All characters are fictitious, If a character name is used in connection with a side, it’s just co-incidence if that given name belongs in that side. Insofar as song lyrics being included I don’t know the legalities or etiquette involved, I have given the opening few and last few lines if that is all that is needed or the song in full if the text needs it and credit to the author in either case, traditional songs are treated the same but credited as Traditional.
This is a fiction story, not fantasy and while there is a lot of passion and some very erotic action in later parts and in book two if you are looking for raw action then I am sorry but this isn't the book for you.
“Ok, you stay there whilst I get myself sorted out and then get things started”. I push back the duvet and unzip my bag, getting out I scoot to the edge of the bed and locate my t-shirt and trousers, sliding into them next stop is the bathroom, toilet and wash my hands. Coming out I come face to face with Jenny, she stretches a little and says, “Morning again.” and gives me a peck on the lips as she passes me to go to the bathroom herself. I fill up the kettle and put it on one of the back rings, they are quicker than the front ones, and go for a delve under the oven for a couple of frying pans, just as I get down Jenny tries to exit the bathroom, not possible as my size tens are in the way. Keeping hold of the pans I get up and tell her that “it’s all clear now, safe to exit”.
As she comes out of the bathroom and heads back to the bed I say “cheeky, I didn’t know you had the same fashion sense as John Major!!”
“What do you mean?”
“In an interview it emerged that he tucked his shirt into his underpants, the cartoonist Steve Bell always portrayed him with his pants outside his trousers, check where you have your t-shirts tucked.”
“If you were a gentleman you wouldn’t be looking.”
“I never claimed to be a gentleman, now scoot back onto the bed and give the chef your breakfast order, bearing in mind that if you are staying here, and I really do hope that you will, there probably won’t be any more solid food till tonight, The options are sausages, bacon, black pudding and hash browns, no eggs I’m afraid, I can’t handle them so I don’t bring any.”
“Everything except black pudding for me please.”
“Two of each?” I ask.
“If it has to last till tonight then yes please.”
I go onto auto pilot then, This is the breakfast Lynda and I had every time we were away with the van and the Morris, Lynda staying in bed until I put the bacon on to fry, Then she moved quickly, up, dressed and out to the awning, lay the table and cut and butter the bread before the bacon was too crispy.
“This will take twenty five minutes before we can eat; mugs of tea will be ready in two or three minutes. Are you up for a few verses of Drunken Sailor while I’m cooking?” She nods in the affirmative.
I begin it in what I hope is a comfortable key, as soon as I start Jenny joins in. “What shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor early in the morning. Wey-hey and up she rises, Wey-hey and up she rises, Wey-hey and up she rises, early in the morning.
What shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor, what shall we do with a drunken sailor early in the morning.” Again I harmonise on the wey-heys with long heys. Wey-hey and up she rises, Wey-hey and up she rises, Wey-hey and up she rises, early in the morning.
“That’s good, no need for more revision there. I assume you know your way round an MP3 player, see if you can find a reason for it all, by Eric Bogle,” I get the teapot out and the tea bags,
“Let me know when you have”
I lean across and turn the radio on, switch input to Aux and turn the volume up a bit. “Have a good listen, if or when we do it, I’ll do the bass, you take the high line. If you have a look in the top draw by the wardrobe you should find the Eric Bogle songbook so you can follow the words.” The kettle starts to whistle so I make a brew while the song is going,
Summer's smiling on the city, it’s another lovely day in Sydney,
Sunshine pouring down like honey in a golden waterfall
But in the room where Clare is dying, no sunshine sends the shadows flying,
No children gather round her crying, there's no one here at all,
Except perhaps for the man who sees each little sparrow fall.
Don't talk to me about lonely souls crying,
Dark quiet rooms and old people dying.
I don't want to hear, I don't want to hear it at all.
Tired old people die alone every day,
Don't blame me, I didn't make it that way.
That's just how it is, don't look for a reason in it all.
Winter weeping on the city, a wet and windy day in Sydney,
Rain drops rolling fat and heavy down Clare's window pane.
The rain upon the tin roof beating, disturb the rats as they are feeding.
Back to the nest they all go creeping, leaving Clare alone again.
It's been a long and lonely time since Clare could hear the rain.
Don't talk to me about the meaning of life;
don’t sing your songs that cut like a knife.
I don't want to hear, I don't want to hear it at all.
Lonely old people ain't my concern,
from dust we come, to dust we return
And that's all there is, don't look for a reason in it all.
Springtime’s come at last to Sydney; flowers are blooming in the city.
In all their multi coloured glory, they rise to greet the year.
Memories in chain recalling, footsteps on the front porch falling,
Voices through the window calling, is anybody here?
Clare Campbell's lost and lonely soul is a long, long way from here.
Don't talk to me about life's seasons,
don’t ask me for answers, don't ask me for reasons.
I don't want to hear, I don't want to hear it at all.
From the moment we're born, we start to die;
A man can go crazy if he keeps asking why.
That's just how it is; don't look for a reason in it all.
“Wow, that’s going to be difficult to perform,”
“It isn’t as difficult as it sounds; just concentrate on the tune of the second part, once you can carry that all you have to do is sing the words. The difficult bit is the duet at the end, we will probably both sing the same words and tune.
“Tea up, when your bit comes up have a go.” I pass her a mug of tea, following the song in my mind I know that in...Four ..Three..Two.. One..
“Don't talk to me about lonely souls crying,
Dark quiet rooms and old people dying.” She comes in perfectly, it seems as if she would be more comfortable singing a tone or two higher, but she continues to sing along with the song, as I continue with breakfast, “last time through Jenny,” I say, “I am putting the bacon in now, how do you like your bacon, crispy or just cooked.”
“Just cooked, I don’t like my food burnt to death thanks.” While the bacon is starting, I turn on the water heater and then open the cupboard to get the bread, cut a couple of slices and butter them, turn ninety degrees and drain all the water off the bacon, turn the bacon and then turn up the heat under it. Take the bread and refilled tea pot out to the table. Back inside get two plates out and the cutlery. “Breakfast up, Jenny, come and get it.” I plate up, remembering not to give her black pudding.
“Hey, I’m not even dressed yet, I can’t go out like this,” she says holding out the Faversham T-shirt.
“If it’s ok in front of me it should be ok in front of everyone else, but if you’re worried just slip your trousers on, but hurry, this chef doesn’t like serving cold food!
“Ok I’ll go like this if you’re sure, which side should I sit.”
“You choose, it makes no odds either way.” She goes to the far side of the table so that her back is to the window; I place her plate in front of her, and return inside for my plate and the assorted pills and potions that keep me running smoothly.
“This is a smashing start to the day, do you live like this all the time, or just to impress the visitors.”
“This is normal when I’m in the van, the rest of the time its Shreddies or Gerbil food.”
“What’s Gerbil food?”
