Another Stanton Bridge chronicle
Following in the vane of LORD ALF we once again visit the village of Stanton Bridge in rainy Yorkshire, where we encounter the MERMAID’S TALE – a local village chippy. The FISH ‘OLE deals with the trials and tribulations of those involved with the business, a local organized crime god-father and a returning hero from the FALKLANDS ISLANDS conflict. An adult , historical novel, the book is set in the early eighties.
High drama in the middle of deepest darkest nowhere!
BILL THE BASTARD AND BERYL
“How much? That’s bloody daylight robbery?”
“Do you want to come in our not?” said the doorman.
“Stop your whining and pay the lady then.”
Bill shrugged his shoulders, it was no use arguing. He dug in his pockets for the necessary and slapped down his money. The women behind the cloak-counter gave him a sour look. She was used to seeing all sorts however the boys from the local camp were always a handful. Fresh in town with money to spend, stepping on the local lads’ toes and chasing the lasses. It was a vicious cycle – the attraction of the uniform, the ready cash the prospect of an escape from village drudgery creating willing victims. There would be tears before tonight was over and judging by this group of Lotharios walking through the door they would probably be the ones causing it.
“Give us your ‘and then luv,” said the cloak room attendant, as she stamped indelible blue onto his wrist. “Off you go now, have a nice time.”
It wasn’t so much the cost of entrance, it was more frustration than anything. The city was off limits after the last bust-up with the locals a couple of weeks ago, the whole camp restricted to the confines of the village. Having nowhere else to go it was Hobson’s choice, a couple of beers in the pubs followed by the dance at the town hall. A ramshackle affair where the yokels gathered for their Friday night romp with none of the sophistication or glamour of the inner city clubs. The clientele was made up of farm lads and local girls wearing their Sunday best, dancing round handbags, getting pissed on a pint and a half of cider.
Bill had succumbed to life’s impecuniosity’s since being conscripted into national service. Luckily for him, because of his grammar school education, they’d stuck him in the R.A.F, needing a few bright boys to join the thin blue line. Most conscripts did their time in the army spitting and polishing their way through two years of mandatory service. After his initial enlistment he’d been trained on instrumentation and then posted him off to deepest darkest Yorkshire to an old Second World War bomber airstrip just outside of Pickerington. It could have been worse, but not much – the money was shite, the accommodation archaic, the food barely edible; not exactly a home-from-home but survivable. At least it wasn’t a watery hole in some bloody soggy landscape that he’d have to defend against the imminent threat of communism. He checked himself in the mirror before leaving the barrack hut – battle-dress blues, chip-bag hat, shiny buttons and polished shoes. If this didn’t get the local tarts blood pumping nothing would.
Every Friday night a local dance was held down at the village hall, a decrepid wooden hut that normally catered to Women’s Institute meetings and the annual village flower show. Come the end of the week it was transformed into a dance hall with the lights turned down low and a mirror ball reverently hung on a hook in the centre of the ceiling. There was a local skiffle-group to provide the music and get the crowd onto the dance floor and a bar which sold bitter-beer, pop and crisps. Despite its diminutive size the venue was usually pretty packed and there was always something there that caught his eye. There was a certain amount of antipathy from the local lads who’d grown tired of the R.A.F boys skipping off with the talent. Theirs was a lost cause when competing against a tie and crest, the uniform won hands down every time.
He’d seen her before, long brown hair, plump breasted with a nice womanly rounding to her that he appreciated. He was done with skinny lasses it was like cuddling a bloody stick! He watched her from the edge of the dance floor standing in the darkness with his mates drinking warm beer and smoking their Capstan Full-strengths. There was something about her – maybe her smile or the way the reflections from the mirror ball played up and down her polka dot dress.
“What you reckon?”
“Not ‘arf Bill.” said his mate. “I’d definitely give her one.”
“Not if I get her first you won’t. Anyway she looks like a nice girl.”
“Gonna have you work cut out for you then aint you?”
“I’ll just work the old charm. She’ll come around, they always do in the end.”
“It’s your end that s gonna get you in trouble,” laughed his mate.
Bill cuffed him round the head, “at least I aint snogging none of those fat lasses that you seem to attract. Like flies around shit they are when you walk in. With me its quality not quantity.”
Bills mate spat his beer back into glass and wiped his face. “Get out of ere Romeo I’ve seen some of the dogs you attract with that bone of yours, anyway she’s definitely a step up from your usual, I’ll give you that.”
Bill grinned he was going to make a play for it. He tipped his glass back and emptied its contents. Treading out his cigarette, he straightened his tie and walked across the dance floor.
“Bandits at 12 o’clock. Tally ho!”
