When The Boxes Open.

Black-boxes

He’s seven and his young brain soaks up everything like a heavy duty kitchen cloth.
He sees things. Things he doesn’t understand. Things that go into little boxes and are tucked away in dark places inside his head.
Like his hero, his dad, getting ready to go out on a Saturday night dressed in his new made to measure suit and large black Crombie overcoat that he wears with pride. Yet Mum always gets her clothes from the local charity shop.
Like his hero’s temper that flares up when Mum asks what time he’ll be back so that she can have his supper ready. And the quickness of his hand when she says it once too often.
Like the way his hero buys him a packet of crisps and tells him to sit in the corner and be quiet while he attends to business.
Like the money his hero slips into the hand of a skinny man with tattooed arms who winks and gives him small plastic bags in return.
Like the way his hero punches a man in the face and kicks him when he’s on the floor for saying the words “ I don’t have the money tonight.”
Like his hero kissing a drunken woman outside the pub at the end of the night while Mum stays indoors with the two girls. Girls his hero calls “the bitches offspring.”
He’s now twenty four, married with a young son and the boxes have come out of the darkness and are slowly beginning to open.

The Old Couple From The Banjo.

Exhibition2-Banjo-on-the-Becontree-Estate-c.-1932-BD353

Ted and Florence Carter lived down the Banjo. Yep, that’s where they lived. Down the Banjo. Now some of you won’t know what a banjo is. Let me explain.

When this particular council estate was being built back in the twenties, the architects decided to be a bit clever. Street designs included cul-de-sacs that were built in a particular shape. A long open walkway with a grass verge on either side suddenly opened up into a large circle of houses. They called it a Banjo.

Ted and Florrie considered themselves lucky. They’d moved from a one bedroom flat in Bermondsey, South London to a three bedroom council house in the leafy suburbs of Dagenham. Here they survived the war, raised their five children, danced their way through the fifties, saw all of their children married in the sixties, cried with grief when they buried one of their sons, but cried with joy as they saw eleven grandchildren born in the seventies. It was now 1984.

They’d both been retired for a number of years and had settled into a daily routine. Everyone knew them as “that nice old couple who live down the banjo.”

Ted’s day was always the same. He was an early riser. At six thirty he was up, washed and shaved and taking Florrie up a nice cup of tea. Then he would walk the short distance to the paper shop where he would buy the Daily Mirror and the Sporting Life. Back indoors Florrie would serve up his breakfast of eggs and bacon at seven thirty which was washed down with two big mugs of tea. Florrie made the best tea in Dagenham. After which he would start to pick out his horses. One pound a day was his maximum bet. Yet he would pick out as many as eight horses and do them in doubles and trebles all for a few pence each. Then he’d tackle the crossword. He set himself a target of finishing it before ten o’clock. He rarely did. At ten thirty he changed into a suit with shirt and tie. He liked to look smart. He left the house and made his way to the betting shop to put on his bets. By midday he was walking through the doors of his local, The Fanshawe Tavern to have his “constitution.” His “constitution” was to stay there for two hours and have five or six pints of bitter. He met his pals here, played crib or dominoes and generally had a laugh. He was always indoors by three at the very latest. Time for a quick nap till four thirty and ready for Florrie’s delicious dinner at half past five. The old Victorian piano in the front room had also survived the decades just as they had and usually took a bashing from Ted at around seven for an hour. They’d both sit down to watch a bit of television for a while in the evening and then off to bed at ten.

Florrie’s day was slightly different.