“That’s one of the less impolite names for Muesli.” Silence descends as we work our way through our breakfasts, I have to confess I am very hungry today, whether it was the nervous energy used yesterday or the smaller portions for dinner last night, or something else I don’t know. Jenny tucks in with all the enthusiasm of a youngster who knows they will burn it off. My body stores it as fat like an old miser hoarding pennies. I pour another mug of tea for myself and offer the pot towards Jenny, she nods yes, so I pour her one as well. As I wipe the last of the fat from my plate with the last of my bread, I lean back and let loose a very satisfied sigh. Jenny is not far behind in finishing hers, “That was brilliant, I need at least ten minutes settling time before I think about washing up,” she says.
“Don’t worry about that, we’ll let breakfast settle for a bit, maybe take a lap around the field, to see who’s about, I might even let you get dressed first!”
“I was so comfortable I forgot that I came straight out.”
“Smile please, visitors approaching the door now,”
“Who is it?” She asks, trying without much success to stretch my t-shirt down to mid thigh.
“Hello Ken, Sue, how are you both this morning?”
“We’re ok, Thanks. Looks like you are running late today, Have a lie-in did you? I see at least one of you managed to get dressed, Frank, I’m disappointed in you, keeping a disorderly van.”
“Ease up Ken; Jenny’s blushing so much that I’m scared the awning might catch fire.” I said. Sue chipped in, “Give them some peace, it was their first night!” “Please, the pair of you, stop trying to embarrass us, I’m immune as I’ve known you too long. Yes, we did get up late, but yesterday was a bit of a ‘mare for Jenny, so after we left you we spent an hour talking about this and that, played some music and it must have been close to midnight before we got settled. So why are wandering around, at this time of day wouldn’t you normally be kitting up by now?”
“We wanted to make sure you were ok, this being your first solo, sorry this was going to be your first solo since Lynda died, and we didn’t expect you to find company quite so quickly.”
“Yes we’re ok, thanks, just letting our breakfasts settle before beginning the chores, and working out what to do with the rest of the day; I assume it’s a liquid lunch at the Gordon around one o’clock, and according to the program Bounty Hounds are on about then.”
“That sounds like a plan then, see you later” said Sue “Bye”
“That’s got the middle of the day sorted, I don’t know about you but I’m going to pop my pills and potions and then go horizontal for a bit” I take my Glucosamine, Cod Liver oil capsule and wash them down with the last of my tea, “coming to listen to some music for a bit.”
“Why not, although I feel guilty leaving the table like this.” Inside the van I switch on the radio to Aux and laying back on the bed suggest Jenny chooses the music from the MP3 player, I am surprised to hear Morris music, The Mother of all Morris, to be accurate and definitely not the best Morris CD I have, but well worth listening to.
“Is there any particular reason you chose this one.”
“No, but this is a Morris weekend, and I ought to at least know a little about what I will hear.” She says as she lays back on the bed beside me, “cuddle me please?” she asks as she lifts her head to allow my arm to go around her shoulders and she rest her arm across my stomach, this isn’t very comfortable after a big breakfast so I move her arm up a bit, ‘Oh why is this so addictive? I never felt this way with Lynda although I was twenty five years younger then.’ By halfway through the CD I am starting to feel heavy eyed and know this is no time for another jaunt with the faeries, Jenny is still awake and moving to the music so I don’t have worry about disturbing her too much when I start to get my arm out from under her,
“Sorry but I was getting too comfortable for our own good, if Ken and Sue come past and see the plates still on the table we will never hear the end of it, you stay here and I’ll get started.” As I start to get up from the bed I am suddenly yanked back by my t-shirt, “I said I would do the washing up Mr Chef, now sit, if you want something to do play a tune on something or sing another song of the sea.”
On her way past me I make a grab for her with the idea of delaying her getting to the sink, as I hold her she turns in my arms and pushes me back on the bed, bending down she kisses me soundly on the lips, “now behave and play something.” I was that surprised all I could do was to watch her go to the sink; she had such a wiggle going on under my t-shirt I could do nothing else. “While you’re starting on the washing up I’ll have a wash and do my teeth, see you in a bit.” After a few minutes I come out to find most of the washing and drying done so I begin putting stuff away, in another couple of minutes and it’s all done. Your turn for the bathroom, do you fancy another brew when you are finished” “Yes please.” Once the kettle is on I turn off the water heater.
“Don’t come out until after I tap on the door, I am going to get changed,” all the blinds are down so I just close the door and strip, sort out clean clothes Dead horse t-shirt, loose flannel check trousers and clean underwear, no socks as I will be wearing sandals so I am sorted, what can I do to help Jenny? She only has the clothes she wore yesterday; best wait till she comes out. I tap on the bathroom door and a minute or so later she comes out wrapped in the bath towel, “I forgot to take my clothes in, I will have to make do with what I had on yesterday.”
“I know they don’t fit you anywhere near properly, but you’re welcome to have a rummage through my t-shirts, one of them might tie in around your waist, or maybe we can get creative with the sewing kit and a couple of bandanas, later on when we go down the town we could splash out in one of the charity shops to get you a couple of changes of clothing.” The kettle starts to whistle and so I turn to the cooker and start to make the tea, after I poured the water into the pot I turned round just as Jenny was about to put on a Widders t-shirt, her back was to me and the towel was on the bed and she was bare, obviously a rare sight, very slim, hips flaring nicely and I thought it was the cut of her coat! I can see the swell of her breast in the wardrobe mirror, very, very nice, no visible droop. Thighs firm and well muscled as she worked on her balance as the t-shirt slid down over her bust, time to turn away, I don’t want to be caught peeping.
“Well, what do you think?”Asks Jenny, I can feel myself blushing, ‘bugger it I’m fifty, why should I colour up over an innocent question?’ I finish pouring the tea before I turn around to look, being aware that she only had the t-shirt on but not knowing it if you get my drift, “That looks good, can you give it a bit of shape, put your hand on your hips and gather a bit of material, she looks very uncertain so I walk up behind her and holding her hips move her towards the mirror on the wardrobe as I gather a few inches of material each side and ask.
“What do you think? Over trousers with a bandana to hold it close should look good. ” From her viewpoint and mine over her shoulder the tee looked good but from a hip level view it would be much more interesting.
“Yes, I like it, could you turn round so I can finish dressing, please.”
“Eh, errh, oh yes, sure.” I sort of fluster out and finish making the tea. Tea’s up.” She is now fully dressed except the t-shirt is loose, I go to the middle shelf of the wardrobe and pull a lilac and black bandana and folding it parallel to the diagonal fashion a belt of sorts, I drop to my knees, “come closer please,” I place the bandana around her just above her hips and tie it with a necktie knot on her left hip, once it is in position I re-arrange the t-shirt gathers to keep as much of the artwork square but with good shape for her body. “There you go, how does that appear to you.”
“That looks very good; you really are very talented you know, what sort of work do you do?”
