This third story in a series of seventies-themed pieces was forged in February-March 2006 from scribblings committed to a notebook in 1978-'79, and concerning events that took place in the summer of 1974. I adapted it word for word, although regarding certain passages, I selected crossed out words or series of words rather than those I'd chosen in the late 1970s and certain sentences were formed by fusing portions of the original sentences together. Moreover, the structure of the story has been altered, and the punctuation changed and greatly improved on; and I edited out words, sentences, whole passages.
The principle character who is myself in '74, was not called Carl in the first version; however, all the other characters have kept the names I chose for them then, which is not say that they were the names of the real people on which they were based. Those I have to admit have completely vacated my memory.
To the best of my knowledge, all the events depicted actually occured; however, given that I was writing in '78 or '79 about events that took place some half a decade previously, the original conversations would necessarily have been somewhat different to how they turned out on paper. Furthermore, it may be that a certain amount of exaggeration crept in to my writing in the late 1970s, particularly with respect to the quantities of alcohol I consumed, but then again, these may have been reproduced with some degree of accuracy. I have no recollection whatsoever of the events depicted in the final nineteen lines of the story, and these may have been tacked on for dramatic effect.
The events in the story as a whole take place in "a certain English coastal town", but I have a strong feeling that it was in Lymington, a port on the Solent in the New Forest district of Hampshire that they actually occurred. It was published as "An Old Pangbournian in Old Bosham" on March 3rd 2006, Bosham being a small village situated three miles west of Chichester, West Sussex, on an inlet of Chichester Harbour. Why I changed Lymington to Bosham I cannot say for certain, but it may have been a genuine mistake on my part. Final changes were made in July 2007. I think it's fair to say that we are dealing with a story in the truest sense, which is to say one based on real events, rather than a genuine fragment from a memoir.
Being the person that I am, it is my desire that this resurrected story of mine possess a strong moral centre. And morally sensitive readers will discern intimations of ultimate disaster in the heavy drinking of the protagonist Carl which given that he is only 18, is necessarily only at its inception. My story however is as much a little slice of history from a simpler age than today's as anything more serious and one which I hope will prove an entertainment as well as a morality tale. It finishes on an upbeat note, at the beginning of another night of purported pleasure, and yet as I recall I actually ended the night jumping into the filthy oily waters of the town harbour.
Lost Romance of an Old Pangbournian
The remainder of 1974 was a bizarre and frantic segment of Carl's life. In July, his father made yet another effort to tame him, by sending him on a yachting course in a certain English coastal town. The owner of the yacht was an old Pangbournian, who also ran a sailing school. Carl stayed at a guest house owned by Mrs C-C, one of those wonderful elderly widows that inhabit our so English sailing towns all along the south coast, always charming but slightly aloof, immaculately spoken, calm, kind and considerate. There he met Jules, a Belgian boy of about twenty years, Mr Watson and his son Alan. None of these four were on the same course, but they nevertheless became very close. Alan liked to listen to the older boy's theories on music, fashion and life:
"Hey Carl, do you think if I put brilliantine in my hair, I'd look like Ferry. Now Ferry is totally smooth."
First day Carl discovered who was on his course: there was Colin, aged 28, who was cool, tall, dark and moustachio'd, wearing large and dark-framed specatcles, viewing Carl's whimsicality with considerable suspicion; but vaguely sociable, Reg a genial old boy of about sixty, Bill and Peg, a thoroughly agreeable married couple, and the Captain. That evening, Carl and Colin, a man who had struggled from alleged want to the positon of an urban executive, had dinner together. Mr Watson and Alan were dining in the same restaurant:
"Look at that boy," Colin said, nodding as discreetly as he could in Alan's direction, "such a smooth complexion".
Carl made them laugh, dressed in blazer, flannels and white shoes with hair elegantly brilliantined, stuffing pieces of bread into his pockets like an impoverished student. He also made the Captain laugh the next day:
"Take the helm, Carl," the skipper ordered, "steer 350."
"Mmm...this is nice," Carl cooed, "what a lovely day, I like this."
"Oooh, you thing," the Skipper joked, for which Carl booted him up the backside, which made the Skipper titter with delighted disbelief.
Next day, Carl lost his temper with Colin, who had goaded him for wrongly plotting a course. The Captain's pupils, after an initial briefing, were expected to discover how to navigate for themselves:
"Oh shut up," Carl bitched, "let's see you do better!"
"Ooh, you thing!" the Captain interjected, with even more glee than before.
That evening, Carl organised an informal get-together between the sailing and the yachting people. Present were Carl, Colin, Jules, Alan, and four or five other sailing men, including Gareth, the course whizz-kid.
"He comes alive in the evening this boy," said Colin, "summoned by an alcoholic deity."
"I'm not an alcoholic, Colin..." Carl replied.
"You drink three pints to to my one," Colin countered, "so you've certainly got potential."
"Nonsense, as I was saying, Gareth, how long have you had long hair?"
"What...long hair? What's that got to do with anything...is my hair long...I don't know anything about that."
"Do you realise twenty years ago with your hair as it is, although it's only just surpassing the ears, you would have been hounded, persecuted, beaten, for being a deviant, a freak, are you trying to ignore that?
"And you would have been accepted?"
"Oh yes," said Carl, "knife edge pressed flannels, blue blazer, white V neck pullover, open neck shirt and cravat, a bit sporty, I suppose, but utterly acceptable."
"Safe? That's something I never am, safe."
"Well, quite frankly, I think you look ridiculous"
At this statement, Carl burst into laughter. His laughter was like no other, shrill, unearthly, it violently assaulted the quiet clientele of the soft-carpeted yacht club, a laugh that seemed to emit from the hideous depths themselves.
