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."
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.
there already?” he asked, sleepily.
yet, we’re at the Blue Boar Services……. Albert wants some breakfast…..are you coming?”
his lips. He had a terrible taste in his mouth and his head was throbbing…
a mother of a hangover.
nah….don’t fink I’ll bovver, Else ….bit of an ‘eadache …need to sleep it orf.” said
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
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.
love……where’s Albert?” he enquired.
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.
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.
then” he said brightly, “This is gonna be a fun trip, eh, Else?”
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.“
did he say what the business part was?” asked Tony, taking a large bite from his sandwich.
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.
that all about then?...blimey…..Mafia?..... don’wanna get mixed up wiv them …no siree!”
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
like a load of codswallop to me ….fink ‘e’s pullin’ yer leg ……..watch out” warned
Tony “Albert’s comin’ back…….”
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.”
Elsie got out of the ambulance, standing clear as Albert manoeuvred the vehicle to the waterside and opened it’s rear
everything aboard, leave the gear on the deck and put the provisions below in the galley ….. I won’t be long…..OK?”
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’?”
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?”
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.
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.
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?......here…..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?”
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………
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.
done, skip…blimey, this diesel on my hands stinks ….I’ll just wash ‘em” he said, walking through
to the galley.
man, Tony…..’e’ar….get stuck in to these….I’ll get ye a cuppa, lad”
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.
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?”
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.
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……
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
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
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, Else....it'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.
been all over the place", gleamed Elsie, "It was smashing! Madame Tussauds was amazing....and...."
cut in, "I met the woman herself many years ago....did you know she was the scourge of Hackney?"
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."
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.
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."
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.
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.
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'.
good at peeling spuds?" she replied with an impish giggle.
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.
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
Tony cursed as the point of the peeling knife dug into his thumb.
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 fortune....how 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 'eck....it's gonna be great....let's enjoy
it, eh? Don't worry about it." Tony tried to reassure her.
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.
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!"
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.
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