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On Monday I promised to post part 2 and 3 of my story about a man I called Barry Davies. If you missed part 1 then I suggest you read it first. Here’s a quick link to it. And don’t forget you can get a free copy of my collection of short stories ‘Prompt Responses’ simply by giving me your e-mail address in a comment below. If you are worried about a robot picking up your e-mail address and using it to send you a load of spam, write [at] instead of @ and [dot] instead of .
Remembering Barry Davies
#2 David and Julian
“Do you remember how the wind howled through the open window? You uttered an expletive. I pulled it closed and looked around the deserted bar room.”
I settled back in my chair knowing that nothing would stop David now that he had started. I’d decanted a bottle of a delightful old malt to round off the evening and it was inevitable that we would reminisce about our venture into the hospitality business in the ’90s. Back then David had had enough of working long hours in a hotel kitchen and wanted his own place. Somewhere we could live and work together, me dealing with front of house and him in the kitchen producing gourmet food using the best of locally sourced ingredients. The old pub seemed to be the perfect place in which to do it.
I listened as he warmed to his subject: “It wouldn’t take much, I thought, to turn it back into the cosy snug it must once have been. Just the place for pre-dinner and after dinner drinks. You were not so sure at first, that open window had freaked you out I think. But when I spread out the architect’s drawing of the extension you began to see the possibilities.”
My brother-in-law agreed to help with the finance. His design consultancy was in the doldrums. The chemical companies and refineries he’d set it up to serve were cutting back and there was less work to be had. Said he wanted a new source of income. A share of the profits from a gastro-pub could be it.
“I had serious doubts, still,” I reminded David. “With factories cutting back and people being laid off where would our business come from?”
David set his glass back on the silver tray and leaned forward: “You never really understood, did you?” He said. “The world was changing. Manufacturing was dying on its feet, helped by greedy unions and cheap foreign imports. Services were where the big money was to be made. Barry knew that. He could see that the way to bring prosperity back to this area was through tourism. He wanted to attract the city boys – yuppies they were called, don’t you remember? Barry believed the town could offer a quiet retreat, away from the stresses of making deals on the market floor. Our restaurant was going to be a part of that.”
“I was wrong to doubt your vision,” I admitted as David took another slug from the cut crystal tumbler. “You and Barry were right. It worked well for a while. But, you know, I never believed it was all about the money for Barry.”
David raised his eyebrows: “What gave you that idea?” he prompted.
“ Just something he said once.” I hesitated, realising that if I went further I would be breaching a confidence.
“Go on; you can’t keep me in suspense now you’ve raised my curiosity.”
“It was one night when we had all had a little too much to drink. The building work was almost completed and we were tasting wines, trying to figure out which ones to offer to our clients. That was the excuse anyway.”
“You were the one with the best taste in wines, that’s why we were such a good team.” David leaned forward. I was shocked at the sight of the age spots on the hand he placed on my arm. I had forgotten that he was ten years my senior. “Sorry,” he said, “I interrupted your story.”
“He said something strange. I suppose the drink had loosened his tongue. We were in the snug, around the table next to that very window you closed on that first viewing. You had taken Annette to show her the new kitchen. Barry looked around the room and said how pleased he was that we had kept so many of the original features. ‘Place means a lot to me,’ he said. He slurred his sibilants a bit so I knew he had drunk more than was good for him. ‘Special memories, you know? Used to come here with someone special. Long time ago now but special, very special.’ He emphasised the word ‘special’ a lot. Later he made me promise not to say anything, especially not to Annette.”
“Doesn’t sound like Barry,” David said. “Its hard to think of anyone less likely to have an affair; I assume that’s what you are hinting at. Still, whatever his reasons, we couldn’t have done it without him. Especially when the end came. If he hadn’t let us see that report before it became public we would have been in real trouble.”
I had been holding my own glass in both hands, warming the amber liquid to improve its flavour. Now I placed it on the tray beside David’s. “Ah, the famous report,” I said. “Barry took a real risk there, almost as big as the one he took when he backed us in the first place.”
David nodded: “He was only protecting his investment, after all. He had more to lose than we did, don’t forget. He tried hard to get the council to change their minds and extend the rock barrier further along the coast but there just wasn’t enough money in the kitty. So he did the next best thing: let us know that our dream was over and that we should sell up. We’d just got our first Michelin star so we were able to get a good price.”
That Michelin star meant a lot to David and he was devastated by the news Barry imparted. Selling up would mean starting over but the award made it easier. I unstoppered the decanter and added a good measure to David’s glass. “I couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty about what we did there,” I admitted.
“We couldn’t let on that we knew. It would have exposed Barry. No-one outside the council knew. Anyway, if the buyer had done his research more thoroughly he should have known all about the risk of coastal erosion.”
“We didn’t,” I pointed out.
“Not at first. But after that storm in ’98, when a large chunk of the cliff at the end of the garden disappeared we began to have our doubts. That’s why the report was commissioned.”
