was unmistakably Dudley, but refined by good education.  She intrigued Sam. 

‘Wasn’t given one,’ the tanned stunner snapped.

‘No refund then, flower, sorry.’  Sammy’s Black Country voice was – like hers – bluff but with a teasing edge.  His grin, and perpetually flickering eyebrows, gave his narrow face a kind, mischievous appearance.

‘But his battery’s flat!’  The stunner spoke with faint distress, as might a mother whose toddler had whooping cough.  ‘Why don’t you get the chap who served me last week out here – he’d recognise me.’

‘Sorry, love, no can do.’  She was persistent, this one.  ‘That would have been me dad – and he’s in Spain now.  Not that the old man would’ve helped anyhow – he’s as tight as a camel’s arse in a sandstorm.  Technically, Zippy counts as used goods an’ all.  If yo bought it last week and yo’m only just bringing it back now, how do I know yo ai’ bin a-squeezin’ him all week and flattened his little battery?’

The girl grinned wryly back, attracted in turn to this lanky, tuft-headed lad with the kindly face and the earring.

Sammy had been assisting his parents to run their stall in the Colley Centre for eight years, since leaving school at sixteen. 

Merv and Janice had made the audacious foray into market trading fifteen years ago – following Merv’s redundancy from a colossally different profession.  They’d struggled at first – it was an unconventional career move, to say the least, for he’d failed to find a job even remotely similar to his former one.  He thrived, though, in an environment where, unlike some of his ex-colleagues, nobody was liable to recognise him and thus he attracted no unfriendly attention.  These struggles consequently paid off, and the couple had turned the stall into a fruitful venture. 

The family wares were cuddly toys and memorabilia from retro children’s programmes.  Other traders in this bustling centre, in Brierley Hill, plied anything from fish to wigs; stationery to body jewellery; pet food to jeans.

Sammy met scores of people during his long, hectic days, but his was often a lonely, workaholic life.  Up at six AM, home at seven PM – and in between he worked with his parents, which had a tendency to cramp what style he could lay claim to.  His lifestyle wasn’t always conducive to romance – and his sometimes brash demeanour belied his shortage of opposite-sex experience.  Hence he greeted the chance to shed his shell now they were on holiday.

‘So you couldn’t give me any sort of refund,’ the girl attempted pouty, wheedly tactics, ‘or let me swap him for another Zippy?’ 

Sammy shook his head, but with a boyishly regretful expression.  He was normally firmer with customers about the no-refund policy, but in this case he would make an exception.
‘We’re not due no more Zippys ’til a week on Friday.  I could swap him for a Sooty, if you like!  No, tell you what – a Sooty and a Sweep!  Cor say fairer than that now, can I?’  He flapped the famous bear and dog on his hands like a puppeteer, smiling exaggeratedly goofily.

The girl pulled a contemplative face – then spotted what was next to Sooty on the trestle table.

‘Hey, are these Mo and Bo puppets?’  Her expression became animated for the first time.  Sammy was even more intrigued and smitten.  She was gorgeous enough when she had her ‘uncompromising’ face on; when she smiled, she was a complete babe.  ‘I haven’t seen these for years.’  She picked up the fuzzy toys with a care that bordered on reverence. 

Mo the mischievous panda and his dim lop-eared rabbit sidekick Bo were huge stars of children’s TV until The Mo & Bo Show was sensationally axed fifteen years ago.  The programme was a particular Midlands cult, for it was filmed in Birmingham throughout the 70s and 80s.

‘Wanna swap this pair for your clapped out Zippy?’

‘Yes please!’  Her smile was watermelon-wide now.  It exposed every one of her little, even teeth.

‘Tell you what an’ all,’ quick-thinking Sammy sensed an opening, ‘I’m due a break, I’ll take an early lunch.  Not only will I give you Mo and Bo, I’ll stand you a hot pork cob at Bostin’ Bites.’

‘You’re on!’  She was already folding the fuzzy glove puppets into her handbag.

Sammy meanwhile was wrenching his bottle green Colley Centre overall over his head.  ‘Now you’d best tell us your name if I’m gunna be buying yer lunch.’

‘It’s Kelly.’

‘And I’m Sammy.’  He slung the overall down behind the stall.  ‘Hold the fort for us, will you, Aaron,’ he called to the sixteen-year-old with the pierced eyebrow who helped him out in his parents’ absence.  Sammy winked laddishly at the kid, belying the slight apprehension he felt.