Ted brought her up a cup of tea at six thirty. She would have preferred another hour’s sleep but when Ted was up everyone else had to be awake as well. She was also convinced that the tea was to make sure she was awake and ready to start cooking his fry up. He insisted on having his breakfast on the table at seven thirty, so she started cooking his bacon and eggs at seven fifteen. The look on his face was pure evil if god- forbid she put the plate in front of him at seven thirty five! She watched as he gambled away seven pounds a week. Money that could be better spent on house-keeping. Ted was in charge of their combined pensions and gave her what he thought she could manage the household bills with. The rest he spent on himself. Either gambling or alcohol. Besides, he never won. If he did he kept it quiet, she never saw any of his winnings. Her favourite time was when he left the house at eleven and didn’t return until three. She would sit and have tea and biscuits and watch a bit of daytime television. But not for long. There was a bed to make, suits to press, shirts to iron, washing up to do, hoover and duster to put round and of course she had to start cooking the evening meal. Ted liked the house to be spotless. Even though he’d never picked up a duster in his life. According to him that was her job. He also liked a proper cooked meal every night. Meat, potatoes, veg, gravy and a nice pudding to follow. So most afternoons were spent baking meat pies, meat puddings, jam sponges or ginger cakes. When Ted came home at three, usually a bit worse for wear, he would sit down in the armchair and fall asleep. He would then snore for the next two hours. After that the piano would feel the full force of his massive fingers as he bashed away at various notes to try to get a tune out of the old Joanna. He would sit at the dining room table at five twenty five, knife and fork in hand waiting impatiently to be fed. She would put the dinner in front of him and he would start to eat. He never said thank you. He turned on the television after dinner and HE would choose what they watched until they went to bed. She was never allowed to stay up after ten o’clock.

It was Wednesday and it was after four. Ted was late home from the pub. She was in the middle of making bread pudding in the kitchen and worrying just how drunk Ted might be when he eventually got home. What mood would he be in? Would he raise his hands or simply fall asleep in the chair? She heard a key unlock the front door.

She left the kitchen and went into the hallway. Standing there were all her grown up children. Kay, the eldest spoke quietly.

“Mum, come and sit down, we’ve got something to tell you.”

Kay took her mums hand and led her into the front room. She sat her down in Ted’s armchair. They all took their places on the sofa. Kay knelt down beside the armchair.

“Mum, it’s about dad. He felt a bit unwell in the pub today and they called for an ambulance. One of the other regulars called me at home. He had a heart attack mum. He’s gone. Dad’s gone.”

Kay squeezed her mums hand and started to cry. Florrie put her head in her hands and started to rock back and forth.

“It’s okay mum, we’re all here for you. It’s going to be okay.”

Florrie took her hands away from her face. She was smiling. She started to laugh. Uncontrollably.

Kay looked at the others who were all bemused by their mum’s reaction.

“It’s okay, someone go and put the kettle on. It’s shock. Mum’s just in shock!”

Ginny. ( Part 5)

green eyes

I’m one of three kids. I have two sisters. One older and one younger. Barbara is the eldest and now lives in Australia with her husband Ray. She’d always hated Living in London and couldn’t wait to get away. Lesley is the youngest and lives in Nottingham with her partner Steve. They moved there from Walthamstow eight ago when Steve’s company relocated. No way was I going to tell them about Bobby Nolan. Barbara was like me and I was confident she wouldn’t be too fazed about Dad’s affair, but Lesley was a hot head. She’d go ballistic. I didn’t want it to taint their memory of dad.

I sat on the bed staring at the address on the piece of paper. 32a Belmont Road, Chelmsford. Underneath, Jack had written “above the betting shop”. Below that was the name of Bobby’s supervisor. Stephen Wilkes.

It suddenly occurred to me that I’d forgotten to ask Ginny one very important question. I took my mobile off the bedroom table and scrolled down to find Ginny’s home number. I dialled. She answered.

“2474.”

I smiled. Just like Dad she answered her phone by repeating the last four digits of her own number.

“Hi Ginny, it’s Tommy. You okay?”

I could hear the excitement in her voice.

“I’m fine thank you Tommy. Are you calling about Bobby? Is there any news?”

“Not yet Ginny. It’ll take a few days before I get anything. But there was something I forgot to ask you yesterday. Did Bobby know that my dad had another family?”

She didn’t pause or take time to think she answered quickly.

“Your dad told him when he was twenty three. He sat him down and told him everything. “

I was taken aback.

“Everything?”

Once again she didn’t take any time to think it through.

“Yes, all about your mum and you and the two girls. Everything.”

Now I was really intrigued.

“And…how did he take it?”

I could hear her voice begin to tremble.

“Badly Tommy. He was never the same after that day. He changed. He was always angry. Started hanging around with the wrong crowd and getting into trouble. He moved out a few months later.”

“Where did he go?”

