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Chance encounter

Series: Back to my roots

July. Seb meets an old friend and receives a phone call. Second part of five (was three)

Saturday

I’m heading down the street in the direction of The Red Lion. I’m out late tonight. You know how it is, too much time spent lying in the sun knocks you out if you’re not careful. Now I’m trying to find the others, Dixie, Billy, Callum and the rest. I’ve been to The Ship and a couple of other places already and there’s no sign of them.

That said, I’m feeling good. It’s a warm July night and town’s busy. You can feel the vibe in the air. There’s a buzz everywhere, big crowds hanging round outside pubs with pints in their hands, or heading off clubbing. There are people on their way to Lux and other places and I can see myself joining them later. I’m fired up after my languid start to the evening.

In a few minutes, I arrive at the pub. I walk past the crowds and through the door. The first thing I do is have a quick look round. But there’s no one here I know, just a lot of faces I recognise by sight. I think about turning round and going somewhere else. But I don’t. The jukebox is playing a song I like and I’m here now. I might at least have one drink. So I go up to the bar and attract the barman’s attention and order a beer. He brings it over and I stand and sip it. The door’s open and the warm summer breeze wafts through.

I stand for a while, drink my beer slowly. It slips down nicely. I look round the pub. At one time I would have known everyone in here but I’ve been away. I know it was only for a year, to party my way through university and get sent down at the end, but it was long enough. In that short time, the clientele of my local watering holes has changed. The moral of the story is not to be away from somewhere for too long, it won’t be the same when you get back.

That’s if you’re bothered, of course. Which, in this particular instance, I’m not.

I finish my beer quickly. Do I have another? I decide against it. There’s not much going on here, not tonight anyway. I need to move. I put my glass down and walk out of the pub. I’ve made my mind up. I’m going clubbing. It may only be the trashy, red leather ambience of Lux, but it’s better than nowhere.

I head down, past the taxi rank, to the top of the street. There are crowds hanging round here as well, gangs of girls and gangs of boys all looking for trouble. There will be fights breaking out tonight, you can tell, in bars, outside bars, on street corners. The aim is to keep out of the way. Let everyone else get on with it.

I walk by them and join the back of the queue, check out the graffiti as I wait. The queue moves down quickly and, in a moment, I’m through the door and paying my money. I walk across the red carpeted floor and into the club and the sound of banging bass hits me. A smile crosses my face. Even though this is as trashy as it gets, I’m glad I came. It’s excitement after all which, with a few beers, makes me feel alive and in the moment and living my young, misspent life to the full. Here we go soul brothers. Into the night.

It’s dark in here, very dark. It takes a moment for my eyes to acclimatise. But they soon do. It’s full, packed once again with people I don’t know. I look round. Then I see them. They’re standing, leaning against a railing near the dancefloor. It’s Dixie and Callum. They’ve seen me. They’re grinning, laughing.

“Evening, Seb”, shouts Dixie, loudly. “Where have you been hiding?”

“I could ask you the same”, I say. “I couldn’t find you in The Red Lion.”

“The Red Lion?”, says Dixie. “We left there ages ago. We got fed up waiting for you. Where were you?”

“I was out late. I got waylaid.”

”Waylaid, eh?”, he says. “I won’t ask any more.”

“Don’t. It all got a bit messy. Ended up here”.

Callum laughs but he’s got other things on his mind. You can tell. It isn’t long before he wanders off, in pursuit of more worldly pleasures, leaving the two of us standing here. Dixie looks as if he’s about to be similarly engaged, if the glances he’s exchanging with a hen party at the bar is anything to go by. He’s not going to be hanging round here much longer.

But none of that matters, not to me, not right now. Events are unfolding and things are developing very nicely, thank you very much. Lets put it this way. I can see more fun on the horizon. Something else – or someone else – has emerged who looks a definite source of entertainment for a boy about town like me, who’s out for fun, games and thrills of the highest magnitude.

In short, I think I’m going to be seduced. In fact I know I am. And I’m not complaining. She’s standing there, her blonde hair hanging loosely over her shoulders, with her eyes fixed on me. I’m trying to be as relaxed as possible, but it’s not easy when there’s someone like her in your vicinity. It’s the girl I’ve been looking out for. The one I met at Christmas.

“Looks like you’re in there”, says Dixie. He has a grin on his face. I smile.

“Let’s see”.

“You know who that is, I take it?”

“Of course. I’ve met her before.”

“Cindy.”

“That’s the one.”

"Go for it. You won’t regret it. She’ll put hairs on your chest, young man. I can tell you that from experience”. He laughs.

