So here I am, foot loose and fancy free, newly divorced and back in the town of my birth. I'm staying the towns one hotel, its been recently re-modernised, its actually very nice, but I can't remember being allowed in as a youngster.
The rite of passage here used to be a pint of scrumpy in each if the 18 pubs then walk home. I'm afraid I failed, even playing the 'sissys and girls' card of half pints, I only managed 14 pubs before being violently ill, still good days, good memories.
Feeling nostalgic I decide to walk the 'Route', it will be nice to see the old haunts, though I doubt there is anyone left here that I know, this is the kind of town people come from. I start with the hotels bar. Talking to the barman who is about the same age as my son he asked me what I'm doing and I tell him. He looks nonplussed
"not much of a challenge," he says
"just walking round 18 pubs let alone drinking is enough at my age"
"18 ? theres only four, well five if you count this one"
"he's right love, only four left" said an older guy sitting to my left, "you must have been gone, what? 20 years if you can remember all of them, were you been?"
"Oh all round the world and back again" I say lightly
"so? who's left"
"well the Red Dog is now one of them gastro pubs, lousy beer but good pies, what was the Dolphin is now the Admiral Nelson gone all 'quaint' with wonky chairs and hard benches, the Old Oak Tree is part of a chain and devoid of any character. The Queens Arms is pretty good, brought by the singer of one of those bands that used to play there, still do music, think theres someone on tonight, the rest have all gone"
Oh! The Queens Arms music nights! they were famous round here, I had the hots for one of the bands that played there, well, the lead singer, Stevie his name was, not quite a groupie, too shy for that but he did kiss me one Christmas, ahh teenage kicks! The band went on to be semi famous, wonder what happened to them all?
I realise the guy is waiting for an answer, but I hadn't heard the question too busy day-dreaming
"I said, I'll walk you up there if you like"
"sorry, sorry I know my way, but I wouldn't mind the company "
We walked through the quiet streets of this sleepy English market town, and in through the front door of the Queens Arms, It hadn't changed, yet it had, a fire still burned in the hearth, the bar was where it always had been, but the sticky carpet had gone, replaced by polished floorboards, much to the delight of the cleaner no doubt.The young barmaid looked vaguely familiar, daughter of a past barmaid perhaps?
"what can I get you love" she asked
"half a Lilies please"
I could see the back of a man stacking coke bottles in the fridge
"bloody hell" he exclaimed "I'd know that voice anywhere, where you been Kid-o?"
I felt like I'd been slapped round the face with a wet kipper, I opened and closed my mouth but nothing came out.
"Meet my daughter, Lavender" Stevie said giving me a look that said 'don't say it, please'
"Pleased to meet you" I said and shook her hand "I'm Ann" using the shortened form of my name, one I'd adopted many years ago.
"Hay this is great! Declan's coming down too, were playing later, oh its more blues type stuff now, but we might play some old songs, say you'll stay"
Then to his daughter "thats on the house"
I peruse the bar menu, order a pie and retreat to the corner to watch, I can see them setting up in the back bar, he's kept himself trim, still moves well, not like an old man, his hair is ridiculously long with a eighties flick, more salt in it now but it suits him. He still looks bloody good.
The band starts playing and I move into the back bar to listen, it's a good set, they are polished and professional, the audience is singing and dancing, soon I'm lost in a mix of memories, nostalgia and the present. Too quickly its all over, last Last Orders is being called. I skull the last of my cider and pick my coat up.
Don't go" suddenly Stevie is by my side "I'll buy you another"
"Thanks, but I've enough to drink"
"A coffee then, coffee, let me get coffees"
He reappears with two coffees, and we start talking, Old friends, those still here, those gone, gigs, places, whats happened to us and to the town.The bustle of the bar fades into the background, Lavender appears by our sides
"I'm locking up dad, goodnight"
she turns to me and says," doors on a keypad, its his birthday"
I look round, the place is deserted, the door clicks shut.
Stevie put some music on the bar speakers, pulls me off the stool and says" lets dance"
Suddenly I'm were I've often fantasised being. And it feels as good as imagined. And he does still smell faintly of Old Spice aftershave ( I didn't know you could still get it !)
The track changes, he bends forward and kisses me,
"Thanks" he says, "for not dropping me in it"
"I take it you named her after this track, not a random groupie from your past"
"yes, but she's been a bit touchy about things since her mum died"
"why'd you change your name"
"I didn't, I just shortened it, 'lavie' is awful, 'der' is just as bad but 'ann' I can live with"
"come to bed" he said and took my hand
We left Gordon Lightfoot singing 'Approaching Lavender' to an empty barroom
We're not kids, kisses linger and become deeper, hands caress and explore, we know how this game is played, he pulls off my top. I push Stevie back onto the bed kneeling over and straddling him as I unbutton his shirt. pushing into him and feeling his desire.
Suddenly, un-beckoned I feel the bile rise in my gullet, shit
"Bathroom" I gulp
"second door on your right"
I rush down the corridor and make it just in time, the Guinness and beef pot pie obviously had not agreed with me. It takes a few minuets to clean clean myself up, I wash my face and steal a little toothpaste to rub over my teeth, feeling a little deflated I walk back to his bedroom. He's fast asleep, snoring like a pig in a mud puddle on a hot July day I give him a prod, he doesn't wake, I poke him a little harder, he make a mumff mumff noise and rolls over into foetal position, dead to the world, well I'm out of luck then. Perplexed I stand there for a moment, then tuck the blanket over him, put my clothes back on, turn the light out and leave, Grabbing my coat from the bar I'm stymied for a few moments by the keypad on the back door, but what self respecting groupie doesn't know the birthdate of her passion?
Its a cold November night, the kind where the stars sparkle like diamonds and there isn't a soul around, It was a night like this twenty five years ago I hitched out of town.
Think I'll leave at daybreak, best to leave old ghosts undisturbed.