“He moved in with one of his friends.  Only came back to see me about once a month. If your dad was here he wouldn’t stay long. Broke your dads heart it did. I can’t remember the amount of times he said he was sorry but Bobby wouldn’t listen. Three years later Bobby went to prison and your dad had his heart attack.”

I had dates and times flashing through my mind. Dad would have told Bobby the truth in 2003 that was the same year that he turned seventy. That was also the year that he started taking antidepressants. Mum confided in me one day, she said that he seemed “down” all the time. She made him go to the doctors and they gave him some pills. I always thought it was because of his age. Three score and ten was always thought to be the families allotted time, anything more was a bonus. Now I realised it was because of Bobby Nolan. I had a few more questions that needed answers.

“Ginny, help me with something. How did dad keep it a secret from Bobby for so long? How on earth did he explain the fact that he was never there?”

I heard her sigh.

“We told Bobby that your dad was away a lot because of his long distance driving. Which was true. We saw him twice a week usually, sometimes more if he could get away. But…he would phone Bobby every night to say goodnight before he went to bed. He never missed a day.”

I started to imagine just how much stress dad must have been under. No wonder his heart gave out.  I heard Sandra call my name. It was time to end the conversation with Ginny.

“Thanks Ginny. It’s a shame it couldn’t have ended better. I’ll give you another call when I get more information. Take care.”

We said our goodbyes and I put the phone down. I opened the windows in the spare bedroom and breathed in some fresh crisp air. I was beginning to change my opinion of Bobby Nolan. Here was a kid who’d suddenly discovered his whole life was a lie. His parents weren’t the people he thought they were and his dad was most definitely someone else. No wonder he was angry. I thought about how I might have reacted in the same circumstances. Confused? Angry? Violent? Probably all three.

One thing was for sure. I had to meet up with Bobby Nolan and have a conversation.

 

Ginny. ( Part 4)

green eyes

It was after seven and the Scotch was still coming fast and furious. I’d been up on stage twice, once for “That’s Life” and once for “Summer Wind”. The only two songs from my repertoire that I knew word for word and confident I wouldn’t embarass myself half way through by fluffing my lines. I was deep in conversation with an old lady who had once been a “Tiller Girl” at the London Palladium when I noticed Uncle Ted calling me over. I made my excuses to the old girl and pushed through the crowded bar to where Ted was standing with Jack Simpson.

“Good news Tommy. Jack’s got what you wanted.”

Slasher handed me the piece of paper that I’d given him earlier that day.

“I’ve written his address on the back. He was released on licence in 2013. Served seven out of ten. Normal conditions apply. He has to be a good boy and not get into any trouble. He can’t leave the country. He has to look for work but it has to be approved by his supervisor. I’ve written down the name of his supervisor as well in case you need anything from him.”

I didn’t look at the paper, just put it in my pocket.

“Thanks Jack. I really appreciate this. What do I owe you?”

I said the words but already knew the answer. He just looked at me.

“Don’t be a cunt.”

Thankfully he smiled as he said it. But then the smile disappeared and he tilted his head to one side.

“Just one thing Tommy. This kid Nolan did armed robbery. Amateur stuff, Building Society in Walthamstow. No way were they going to get more than a couple of grand between the four of them. But here’s the thing. The old bill take a dim view of armed robbery, so does the legal system. Usual sentence is fifteen to twenty. Three of them got fifteen, but your man only got ten. I wonder why that was?”

I thought I knew the answer.

“Replica guns? No one got hurt?”

Jack shook his head.

“Replicas? Don’t know where you got that from. These were the real thing. Proper shotguns. All sawn off.  Nolan also beat up a guy who was in the queue just waiting to be served. No, they should have ALL got the fifteen. Minimum. And Nolan maybe a bit more.”

I didn’t know what to say. Ginny was either lying or she didn’t know the truth. I wasn’t sure what to believe.  But I did know what Jack was inferring. Bobby Nolan might be a grass. Before I could say anything Uncle Ted butted in.

“Come on you two. Let’s have a drink. Whatever this Bobby Nolan is or isn’t his mum should be able to see him before she pops her clogs.”

The three of us headed for the bar just as the “Tiller Girl” started singing “Show me the way to go home.” I was amazed that someone of her age could still kick her legs above her head!