“I don’t,” while continuing my answer I get off my knees and swing round to sit on the bed, Jenny sits beside me. “Lynda and I had a nice little pickup on the lottery eight years ago, so I went from full time as a toolmaker to a part time job in a shop two and a half days a week, I didn’t have to work but it was good to have another interest apart from the Morris, our kids and the allotments. The idea was to have lots of long weekends away from April to October in this van, taking our bikes sometimes, semi retirement really, just practicing for when we did finally finish working.”
“Do you mind me asking what happened?”
“I don’t mind you asking, but answering might be difficult for me, in two words, Breast Cancer. Lynda’s mum had it but that wasn’t what killed her that was related to her diabetes, two of Lynda’s aunties on her mums side died of breast cancer. Because of the family history, Lynda qualified for the new gene analysis screening and that showed Lynda had a very high chance of also falling victim, Sarah was tested at the same time and thankfully she had only the normal low risk of breast cancer. Lynda was given the option of a double mastectomy as a preventative treatment with reconstructive surgery later. The mastectomies took place two weeks later, they found cancer cells in the removed tissue when it was studied after the operation but it was too late for any worthwhile treatment for Lynda by the time they had her in on a follow up, there were secondary’s in half a score of places; the funeral was four weeks two days after the recall.” At the end of this short story I am predictably crying and Jenny holds me and cuddles me up close. “That is my potted life story, and only goes to show,,,,, what? I don’t know, and I’m fed up with all this self analysis and depression that goes with it. I’m fed up with only seeing weeds; I want to see some flowers for a change.”
“Look, Frank, we’ve both had a crap twelve months, what we’ve had is gone into the past, and I never thought I would hear myself say this but all we can do is look forward, maybe we were supposed to meet and support each other, how do I know, but I do know there are a lot of flowers out there and for me you are one of those flowers, look inside yourself and try to see what others see, maybe you will see a flower. It’s possible that being here with all the window blinds down, curtains drawn and the door shut isn’t helping matters, let’s let some of that sunshine in.” After this little talking too from Jenny she slides off the bed and kneeling between my legs gives me a long gentle kiss on the lips, after the kiss ends with a searching look into my eyes she gets up and crawls across the bed to open the front blinds and curtains.
”We started opening up just in time, Ken and Sue are now leaving their van and I think it’s Harry and Val as they have two youngsters as well with them, they have their kit on and have black faces. You go and wash your eyes; I will see you outside in a minute, as I go into the bathroom I see Jenny sitting in the van doorway putting her shoes on. When I have done my face again I come out into the awning, Sue, Val and Jenny are talking a few yards away I hear Sue saying sorry to Jenny over the embarrassment caused by the earlier conversation, and Jenny’s voice is quieter when she replies or maybe it’s just that she is facing away from me and the breeze through the trees masks her voice but I don’t hear her reply.
“Don’t worry about it; talking to Frank it would appear to go with the territory, he said the pair of you had a, now did he say, wicked or warped, sense of humour either way we don’t have a lot of choice, but he did say you could both be trusted totally, and although I have known him less than a day, I have some feelings for him, I haven’t a clue what they are but he is getting to me. I think part of it is he told me about Lynda, it takes a lot of trust for a man to open himself up like that, I feel connected somehow, I don’t know how to explain it.
“If he talked about Lynda you really are in the inner circle, he hasn’t told us about what happened yet, it still hurts too much I think.” Sue whispers, “He’s coming,” and in a normal voice, “What are you planning doing today,”
“I think a bit of clothes shopping around the charity shops, lunch at the Gordon, was it the Bounty Hounds that Frank said were playing and then just walk and talk and do the tourist thing.”
“What time are you thinking of going down the town Frank?” asks Sue.
“If Jenny’s ready, probably in a couple of minutes, I’ve just got to get my box, tankard, wallet and a jacket then lock up and go” “ I just need my handbag and phone and I’m good to go.” said Jenny.
“Come on then, Jenny, let’s get organised and burn off some of that breakfast.” It takes less than a minute to get ready, when we come out and zip up the awning Blackwater are swapping drums, sticks and bags amongst themselves. It is not a bad walk down to the town, up the steps out of the sports field, through the car park to the main gate, along the private road by the University of the Creative Arts (U.C.A.) across a playing field with a lot of old earthworks in it, (Fort Pitt?) the play area, some of the more juvenile members, and these are not necessarily the youngest, want to play, the sensible (?) ones make like grownups telling the children they can’t play now, maybe later if they are good. The next buildings of note are the old almshouses on the hill down to the high street. We cross a major road at the pedestrian crossing, and continue down into the high street itself, closed to traffic for the sweeps festival, there are a few shops before the first side out dancing.
“We will see you later” we yell to Ken and Sue, as we peel off into a Sue Ryder charity shop, Jenny starts looking through the rails at quite a rate, she obviously knows what she is looking for I might as well just stand back and admire the view as she takes her coat off and hands it to me, She finds a pair of shorts, I would have called them hot pants, she holds them in front of herself and looks to me for an opinion, as a personal opinion I don’t like hot pants, I did in the seventies, but that was different, you don’t need to ask me how, but it was. What do I do? I won’t chicken out, I twist my wrist both ways with my hand open and flat to indicate ‘iffy’ and then give thumbs down. This gets me a smile and a nod. Half a dozen items along and another hanger is selected this is a skirt, green tie dye, looks like corduroy, mid calf, it will be too heavy move or flow nicely, thumbs down, again a smile and a nod, a couple of minutes go by and another hanger selected a gypsy type blouse this time, white floral, the neckline looks very wide, puff sleeves.
Is she winding me up or testing / teasing me, deliberately picking unsuitable items, that gypsy blouse would have fell open at the front and it would have given a lovely view of her breasts, because remember, no bra when I saw her putting my t-shirt on. I wander over to her and whisper in her ear, “just you and me in the van, those hot pants and the gypsy top on you and I might consider myself a happy, dirty old man, but I’m not a dirty old man, I would like to see you dressed in a relaxed and easy style, so start looking properly or shall I choose four tops, two skirts and two pairs of trousers, and you will use them or those or streak!”
“He or she who pays the piper calls the tune.”
“Are asking me to put my money where my mouth is?”
“No, just winding you up, the look of almost panic when I picked out those shorts was so, so, funny I couldn’t resist going with it, sorry love, I’ll be good.”
Meanwhile up the road outside the Eagle, Val and Sue are discussing Frank and Jenny;
“Did you see the looks in their eyes when they talk to each other, and him telling her about Lynda, if they aren’t holding hands or got their arms around each other when we meet up at lunch, then I’ll be getting the beer in for the rest of the day,” Says Sue.
Val chips in with, “I wonder if they really only just met, they were both very relaxed about sharing the sleeping accommodation, they could have met a month or two ago and are trying to hide it.”
“No, that doesn’t fit at all. Frank couldn’t lie to save his life, he is lousy at it, and he knows it. That is a lot of his attractiveness to those who know him, I always thought of him as a one woman man, when he lost Lynda I wouldn’t have been surprised if he had lost it as well. I suppose their kids helped him to keep himself together.”