“Anyway, it all worked out well for us and Barry. I can’t help wondering about those ‘special memories’ of his though. Without those you might still be working in a hotel kitchen and I’d be, who knows what? A cocktail barman?”
This may be the South of France but the wind can still cut through an open window. What’s the matter with you, sitting in a draft? Oh, you are asleep. I’d love to know what you are dreaming about. That woman I shouldn’t wonder. You thought I didn’t know. I suppose it goes to show how delusional you can be sometimes. I knew alright, of course I did. Wives always do. At first I thought it was my brother Julian you’d taken a fancy to, especially when you agreed to fund that gastro-pub for him and his partner David. If I was to say that out loud you’d laugh I know, but look at it from my point of view. Your love making was always more than a bit tentative, as though you were afraid of shocking me. And I was too shy to show you what I so wanted you to do. Little wonder if I entertained the notion you might be bi- or even gay.
But no, it was a woman. Julian let the cat out of the bag a few years ago. It was after they’d sold the gastro-pub. He was thanking me for making you see sense. Humph! You and your sense of propriety. Didn’t want to stoop to the same level of corruption as the rest of the members of that tin pot council. We would have lost most of our savings, not to mention David and Julian being out of work if they hadn’t sold up when they did.
I told Julian I never understood why you were so keen to invest in that place. There were lots of far better places they could have had, with far better prospects of success. But you were adamant that it was the Gull’s Nest or nothing. Julian told me you’d said something to him about it being a special place for you. I said he was mistaken. We’d never been to the place when it was an ordinary pub. It closed soon after we moved to the town. And we didn’t frequent pubs anyway; couldn’t afford a baby sitter for one thing. Not that our children were babies by then but you know what I mean, they were too young to be left alone at night.
I puzzled about it for days. What could be so special about a run down pub? In time I forgot all about it. Then, when we were packing up to come here, I came across an old folder of yours. I saw you blush before you snatched it from me and said you’d deal with it. You recovered quickly enough but I saw your embarrassment. Was it something to do with your council days? I wondered; some papers recording a secret deal perhaps. That seemed unlikely; after all, when you had the chance to get into a secret deal to protect your own and my brother’s investment, you had to be nagged and cajoled before you’d do the sensible thing.
I made up my mind to find that folder and discover what it contained. A sort of diary. Your first attempt at writing fiction, you told me when I challenged you. Done to fill in the time when you were working away from home, you said. Did you really think I’d buy that? I thought it best to go along with it though. Why spoil a half century of happiness over a silly fling that happened more than thirty years ago?
I had better wake you up. You don’t like it if our meals are not taken at the same time every day. Perhaps I’ll open that window again. The wind howling through should wake you up.
Here, for a change, I’m sharing a story I wrote a couple of years ago. It began with a prompt about the wind whistling through an open, or broken, window. I thought about an abandoned inn and some people who might have frequented it in the past.
Today I give you part 1 of the story which is in 3 parts. Parts 2 and 3, which are shorter, will be posted together on Wednesday 7th December.
Meanwhile, if you want to read more of my stories you can purchase my collection, Prompt Responses at $0.99 from Amazon.co.uk by clicking here. Better still, if you include your e-mail address in a comment below, I’ll send you a coupon code to enable you to get it free in the digital format of your choice.
I call the story “Remembering Barry Davies”. The first part is told by a former girl friend.
Remembering Barry Davies
The wind is rushing through a broken window. Down below, the sea thunders against the rocks sending clouds of spray over the cliff edge. That cliff edge is much closer now than it was when we first came here. I suppose that is why the old pub has been abandoned. Back then there was a small garden with tables. We preferred to sit outside with my g&t and your pint of real ale, watching the gulls’ antics and listening to the crash, hiss and suck of the waves, only sitting in the snug when driven inside by summer storms. We never saw this place in winter. In my mind it will always be summer here. That glorious summer when I knew you and shared part of my life with you.
I wonder if you remember how we met in that bar on the seafront? I was out with two of the girls from work. You were with colleagues too. Younger than you, they were eager for pick-ups. I sensed straight away that you were married. You stayed on the edge of the group, observing; your face registering amused interest. I too was on the fringe of the group. My young companions deep in conversation with your lads, laughing, flirting shamelessly, allowing themselves to be jostled closer to the boys as people pushed their way through the throng to get to the serving point.
We looked at each other and smiled. Both spoke at once, apologised, complained about not being able to hold a conversation above the noise of a dozen shouted interchanges. The others were heading to the Winter Gardens, to what we used to call “The Bag’s Ball”. It was a place where women whose husbands were away working on the rigs would go to find male company. I favoured the disco although it was a little way out of town, too far to walk. I offered you a lift and you accepted.
I don’t think we did much dancing, just sat watching and chatting. We got on so well together. You confirmed what I’d already guessed. You were married with a family whom you loved. You had come here to carry out some maintenance at one of the big factories on the other side of town. You were staying in a small hotel just around the corner from my flat. When we got there I parked outside my own front door and invited you up for coffee. You declined. I leaned across and kissed you. I could sense you were shocked by that. You had your hand on the door handle. You hesitated; I think you were on the verge of changing your mind about coffee. Your innate common sense must have won out, for you got out of the car, wished me good night and good luck and were gone.