Uncle Ted poured me into a cab around nine.  I was completely wasted.  He, on the other hand seemed as sober as a judge. True to form as I went to pay the driver he told me that “The old boy” had already covered it.

Sandra wasn’t too pleased when I stumbled through the door. She took one look at me and said “You’re a mess” then headed up the stairs to bed. The spare room seemed like the best place to go in the circumstances. Once on the bed I must have passed out.

I woke up and for a few seconds didn’t know where I was. My head was pounding and my mouth and throat were so dry I thought I must have eaten a bag of sawdust during the night. I was also fully clothed. Then it started to come back. Ginny Nolan, Uncle Ted, Bobby Nolan and Slasher. It had been one hell of a day. I glanced at my watch. It was ten past eight. I needed to apologise to Sandra.

Even though I brushed my teeth twice and rinsed with strong mouth wash, I could still taste last night’s Whisky. I showered, splashed on some aftershave and got dressed. Sandra was in the kitchen when I went downstairs. She gave me one of her looks.

“I can smell toothpaste, mouthwash, soap and aftershave.”

She paused for a second and before I could say anything she continued.

“Oh yeh. And Whisky!”

But, she smiled and I instantly knew she was okay. I put on my sad face.

“Sorry babe. It was the most bizarre day. I’ve got so much to tell you.”

She pulled out a chair from under the kitchen table.

“Sit down. I’ll make coffee and then you can tell me all about it.”

I loved this lady. She was my second wife and the most understanding woman I’d ever met. We had two great kids all grown up and married now, so it was just the two of us rattling around in our big old house.

The coffee tasted good. I gulped it down and then told Sandra about my visit to the cemetery, my meeting with Ginny Nolan and then the revelation about Dads affair and then the bombshell. I had a step brother. I think she was even more shocked than me.

“Bloody hell Tommy, who is he, what’s his name, where does he live, are you going to see him?”

It was at this point that I decided to change certain details. Don’t ask me why, because I can’t explain it. I just left out the bit about Bobby Nolan going to prison and being a total scumbag.

“Ginny hasn’t seen him for a few years. They had some kind of row and he moved away. But she did have his National Insurance number and date of birth, so I went to see Uncle Ted. If anyone could track him down I knew he could.”

Sandra grinned.

“Now I know why you came home so plastered. Once you get with your Uncle Ted it all goes wrong. How is he?”

I pictured him in my mind. Immaculate in his suit, Whisky in his hand and singing “My Way” at the top of his voice.

“He was in great form. Still looks ten years younger than his age. I gave him the details and he said he’d get back to me in a few days.”

Once again for some reason I can’t explain I withheld the truth. She poured me another coffee.

“That man is a force of nature.”

I nodded. I couldn’t disagree with her analysis. Then I remembered the piece of paper that Jack had given me. I hadn’t looked at it yet to find out where Bobby Nolan was living. I drank my coffee then kissed her on the cheek.

“I’ll go and clean up the spare room. It’s a mess and to be honest I think I need to open the windows and let some fresh air in.”

We both laughed and I went back upstairs to look for my prize. I found it and looked at the address.

Bobby Nolan was living thirty miles away in Chelmsford in Essex.

 

Ginny. ( Part 3)

green eyes

It was 2.30pm, and on a Friday I knew exactly where Uncle Ted would be. The Stanley Arms in Bermondsey. It was a tradition. The pub put on food and live music from 2.00pm every Friday and all pensioners drank for free. All paid for by Uncle Ted and his mates, who were the local “faces”.

The journey took forty five minutes and as I drove through the Rotherhithe Tunnel I couldn’t help but wonder if Uncle Ted knew anything about Ginny Nolan. If he did he would surely also know about Bobby. Ted was dads’ younger brother by four years. They were close. But close enough for dad to confide in him about his secret? I wasn’t sure.

I parked the car outside one of Uncle Teds “lock ups” and walked the short distance to the pub. I could hear a piano playing and people singing well before I got there. I opened the door and at 3.15 on a Friday afternoon the pub was heaving. On stage was a pianist and a drummer playing “It had to be you” a particular favourite of dads. At least eight old couples were dancing and singing at the same time. Then I heard a familiar voice.

“Well, well, well. Here he is! The pride of the east end. My favourite nephew!”