“Here come the rest of the side, is Ken out of the pub, yet? Asks Val,
“He’s only gone to the gents; you make him sound worse than he is.”
“If I hadn’t seen Harry slip off with all the tankards less than ten seconds later I might have believed you, I suppose Ken knows what you want.”
“Yes Ken knows, I wonder what the bar staff will say when he makes it.”
“What do you mean, ‘makes it’,”
“It’s a shandy but with water instead of lemonade, in times of old it would have been called ‘small beer’.”
“What’s small beer then?”
“When proper beer is made the spent hops and malt instead of being thrown away are boiled up again to make a second much weaker brew, this, because it had been boiled was safer to drink than the spring or stream water that the men in the fields would often have to drink. As this small beer was so weak and lacking in alcohol and flavour it couldn’t get them drunk, that’s why small beer is a bit of an insult.”
“So it’s watered beer, then?”
“To me, now, yes, But I couldn’t drink full beer this early in the day anyway, here they come,”
“Hello Ladies, Here’s the first one of the day, may it be a good one.” This is from Harry.
“The day or the beer,” Says Ken, “well have you got them married off yet, Sue?”
“I don’t know what you mean, I admit we were talking about them and I just might have dented your weekend beer fund, but I think it’s safe.” Ken raises an eyebrow in question. “I bet Val that when we meet them in the Gordon they will be holding hands or cuddling each other, the stakes were beer for the day”
“My beer fund is safe.” Was Ken’s simple but heartfelt reply.
Back in the charity shop Jenny is still going through the racks but more slowly, a strappy sun top comes out and is proffered for appraisal, muted orange, it looks small but she knows her size, that gets approval, a minute or so and a white floral blouse comes out and is draped across my arm, a bit further along and she stops, “these are all too big, don’t need trousers or coats, this will do here,” and she walks to the till, I am about to reach for my wallet when I get told in no uncertain terms to put it away. After the goods are paid for we leave and continue along the high street, there is a hospices charity shop next we are only in there for a few minutes, nothing takes Jenny’s fancy before the Eagle, so we stop and watch Vixen do a seven man (woman) dance, I like Vixen, and not just because it is a ladies border side, they have an attitude to the dancing that lifts it, and they have some good dances too. “This is brilliant, I never knew stuff like this existed, what’s it called,” “the dance style is Border, The tune is called Princess Royal, this tune is more usually danced to by a Cotswold side, and it looks like it’s Cotswold next.”
“I know I sound stupid, but what is Cotswold”
“You aren’t stupid, you are just ignorant of this part of our history, traditions, and so on, as a general guide, Cotswold sides tend to wear white trousers and baldrics, some have floral hats, the moves and stepping are more complex than border and the bands are usually lot smaller, sometimes a single whistle or concertina.”
The next side to dance are Coton Morris from Cambridgeshire, all white with black waistcoats and bell pads. They have three musicians; two melodeons and a whistle.
“I think Blackwater will be on next, Ken is trying to organise them.
“I wonder what they will do; there are about a dozen of them, six to dance and six in the band or eight and four.” Ken goes on and introduces the side and announces that they will be dancing Ally Pally, a fairly showy dance with lots of movement to get the rags moving. There are a couple of figures in it, interlocking squares, and cross & swing that weren’t there last time I danced out with them, after the dance we go across to them, Jenny is full of praise for the display, “I’ve never seen anything like it, and the music has a lot more get up and go than on the CD we listened to last night, I would like to stay but I have to get some more clothes, and we don’t want to be late for lunch.” “See you later.”
We continue along the street, outside the Two Brewers. Hertfordshire Holly are getting ready to dance, “If Dave were honest this is the sort of music and dance he would have liked you to have a go at.” North West dancing to me looks more like synchronised tap dancing with hand movements; I feel I must maintain neutrality about what I say, I would like to get someone else involved, with the loss of Lynda the Morris is poorer and I feel the need to replace her for the Morris. “I’m glad Dave didn’t come, he could never have got me interested in this, and I don’t like the word but boring springs to mind.”
“I am not certain of this because I never have been that interested but I was told by a dancer years ago that most of the dances are supposed to welcome the men folk home from work,”
“No this isn’t for me, can we move to the next shop” “You’re the shopper; I just follow and obey, dearest, after you.” The road is getting more crowded as we get closer to the Cathedral, “there is another charity shop,” I say pointing to a Cancer research shop, we enter and Jenny moves straight to the clothes racks, a skirt is selected and held in place, it looks nice, lightweight, off white, horizontal seams with orange lace trim, well flared, just below knee length, it will move nicely, I give a thumbs up, a couple of minutes and another skirt appears shorter, straight, and bottle green, it could go well with the orange strappy top, thumbs up, I get an, are you sure, sort of look and I nod yes. Another rack and a cardigan is selected, it looks like cashmere, light coral in colour, could match with the green skirt, this also get a thumbs up. With the three purchases, she goes to the till to settle up and we leave the shop, over the road, next door to the Gordon is a shop with loads of tankards on tables outside,” if you’re drinking with the Morris you have to look the part, that means you need a tankard, have a look over them and see if any take your fancy.”
“I don’t know anything about tankards, help me.”
“Ok, are you comfortable drinking pints or would you prefer halves.”
“I normally drink wine, so I would prefer a half pint size.”
“Do you have any hobbies or pet themes?”
“Some of the tankards are engraved; on other items engraving tends to reduce its value, that doesn’t seem to apply to pewter, as the engraving may be attractive in its own right or just to the individual. There aren’t many half pint ones and you can easily look at all of them.” After looking at about half of them, she selects an unengraved, glass bottomed half pint one, I look at the price tag, and it’s a bit uppish but not exorbitant, I get my wallet out.
“Oh no, you aren’t paying for this, it’s too expensive.”
“This time I get my own way, it is traditional that your first tankard is a gift, and you can’t break with the tradition; ask Ken when we see him. What else is on your shopping list for today?”
“I need underwear, and I want new for that, is there a shop along here or do we go further afield.”
“I think we have to cross over the river, for those, I’ll ask Sue later. It’s just after twelve let’s move along a bit and see who’s dancing outside the cathedral.” it’s a bit crowded but eventually we get up onto the grassed area in front of the War Memorial and from the top of the low wall that holds the soil back we have a good view of the dancers, it looks like two border sides and a garland side who have just finished. “It looks like it’s the Whitchmen next; I think you will like these.” The squire comes on and introduces the side and the dance, Rochester Thistle, this gets an extra cheer.
“If I recall correctly this is a willy dance” I tell Jenny,
“What’s a willy dance?” is the expected question.
