The Charltons Saga

Mediterranean Trip - Chapter Four

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The Adventure Begins

Harry pulled the Javelin up outside Sherwoods in Aston Street, just behind the converted ambulance. Elsie was there with Albert, stowing suitcases into the back of the vehicle. Tony's heart skipped a beat on seeing her.
"Ok Aitch....thanks fer the lift...seeya in a few weeks, eh?....maybe sooner if the dosh runs out!" he said as he retrieved his suitcase from the back of the Javelin.
"Worro Albert..'lo Else." he greeted.
"Where y'bin, lad? It's quarter-to-eight ....we wuz just going to buzz off!" Albert admonished.
"Soz, mate...I...erm...overslept." said Tony a little sheepishly.
"Ok...jump in the back ...not much room in there, with all the gear and provisions...but it's only for a couple of hours."

The inside of the ambulance was packed with food, fishing tackle and, strangely, Tony thought, two signboards with the words 'Metropolitan Hospital, Thames Rescue Services' printed on them. There were also two blue light flashers, some white coats and an ambulanceman's uniform. Albert had suggested that Elsie should sit up-front with him, so Tony wasted no time in moving some of the gear off the bunkbed seat, giving him enough room to lay down, albeit with raised knees. Closing his eyes, he fell into a deep sleep, aided by the rocking of the vehicle as it made it's way onto the Coventry Road, heading for the M1 motorway........


Hey, Tony!..Come on….wake up.”  Tony stirred from his deep sleep.  He squinted through the cobwebs of drowsiness at the lovely face of Elsie, looking down at him. 

“We there already?” he asked, sleepily.

“No….not yet, we’re at the Blue Boar Services……. Albert wants some breakfast…..are you coming?”

Tony smacked his lips.  He had a terrible taste in his mouth and his head was throbbing… a mother of a hangover.

“Er… nah….don’t fink I’ll bovver, Else ….bit of an ‘eadache …need to sleep it orf.” said he.

Elsie tut-tutted as she moved away “Hope you’re going to cheer up and not be a misery-guts for the rest of this holiday.” She shouted before slamming the vehicle’s back doors closed, causing Tony to wince from the noisy assault on his painful head.


Tony awoke to the sounds of hooters and horns, mixed with the noise of banging, clunking and chatter.  He yawned loudly, rubbing his eyes as he swung his legs from the bunkbed.  Climbing out of the back of the ambulance, he made his way to the front, opening the driver’s door.  Elsie sat in the passenger seat, seemingly engrossed in reading a newspaper.

“Worro, love……where’s Albert?” he enquired.

Elsie folded the newspaper, replying “Oh…you finally woke up then, did you!” she jibed “Here....saved you a bacon and tomato sandwich ..... and Albert’s over there talking to someone.” She said, pointing over his head.

Turning round, Tony saw Albert, standing on the quayside in conversation with a large man wearing a commissionaire-type uniform. Having got off to a bad start with Elsie, he thought that he’d better make amends. Climbing into the driver’s seat, he clapped his hands, rubbing them together.


“Right then” he said brightly, “This is gonna be a fun trip, eh, Else?”


“Hope so….I’m really looking forward to it…..never been to the Mediterranean before.” she replied. “I was asking Albert why he was taking this cruise and he said it was mixing business with pleasure.“


“Yeah?…..and did he say what the business part was?” asked Tony, taking a large bite from his sandwich.


“Well…it sounded a bit involved – said he had to make visits to several ports to collect some goods….oh…and he mentioned something about going to Corsica to report on the state of the Cosa Nostra/Mafia controlled olive market there for the News of the World.” She replied.


“Eh?...what’s that all about then?...blimey…..Mafia?..... don’wanna get mixed up wiv them …no siree!”


“He said the Sicilian Mafiosa had commandeered all the olive tree plantations and had stopped olive exports which has caused a world-wide shortage, forcing up the price.  It’s thought that this action has been taken in retaliation to the British fish & chip shop owners refusing to pay protection money.” Explained Elsie.


“Sounds like a load of codswallop to me ….fink ‘e’s pullin’ yer leg …… out” warned Tony “Albert’s comin’ back…….”


“Ee bah gum, lad…you’ve finally woke up then?” jibed Albert as he opened the cab door. “Right then, you’d best be getting’ the provisions and gear onto t’ boat while I organize some fuel …. jump out an’ I’ll park this thing nearer the jetty.”


Tony and Elsie got out of the ambulance, standing clear as Albert manoeuvred the vehicle to the waterside and opened it’s rear doors.


