Tony got off the 44 bus in Lincoln Road, pausing for awhile, trying
to decide if he really wanted to go home just yet ...he needed time to think over just what he wanted before facing Floss.
He turned back and walked toward the bridge, perhaps a stroll along the canal would concentrate his mind. The garage and newsagents
on the corners of Pierce
were in darkness, but the cafe was open and he could see two customers seated in there and another, who he recognised
as Billy Bagley, intently working the one-armed bandit. Tony smirked as he remembered his schooldays when
he had a scrap in the playground with Billy.....over a girl in their class. They both finished up getting six of
the best from the headmaster.
He continued on to the corner of The Avenue where a break in the railings
afforded access to the canal bank. His thoughts returned to his present predicament. He thought the world of Floss but did
he really love her? If she hadn't confronted him with her avowed love, would he have taken their friendly relationship any
further? He probably wouldn't have had these thoughts if it hadn't been for Elsie suddenly coming into the frame. He had adored
the barmaid from a distance, never thinking for a moment that she would be interested in him. She was a gorgeous, hard-working
girl and, compared to Floss, was an angel. The last thing he wanted to do was to let Floss down but felt he had made a terrible
mistake in proposing to her on-the-fly like that. He had been flattered when she told him of her love and he had reacted on
the spur of the moment. Searching for pebbles on the grass embankment, Tony played 'skimmers' with them across the width of
the canal. A partly sunken old pram then became the object of target practice. He wondered if he should go and chat
things over with his uncle Ted who lived just up The Avenue on the corner of Dagnall Road but, straining to look at his watch, saw that
it was after .
Aunt Betty always went to bed early and wouldn't take kindly to being woken up. No, he would just have to figure this one
out for himself..............
Distracted by his deep thought, Tony fumbled as he tried to insert his key into the front door lock; cursing
himself under his breath as he dropped the bunch and, eventually succeeding, pushed open the door.It seemed unusually quiet in the house.Even though it was
after , he knew his parents always watched the late drama series
Midweek Theatre.The livingroom was empty and cold so he moved over to the tiled
grate, using the poker to rake the smouldering embers in an attempt to encourage renewed activity.He was hungry, not having eaten since breakfast apart from half a jam buttie just before he went out. The
kitchen didn’t reek of cabbage or sprouts so he wasn’t surprised not to find his dinner in the oven waiting to
be warmed up.‘Where the hell is everybody?’ he thought, as he filled
the kettle and placed it on the gas stove.Just as he was about to swill a mug
from the heap of unwashed crockery in the sink, he heard the livingroom door creak open.Leaning back from the sink, he saw it was Floss.‘Jeez, this was
it! What on earth am I going to say to her?' He mused with a tormented soul.
who had been sitting in the parlour thinking things over, had heard Tony come in ten minutes before but had been too nervous
to meet him face to face.Now she had decided that she must break the news of
her change of mind as quickly as possible, to be fair to both of them.
Floss, love, …..you wanna cuppa?”Tony shouted from the kitchen,
washing a second mug in anticipation of a positive reply – well, no-one in this house ever refuses a brew when offered.
please …..no sugar.”Floss replied rather meekly, dreading the inevitable
Floss, I’ve gorra bit’v bad news ……ya know I went to see somebody about a passport tonight?.....well….erm….
he didn’t turn up…. They told me at the studio he’d been nicked”Tony lied, thankful that she couldn’t see his face.“Sorry,
love……. looks like the cruise is off …. maybe we can go some other time, eh?”
tension that had built up inside her started to subside.The relief she felt
on hearing Tony’s words permeated her whole being, culminating in an involuntary smile. Rising from the fireside chair, she walked into the kitchen, now able to face Tony with assurance.
a blow, Tone …….I was looking forward to that trip.” She was as good a liar as he was!“But that doesn’t mean you can’t go…… you can’t let that sailor fellow
down …..you go, love, ……..it’ll do you good …I’ll still be here when you get back.”
had banked on Floss’ insistence on him going alone.He’d hate to
miss the opportunity to get to know Elsie better, but he still felt terribly guilty about letting Floss down.“Aw… I dunno…. I mean …. You wuz lookin’ forward to the trip an’ I’m
not sure I wanna go wivout you, love.”Tony brushed the spilt Typhoo Tips
leaves from the kitchen table, still unable to look directly at this young woman.
be daft!You’ll have a great time ……you deserve it…..