Uncle Ted was standing at the bar looking immaculate in his dark grey suit. His thick silver hair was slicked back. He had on a blue shirt and red tie and the shiniest black shoes I’d ever seen.  His arms were outstretched and his smile was as wide as the Thames itself. I walked over and hugged him. Although he was seventy nine years of age his arms held me in a vice like grip for a full thirty seconds.

He let me go, took a step back and looked me up and down.

“Look at you. The spitting image of your old man. Good to see you Tommy.”

Uncle Ted introduced me to his mates. All in their seventies, all dressed as though they were going to a posh wedding.

“This is my brothers’ boy, Tommy. He’s from the other side. But he’s okay apart from the fact he supports West Ham.”

There was a chorus of boos and jeers. This was a staunch Millwall area and The Stanley Arms was a Millwall pub. I just shrugged my shoulders and laughed. So did everyone else. The ice was broken. I offered to buy a round of drinks. The group fell silent. Uncle Ted put his arm around me.

“Don’t embarrass yourself son. You’re in my manor and we have to abide by the Bermondsey Rules. We buy the drinks. When we come to your manor…you buy the drinks. Them’s the rules.”

Uncle Ted said it with a smile on his face. But I knew he was serious. These men lived by certain rules.

“So what you having?”

I was tempted but I’d already had two gin and tonics and I had to drive home.

“Just a coke. I’ve got the car with me.”

Uncle Ted shook his head.

“Fuck that. Leave the car here. I’ll get you a cab home and get one of the boys to drop your car off in the morning. Deal?”

I loved my Uncle Ted. Whatever the problem, he always seemed to have the solution.

“Deal!”

No one was drinking beer. It was all top shelf and all doubles. I ordered a scotch, Uncle Ted led me to a quiet part of the pub.

“So come on then. Why you here? You in trouble? Need a bit of money to tide you over?”

That was typical Uncle Ted. Always the first to put his hand in his pocket. Always the first to step up.

“No. Nothing like that. I was hoping you could help me get some information. Do you remember a Ginny Nolan?”

Uncle Ted frowned. It was obvious he knew the name but I could tell by his face that he wasn’t sure where from. Then he clicked his fingers.

“Nice girl. Green eyes. Worked with your dad. I think he might have had a soft spot for her if you know what I mean. I met her a couple of times when I was out with your dad at some of his work dos. Why?”

He was sincere. He obviously didn’t know the full story. I quickly made up a story.

“I bumped into her today. Got talking about dad and the old days. Seems she’s not well. Might not have long, maybe a few months that’s all. But she’s got a son and she hasn’t seen him in years. She’d really like to see him before she pops her clogs and has asked me to help if I can. I’ve got all his details. Seems he’s been a bit of a rascal. Done a bit of time so he should be easy to track down. I wondered if you knew anyone who might be able to help?”

I took a piece of paper out of my pocket and gave it to Uncle Ted. It had on it everything Ginny had told me about Bobby. He looked at it, turned and gestured over to one of his mates.

“Jack. Come here. Need your help with something.”

I recognised Jack Simpson. He’d done more time inside prison than out. In the mid seventies he was on the front page of every daily newspaper.  His nickname was slasher and not because he pissed a lot! Now he was an elderly gentleman and lived off his reputation. But…you still wouldn’t want to be on the wrong side of him. Just like Uncle Ted he was dressed smartly in a dark suit, white shirt and blue tie. I noticed his hands. He had a gold ring on every finger including two big chunky sovereigns. Uncle Ted gave him the paper.

“Can you find out where this kid is Jack?”

He looked at it for a few seconds then put it in his pocket.

“Easy Ted. Might take a couple of hours but I’ll make some calls. Always easier if they’ve done a bit of time. He’d have had to have an address to go to before being released. Then they’ll be a probation officer who he’ll have to report to on a regular basis. I’ll sort it.”

Uncle Ted shook his hand.

“Thanks Jack.”

Slasher turned and walked away. But then he stopped and looked back at us and casually asked.

“Do you want him hurt?”

Ted smiled.

“No Jack, nothing like that. Just doing someone a favour.”

Jack Simpson shrugged his shoulders and walked back to the bar.