“Take everything aboard, leave the gear on the deck and put the provisions below in the galley ….. I won’t be long…..OK?”


“Aye, aye skipper” Tony said, grinning and raising a hand to his forehead.  He turned to take a good look at the yacht. “Blimey, that sure is some boat, Else….look at it….must be worth a few bob, eh?  Wonder where Albert gets his dosh from to keep that goin’?”


Elsie had already climbed into the back of the ambulance and was now carrying a box of baked beans toward the craft. “Doesn’t bear thinking about, Tone ….the less we know about it, the better, I’d say…..hey, come on…give us a hand will you?”


Thirty-five minutes later, the pair had emptied the ambulance, apart from the signs and uniforms.  Elsie was busying herself in the galley end of the main cabin, sorting out the foodstuff and stacking it in the ample cupboard space.  Tony was sitting on a bed, nursing a sore back and shoulder.  He’d slipped while carrying a crate of beer down the cabin steps, completing the descent on his back with the crate on his stomach; only by good luck had the beer bottles survived the fall.


There was, suddenly, a rumbling noise from above which made Tony forget his painful shoulder temporarily.  “Cripes…. What the heck is that?....sounds like thunder.” he shouted through the open galley door to his companion. He eased himself off the bed and, climbing the steps, stepped out onto the deck.  Two men, dressed in faded blue bib-and-brace overalls, were rolling drums along the deck to the stern.  Albert was directing them, holding two wooden chocks in readiness to secure the four drums once they had been positioned.  The task completed, the men left the boat, obviously content with the tip Albert had given them.

“Ah!....just the fella” beamed Albert on seeing Tony framed in the cabin doorway. “I’ve got a little job for you, matey…..come with me.”  He led Tony to the stern of the boat and, pointing to a fifth drum of diesel fuel standing upright, said “Tek the bung out and screw the fuel hose into it, will ya?…..there’s a bung spanner …… then pump it out from over there… I’m gonna mek a brew now so, when y’ve done, come down for a cuppa….OK?”


Tony followed Albert’s pointing finger which traced from the end of the hose to a contraption with a wooden handle. “Ar….awright, cap’n….I fink I know what yer mean …..we’ve got one of them hand pumps at work.” he assured, sensing that his injured back and shoulder would be giving some aggro under the strain………


Having completed the task of topping up the engine fuel tank, Tony returned below-deck to find that Albert had obviously got the heating going because the cabin was now quite warm and cosy.  Elsie had been busy too, the cabin had been tidied up and a plate of sandwiches sat on the table.


“All done, skip…blimey, this diesel on my hands stinks ….I’ll just wash ‘em” he said, walking through to the galley.


“Good man, Tony…..’e’ar….get stuck in to these….I’ll get ye a cuppa, lad”


Returning from the galley end, Tony took the sandwiches and sat on the bunk-bed, aware that his back was now stiffening from his earlier mishap. Albert returned and handed him a mug of steaming hot tea.


“Don’t get too attached to that bed lad……it’s mine.  When y’ve supped yer tea I’ll show ye and the lass to yer quarters…..oh, and by the way… we can’t weigh anchor ‘til t’morning.  Had a word with the docks master and he told me there’s only a skeleton staff on duty today…being New Year’s day …. we need a couple of crew so I’ll get that sorted sharpish.  Meantime…why don’t you and Elsie have a gander round the smoke this afternoon?”


Elsie had joined Tony on the edge of the bed. “ Hey…that’d be nice Tone….I’d love to see Piccadilly Circus and travel on the underground….never been to London before” she said excitedly.

“Yeah…be great…I s’pose.”  Tony suppressed his own excitement at the thought of being alone with Elsie.  Even now, sitting next to her, he was experiencing a strange feeling he had never had with any other girl ….a sort of magnetic influence that affected every cell in his body. He wildly hoped that she was getting the same vibes……



Albert's converted ambulance pulled up outside a restaurant in Oxford Street.

"Right, you two", he said as Tony and Elsie got out of the vehicle, "When I've sorted out the crew, I'll pick yer up from here in about three hours... Ok?"

Tony nodded, raising an arm in acquiescence as the vehicle revved up and continued on it's way, spluttering along Oxford Street.