“Go blue leader,” quipped the mate before turning to chat to one of the many ample farm girls who seemed to know him.
Beryl lived for Friday nights. After finishing up the week down at the new telephone exchange on Market Street it was a chance to let down her freshly shampooed hair and kick up her heels. Bathed and powdered, dressed and tutted she and her friends would walk down to the Bay Horse for a couple of shandies before heading on to the village hall; bit of Dutch courage before stepping inside. There was usually a group of them; safety in numbers is what they called it, mutual protection from the rough groping hands and the unwanted attentions of the local lads. It was the R.A.F. boys they were interested in. They always smelled so clean, splashed with aftershave and daubed with Brillcreme – so smart in their blue uniforms and caps. It was hard to play hard to get without risking being too flighty, nobody wanted to end up in the club like Mary Wilkinson. They were just such fast movers, never satisfied with a dance and goodnight peck, always wanting to take things so much further. Her mother had warned her what happened to bad girls. The graphic details she had given her were almost enough to put her off boys for life. But it was Friday night, time for a little dancing and romancing and just maybe a little chancing as well.
Clustered in the safety of the center of the dance floor Beryl and her friends were as safe as houses. She’d seen a couple of the local lads looking their way but had ignored their leering grins and cat calls. More likely than not they would just stand by the bar and drink, making futile attempts at contact at the end of the evening. Coarse boys with hard hands and earthy smells. Her friend nudged her.
“Ere, don’t look now but were being watched.”
“Who, not by Alfred and his mates?”
“No couple of R.A.F. lads are checking us out.”
“What do they look like?”
“The one on the left is handsome enough, his mate isn’t bad either.”
Suddenly her friend squealed and grabbed her wrist.
“He’s coming over, the handsome one, think he’s going to ask us to dance.”
Beryl felt the heat rise in her cheeks, her palms sweat.
She heard him speak and turned to face the young airman a boy around her own age with dark wavy hair and piercing blue eyes. She couldn’t hear what he said, the music from the skiffle-band drowning out his words. He leant in closer and she felt his breath on her cheek.
“Would you like to dance?”
“Me or ‘er? Asked Beryl?”
“You of course.”
Beryl turned to her friend who smiled and waved her away.
“Go on lass it’s you he wants to dance with, don’t worry about me, there’s plenty of fish in the sea”.
“Whats your name? Asked Beryl.
“William, but the lads all call me Bill.”
She should have said no. If she’d known then what she knew now she would have turned her back, flicked her hair and carried on dancing with her friend. Oh he was handsome enough, and a bit of a charmer to boot. He had the patter, knew how to treat a girl and was more than generous when they went for pie and mash at the café afterwards. He’d walked her home and she’d let him kiss her before going inside. He hadn’t pushed the funny business, of course he’d tried but then he was a lad wasn’t he – they all tried. One telling was enough though and she’d watched him through her mother’s net curtains walk back down the street after shutting the door. He did have a lovely way about him though and she’d promised to see him again.
Having to tell her dad had been the worst. She’d always been the apple of his eye, his little girl and having to break the news to him nearly broke his heart. Telling her mother had been bad enough but she couldn’t hide it forever. It had been an accident; it wasn’t something they’d planned. It had all happened so quickly she doubted at the time that there could have been any harm.
It had been in the churchyard on one of her walks with Bill. Things had gone little too far and when he tried to lift her skirt she hadn’t pushed his hand away like she normally did. He’d told her he loved her, that they would always be together and so she’d finally given in. Wasn’t that what every young girl wanted, a handsome man to whisper sweet nothings in her ear and tell her she was special? The girls down the exchange were all jealous, a handsome fella with a bit of brass in his pocket and prospects as well. Wasn’t it prospects they were looking for, an escape, a way out of the village. He’d pushed her down gently but urgently into the grass, unbuckling his uniform trousers and releasing himself. She had felt his hands on her thighs and felt the tug as freshly laundered underwear was pushed aside. It hadn’t taken more than a couple of minutes, and although painful at first had become more pleasurable as he bobbed up and down above her. She’d felt him spasm, felt him arch, felt the warmth within her as he called out her name. After the first time, the other times had been easier. They’d lain on blankets in sunny meadows, rented rooms at local Bed and Breakfasts in villages were nobody knew them. After the first time they were always careful, insisting that Bill always wore protection. There was no point ending up like Mary Wilkinson.