I laugh as well. Does it bother me that one of my friends has been out with her, before me? Not a bit of it. I wasn’t even around at the time. I was at university, up to no good of my own.

Live in the moment, that’s my view. It’s tonight that matters, not what happened six months ago. And, on that subject, things look very promising indeed. She’s still standing there, glancing over at me, drinking what looks like vodka and coke, leaning against a railing next to the dance floor.

Then she decides to come over. She moves away from the railing and her long legs glide gracefully towards me, in her heels. In a few seconds she’s here. My hearts in my mouth. It doesn’t need to be.

“Evening Seb”, she says. “Long time no see?”

And that’s it. It’s that easy. When one of the town’s most legendary beauties has you in her sights, you don’t have to do anything except stand and wait. We engage in a little banter but not too much. Before I know it, she’s suggesting we find some seats. Dixie’s looking at me, grinning from ear to ear. He’ll no doubt be full of questions, sitting in the pub tomorrow.

But, for now, there’s a night ahead. She leads me off to some seats at the back of the club and sits down behind a table. I slide in next to her. In a few seconds, our lips meet and the night takes its course, just like it did before.

Sunday

I’m sitting up in bed, sipping from a cup of tea. My other arm’s round Cindy’s shoulders. I’m playing with her long hair, the duvet tossed casually across us. We’re at her flat, which she shares with one of her friends.

“Try this on”, she says, suddenly.

“What’s that?”.

She reaches over to a shelf and picks up a trilby hat.

“It’s an old one of mine. Lets see how it looks on you”. She places it on my head. I’m looking at her, smirking. “Yes. It suits you. It looks good”.

“I’m pleased to hear it.”

“You’re welcome.”

I push it back on my head and relax.

“So how long are you back for this time?”, she says.

“It should be a while”

“When do you go back to university?”

“Not for a very long time.” I laugh.

“Not in the autumn?”

“Not this year.”

“How come?”

“Oh Cindy. It’s a long story.” Neither of us says anything for a moment.

“So, are you not going back at all?”

“Not this year.”

“You’ve been kicked out, haven’t you.” I smirk.

“Well, you know.”

“I knew it”. She throws her hair back and laughs.

“It happens to the best of them”, I say.

“If you say so.”

“I do.”

“What are you going to do now?”

“I don’t know. That’s something for the future.”

“That’s the best attitude. Take it as it comes.”

“That’s my view.”

She lies there laughing. Then she stops and looks at me, quizzingly. Something’s going through her mind.

“What is it?”, I say.

“Oh, nothing.”

“No, go on.”

“You’ve got a girlfriend, haven’t you?”

“Not a steady one.”

“I thought you were with someone”.

“I’ve seen a couple of girls since I’ve been back. Nothing serious”.

“That’s what I heard”.

“How did you know that?”

“I heard. I like to know what’s going on round town.”

“So you’ve been talking about me?”

“Your name might have been mentioned”. I lie back and look at her.

“I’ll take that as a compliment.”

“You should.”

“Very kind of you”.

“So you’re not taken then?”

“No.”

“So I won’t have to put on my boxing gloves when an irate girlfriend turns up?”

“No.”

“That’s good.”

“Anyway, isn’t it a bit late to ask now?”

“I suppose so.” I look at her and laugh.

“I’m as free as air.”

“That’s all right then.”

 

A while later, she says she’d like another cup of tea. Strong. Hot. Milk. Two sugars. I offer to make them. So, I get up, light a cigarette, put on my boxer shorts, and head for the kitchen. And guess who’s standing there. It’s Billy. My old friend, Billy. The fourth part of the dynamic quartet of fabulous dreamers, wasters and good-for-nothings who normally occupy the corner table in The Ship. He looks at me and bursts out laughing.

“What are you doing here?”, he asks.

“I was going to ask you the same.”

We both laugh.

“You’re not seeing Cindy, are you?”

“Well, I was last night.” I laugh. “And you?”

“Beverley.”

“Her flat mate?”

“That’s right.”

“You dark horse, you, Billy boy.”

“Well, you know.”

“So this is where you’ve been hiding yourself?”

“Might be.”

We laugh again. I make the tea and go back to the bedroom.

 

I leave the flat at about two. It’s another warm, sunny day, a perfect English afternoon in summertime in fact, and I’m not in the mood for going straight home, not yet. I head for the park and laze around for a while, lying on the grass and getting a little sun and trying to build up a tan, smoking filter tips as I observe the comings and goings of the town’s residents.