‘See you later, Sam!’  Marlene also winked pointedly, beneath the forest of her blonde power-ballad perm.  Sammy scowled at the leery old gossip as he strode out with his lunch date.


Bostin’ Bites was the café round the corner from the Colley Centre; its mainly pork-related fare was the source of at least two of Sammy’s meals each day.  A heavenly bacon and egg sarnie, oozing ketchup, for breakfast or brunch; a hot pork roll for lunch; and sometimes a pie on his knee in the van home – especially during weeks such as this when his folks were away.  Sammy and the family oven were not on speaking terms.  With all the lard he consumed, it was a wonder he maintained such a lean physique – but then at six foot two, he was a natural beanpole.

It was in this cosy, busy little Black Country eatery that Sam and Kelly got to know each other over a pork roll, or ‘cob’ as these crusty delicacies were known in this region.

Sam watched impressed as this slender girl devoured the enormous bread casing of roast pork, gelatinous gravy, tangy apple sauce, mustard and crackling. 

‘I love a girl who can eat,’ he said admiringly, besotted already.

He learned that Kelly was twenty-one, lived, as she enigmatically said, ‘just outside Stourbridge,’ and worked at Brierley Hill bowling alley.

‘Talking of which,’ she examined her watch and hastily gathered up her handbag, ‘I’d best get over there.  My shift starts at two.  Thanks for the lunch, Sammy.  See you around.’

And she was gone.

I never even got her phone number.  Sammy could have kicked himself.  Sam, me old mate, yo’m out of practice!


Still, he could always turn up at the Megabowl and ask for her.  And this he did, on Thursday (a chap couldn’t do anything so uncool as look over-keen, hence he held out for three torturous days).

‘Sorry love, we ai’ gorra Kelly here,’ he was told.

‘Yo sure?  She’s about so tall – long black curly hair – ’

But the girl behind the desk just shook her head gormlessly at him as she went on doling out clammy, clown-sized bowling shoes.

Sammy pondered this as he ambled back to the stall, absorbed in his thoughts.

Marlene was outside the market, taking her fag break.  ‘Yo sin that wench again?’ she rasped sourly, folding her denim-jacketed arms.  ‘Her’s a snotty ’un and no mistake!’

‘What d’you mean?’  Sam didn’t want to ask – always hating to give Marlene the satisfaction of venting her crabby opinions – but somehow couldn’t help it.

‘Her clobber – and that accent!  Yo could tell as her was puttin’ it on.  Right la-di-da young madam.  Lookin’ down her freckly little nose at me.  And yo could tell her wo’ used to shoppin’ here – fancy expectin’ to get a refund!  Her wouldn’t buy her drawers from me, that’s for sure!  Marks & Sparks’ finest wun’t be good enough for her scraggy arse.’

‘Lucky me then,’ Sam quipped, though far from confident of ever reaching a state of undress with Kelly.

‘What kind of a wench that age buys cuddly toys anyhow?’

‘One who’s good for our profits!’  Sammy stormed back into the market.

Marlene snorted, mashed her fag end beneath her green stiletto heel and followed him in.  ‘Her’s probably workin’ undercover for the DSS or summat.  Not claimin’ dole on the side are we, young Samuel?’

‘Oh sod off, Marl!’

It was certainly true that Kelly was brighter and more chic than the hoop-earringed wenches who formed Sam’s traditional clientele – with their white shell suit bottoms low slung to expose their thongs, and tattoos of dolphins across their pierced, pudgy bellies.  Hence he’d been drawn to her.  But he hadn’t found her snobbish at all.  She’d lied to him, though, and this troubled him. 

But all such niggles dissolved when, the following evening, Friday, at six, he emerged from the warm depths of Bostin’ Bites with his pie dinner, and there was Kelly, waiting for him.

She’s keen, he thought with delight, well that’s fine by me!

Kelly grinned winsomely.  ‘I just been round to the stall to look for you,’ she explained, ‘but that old bag who runs the slutty knickers stand – ’


‘Yeah, Marlene.  She told me as you’d already clocked off, but that I’d most likely find you here.  I’m on my break, see.  Thought I might be able to return the favour from Monday, like.  But I see as you’ve already got your tea for the evening.’