Ginny. ( Part 2)

green eyes

I heard her say the words but I found it difficult to comprehend them. For some reason I took my hand away from hers.

“Sorry Ginny. Did you say you and Dad have a son?”

She put her hand to her mouth. I could see her green eyes begin to water.

“I’m sorry Tommy. I shouldn’t have said anything. I know it’s a shock. Perhaps I should leave.”

She stood up and started to button up her coat. I didn’t want her to go. Not yet.

“Sit down Ginny. I’m fine, really. Just shocked that’s all. You sit down and I’ll get us another couple of drinks.”

She sat back down and I went to the bar. I returned with two more G&T’s.  I could see she was apprehensive so I decided to break the ice once more.

“You really are one for surprises Ginny. I think we deserve these drinks so take a sip and then tell me all about your son Bobby. My brother.”

She did as I asked. She took a large swig of her Gin and Tonic and then told me the story.

“Bobby was born in 1979. Let me tell you straightaway Tommy it wasn’t my idea. As soon as I knew I was pregnant I was adamant that I’d have an abortion but your dad was having none of it. He really wanted the baby. You were all grown up by then, getting married if I remember correctly?”

She was right. I got married in 1979 at the age of twenty one. Only lasted a few years, no kids, thank god. I nodded and gestured for her to carry on.

“It was difficult, what with me having a full time job and your dad only being able to visit a couple of times a week. But somehow we got through it.”

It was all coming back to me. Back in 1979 Dad started doing long haulage. He kept saying they could do with the extra money. But he’d be away two or three nights per week. Mum hated him being away but he did it for six or seven years then went back to local jobs. Ginny was still talking and I heard her say something about prison.

“Sorry Ginny what was that last bit?”

She stopped in mid sentence then repeated.

“Bobby went to prison in 2006. Broke your Dads heart it did.”

Just when I thought things couldn’t get any weirder they just did.

“What did he go to prison for?”

She seemed a little embarrassed to tell me. Her voice trembled as she said the words.

“He got involved with a bad crowd. They held up a Building Society in Walthamstow. Used replica guns. They got caught and all sentenced to ten years.”

I was doing the sums in my head. Bobby gets done for armed robbery in 2006, the same year Dad had a heart attack and died. When she said it broke his heart she was right. It did. There was one thing I desperately needed to know.

“When did Bobby get sentenced exactly in 2006?”

I could see Ginny thinking. She spoke softly, it was as if she didn’t want me to know.

“March, the twenty sixth.”

Fuck me. Everything was now falling into place. My dad was the fittest, strongest man I’d ever known. Never a day sick in his life. Looked twenty years younger than his age. Yet at the start of 2006 he changed. He suddenly looked old. In April of that year he had a massive heart attack and was dead before he hit the ground. Just seventy three years of age. Know I knew why.  Because of this fucker Bobby. My half brother.  Ginny could see I was angry.

“Don’t blame Bobby. Your Dad was already complaining of chest pains a year before he died. I tried to get him to go to the doctors but he just wouldn’t. Kept saying it was just indigestion.”

I played it down.

“I know Ginny. No one is to blame. That’s life, as Dad would say. So where is Bobby now? Not still locked up?”

I could see that Ginny was relieved.

“No, he was released four years ago in 2013. Served seven years out of his ten. I visited him regularly while he was away. Wandsworth then Bedford then Peterborough. I went as often as I could. But one day I turned up and they said he had been released. I haven’t seen him in five years now.”

Now she cried. All the talk about Dad and never a tear. But talking about Bobby made her tearful. My mind was racing. I knew what I had to do.

“So you’ve no idea of where he is now? Where he’s living? What he’s doing?”

She was wiping her eyes with a tissue as she spoke.

“No. Nothing. Not a word since that day. I miss him so much.”

I put my arm around her and she cried into my shoulder. We stayed like that for a few minutes before she broke away and finished her drink. Her green eyes not so green anymore.

“Look Ginny. Maybe I can help. I have a mate. A good mate who’s quite senior in the Police. I’ll get him to do some digging. Maybe I can find out where Bobby is. Help him out if he’s in any trouble. I mean…I have to…he’s my brother after all.”

It was a lie, but she beleived me and threw her arms aroung my neck.