After a while, I’m starting to get a thirst. A little amber nectar would go down a treat. I’m in the mood for a trip to one of my watering holes. Plus there’s the beneficial element of alcohol in the thought lubrication process. A quick one in The Ship will help me contemplate the events of last night, get into my head what happened, bask in the light of my new romance. I don’t know how long this particular liaison will last but I’m going to enjoy it while I can. I’m seeing her again tonight. I didn’t expect it. But she seemed in the mood to do so. I wasn’t arguing.

I get up and leave the park and head up the high street. Then I turn the corner and walk down the alleyway to The Ship. I wait until the traffic’s passed and cross over. I walk up to the door, push it open and I’m into its hallowed portals. They’re here. Dixie and Callum. I wasn’t expecting to see them but, now I have, what the hell, let’s have some fun. They both cheer as I walk in and go up to the bar, buy a drink and go over to where they’re sitting, by the window.

I sit down and wait for them to say something. Naturally, the conversation soon turns to the events of last night and who ended up where and with whom, whether in the comfort of an unknown bed, crashed out on someone’s floor, in the gutter with a boot to the head or safely back at home. They know where I spent the night. There’s no point in trying to keep it to myself.

Afternoon, says Dixie as I sit down. They’re both grinning at me, like a pair of Cheshire cats. They proceed to comment on my liaison with Cindy in Lux and where it led. I don’t say much, just let them carry on talking, sip my beer and wish they’d shut up which, of course, they don’t.

The conversation continues along these lines for a while. I look at them both and laugh and keep my thoughts to myself.

I sit here for a while, finish my beer and head home. I have a sleep and get myself ready, in all my summer finery of a button down gingham shirt, straight leg strides and loafers. Then I get a taxi, which I still can’t afford, into town and meet the lovely lady, who’s waiting for me in the Market Place. She’s looking glamorous tonight, I do have to say, in a little black number, as if she’s just walked off a sixties film set. She puts her arm in mine when I arrive and we go to The Red Lion first and then The Ship and the wine bar.

At the end of the night, we again go back to the flat she shares with Beverley.

Monday

I’m brought back to earth by a phone call from the dole office. I’m just arriving home when the phone rings and I pick it up.

“Mr Dean?”, says an official sounding woman on the other end.

“Yes.”

“Are you still looking for work?”

“I am.”

“I’ve got a job that I think might suit you.” My heart sinks. I’ve been enjoying the playboy lifestyle. I’d rather they stopped being helpful.

“Yes?”, I say. “What is it?”

“It’s working in an office in town. You’d be a clerical assistant, doing filing, answering the phone, that sort of thing. Does it sound like it might be what you’re looking for.”

The short answer is, no, it doesn’t. I’m looking for a job as a staff writer on the NME, not doing the filing and answering someone else’s phone. But I can’t say that. They might stop my dole money and what would I do then?

“That sounds interesting”, I say.

“So you’re interested?”

“Yes.”

“All right then, I’ll give the company a call and arrange for you to go for an interview.”

I put the phone down and go and make myself a coffee. It’s not what I want. As far as work goes, I want to be able to pretend I’m David Hemmings in Blow Up, not someone working in an office under the boss’s nose at the lowest rung of the ladder. But there doesn’t seem as if there’s anything I can do about it. She phones me back a few minutes later and says she’s arranged an interview later in the week.

Tuesday

One benefit of this week is that it’s not signing on day. I can have my usual lie in and feel refreshed when I wake. I’m starting to get creative. I’ve spent enough time having days off to do that. I’m getting ideas for songs, things that Dixie, Callum, Billy and me could play if we got the band together. I get my guitar out of its bag and sit on my bed and start to strum. I revive a song which we played at University in the spring, and I’ve remembered a surprising lot of it. I get my tape recorder and fumble around in my drawer for a tape that I can record on. Then I record my version. I have to do one or two recordings to get the balance right. But it sounds all right. I’ll have to think about it if we get the band together.

Then I go into town.

Wednesday

I walk past the office where I’ve got my interview tomorrow. It’s just off the high street. I wasn’t looking for it but I happened to see it as I was walking by.

I walk up the high street and do some shopping. I want some blank tapes so I can record new versions of songs and write some of my own which I can hand out to Dixie and co. I’ve got ideas for how the band would be. I’d be on guitar and vocals, Dixie would be on lead guitar, Billy would be on bass and Callum would be on drums. I can just see Callum sitting behind a drum kit, his longish black hair flying around as he hit the skins, like Keith Moon if he were still with us and eighteen today. I’ve not asked any of them if they want to play those instruments, it’s just an idea I have in my mind.