Sammy’s piping hot Cornish pasty seemed to be burning courage into his hand.  Go on, it seemed to tell him, ask her out! 

‘There’s no need for you to buy me a meal.  Actually, I was thinkin’ of asking if you’d like me to take you out again.  Of an evening this time.  I know this nice little pub out Clent way.’

‘Clent, eh?’  Kelly pulled an impressed expression.  ‘Bit posh, that!’

‘I can do posh when I want to.  D’you fancy it?  Tomorrow, say?’

‘Yeah, why not?  Don’t think I’m doing anything.’

‘I’ll pick you up ’bout seven, yeah?’


‘Now d’you wanna tell us where you live, or doe yer trust me with your address yet?’

Kelly bit her lip pensively – then nudged Sam, as though suddenly inspired.  ‘Tell you what – I’ll meet you on the Foley Arms car park in Pedmore.’

Sam smiled jubilantly.  ‘Can’t wait!’


Kelly’s first surprise of the night was when Sammy rolled up to fetch her in a Jaguar.

‘Dad’s,’ he explained, ‘but I doe dare drive it to work.  The old man’d have me knackers for golf balls if parked this baby in some scutty car park and it got broke into.  That’s why he – and I – use the van for work purposes.  You look stunning, by the way.’  Kelly wore an egg yolk-yellow strappy top, typically clinging, with a denim miniskirt.  Her ebony hair spiralled over her shoulders in a swooshy ponytail.

They had a wonderful evening.  The meal was pub grub at its gastronomic classiest, and they nattered the night away.  The subject of Sammy’s family stall set the theme for a long nostalgia-trip to the loud and yellow world of bygone kids’ shows.

Kelly even fell for Sam’s lame ‘Sooty in the nude’ gag – twiddling his hand about and saying ‘What’s this?’  A primary school classic, that one.

‘I tell you what,’ Sam proclaimed, topping up Kelly’s drained wine glass, ‘if I ever have kids, they’ll be made to watch the likes of Rainbow and The Mo & Bo Show!  There’ll be none of this Teletubbies rubbish.’

‘Mo and Bo were definitely the best,’ Kelly giggled, ‘my puppets from your stall occupy pride of place on my dressing table!’

‘That guy who presented it was ace, wasn’t he – Robin Round!’

‘He certainly was!’  Kelly took a slightly unsteady gulp of her Chardonnay.

‘Those psychedelic jumpers he used to wear!  I hear he still lives round here…’

Afterwards, Sammy wouldn’t hear of going Dutch or letting Kelly pay, despite her intention to ‘return the favour.’

‘There can always be a next time,’ he said optimistically.  ‘I’ve loved tonight.’

‘Yeah, me too.’  Kelly smiled earnestly back through the glimmer of the candle which was drizzling wax down an old wine bottle on the table between them.

‘Now d’you wanna come back to my place?’  Sammy pocketed his Switch card receipt and laughed self-mockingly at the hackneyed line.

‘For coffee,’ Kelly placed equal irony on her cheesy reply.

And then came her second surprise: Sammy escorted her back to a house the size of a small Caribbean island, in Pedmore, an elegant area of Stourbridge.  It was all block-paving, remote-control garage doors and original artwork.

‘Wow!’ was all Kelly could manage.  Sammy sensed she’d expected his home to be a decrepit council terrace but she was too polite and un-patronising to admit so.

‘Let’s just say there’s money to be made in retro cuddlies,’ he said modestly, depositing the Jag keys into a shallow pot on the long mantelpiece.

Dominating the vast, beam-ceilinged sitting room was a massive photograph of a thin little boy, unmistakably Sammy, clad in classic 80s red and grey, with two immediately familiar puppets.

‘Is that Mo and Bo with you?’  Once again, Kelly became animated and fascinated.

Fortunately for Sammy, she stayed that way all night.  They had a lot of fun up in his huge bedroom – and not a lot of sleep.

Next morning, he tested his culinary skills to their narrow limit by bringing his new girlfriend breakfast in bed.  Kelly took a gleeful crunch of Special K, then noticed Sammy’s troubled face.  ‘What’s up, chuck?’  She reached out a manicured hand to stroke his scraggy back.

What was up was that all that talk of fictional characters, and fiction generally, had reminded Sammy of Kelly’s bowling alley lie, and it jolted him.  He didn’t suspect her of being from the DSS – despite Marlene’s sniping, he had no worries on that score, never having signed on, lawfully or otherwise, in his life.  But – and much as he hated to spoil a perfect date – he had to establish the truth. 

