The Charltons Saga
Mediterranean Trip - Chapter Two
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Decision Time for Tony and Flossie

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 Avenue 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 11 o'clock. 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 midnight, 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.

 

Floss, 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.

“Hi 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.

“Yes, please …..no sugar.”  Floss replied rather meekly, dreading the inevitable confrontation.

“Hey, 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?”

The 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.

“That’s 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.”

 

Tony 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.

“Don’t 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 reassured him.

“Awright, 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 too well......

 

 Next morning, after 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)Razz

 

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 ten o'clock.  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 Temple Row 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 seen yesterday. 

 

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 Warwick Castle 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'.

 

Tony 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.

“Blimey, dad” he said “Never seen you in this state before!  What’s brought this on, eh?”

Colin turned to see where the voice was coming from, then turned back to continue his rhythmic tapping.

“Dad….. dad ….hold on a minute”  Tony shouted above the din.  Restraining Colin’s drumming hand, he went on “Dad, listen to me, will ya?”

Colin’s 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.”

“Nah…nah……it’s nuffink like that dad ….. I just wanted to ask ya if I could borrow yer old camera …… y’ know….. that  Voigtlander  Bessa….. only I’m goin’ on ‘oliday on Sat’day ….. I’ll look after it …… please…… dad.”  Tony pleaded.

Colin 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.” 

Tony 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 it off.

 

Returning 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.

“Yep……. 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’.”

“But I’m just about to put the dinner out….you lads are never here for dinner……..waste of time me slaving…………”

“Awright……..I’ll nip up for a wash and change ……’n I’ll ‘ave me beans on toast before I go out…ok?”

Harry 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.”

 

Chapter Three

 

 

Chapter One

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