I buy a four pack of TDK tapes and put them in my canvas bag which I had at college and have started using here. Then I go and have a look in a second hand clothing shop, the one in the little alleyway where I bought the electric blue top. I’m drawn to the raincoats when I walk in. There are some single breasted cream ones which have a proper continental flavour. If I’ve still got the “It’s better in mono” badge I bought a while back, on my travels to a friend from university’s home town, I’ll put that on the lapel.

I try the raincoat on and stand in front of the full length mirror. I button it up, let it hang loose, put the collar up, put it down. It’s a perfect fit. It’s a steal as well. I decide I’m going to have it. I go up to the counter, pay the girl my money, she puts it in a bag and I’m out of the shop.

On the way up to the park, where I intend to spend half an hour in the sun, I bump into a boy I knew at school, who I haven’t seen since I left. He’s put on some weight since I last saw him and has grown what looks like an attempt at designer stubble. He’s at Manchester and says he’s getting on well. He was successful in the end of year exams, is thinking of running for one of the union positions, and is heading back in a couple of days to sort out his accommodation for next year. He asks me how I’m getting on. I smile and shrug my shoulders and make something up. I’m enjoying it, I tell him, going back in September, can’t wait. I don’t tell him that I’ve been sent down and am going for a job as a filing clerk tomorrow. He doesn’t need to know. No one does.

On the way home, it occurs to me that I haven’t seen Cindy since Sunday. I need to put that right.

Thursday

I arrive at the office at two. It’s a small, four storey little building in red brick with wooden signage and window frames, painted white. I’ve made an effort for the interview, at my mum’s insistence. I’ve put on a suit, a smart white shirt and trousers and tie, a narrow, knitted one, in navy blue. I look the business. I know I do. I wonder if I’ve made too much of an effort, since I’m not bothered about getting the job. But I can’t do anything about it now.

I walk in and the girl on reception looks up at me from her desk and smiles.

“Can I help you”, she says.

“I’m here for an interview.”

“Mr Dean?”

“That’s me.”

She leads me down a corridor and asks me to sit down on one of three uncomfortable chairs, but which they’ve tried to make look comfortable, like you get at the dentist. I sit waiting for a while and start to get warm. There’s no air down here and my suit is an extra layer than I’ve not been wearing this Summer. But I don’t have long enough to get too hot. In a couple of seconds, a small, thin little man, who looks like he’s in his forties, comes out.

“Mr Dean?”, he says. “Can you follow me”. He leads me into a room where there are two other men sitting behind a table. They’ve got jugs of water in front of them. He asks me to sit at a small table facing them. I’ve got an empty glass in front of me.

The thin man sits down and starts talking to me. He’s flanked by his minders, a weaselly man with little eyes, that he keeps screwing together, while he concentrates on my face, and one who looks like a walrus, with a wild growth of facial hair to go with it. I don’t catch his name. But it doesn’t matter, he doesn’t say a lot.

The man in the middle starts talking, introduces me to his colleagues and explains what they do. He talks about all sorts of financial stuff which goes in one ear and out of the other. A second after he’s spoken, I wouldn’t be able to tell you what he’s said, it’s a good job he doesn’t ask me. He does ask me what attracts me about the company and why I want to work there. I think it might not be diplomatic to say I’m here because the dole office sent me. So I put on the patter and make up something about always having wanted to work in office administration, being inspired by finance and wanting to start on a career. Living locally, they are the ideal opportunity for someone ambitious like me.

The man seems impressed by that. He smiles and passes me onto his friend, a man called Jamieson, the weaselly one with little eyes. He squints when he looks at me and I ask myself what’s going in his head. He makes me feel strange, the way he looks at me.

I’ve heard about how these interviews work. There’s a good one and a bad one and one in the middle. Right now I’m favouring the thin little one who started the interview. He seems like he’s got less of an axe to grind.

Jamieson, on the other hand. He starts off asking me what I did at university. He raises his eyebrows when I tell him that I studied philosophy. That gets under my skin. He’s one of those self-made capitalists isn’t he? The sort who don’t want you to think for yourself, and just accept what those in authority tell you. They’ve always rubbed me up the wrong way.

Then he asks me if I’m going back in October, to which I have to say, no I’m not. He looks puzzled, asks me why, which is where I have a stroke of genius and think on my feet. If he doesn’t approve of the course I’m doing, perhaps I don’t either. I look at him straight and smile.

“I didn’t like the course”, I say. “It wasn’t me. Rather than waste taxpayer’s money and do another two years, I decided to leave. I thought I’d try and find a job. It’s better to be contributing to the economy than taking from it, don’t you think?”