‘Kel, why did you lie to me about working in the Megabowl?  I went there to call for you, and they said they hadn’t got no Kellys.’ 

Kelly was secretly chuffed he’d been eager enough to drop in on her supposed workplace – even if embarrassed at her witless fib being blown apart.  Sammy deserved better – and he may as well be acquainted with the facts now.

Kelly put down her spoon.  ‘It sounds saft, but I thought you’d think I was a snob when I told you what I really did.  I work in the media, you see.’

‘The media?’  Sam chuckled, half thrown by the revelation; half relieved at its trivial nature.  ‘You mean telly?  Hey, you’re not from Trigger Happy TV, are you – setting me up for some hidden camera scam?’

‘Not quite.  I’m in PR, at Taylor Made Communications, a new company that’s just set up on the Waterfront, by the Merry Hill Centre.  We represent a few toy manufacturers.  Anyway, I happened to be wandering through the market when I spotted your dad selling the Zippys.  I collect cuddly toys, you see.  Most people think I’m really sad when I tell ’em that.  But you obviously don’t!’

‘I’d be a bit of a hypocrite if I did.  Cuddly toys have made my family a lot of success, in more ways than one,’ he added cryptically.

‘Some people round here get a bit arsey when I tell them what line of work I’m in – and what my dad did – ’

‘Your dad?  What d’you mean?’

‘Look, when you drop me back today, Sam, could you “take me back to my place”,’ she voiced the cliché with the same irony, ‘there’s someone I’d like you to meet.’


Kelly’s home was in Hagley, a refined Worcestershire village which neighboured Pedmore.  And, like Sammy’s family abode, it was of palace-esque proportions, with beams featuring prevalently in its décor.

Now I see why she wasn’t keen on me picking her up from here.  She thought I was a pov and didn’t want to embarrass me – until she saw what my house was like.

‘I usually get a lot of stick,’ Kelly warned mysteriously as Sammy slid the Jag to a smooth halt on the gravel drive, ‘when I tell folks who my dad is.  They either don’t believe me, or presume I must be a snob, or take the piss out of him for being a has-been.’

Sam frowned at her curiously, but she was already out of the car and crunching across to the front door.

‘I’m home,’ she yelled up the long hallway – which Sam noticed with amazement was also graced by a huge glossy portrait of Kelly with the original Mo and Bo puppets.

‘Hiya Kel,’ responded an uncannily familiar voice.  It was male, warmly Black Country, with a reassuring, primary school-teacher inflexion.

How freaky, thought Sammy, Kelly’s dad sounds just like –

‘Robin Round!’  Sam dropped his car keys in shock.  He was aware he sounded and looked moronic – but then an 80s TV presenter was not usually the kind of dad one expected to encounter.

Not usually.

With his big, good-humoured face and rather antiquated sideburns, he was the same old Robin from Sam’s childhood – only now a touch craggier and minus the Day-Glo sweaters.

He smiled broadly and stretched out a hand to Sam.  ‘Hi there son, pleased to meet you.  Our Kel’s told me so much about you.’

‘See – even famous fathers come out with the corniest clichés,’ Kelly cringed.


Over tea and Kit Kats at the kitchen table, the three of them reminisced and acquainted.

‘It was pretty galling what happened, and no mistake,’ Robin harked back.  ‘We were all devastated when the show was taken off the air.  Couldn’t get TV work for love nor money.  I’m doing mostly voiceovers these days, for radio ads.’

‘You don’t keep in touch with anybody from the show then?’ Sammy asked, taking a musing slurp from his mug.

‘Not anymore, no.  But I did hear that one of the puppeteers – Mervyn Chance – was still living local.  Apparently the poor chap got disillusioned with the business, set up a market stall, or something.  It’d be lovely to catch up with him some day.’

Kelly shot a look at Sammy, who had gone very quiet and conspicuously crimson as he bit ruminatively into his chunky Kit Kat.

‘He’s in Spain at the moment,’ blurted Sammy, ‘at the family villa.  But when he gets home, I’m sure he’d love to reunite with you.’

‘You know him?’  Robin’s sideburned face creased into an astounded smile.

‘You could say that,’ Sammy grinned drily and clonked down his mug, ‘he’s my dad!’