“Watch and see.” As the dance starts with two lines of four, half the dancers, all male, hold short sticks pointing out from their groin, and swaying in time with the music, the other side of the formation again with short sticks, sideswipe the stationary sticks in time with the music, then the roles are reversed, with the strikers being struck. This occupies the ‘A’ music; all the dancers move to figures for the ‘B’ music, five choruses and figures complete the dance, ending with a dash into the crowd. Jenny just stands there jaw agape,” If I hadn’t seen it, I wouldn’t have believed it, they are such big men, and there wasn’t a lot of thumping about at all, so light on their feet,”
“Let’s move on to the next shop, see if we can find something to interest you.” We walk another fifty yards past a Cotswold side that had just finished dancing; they were to be followed by Gundulphs Sword side,
“You haven’t seen any sword sides yet so we will stop and watch these, they have a few more younger people than the last time I saw them.”
“What else do they do apart from stomping round in.... That’s different,” one of the dancers holds aloft an interlocking pattern of swords, it is lowered back amongst the dancers, they all grasp an end in each hand and they are off again, passing through, round, over and under swords held by others in the set, all done without letting go of both blades, after a couple of minutes a star is held aloft to cheers from the crowd, all dance off following the star through the musicians.
“Shall we move on again,” I ask? ”There’s an Oxfam shop over there, ok.” We go into the shop; they have air conditioning, about ten degrees cooler than outside I hadn’t noticed how warm it had been getting, even though I was still carrying my box on my back.
“You help me look this time instead of just standing there like a spare part or a lost husband!”
“Ok, What are you looking for, what size, colour, etc etc etc.”
“Something nice, size eight, possibly a dress, and definitely a jumper or sweater to wear this evening.”
“If I find something I like and that you find acceptable, I reserve the right to buy it for you, Ok?”
“I don’t know, I don’t know what you will pick.”
“That’s why you have right of veto, fair enough.”
“Ok.” I cross the shop to a dress rail, I’m quite comfortable, looking though the dresses, checking brand labels, care labels and looking for damage, Lynda trained me well in the art of charity shop shopping. Just to be awkward, these aren’t sorted by size, it definitely slows the work, that’s nice, size twelve, pooh, continue along, that’s a nice grey and black dress, size eight, the grey is a semi circle pleated fan decoration from bust to hem centred above the left hip, 90% Silk, tricky, cleaning would be pricey, Karen Millen, that’s a pricey label, how much? Ten Pounds, that’s cheap, this would retail at eighty pounds plus, what’s wrong with it? I take it from the rail, and lay it across the top of the rail for a proper look; all the seams are ok, can’t see any stains or discolouration. I put it back and continue along the rack. A blue dress catches my eye, I look at it, and put it back, I like blue, but her green eyes wouldn’t suit, further along an emerald green dress with contrast trim to collar and arm holes, sleeveless with embroidered and beaded bust and a wide sash around the waist, Size eight, Monsoon brand, I prefer the grey silk mix. I can’t see if Jenny has found anything of interest, so I cross the shop to her and ask if she has anything, she shows me a grey jacket; it looks like silk but manmade fabrics are getting very close to silk in appearance now. I don’t ask to look closely, “I have found a couple of dresses that might look great with that, would you care to come over here, we go over to the dress rail and I pull out the green dress, and before she has a chance to grab the price ticket I hold it up in front of her, her arm comes around to hold it in to her waist, she smiles at me.
”Hold the jacket over as well to check the colours together, looks good?” Nodding, she gives me a wide grin, her eyes shining; I think that the colour got her. “I have an alternative dress, just a moment; give me the green one, I take it before she can take a peek at the price ticket and hand over the grey one, I see her eyes flash over the brand label, she holds it in place, and puts the jacket over, the greys are not the same, they look good together though.
“Which dress do you prefer?”
“I like them both, the green one is gorgeous, but the grey is more functional.”
“Choose or do I buy them both?”
“No you can’t, I won’t let you.”
“Look love, choose,”
“I can’t choose they are both so perfect. I think I will have them both.”
“I will buy the green one then.”
“How much is it?”
“I will stand by the till to find out.”
“No you won’t, I will ask the lady at the till to keep it under the counter till I slip out from the Gordon on the pretext of a toilet break to come and pay for it.”
“You can’t, that’s cheating.”
“How much is the Karen Millen and the jacket?”
“I don’t know,” she has a rummage amongst the folds of the dress and finds the ticket. “I don’t believe it, it is ten pounds, It must retail at over a hundred pounds. The jacket is six pounds.”
“That’s what I thought, it’s only a silk blend but at 90% it will be priced as a silk dress for cleaning, so if you give me cash I will take both and pay for them and this green one.”
“I will need to check them first.”
“Sure, the seams are all ok, no stains or damage, but there are a few discoloured beads on the neckline of the green dress, here to here” As I show her, she gives me another smile, “you’re well versed in charity shopping.”
“Well trained I was by an expert, have you got a twenty or will we square up later,” a quick dip in her purse and she gives me twenty pounds.
“Thank you, I will see you outside in a couple of minutes, Ok? Scoot.”
Once she is out of the shop I move to the till, and placing forty pounds close beside the till so that Jenny couldn’t see it from the road, and hand over the two dresses and the jacket, I ask the lady to remove the price tickets, she tells me they do that automatically, it’s how they balance the till, the clothes are carefully placed into a carrier bag and I receive our change and till slip, the till slip and paper money goes in my wallet, I keep four pounds to give to Jenny and put the other two pounds in the collection box, “Thank you.” Says the lady behind the counter. “Thank you very much, too” I reply. Outside the shop I hand the bag to Jenny, she opens the bag to check, then smiles and makes a move to give me a cuddle, we hold for a second or so then break.
“It must be close to one o’clock, we had better make a move to the Gordon, as we move towards the door from the other side of the street Harry comes up to us and asks.
“Are you ready for lunch, the rest of us are following behind, I told them I needed to go ahead for a toilet break, I hoped to catch you first, can we go inside? I want to talk to the pair of you.”
“After you,” and we all enter the Gordon, straight on towards reception, then Harry turns left into a bar, the rest of the year it’s the patrons bar, Harry orders us to sit in a corner, where we won’t be seen by people going into the beer festival.
Harry starts the conversation with “I don’t know what’s going on but there is some form of bet going on between Val, Ken and Sue, and it’s about you two, holding hands or cuddling or not when we first meet here.”
“I think I can guess this,” states Jenny, “from what they were saying earlier, I think Sue already has us married off in her own mind, she’s crazy, we haven’t known each other a day yet; would that be the core of a bet?”
“It wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case, but what does she expect me to do? Get on one knee in the marquee and propose?”
“I don’t know, I would like to see Sue lose the bet but that would mean you two would have to stay apart, and I can see you’re holding hands under the table!” At this comment we both colour up like a pair of teenagers, being caught out by friends.
Jenny comes in with an idea that might put them on the wrong track, “look, if I go to the ladies and get changed, into some of this lot, and then come into the bar and meet up with you there; I can start a bit of a disagreement between us over different fashion and decency standards.”