Jamieson looks at me and, for a moment, I really do think he doesn’t know what to say. He sits back and there’s something going on in his brain. Then he starts talking about people changing their minds. Surely I must have known what the course was like before I started? Or am I the sort of person who just jumps into something without thinking about it? Is that what I’m doing now?

I look at him again. No, I say, I always research what I’m going to do. The fact that I got into college through clearing, after the worst A level results they could remember, not having the faintest idea what the place was like or what philosophy consisted if, is immaterial. He doesn’t know. I talk as sweetly as I can and explain that I had read some philosophy books in the sixth form. I thought it was what I wanted to do. It was only when I got there that I realised I had made a mistake. I gave it a year and then felt it would only be fair to go. He doesn’t say much then. Just frowns.

He passes me onto the walrus but I don’t take any of it in.

I leave the building knowing that I’ve not got the job.

Tonight I need to go out. I need to get out of the house to take me away from the atmosphere of the interview. I go into The Ship in the hope that I might see Cindy. She’s not around.

Friday

I get up and make some coffee and then I get a call from the office. It’s the girl on reception who I spoke to when I had the interview. She says I’ve got the job. I get the impression that she thought I’d be jumping for joy. I would have been in the period after I left college, when I was bored all the time and looking for something to do. Today, it just seems to be a move back into the straight world, away from the one I’ve created for myself since I got home. I just say thanks and that’s it.

I start on Monday. I’d better enjoy the weekend. It’s my last chance of freedom for a while.

Tonight I go out for a big one. I meet Dixie and Callum in The Ship and Billy joins us for a few before going off to see Beverley. We stay here for a while and get nicely lubricated with the jukebox blasting out its tunes.

I see Cindy in the wine bar and she’s all smiles as I go over to her. She says she went away for a couple of nights, down to London, to see some friends. But she seems pleased to see me and I join her and we have some more beers and end the night in the warzone of Lux.

Saturday

I stop in the park on the way home from Cindy’s. It’s the hottest day of the summer so far and I feel like a sunbathe. I buy an ice cream from the van and sit there and enjoy the sunshine. When I get home, I think I’ve got a tan coming and my hair’s a little lighter. In fact I think I might be a little burnt. I get a shower and put on my summer finery. A stripy Breton top, some faded blue jeans – rolled up – and loafers. It’s the look of the summer.

I meet Cindy in The Ship. It’s the first proper date since this time last week. She’s her usual legendary self. I could get used to this, hanging round with her as we go everywhere, as if I was with a model on the Riviera. I tell her about my job and she seems pleased that I’m finally going to be usefully employed but, other than that, doesn’t say much. I don’t think peoples’ employment status is on her radar.

We go to the back of The Bull instead. It’s no less of a hellhole of bitchiness and violence than Lux. But it’s a different hellhole of bitchiness and violence.

Sunday

This becoming a habit. Stay in bed until late and then hang out with Cindy and head home for dinner. I decide not to go out tonight, to make sure I’m fresh for tomorrow. It doesn’t work. I can’t sleep. I never have been able to before a big day. I drop off in the early hours and wake up with bags under my eyes. There’s not a lot I can do about it.

Monday

I get dressed and put on a tie and get the bus. I nearly fall asleep on the way. I arrive at the office and the receptionist takes me down to see Jamieson who’s surprisingly friendly, after the interview. He welcomes me aboard and tells me he’s expecting a lot. He’ll be keeping his eye on me.

He takes me down to the main office, where there are about ten people milling about. He introduces me to the people I’ll be working with. There’s a middle aged man called Vic who doesn’t say a lot and a woman who’s slightly older called Pat who does.

There’s a boy called Nigel who can’t be much younger than me but seems it. He talks all the time about history and the army and the Empire and battles that were fought three hundred years ago. He asks me if I’m interested in things like that and I look at him and smile and say that I’m not, that I’m more into finding an original copy of the debut album by The 13th Floor Elevators from nineteen sixty six, than I am about anything military. I tell him it doesn’t float my boat. He looks at me as if I’m slightly unhinged and gets back to his work.

I sit and look at the papers and the files that are on my desk. This is it, the future. The way you earn money in a post-capitalist society when the alienation from the means of production has gone and all we can do is push paper backwards and forwards. That’s the way it is I suppose.

I look at Nigel and ask him where the canteen is and if I can get a coffee. He tells me it’s upstairs and it’s open whenever I want. I thank him and take my cigarettes. I go up the stairs. I buy a coffee and sit by the window which looks out over town.

 

 

 

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