“Oh thank you Tommy. I’d love that. You really are a good boy. Just like your dad always said you were.”

We talked for another fifteen minutes. Ginny told me everything she could about Bobby. She even had his National Insurance number written down in a small notebook that she kept in her bag. I offered to give her a lift home but she wanted to take the bus and do some shopping at Asda on her way back. I collected my car and drove home. Just one thought on my mind.

I needed to find this fucker. This scum bag Bobby. This thirty eight year old bastard who’d been the cause of my father’s death.

I needed to see Uncle Ted from “the other side”.  Uncle Ted was a “face” in South London and if anyone would know how to find Bobby he ‘d be the man.

 

Ginny. ( Part 1)

green eyes

My mother and father were married for almost sixty years. He’s been gone now since 2006 and Mum in 2010. Here’s the strange part. Though they were together in life for all that time, in death they are miles apart. Let me explain.

Dad wanted to be buried with his family. By his family I mean his mum and dad and his brother, all in the same plot. Mum on the other hand wanted to be cremated. She couldn’t bear the thought of her body rotting away in the ground. The Cemetery and the Crematorium are fifteen miles apart.

I’m not one for visiting graves. My thoughts are straightforward. When you’re gone, you’re gone.  No point in standing and looking at a piece of marble. But this day was different.

The MOT on my car was due and I took it to a local garage to get it done. The mechanic said I could wait but he had a couple of cars to do before mine, so he’d be an hour or so.  I decided to have a “wander”. The Cemetery was only a few minutes walk away and I thought I’d go and see Dads grave. I hadn’t been there since the day we put him in the ground.

It took me about twenty minutes before I found him. As I approached the family plot I noticed an old lady laying flowers beside the headstone. She was smartly dressed for an old girl. I was guessing she was around eighty. Silver hair, bobbed and well cut, not the blue rinse brigade.  She had on a long navy blue coat with a fur collar. I was guessing that back in the day she was a real stunner. I had to ask the question.

“Excuse me, did you know any of my family?”

I startled her. She took two steps back. I felt guilty so I apologised.

“Sorry. I didn’t mean to scare you. It’s just that I saw you laying flowers.”

She stood back and looked me up and down.

“Tommy?”

I smiled at her. She knew my name. Obviously she was some kind of distant Aunt. Dad was one of six and Nan and granddad had more brothers and sisters between them than the Waltons. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count how many cousins I have.  I nodded and smiled.

“Yeh. You one of dad’s cousins from the other side?”

“The other side” was an expression all the family used when referring to someone from the other side of the Thames. Dad’s family were originally from Bermondsey which is south of the Thames. When he met Mum they moved to East London, which is north of the Thames, where they lived for the rest of their lives. That’s where I was born. So we were a very large family split by a stretch of water. The lady grinned.

“I haven’t heard that expression for a very long time. I was just a friend of your Dads.”

The way she said the word “friend” had a slight sarcasm to it. Just as my brain began to absorb the information she continued.

“He spoke of you a lot. He was very proud of you.”

That stunned me. Dad never showed me any real affection when he was alive. He wasn’t that sort of man. He was more of the strong, silent type. Yeh, I knew he loved me but the words were never said. I stepped forward and shook her hand.

“Nice to meet you. Well, you have the advantage. You know my name. You are?”

For some reason she said the words slowly.

“Virginia Nolan. But everyone knows me as Ginny.”

I knew the name. When I was about eight or nine, I sat at the top of the stairs and listened to Mum and Dad having one of their “ding dongs”. I heard mum shout “I bet you’ve been with that fucking slut Ginny Nolan again.”

Now things fell into place. This old lady was Dads girlfriend.

I wasn’t sure how I should react. Should I be angry? To be honest I’ve not been too great in the faithful marriage department myself, so I politely smiled.

“Nice to meet you Ginny.”

We both stood there in silence for a few minutes just staring at the headstone. Neither of us really sure what to say next. I decided to break the silence.

“Do you live local Ginny?”

“East Ham. Just a short Bus ride away. Only takes about half an hour.”

“How often do you visit?”

“Once a month. Usually on a Friday.”

I felt a bit guilty. He was my Dad, my flesh and blood and this was the only time I’d been here in eleven years. This old girl made the journey every four weeks. They’d obviously been VERY close. I wanted to know more but didn’t want to make it too obvious.