“That would be a good one, shhh. There they go, Jenny could leave here first as there will be a fair queue for the ladies, we can leave a few seconds later and go straight into the marquee”
“Where do I go?” asks Jenny.
“Of course, you’ve never been here, Harry, you go first; we will leave in a bit.” Harry leaves grinning from ear to ear under his face paint. “He’s looking forward to getting one over on Ken & Sue, I wonder if something else is going on as well that he’s not telling. So are you going to start yelling at me or going straight for the jugular when you berate my standards?”
“If I tell you, you won’t be suitably surprised when I start up, will you?”
“Yes dear. Let’s go.”
We leave the bar, and go down the steps, turning left towards the exit for the toilets, downhill to the toilets and I tell her once she has changed, to go out the door at the end and find us in the marquee, Jenny goes into the ladies with her carrier bags, and I go into the gents, I might as well since I’m here. When I leave the gents, a queue has formed at the ladies; that could be because of Jenny changing in there, evil I know, but I have to chuckle to myself.
As I go outside I am struck by how warm it seems to be getting, well, it was a warm front that gave us the rain yesterday, so I shouldn’t be that surprised. In the Marquee it is easy to spot who I am looking for, they are fairly striking after all, and when I get to Sue and Val I lower my box and jacket to the concrete.
“Hi Sue, Val, is anyone in the queue yet or am I to have the honour of being the first to open my wallet?”
“Ken’s over there, behind Harry, he got here first, I thought he was rushing for the toilet, so he could hide and avoid the first round.”
“So where is Jenny?” “How did the shopping go?” “Did she spend a lot of your money?” “What did she get?” If they had rehearsed it they couldn’t have got the timing better as they asked alternate questions; it was only when they heard themselves that they burst out laughing and had to stop.
“Right, here we go, Round one question one, Jenny is in the ladies, getting changed, Question two, the shopping went very well considering the difference in our ages and fashion sense, in which I am apparently sadly lacking, my turn for a question now, do either of you know of an underwear shop here or do we have to cross the river?”
“I thought you passed one down the road a bit opposite the Two Brewers,” said Val.
“We probably did then, Hertfordshire Holly were dancing near there, we watched them, Jenny wasn’t impressed, so we’ll go back there after the lunch break. To continue with the questioning, fourthly, she didn’t spend any of my money, she wouldn’t let me pay, next, you will see some of what she bought when she comes in? I was allowed after much protest to buy her a half pint tankard, I told her it was traditional that your first tankard is always a gift; don’t rock the boat, please.” Ken and Harry return with four full tankards which are duly handed round.”You should have tapped us when we were getting these we could have saved you queuing again.”
“I don’t know what Jenny will want; I might as well wait till she gets here and let her read the tasting notes.
“Here she comes,” says Harry, who is facing the entrance, she looks great in the off-white flared skirt with the white floral blouse open down the front tucked into the waistband of the skirt and the orange strappy top under it.
Sue and Val are either side of Harry, Ken is next to Sue so if we open the circle there is space for Jenny between me and Ken. We open the circle to make space for her and she speaks to me first, in a fairly sharp tone, “You perv, I wondered why you were keen on this skirt, now I know, I was checking my appearance in the full length mirror at the top of the corridor, and against the light this skirt is practically see through, I think I will go and put my trousers back on.” Harry, who is facing her and looking into the light, comes to my defence.
“What do you mean? I’m looking into the light and it looks perfectly ok to me, what do you think Val? Or am I a perv as well?”
“Sorry Jenny, I know we are all a different generation to you, but I think you look really good, do you know what this makes me think of? And Jenny, you probably won’t have a clue what I’m talking about, back in 1980 or 81 there was a lot of fuss over some pictures that a newspaper had of Lady Di, while most photographers at an arranged photo call were taking front view pictures, a couple of them sneaked round behind her and took some pictures against the light, again as with you now, her legs were in silhouette, the fuss was that she was a prospective royal and that the picture breached royal protocol. So unless you can show that you have royal connections, you will just have to accept that Frank has an eye for making a girl look good, what else do have? As an outfit what you have on matches together marvellously did you get it as an outfit?
“No, these came from two different shops, as to the rest of it, so far I have a skirt that is too short, I don’t have the legs for it, a jacket, a cardigan and a couple of dresses; and I do still need undies, “
“We have already discussed your undies or the lack of them, you were too busy watching Hertfordshire Holly to look around you, and there was lingerie shop behind or facing you, near the Two Brewers.
“How about christening your tankard then Jenny, I have the tasting notes for what is available, have read through and let me know what you fancy”
“I have a question, was Frank spinning me a line about the traditions surrounding the gifting of tankards.
“Do you mean that you don’t buy your own first tankard, if so that’s true?”Answered Sue. “However who first fills it is entirely up to you. Have you made any sense of the notes?”
“No, afraid not, I am by choice a wine drinker, I don’t know what hoppy or malty even mean. I haven’t tasted either,”
“Look everyone, give her a taste of each of what we have, then she can have one of those or pick something different,
“I’m on Lunchbreak,” says Ken try a drop of this.”
“There’s a lot of bitterness in it and not a lot sweetness or alcohol to off-set it”
“I’m on Frigging” says Harry try this.”
“That’s nicer, sweeter but stronger I think”
“I’m drinking XT,” from Val,
“Not too sure about that, I don’t like the aftertaste.”
“Finally this is an IPA with a top.” From Sue.
“All can notice is the lemonade, although the beer isn’t offensive,
“So what’s it to be then, Friggin’ in the rigging, or something else,”
“What are you having, I could have a taste of that as well, couldn’t I?”
“I’ll have Nelson’s Blood, anyone need a refill?” All declines the offer, so I head towards the bar with Jenny following close behind, it will take a couple of minutes to get served so while I am waiting I ask if that is all the anger she can generate.
“That was more than enough of a display to make Ken pay for the beer; but it was amazing how everyone came to your defence.”
“That’s because I’m right, you really look good, nobody commented on having your hair down; and the skirt is translucent not see through. Modest as well aren’t I? Pint of Nelson’s please” My beer is handed over and Jenny takes a sip,
“I’ll have that please”
“Another Half of Nelson’s please.” I pay for the beer and turn to face Jenny,” you are beautiful, a proper flower, thank you for being here for me.”
“Now, now, we have to make like we aren’t keen on each other for a bit longer, how long till the Bounty Hounds start,” I look to the ‘stage’,
“They are in position, they will start soon. Have you seen much live music?”
“Would you believe I have never seen live music on this sort of scale? My sister had a band at her wedding reception. Band and guests together totalled less than one hundred.”
“Right let’s get back to the rest, see if you can find another sharp remark, then we will go up front to watch and listen.
Ken asks “What did she decide on, Frigging?”
“No, I have found a lady of rare taste and refinement with an educated palate who knows good ale when she finds it, this lady drinks of Nelson’s Blood.”