Athough it was January 1st, there were a few shops open and, after spending some time strolling around, buying the odd souvenir and toiletries, the pair made use of the remaining time by visiting a few of the main attractions, aided by the speedy underground network. At Buckingham Palace, Tony had used up the film in his camera and had to buy another two rolls of 620 before they arrived at Madame Tussauds. They learned that Marie Tussaud née Grosholtz (1761-1850), had worked with Philippe Curtius who was running his own wax museum in Palais Royal, Paris. He and Marie Tussaud created wax heads from the death masks of the notable victims of guillotine executions during the French Revolution. Curtius died 1794 and, in 1802, Marie moved to England with her 4 year-old son. She toured Britain, mesmerising large crowds with her exhibition of wax models. The permanent exhibition was opened in Baker Street in 1835.


The Houses of Parliament were deserted, thwarting Tony's presumption that Prime Minister Harold Wilson would be standing on the steps awaiting our hero's clicking camera. However, The Tower of London was, surprisingly, open to visitors and the pair were thrilled to receive a guided tour - accompanied by two beefeaters, Delboy Canter and Buster Gutt. This cheerful pair seemed a little out of place in the sombre setting of The Bloody Tower. Delboy was keen to sell Tony a pair of winkle-picker shoes but Tony managed to avoid the deal by saying he had left his wallet aboard the yacht, changing the subject by mentioning that they were taking a cruise in the Mediterranean. Buster's ears pricked up at this and he launched into some of his 'narrow escapes' on the high seas. Eventually, Elsie tugged at Tony's sleeve, reminding him that they had to go.


The Beefeaters, Delboy & Buster

Taking a well-earned rest in Regent's Park, Tony and Elsie sat down on a park bench to eat the cheese and tomato sandwiches, bought from a patisserie-cum-café across the road in Albany Street. Their shared experience had served to forge a bond between the couple. Tony had found a new confidence that dispelled his hitherto shyness in this young lady's company. Likewise, Elsie revelled in the attention she was receiving, warming to Tony's gentle demeanor and natural humour. Not surprisingly, having dispatched the sandwiches, Tony's arm encircled Elsie's shoulders, drawing her closely to him in a gesture of protection against the coldness of this January day. Their eyes met, followed by the crushing of lips and increased heartbeats; the two bodies fusing together in a single, pulsating mass. The embrace lasted for several minutes but then, suddenly, alarm bells sounded in Tony's head. Breaking away, he glanced at his watch, straining in the failing daylight. "Blimey,'s late....come on, let's get back....Albert's gonna do 'is bleedin' nut if we ain't there when 'e turns up!" Elsie, flushed from the heady clinch, hastily smoothed her hair back and, using a compact from her handbag, attempted a quick powderpuff repair of her smeared makeup.



Arriving back in Oxford Street, Tony and Elsie reached the spot outside the restaurant where Albert had dropped them, just in time to see the ambulance pull up. "Jeez!" gasped Tony, breathlessly. "We timed that just right!".  As they climbed into the ambulance, the pair could hear singing coming from the back of the vehicle. The quizzical look that Tony gave Albert precipitated a mischevious grin from the old salt.  "Don't worry", he said, "Just a couple of crew I persuaded to join us - cost me a bottle of the best 'Jamaica' but they're good lads and know how to keep their trap shut; they've been on trips with me before.  So...whatya bin doin' all day then?  He asked as he pulled the vehicle away.  He seemed in an unusually good mood, no doubt due to imbibing a few rums.


"Oh....we've been all over the place", gleamed Elsie, "It was smashing!  Madame Tussauds was amazing....and...."

"Yeah", Albert cut in, "I met the woman herself many years ago....did you know she was the scourge of Hackney?"

"Really?" Elsie asked.

"Yers...a big, buxom gal and fearsome to boot.  She wore stockings tied by a knot just above her knees and always had a large dagger stuck down each one. She used to search the streets of Hackney at night looking for lookalikes - people who looked like famous people and would waylay and kill them with those daggers.  She was known in those days as Madame Two-Swords."

Tony gave Elsie a sideways glance, winking as he squeezed her hand. Elsie missed Tony's effort to warn her that Albert was off on one of his romancing episodes.

"But why would she want to kill people?" she asked, innocently.

"The cadavers were dipped in a bath of wax", continued Albert, "then, after a bit of makeup and paint, they would be put on show in her studio. Some say that Archie Andrews was one of her victims too....the original wooden puppet was destroyed in a fire and Peter Brough bought a replacement from her, a young boy who looked like the original.  Bessie Braddock was lucky to escape a similar fate though...the madame wanted her as a Two-Ton Tessie duplicate...but she was thwarted by a copper as she pounced on Bessie outside the House of Commons."