I thought that was the last I had seen of you; a pleasant evening, a delightful adventure that had ended, as so many of my dalliances did, with disappointment. Why, I asked myself as I made my cocoa, did I so often allow myself to become involved with married men? I wondered if I would ever find an interesting man who was free to form a permanent attachment. I resolved to stop wasting my time with men who enjoyed the thrill of an affair more than they cared for my feelings. So, when you rang me at work the following week and said you’d heard about a place where there was live music you’d like to try out and would I care to join you, I knew I should make some excuse and decline. Instead I heard myself tell you I would be delighted.
The next week we decided to drive down the coast a short way which is how we discovered this little old pub. We thought at first it was closed; the parking spaces at the front were empty. The front door was in need of a coat of paint. The enameled signs advertising the local brew were chipped but the brew itself, you assured me later, was excellent. And so it became our special place. Every Thursday evening throughout that summer we came here for a drink and a chat. Then back to my place where I’d cook us a light supper and we would listen to music on the stereo. My ’70s nostalgia albums seemed to suit the mood, somehow. Barbra Steisand singing “The Way we Were” or Kris Kristofferson “Help me Make it Through the Night”.
We never made love. We came tantalisingly close several times but you always held back; said it wouldn’t be fair to me or to your wife. You told me you were “fond” of me. Funny word that. I chose to believe you meant you loved me but were afraid to say so. I know now, if I didn’t then, that I was in love with you. Why else am I here now, all these years later?
A gull just swooped down, caught the wind and soared up to land on the roof. There are several loose tiles up there and a place where the timbers are exposed. There is an extension that wasn’t here when we frequented the place. A sign says RESTA ANT, the S hanging upside down. It reminds me of something I read in one of the local papers Mum used to send me. One of the last I think, not long before she died. There was one of those advertising features about the place, how the new proprietors had turned it into a gastro pub. I wonder how long it lasted before the sea came too close?
Our summer ended all too soon. Your project came to a close and you stunned me with the news that you had been offered a permanent position here, at the factory where you had been working. You and your family would be coming to live here, in my home town. You had already started looking at houses. What was I to do? I couldn’t go on living here, knowing that I could bump into you any day on the street or in the supermarket, you playing happy families and me still a lonely spinster. So I asked about positions in another branch of the bank; one as far away from here as possible.
I took your advice and studied to improve my qualifications. The Open University is a marvelous institution. I met George, my late husband, at one of their summer schools. Unlike you, he was older than me. His wife had been killed in a road accident and he was struggling to come to terms with it. Just like us, we delighted in each other’s company. He said meeting me had helped him deal with his grief. When he asked me to marry him I did not hesitate. We were both too old to think about having children, concentrating on our respective careers instead. We had thirty good years together, traveled a lot. George worked for one of the big oil companies. In most of the places he was posted to I was able to secure short term engagements lecturing at a nearby university. I considered myself lucky; I saw so many beautiful sights and experienced so much. Visited places that most people never get to see.
And yet I never forgot our summer together. Could never hear any of those old songs without thinking of you. Right up until she died my mother used to send me copies of the local paper so that, wherever I was in the world, I always kept in touch with events back home. So I know a little about what happened to you; how you led a campaign to keep open a school threatened with closure. Did you know it was my old school, I wonder? That led to you becoming a councilor; you were mayor one year; was it 1995 or ‘6?
You also started a successful business. Left your job at the factory and set up your own design consultancy. That surprised me at first, I never had you pegged as a risk taker. Then I realised that by then your children were grown up and making their own way in life so you were free to take a chance. It seems to have worked out for you. The factory you came to work in is long gone now, replaced by a modern business park. One of the units bears the legend BDD, derived, I know, from Barry Davies Designs. I asked someone about it and they told me you sold up just before the recession and went to live in the South of France somewhere.
I picture you sitting on a sunny terrace, white hair curling out from under a straw hat, a glass of something cold glistening on a table beside you. You are reading a heavy looking book. I remember you told me you would love to have the time to read the classics of literature. Now you are retired I guess you do. Your wife, in a white cotton blouse and pale blue skirt, potters in the garden below the terrace, collecting flowers for some artistic arrangement. Not the life I’d choose. If I beat this disease – and my oncologist says the prognosis is good – when I’m well enough I intend to go traveling again.
We never made it to South America, George and I. There always seemed to be a revolution happening whenever the opportunity came up. I would really like to see the Amazon rain forest and Machu Pichu before I die.
Behind your stone built house, as I picture it, there are vine clad hills and in the distance, beyond the garden, a glimpse of deep blue ocean. Nothing like the grey waters that menace our old trysting place.
In a way, my journey around our old haunts has been, like our original affair, a bit of a let down, an anti-climax. Just as well, I suppose. What could we have possibly said to each other had we met, as I’d dared to hope we might?