“Hey Sue, Guess what Jenny’s on.”
“Frigging” “No, Nelsons Blood”
“Wow I don’t know how she can.”
“How can you drink that, Jenny? It’s horrible, like drinking tar,”
“It would appear that my taste in beer is better than Frank’s sense of decency when it comes to clothes”
“If my taste is that bad, try the other skirt and the cardigan instead of that skirt and blouse next time you go to the ladies, let everyone else vote when you get back. Looser buys. Ok.”
“Ok, but I can’t be bothered to wait, I’m going now.”
“What’s got into Jenny today, she was happy enough this morning, what happened?” Asked Ken.
“I don’t know, I have never claimed to understand women, if she asks for an opinion I will give it, if she doesn’t like it it’s not my problem.”
“You didn’t give an honest opinion about clothes to a woman? You did, didn’t you? No wonder you’re in the mire!” I look into my Nelson’s Blood and smile from ear to ear; I might have got one past Ken. Yippee!
We are in practically in the same positions as when Jenny came in first time round, and this time, because more people have moved to the front for the Bounty Hounds there is a lot more space for her to fill as she enters the Marquee, she looks stunning, the skirt is short, nearly six inches above her knees, she has good legs, the green of the skirt meshes perfectly with the orange of her top, and the cashmire sweater worn unbuttoned seemed to cling to her top accentuating her figure, as she approached her smile was nearly as broad as mine, but nobody was looking at her face.
“Ok folks,” I say, “Time to vote, do I have any form of acceptable dress sense when it comes to ladies clothing, and will those in favour please raise your tankards.
“By a vote of five to one, I declare that Jenny is getting the beer in!” Jenny comes to me and quietly asks do I look nice?”
“Everyone here thinks you look great, didn’t you look in that mirror when you left the ladies? Of course you did, and because you did you know it as well as I.” The Bounty hounds fire up at this point so I have to lean close to her to ask.
“How do we find out about the bet? I want to hold you; I know the dispute is phoney. What do we do next?”
“I don’t know, maybe you can talk to Harry, see if Ken or Sue has given in.”
“Ok if I get the beer in then bladder pressure will give me a chance to talk to Harry.”
“No, I lost, I have to buy the beer,” turning to the others, she asks, “Right, I have to get them in, who wants what, Speak now or go without.”
“Lunchbreak, Frigging, XT and IPA and One and a half Nelson’s Blood is the total order, I carry the men’s tankards, Jenny has the ladies tankards, we get to the front and after a very short wait we get the beer in. Jenny, of course, pays. I am beginning to think that she has standards very close to my own. We get the drinks back to the others who have managed to get a table, as we sit together; we hear that they will be dancing again at two thirty.
“Where are you planning on dancing?” I ask.
“Probably at the Two Brewers or the French Hospital, then try for a spot at the War Memorial, if we can’t get in there we will move round the corner to Ye Arrow. The Bounty Hounds start playing Honour and Praise, “Here you go this is what it’s supposed to sound like;
“On a fine summers morning we lay at the Quay,
The holds were filled high with the treasures of the sea,
So that they could be transported by men such as we,
To homeland and for queen. And so on....
At the end of the song Jenny is looking very moist in the eyes, there is a story in there and I would like to know more, but I won’t mention it, I hope others don’t either.
The next song is another Fairport standard, written by John Richards and titled The Deserter, this is a lament for the execution of World War One shell shock victims, I don’t know why, but all these songs about W.W.1 really get to me, No-one in my family tree on either side were significantly involved, I suppose someone will come up with a psychobabble explanation for it.
“Well it’s twenty past two, bottoms up; it’s time we were getting going again. Are you going to play along for a couple Frank? If you don’t it’s a waste of energy carting that about all day, or is it a status symbol?
“I might well, later on, but first I have to go to the gents,”
“No ribald comments but I had better as well.” Says Harry, “Back in a minute.”
As we are standing in the queue for the gents I ask Harry if he knows anything about the bet he says “I know nothing but Val is doing a lot more smiling at Sue since Jenny had a go at you, If I go back first, I’ll listen for any clues, give me a minute.” As it happens, he passes Jenny in the corridor on his way back, to the table. As Harry sits again to finish his Frigging. Sue announces “All right, I was wrong; I could have sworn they were close, sorry dear, your beer fund just took a hit,”
“Don’t worry about it, I thought you were right as well, I’m glad I didn’t up the stakes to Sunday as well! Still it’s not too bad, A round in Ye Arrow when we finish and a couple more here on the way back won’t clear me out, But you are buying tomorrow,” he said looking straight at Sue and winking. I return to the table and down the last of my beer, and seeing Jenny’s isn’t empty “I assume Jenny’s gone to the ladies, is she coming back or are we meeting outside.” Shrugs all around.
“Right I’ll wait here for her; we will probably listen to the rest of the set while we have another one and catch you later outside or at Ye Arrow.”
I settle in for a bit of a wait and after another couple of minutes, she comes in to the marquee, I stand up to make sure she sees me and after looking all around, crosses to me puts her arms around my neck and kisses me soundly, I instantly put my arms around her waist and rest my hands on her bottom, this lasts a few seconds and as we let each other go, she again looks around. “Feel better now?” she asks, eyes shining brightly as she looks into my eyes. I nod.
“Good, has everyone gone?” “Yes thankfully, otherwise the cat would most definitely be out of the proverbial bag, “Would you like another one,” I ask raising my tankard, “we could then move closer to the front for the rest of the set.” “Please, I could get taste for that.” I go to the bar while Jenny watches our stuff, I watch her while I slowly progress to the front, and she keeps looking down at her legs, almost as though see doesn’t think they are hers. “Pint of nelsons please and half of Hobgoblin please.” Let’s see if she notices the difference, I pay for the drinks and go back to the table and sit to her left, “why do you keep looking at your legs, haven’t you seen them before?”
“I haven’t seen this much of them before in a skirt; I really do think it’s too short.”
“If you think that is too short, I don’t think you would like to wear that, moving my tankard towards the bar, to the right of Jenny, is a girl with a skirt that only just came below her sex. I bet she doesn’t sit down or bend over very often! Why are you worrying about your skirt, you know you look good, you looked in the mirror, or are you fishing for more compliments?” She colours most charmingly.
“If so, I still think you look stunning, but what do I know, I’m only a bloke.”
“Can we stay here, I know we can’t talk properly, but I would like to listen to the music as well.” She takes a sip of beer.
“This isn’t the same, she looks into her tankard, it’s more red, (pause) tastes of spices, (another taste and pause) smoother and I don’t think it’s quite as strong. Have you still got those beer notes? I want to see if I can identify it.” I twist round to check the table behind us, there is a copy on there so I ask the lad sitting there to pass it. “Thank you.” I pass the notes to Jenny, and she spends a couple of minutes reading then announces.
“It has to be Hobgoblin, it could be Pussy Strong Porter but from the notes I don’t think so.”