Tony could barely hold back from sniggering. At least Albert's tall story had whiled away the journey time and Elsie's innocent acceptance of the tale only served to endear her to him all the more.


Arriving at the dockside,  Tony and the two semi-inebriated crewmen helped guide Albert as he manoeuvred the ambulance aboard the yacht, stabilising it with wooden wheel chocks. Elsie was directed to the galley to put the kettle on and organise some grub.


Elsie quickly familiarised herself with the galley area, sorting the cartons of tinned foods into some kind of order.  There were two large sacks of potatoes, a net of sprouts and a crate of delicious-looking apples. The wooden refrigerator, which had been stocked earlier with eggs, cheese, milk etc, had now reached it's operating temperature, confirmed by the ice-cubes in the freeze compartment. She had taken lessons in cooking as part of her Domestic Studies course at school, but had seen very little culinary activity since; even the sandwiches served at the Warwick Castle were prepared by the gaffer's wife.  Ah, well, she thought as she opened a large tin of ham, it's time to learn........


"Need a hand, Else?" asked Tony as he walked into the galley area holding a bottle of 'Export'.

"Erm..yeah..any good at peeling spuds?" she replied with an impish giggle.

Tony picked at and withdrew the string seal on the nearest sack, selecting four large potatoes and, finding a peeler in a drawer near the sink, proceeded with the chore without protest.

Albert and his two cronies were in a boisterous mood, their singing and laughter could be heard from the next room and, from the sound of clinking bottles and glasses, Elsie decided that a brew of tea would not be appreciated.


" you get the feeling that we've been invited on this trip for reasons other than Albert's good nature?" she asked in a low voice.

"Whatya mean?.....jeez!" Tony cursed as the point of the peeling knife dug into his thumb.

"Well...I've been thinking....why have we brought along those hospital signs and nursing uniforms?  I think we're being used in some illegal scheme of Albert's - for a start, this yacht must have cost a could he afford it?  Then all the money he's spent on this food and diesel fuel as well as the two men in there ....he must be paying them.  Has he asked you to help pay some of the cost?  He hasn't asked me for any..."  Elsie sounded concerned.

"I know what y'mean, Else, I've been wondering about them uniforms too. From what I've been told by Dad and Harry, Albert earned a lot of dosh when he lived in the south of France....he used to run tourist trips around the Mediterranean, so I don't think he's short of a bob or two.  Dad reckons he does 'fag runs' - y'know, he buys cheap ciggies and sells 'em back home in the pubs.  Dunno why he'd ask us to come along though...what the ''s gonna be great....let's enjoy it, eh?  Don't worry about it."  Tony tried to reassure her.

"Suppose you're right....but I can't help feeling there's a bit more to it than just a few packets of cigarettes." she replied as she sliced the ham and shared it out between the five plates.


The two greek crewmen picked at the food on their plates before pushing them to the middle of the table - obviously not appreciative of English cuisine.  Albert, on the other hand, had cleared his plate and a loud burp indicated satisfaction.  Elsie got up from the table, collecting the plates together in readiness for her next task.

"I'll give yer a hand, Else" Tony offered.

As they disappeared into the galley, Albert bellowed "When you've done the dishes, better get some shuteye.....we'll be weighing anchor at six t'morra!"


Dishes done, the pair crept back past the bunk where Albert was stretched out, still fully clothed and snoring loudly.  Their own quarters were above the galley, accessed via steps from the deck.  On reaching their adjacent berths, Tony took Elsie's hand and, leading her to the boat rail, pulled her close in protection against the cold night air.  Leaning on the rail and gazing across the Thames, they could see the lights along the opposite river-bank and the moonlight shimmering and dancing on the water.  Drawing her into his arms, Tony kissed her tenderly on the tip of her nose.

"This is nice, eh, Else? Dunno 'bout you but I'm really excited about this trip...'specially with you being 'ere.... I've fancied you ever since you started at the Castle and it's a dream come true for me."

"Me too really, Tone.  Never been to any exotic places before and I feel a lot better with you coming along too". Elsie replied.

It wasn't exactly what Tony wanted to hear, but he sensed she was being coy and not wishing to appear too forward.

"OK, my gal, Albert said we're off early in the mornin' so let's get some kip, eh?" he said with authority and, holding her face in both hands, kissed her fully and intensely on the lips.  Their hands unlinked as they parted company, heading for their respective quarters..........



Chapter Five

Chapter Three

Chapter Two

Chapter One