“Did you work with Dad?”

She nodded and looked at me. It was then that I noticed her eyes. They were a bright vibrant green and in the mid afternoon sunlight they seemed to sparkle and shine. I’d never seen eyes that colour before.

“Yes, we worked together at Ludlows Haulage. I used to do all the wages for the Drivers. I was still there when your dad retired in 1998. The whole company clubbed together and bought him a gold watch.”

I pulled up the sleeve of my shirt and showed it to her.

“I know. I wear it every day.”

For a brief moment I thought she was going to cry. But within a few seconds she composed herself.

“That’s nice. He would have liked the fact that you’re wearing it. He always referred to you as My Tommy.”

Now it was my turn to have a lump in my throat. I pulled down the sleeve of my shirt and took a big breath.

“Look Ginny, there’s a pub across the road. Fancy a tea? Or coffee?”

Those big green eyes once again stared at me.

“Sod that Tommy. I’d love a gin and tonic.”

She held my arm as we walked to the pub. For some reason it didn’t feel strange. It felt natural. I sat her at a table by the window and went to get the drinks. I returned a few minutes later with two large Gin and Tonics. She took a sip and once again those green eyes seem to come alive.

“One of lifes great pleasures. A good G&T with lots of ice and a slice of lemon.”

I couldn’t disagree. Dad used to say the same thing. He was never a big drinker, but on special occasions he did love a gin and tonic.

I could sense that she was waiting for me to ask the questions so I took the lead.

“Tell me about you and Dad. Look, I know this may be awkward but I’m a big boy now, you can tell me. I loved Mum but I also loved my Dad and I knew that he had…a thing…with someone called Ginny. I’m guessing that was you?”

I smiled as I said the words, trying to make the situation more comfortable.

She took a big gulp of her G&T and then sat back in her chair. She seemed more relaxed than before.

“Oh Tommy. I’m so glad that you understand. I never meant to come between your Mum and Dad. It just sort of happened.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

“That’s life.”

She laughed.

“Another one of your Dad’s sayings.  I remember the time when we went to the pictures together to see a James Bond film. We were both really looking forward to it and the bloody projectionist was taken ill half way through and we all had to leave. I was livid, but your Dad just looked at me and said those exact same words.”

We both laughed and drank our G&T’s. Both comfortable in our own company. I had a million questions that I wanted to ask but decided to take my time. But there was one question I just had to know the answer to.

“How long were you and Dad…together?”

She went silent for a few seconds, I could see that she was working something out in her head.

“Well, we met in 1968 and we were…together, until the day he died. So thirty eight years.”

I was taken aback at this revelation. I thought she’d been a fling, a sort of romance for a few years, maybe on and off, but thirty eight years? That was a life time. I tried to hide my surprise and carried on.

“How did you meet?”

Once again those big green eyes came alive. It was obvious she wanted to tell me her story.

“I worked in the cafe on the old London Road. Your dad used to stop there and have his breakfast most days on his way out to Southend. We got talking, as you do, and pretty soon we became mates. Nothing more back them. Just mates.”

She emphasised the works JUST MATES. It was as if she was trying to tell me that it was a gradual thing. I was eager for more information.

“So how did you end up working with him at Ludlows?”

This eighty year old lady suddenly became like a school girl. Eager to tell me.

“I was studying book keeping at night school.  I told your dad all about it. He said that Ludlows were looking for someone in their accounts department and he’d put in a good word for me. He took my name and address and the next thing I know I’ve got an interview. I got the job!”

There was one more question that I just had to know the answer to.

“And you Ginny? Were you ever married?”

She shook her head and for a second her smiled disappeared.

“No Tommy. Your dad was the only man ever in my life.”

She paused for a few seconds and stared at me. It was as if she was wondering whether to tell me something else. Then she continued.

“Well, apart from Bobby.”

I was intrigued. Maybe Dad wasn’t the only affair that Ginny had. I didn’t want to pry but I wanted to know the answer.

“And who’s Bobby?”

She put down her Gin and Tonic, leaned over and took my hand.

“Bobby is your brother. Well, your half brother. Me and your Dad had a son.”