“Well done, I couldn’t have done that.”
“Without wishing to sound at all snobbish, because I’m not, wine drinkers have generally a better sense of taste than the average beer drinker, I think that’s because wine measures are smaller, stronger, cost a lot more in terms of pounds per pint and are a lot more complex in flavours, so you take more time and think about it more.” The Bounty Hounds come to the end of a song that I didn’t recognize, and then announce for their last one they will do Matty Groves, a traditional song, again a Fairport standard, and along with a lot of the audience, I join in,
“A holiday, a holiday and the first one of the year,
Lord Darnell’s wife came into the church, the gospel for to hear,
And when the meeting it was done......
.....But bury my lady at the top for she was of noble kin.” This gets an extended round of applause, they go off and don’t return. In the comparative silence that follows conversations around us swell in volume, but not to the extent of making us have problems talking.
“That last song they did, do you know all the words, all the way through? “
“Yes, and some of the variations that Fairport put in.”
“What do you mean by variations?”
“The verse that goes,”
“How do like my feather bed, how do you like my sheets?
“How do like my lady wife who lies in your arms asleep?
“Upon occasion becomes,”
“How do like my feather bed, how do you like my sheets?
“How do like my curtains I got from Ikea last week?
“Why do they do that?”
“I have no idea, one theory is it might help track bootleg copies, but I think that’s a load of tosh, I like to think it’s to keep the fans off balance when they sing along.” Now the Bounty Hounds have finished what will we do next?
“Well we were just going to do the tourist bit, weren’t we? But we haven’t been back to near the Two Brewers yet to get your undies, then wander about, look at a few dances, maybe catch Blackwater doing their last one. We need to finish our drinks first, so while we do that, can you tell me something about yourself, all I know is you are Jennifer, you live in a flat somewhere in Bishops Stortford, your Dad died a couple of years ago and finally you found a crap boyfriend named Dave, oh, I forgot that you have a sister. So how about a potted biography your life in ten minutes, that should leave plenty of gaps and unexplained bits to keep us talking for a fair while.
“Ok it seems fair enough, my full name is Jennifer Anne Saunders, no Ab Fab jokes please, I was born in St Albans nearly twenty six years ago, I am an orphan, mum died in an accident when I was ten, I was then brought up by Dad and my elder sister, Erica, who married three years ago, I am very single, I live by myself in a flat in Bishops Stortford, I am self employed as a property agent, I don’t drive, I like a drink and good food, I don’t do sport, and I have no hobbies.”
“That was less than one minute, what did you do at school, any favourite subjects, what did you hate?”
“I hated senior school, I was bullied by the bigger girls after mum was killed, I think because I didn’t get the emotional support and guidance that just sort of filters down from mother to daughter, and I couldn’t handle the pressure to conform to the standards of the rest of my age group, I felt they were wrong, but didn’t know why, I finished school when I was sixteen, with bare passes in my GCSE’s. I got a job as an office girl in an estate agents, I think Dad got that for me, I don’t know or care how, he was always interested in anything that happened at work and because he was interested I was more motivated to make more of it, I went to college for four years of day and evening classes got my qualifications as a quantity surveyor. Mum and Dad always had what they wanted, but Erica and I were always short of funds, if we wanted something we had to save or work for it, Dad said it was to teach us the value of money.”
“That takes you to around twenty one, what has happened during the last five years,”
“Not a lot really in one sense, but a hell of a lot in another, once I was twenty one, both Erica and I were taken by Dad to an office in Bishops Stortford where we were given what amounts to a crash course in the financial details and property owned by our Dad, we were both stunned at how much Dad was worth, and an outline of how it was planned to form two property enterprises from the one just prior to or immediately after his death. After seeing the look of shock, fear and worry on our faces, he said that he had no plans to die just yet and that the division of his estate would be revaluated every six months to ensure the division was fair and equitable, and things were set up in such a way that he could run what he called ‘his little empire’ by phone and e-mail etc, so he was going cruising in his twelve metre Bermudan sloop and with so much comms gear onboard if anything did crop up he could handle it. His plan was to go south from the east coast down to Hastings or Rye, across to Normandy, staying within twenty miles of the coast down to Spain, Portugal and into the Mediterranean. Sailing from port to port east to Italy, some of the Greek islands, Cyprus and back home via Malta, maybe three to four years, don’t worry if we don’t hear from him for a month or more we would get postcards etc, and if there was anything important we would hear from his agents. He left in July, and he told us both at his leaving dinner, that he would probably stay a week or so at time at most of the Biscay ports, although the boat was easily capable of riding out a Biscay gale, he liked his comfort and would stay in a marina for the duration.”
“We both received postcards every couple of weeks, Erica one week, me a week or so later, I think he did it that way to make sure kept in contact just swapping postcards. It became a bit of a ritual in that every month or so we would meet up in The Red Lion Hotel for a meal, chat and swop cards, we never swopped them back, I still have all Erica’s. He was having a great time, the cards from the French Med coast were usually funny, the Italian ones, usually just scenic. The last few from the Greek islands were mainly in envelopes, and were from clothing optional beaches; the pictures of Dad were carefully posed to ensure no-one could think any dark thoughts about him and his daughters. The next thing we heard, and that was nearly two and a half years ago was that Dad was dead, His boat had motored slowly into a bay off a small island near Crete, it went straight into the bay and stopped when it grounded out on the keel, no-one took any notice until the engine hadn’t stopped some twenty minutes later. When some of the people on the beach swam out they found Dad slumped in the cockpit, the post mortem showed that he had died from a massive heart attack. Despite all Dads planning it still took nine months to get his estate sorted, the most difficult bit, legally speaking, was the repatriation, if that is the right word, of the boat, British boat, Greek waters, a dead body and local laws all combined to make it a nightmare. The legal types Dad had on a retainer earned their money getting it all sorted eventually, and now you have before you a not very poor little orphan.”
“Can I ask a sort of personal question?”
“Of course you can, I reserve the right to silence, though”
“Why rent a flat, if you are a lady of some value?” After I few moments the reply comes,
“This is privileged information and goes no further; do I have your word on that?”
“Of course, as Chrissie said, I’m nosey not a gossip.”
“Who says I rent my flat? The last time I checked I owned the block, no-one there knows that and I’d like to keep it that way.”
“Certainly, what better way is there to keep an eye on your tenants?”
“I’ve finished my drink and I don’t even remember drinking it.”
“I’m done as well, are you fit enough to continue the shopping trip.” With a nod and a smile we rise, Jenny looks at the girl in the micro mini skirt and shrugs her shoulders, I do my Dobbin bit putting my box on my back after clipping on the tankards; the shopping and my jacket in my left arm, as we enter the hotel proper and go up the corridor, I am sure I see Jenny put a bit of a wriggle on as she walks towards the full length mirror at the end, I smile, blow her a kiss and keep my mouth firmly closed.
Here ends Part 2, part 3 will follow soon, thank you.