just look on it as your last fling before we settle down together, eh?”Floss
love, as long as you don’t mind …but I bet I’ll be as miserable as sin ….. thinkin’ about you
an’ wishin’ I hadn’t gone wivout ya.” agreed Tony, handing
Floss her mug of piping hot tea. The pair, now relaxed, chatted comfortably for another
hour before Flossie decided it was her bedtime. Tony said he'd wait up for his parents to arrive home. Now, the
only sound in the house was the tick-tock-tick of the Grandfather clock as Tony reclined, eyes closed, in a deep-cushioned
fireside chair. He felt bad about lying to Flossie about the passport but relieved that she took it well ...maybe
Next morning, a
fter dropping into the newsagents in Clay Lane to pick up his
usual Daily Mirror and packet of Wrigleys chewing gum, Tony continued up Clay Lane in the direction
of Coventry Road. Tony worked at a small engineering works in Lily Road, Yardley, and this
walk had become a daily ritual for him, partly to save busfare but mainly to give him chance to read the sport pages on the
way.He wasn't really interested in politics so, after a quick look at Andy Capp
and read the Old Codgers replies to letters, he would turn to the back pages. He cursed as he noted that several clubs were
after Trevor Francis, Blues phenomenal inside-right. 'If we lose him we'll be relegated this season' Tony thought. Stan Cullis
had brought Trevor up to Birmingham 5 years ago from Plymouth and he'd been the
hero of St Andrews ever since.Freddy Goodwin, the present manager, was
trying to hold on to the player but knew he would have to let him go to further his career at a more successful club. (Like
the Villa, perhaps - ed)
Reaching the Coventry Road, Tony crossed over
and, before turning into Lily Road, he moved along to look at what was on at the Tivoli. "The Godfather:
Part II" and "Emannuelle" were on until Saturday then "Monty Python & the Holy Grail" was on from Sunday.'Sod it!' Tony cursed 'I wanted to see that' as he remembered he would hopefully be lounging on a
beach by then. As he turned away, he noticed Ken, the owner of the milk-bar a couple of doors away from the cinema,
sweeping the frontage. "Hiya Ken" he greeted as the man raised his hand to him in recognition. "Hello, Mate....coming to order
the sandwiches ...thought you were still on holiday?"It was Tony's usual task
to gather the breakfast needs of his workmates and bring the order up and then to collect them at .Until about two years before, the 'Milk Bar' had been just that and
didn't do grub.But, due to the only cafe round there closing down, Ken had seen
the opportunity to take on the business of doing sandwiches and hot grills for the factory workers as well as customers of
'The Swan' pub and the Yardley Ex-Serviceman's club across the road.He'd received
notice from the city council that the whole block was being compulsory purchased to make way for a new shopping centre, so
he was making the most of it before he lost the shop.Tony explained that, although
the offices had opened this week, the factory didn't start back until the following Monday.With a wave of farewell, Tony back-tracked, turning into Lily Road.
On reaching his employer's place, he entered through the 'staff only' entrance.Jenny was at the reception desk, filing her nails as usual.Tony knew all about those nails from when he used to take her out. She was the passionate type - he still
had the scars on his back to prove it! "Hi, Jen ...is Mr Collins in?"Jenny looked
up to see who had disturbed her ritual manicuring session."Oh, hello Tony ....what
are you doing here today?....keen to get back to the grindstone, eh?" she grinned."Erm...no..just
needed to see the boss 'bout summat....is he 'ere?"The girl raised the phone
and dialled an internal number.
Tony watched her, remembering how he used to fancy her. She had been his first real conquest....well,
really it wasn't a case of him conquering her at all.She had made all the running,
even asking him on that first date. He'd never had a French kiss but she was very experienced and was responsible for everything
Tony now knew about lovemaking; he had her to thank for that. Turned out that she was a bit too 'pushy' for him and he backed
off when she started talking about bottom-drawer stuff; he wasn't ready for marriage yet.Anyway, he'd caught her with Frankie Phillips at the firm's Christmas party last year.She laughed it off by saying it was just a friendly kiss under the mistletoe, but couldn't quite explain why all her blouse
buttons were undone at the time.A fun girl, but too brazen for him.
Jenny interrupted his thoughts. "Boss'll see you
now, Tone...go through."
Tony explained to Mr Collins that he wouldn't be in on the following Monday and would
be away for a few weeks."A few weeks?" scowled the boss "And who's supposed
to do your job while you're away, eh?Tell you what, sonny, if you don't want
the job then there's plenty that do...be here on Monday or don't come back at all!"Tony had half expected this reaction.This Collins bloke used to be OK
until he packed in smoking.Since then he'd been on a short fuse and was always
coming onto the shop floor complaining about production targets and the amount of overtime some of the blokes were doing.Tony had also heard that the boss' missus had divorced him because of his changed
character.Tony's face reddened a little, he was dying to tell this yob where
to stick his job, but thought better of it - he might need a reference later and didn't want to increase the man's wrath too
much.Instead, he meekly backed out of the office, said "Tarra!" to Jenny and
out into the fresh air, feeling a strange sensation of relief.........