Her dad had said nothing as she stood trembling in front of him, tears rolling down her face, her mother by her side. She waited for the anger, the shouts, the insults, the demands to know what the hell was going to happen now? She saw the water fill his eyes and watched as he flapped the broadsheet paper back in front of his face. That had been the worst. At least call her a slut, tell her she was no good, treat her the way she deserved to be treated. It was the silence she couldn’t stand, the mental assault of not knowing what he thought. The distress she had caused to the man who had carried her on his shoulders, tied ribbons in her hair, pumped up her bicycle tires and who had sat her on the corner of the kitchen sink to bathe scrapped knees was unforgivable. It was never the same after that, there was always a barrier between her and her dad. Things had gotten easier over time, but it was never like it was before.
It had been a sunny day in June when her and Bill had walked down the aisle at St. John the Baptist’s in the village. He’d been in his best blues and she’d been dressed in ivory with a little extra lace to hide the bump. The boys from his squadron had been outside the church door with their swords drawn and raised and she remembered how she’d glowed with pride as she walked through their metal arch. Everybody from her family was there and some of the local villagers leant on the stone walls to watch the spectacle. The air was filled with the scent of fresh mown grass and thrown confetti, pink paper snow that drifted down and caught between her breasts and hung her hair. She’d never been so happy; things had worked out just as her mother said they would. Theirs was a new begining and they would be moving into one of the new houses built for married couples on the camp.
She’d hugged her dad before the taxi whisked them off to the hotel in Bridlington – a couple of day by the seaside. She’d dried his tears and kissed him good bye, waving till he was out of view through the rear window. She looked lovingly at Bill who smiled back at her, they were starting a new life together. A brand new life, in a brand new house with a baby on the way; who could ask for more? Everything was just as perfect as it could be.
Twenty years had flashed by in the blink of an eye. It felt like only yesterday when they’d stood in warm sunshine outside the church waving and hugging their goodbyes. They had another child after Katherine and moved away after Bill’s national service had finished. He’d decided not to enlist and had gone to work for a company down south making microwave ovens. Cutting edge technology that was going to revolutionize the world. They didn’t of course and eventually they moved back to Stanton after her parents passed away. Katherine was in college now and Sophia was shacked up with some hippy in York. They’d been lucky and with Bill’s severance package and the little bit of money her parents had left her they’d bought the chip shop in the village. It wasn’t much but it was enough to keep them in new cars and a semi-detached. What with the weekend-get-a-way mob that pushed their way into the chippy of a weekend they were soon making money hand over fist. Beryl loved it. It was hard work but the rewards more than made up for the long hours and the smell of wet fish.
Bill had surprised her with tickets to Barbados.
“It’s not exactly Bridlington,” he’d said, “but I’ think you’ll like it.”
The brochure promised golden sands and crystal blue seas, all you could eat and drink luxury in the privacy of a gated resort. She’d bought a new swimming costume, resisted the temptations the chip shop offered and slimmed herself down to a respectable weight. She was never going to be sixteen again but she made the best of what she had. Anyway she would be with Bill, celebrating their twenty years together and enjoying some of the luxuries that crispy fish and crinkly chips had brought them. Two weeks of glorious sunshine and Caribbean vistas. Midnight strolls on the beach, possibly a couple of pina-coladas to wash down the romance. She smiled to herself; it sounded like a song!
Everything had been great until they got on the aeroplane. The long haul to southern climes had been exciting; the free drinks and great food made for an excellent start to their holiday – the attentions of the air stewardess at the time had not seemed excessive. A good looking woman with a pretty smile who would laugh and joke with them having seemingly singled them out and adopted them as her own special charge. Nothing to worry about just part of the Caribbean experience, who wasn’t looking for a good time?
Bill disappeared after the first night leaving her alone at the resort. At first she’d panicked, contacted the night manager and the local police. She’d read about holiday kidnappings where they held guests for ransom. But what could she pay, she wasn’t exactly rich? The note at the reception desk the next morning explained everything and although she’d tried to enjoy the rest of the holiday it had been hard. The note was simple enough.
Dear Beryl. I don’t love you anymore. I won’t be coming back.
What did that bloody mean? They’d a home, a life, a business to run, a couple of daughters, friends and family. Of course he was coming back, what did he imagine would happen if he didn’t? She’d read in her women’s magazines about men and their mid-life crisis – apparently they always saw sense in the end. A quick fling or a sports car and they were back on the right track. They didn’t just abandon years of hard work and a solid existence.
The last time she saw him was when he waved her off at the airport the day she flew back to Britain. She begged him to come back with her but he refused. She returned to England alone with a suitcase full of dirty laundry and sunburnt shoulders.
What the hell was she going to do? She stared at the rain running down the glass door of the Mermaid. Everything was as they left it except Bill was no longer there. Well screw him and his trolley-dolly; just see if she couldn’t bloody manage.
She missed the blue skies of Barbados but deep down she missed Bill more.