Crossing over the Coventry Road, Tony caught the
No. 58 bus into town, getting off in Albert Street. Looking over towards the 'Beehive' he could
see the window-dressers taking down the Christmas displays and arranging the 'Winter Sale' goods ready for Saturday. He'd
heard that the place was closing for good in March, yet another Brum landmark disappearing.Crossing High Street, he entered 'Henry's' store, bought socks and underpants, then over to Dunne's at the top of Bull Street. Tony had seen
some nifty gear in there the night before and wanted a decent tie; he hated wearing ties, but he might need one on the cruise
if they go clubbing or such. He decided they were too expensive, so he crossed Corporation Street and on past Lewis' and Greys
until he reached Colmore Row, heading for 'The Tie Shop' that used to be 'Zissmans' on the corner of Church Street. After
choosing a suitable tie, Tony crossed over Colmore Row, through St Philips churchyard and down Bennetts Hill where he withdrew
some cash from the Municipal Bank.He’d been saving for some time now for
a motor bike but this Med opportunity was too good to be missed, even if it did mean spending those savings.He winced as he noted the remaining balance in his account – less than £20 – and he’d
be coming back without a job to go to.Back-tracking up TempleRow and down Temple Street, he paused outside
the Trocadero pub where there were a couple of half-crowns glued to the pavement which gave him a chuckle.He’d heard that, in the bar, there was a cellar trap-door that led down into the tunnels beneath
the city.Tony wondered if these tunnels led to that massive cavern he’d
Turning into the lower end of Corporation Street, he bought a couple of rolls of HP3 film
from Camera House, then had a mooch around C & A, purchasing a neat pair of Farah slacks and a Rael Brook drip-dry shirt.He was about to go over to Yates’ Wine Lodge for a pint, then remembered that
Albert might be in the WarwickCastle about this time, so he made
his way along the length of Corporation Street to Gosta Green.No sign of Albert and too early for Elsie to be on duty so he ordered a pint and headed upstairs for a game of snooker
with one of the lads from Kyrle Hall, the club round the corner in Duke Street.
Arriving back home, Tony spent much of the afternoon in his bedroom trying on his new
gear and then packing his suitcase. There was a knock on the bedroom door before it opened.
"Tony, son....you want a cuppa and something to eat?" queried Meg, his mother.
"Ok, mum ....I'll be right down." he replied and, closing the suitcase, he slid it
under his bed before following his mother downstairs. She continued on into the kitchen while he stopped to chat with
his brother Harry and Maurice the lodger.
A few minutes later, he heard
Meg calling him and on entering the kitchen she handed him a steaming cup of tea. Floss was bent over the sink peeling
potatoes ready for dinner but she turned and smiled to acknowledge his presence. Tony returned the smile nervously,
raising his hand in greeting.
"Er....mum... just beans on toast for me,
Meg gave Tony
a long sideways glance. "Tony, love...I've been thinking...I noticed you had your suitcase out. You're not upset about Maurice
being here, are you?....er..you're not leaving home are you, son?" Tony chuckled, replying "Nah...it ain't that, mom..I'm
not leavin' home...blimey...where'd I go? Nah... I'm goin' on 'oliday for a few weeks....I only arranged it last night...on
a cruise round the Med with Albert 'igginbottom...y'know, dad's old navy buddy ..we're off on Sat'dy....erm...Floss was comin'
'n'all ....but .....er....there was a mixup wiv 'er passport." "Oh...alright...only you got me worried when I saw you
packing...better go and tell your dad too, he's down the shed....go on, I'll make the tea." said Meg, feeling relieved. As
Tony walked down the garden path, lit only by the light from the shed, he could hear his dad singing, slightly off-key, the
third verse of 'Four-and-Twenty Virgins'.
couldn’t help but chuckle, seeing his father with a bottle of whiskey in one hand, a screwdriver in the other with which
he was drumming on the workbench top while singing at the top of his voice.
dad” he said “Never seen you in this state before!What’s brought
this on, eh?”
turned to see where the voice was coming from, then turned back to continue his rhythmic tapping.
dad ….hold on a minute”Tony shouted above the din.Restraining Colin’s drumming hand, he went on “Dad, listen to me, will ya?”
voice faltered, then faded into silence.He looked at Tony, eyes glazed.“Wotsh the marra, son, carn a bloke have a quiet bevy now?If itsh the neighbours complainin’ then tell ‘em to sod orf ‘n mind their own bishniss.”
nuffink like that dad ….. I just wanted to ask ya if I could borrow yer old camera …… y’ know…..
only I’m goin’ on ‘oliday on Sat’day ….. I’ll look after it …… please……
swayed to and fro, closing his eyes to stop everything from spinning, trying to assemble Tony’s words into and understandable
sequence.After about a minute, he slurred “yesh, ok son………
you can b-borrow the er …voi….er….voi….er…..camra…….yesh.”
took Colin’s arm to steady him and led him over to the old sofa his dad had refused to dump when they bought a new suite
three years ago.Colin’s head lolled back and was snoring within a few
seconds.Tony fetched a cover, tucking it around his dad, leaving him to sleep
to the house,Floss and Meg were still in the kitchen.“Hey, Tony……..how’s your dad?He’s
gone quiet….. is he alright?” asked Meg.
He’s ok, mom.Leave him ….he’s comfortable down there…….sleeping
it off….. er…. is that my cuppa?”Tony picked up the cup of
lukewarm tea. “I’ll be back late tonight………goin’ into town….. find out details of
tomorra’s New Year’s Eve party at the ‘Castle’.”
I’m just about to put the dinner out….you lads are never here for dinner……..waste of time me slaving…………”
nip up for a wash and change ……’n I’ll ‘ave me beans on toast before I go out…ok?”
was still in the living room, chatting to Maurice.“Harry, I’m off
up the ‘Castle’ after dinner…….y’comin’?......... and Moss might wanna bevy ‘n’all.”