Gareth, fighting to contain gleeful hysteria and thus conserve respectability, had gone a redder shade of tomato, and Colin quivering with laughter hid his face in mock-shame:
"I disown him," he gibbered, "he's insane, insane."
Gradually the hilarity subsided:
"How do you get those bracelets on your wrist?" Colin queried.
"Easily," Carl boasted, exhibiting his arms, "I have very slender, graceful wrists."
"Let me see..." Colin whispered, and Carl gave him a bracelet. Soon that bracelet was being passed around the entire group, each member attempting, often with great difficulty to put the bracelet on their own wrist. Presently, the bracelet was back in Carl's possession, and with horror, he observed that it had been mutilated.
"My bracelet," he cried, "how could you all! I entrusted it to you and you've twisted and bent it."
The group stared at Carl, not knowing whether to look sincerely sorry or merely laugh at his distress, and settled for a nervous cross between the two. After a moment spent in this atmosphere, Jules dispersed it by requesting to see the injured bracelet.
"Let me see eet," he said, "I weel try to feex eet."
Carl handed him the bracelet. Everyone was hushed as the Belgian contemplated it, touched it, turned it round, rattled it, and finally, with considerable calm, placed it on the floor. He scratched his head, as if trying to settle on a decision, which resulted in his extracting his shoe. Carl, trying to preserve his cool, took a cigarette from his case, a cigarette which, once lit, fell from his slim white hand as a crack like a tree struck by lightning echoed throughout the thunderstruck clubhouse. Carl's eyes were suddenly attracted from the fallen fag to Jules, who was raising his right arm, at the end of which was one shoe, profuse with studs, and bringing it to the ground with all his strength at regular intervals. It took Carl some time before he knew what the reason was for all the secretive sniggering that went on around him: his bracelet was the victim of these vicious shoe attacks which were supposed to be rather brutally persuading it to revert to its original shape.
"Oh come on, it's not funny," he moaned, reaching out to take the bracelet which a grinning Jules held out for him. He stared woefully at the shattered remains but oddly enough, the bracelet had not disintegrated, in fact, had not altered from its original, slightly misshapen state.
"Eet ees all right, Carle," Jules suddenly chuckled, "I was eeting ze floor wiz my shoe, not your brezlet."
Carl looked at Jules, looked at his bracelet, looked at the other lads, then his eyes started to sparkle, his throat to gurgle, and then it all escaped:
"Hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi hi..."
"I'm not with him!"
"We'll get thrown out!"
As the stunned salts recovered from Carl's falsetto assault of high-pitched shrieks, he told them:
"Come on, drink up, lads, let's go where the action is, let's go and find a party or something!"
"No, it's not worth it," said Gareth, "we're having a good time here. You're a real laugh Carl, just as long as you don't go too far. We might as well stay"
"Not me. I'm getting outa here. Need a change of atmosphere. Who's coming?"
"Yeah...might as well." Colin volunteered
"Me too..." the boy from Belgium followed suit.
As the ink-black of night seeped through the crystal-like clarity of day and dyed it a dark colour, another day died away...
"Lonely, isn't it?" Carl suggested.
The others agreed. They headed along the main road. Carl did his manic laugh to each car that roared by often standing right in its path of travel.
"That Belgian girl in your group is nice, Jules isn't she?"
"Oh yes," said Jules, "eef only 'er farzer weren't wiz 'er all ze time."
"Hey, who's going for a walk 'round Bosham town?"
Colin and Jules volunteered, and the trio turned a corner.
The girls were blonde, standing in a sea of darkness. Female company was exactly what Carl and Jules needed.The Dutch courage of numbers gave vent to a number of groundless verbal coquettries, mainly coming from Carl. The two girls followed this trail of littered pleasantries to the water's edge and then persevered onto a pier. Carl followed them, an unlit cigarette in his left hand.
"Can I have a light, please?" he said, looking intently at one then the other of the two young ladies; one was slim and petite, the other was tall and thin, wearing shoulder-length blonde hair. "Well, shall I stay here or go and join my friends?"
"Stay here," mumbled the smaller of the two sweet Cockney sparrows almost inaudibly.
"Pardon?" said Carl and both girls answered by smiling coyly. There was a minute's pause.
"Well, I'll see ya then," Carl finally said.
As the trio moved down the street, the two girls followed.
"Why don't you turn around?" Colin suddenly said.
"Why?" said Carl.
"They like you"
"Course they do. If you can't see that, you're more short-sighted than I thought you were."
At this, Carl turned around.
"There's a predatory look in your eyes, girls," he said.
"Oh, not to worry. Wha's yer names?"
"My name's Julie," said the waiflike one, "and this is Sue...what's yours, baby?"
"Why do you call me baby?"
"'Cos you look like one," they both answered.
"I happen to be all of eighteen years old!" Carl said with mock indignance.
"Are you eighteen?" Sue asked.
"Tha's right, why, don' I look it?"
"We fought you was abaht twen'y..."
"Really? Well I'm eighteen and my name's Carl"
"Wha's your name?" Sue asked Jules.
"My nem is Jules..."
"Where are you from?" Sue asked Carl.
"You sahnd Ameri'an or somefing."
"Well, I am half-Canadian."
"Oh, that would explain it," Julie resolved.
"Why," Carl went on, "where do you girls come from?"
"We come from London as well, south."
"What are you doing down 'ere?"
"We're spendin' a few days on 'er dad's boat," Sue said, pointing at Julie.
"Has your dad got a boat?" Carl said, with vague suprise.
"A yacht! Not just any old boat. Don' come from any old family, I don'."
"She's a cute one, she is..." said Carl.
The three males once again continued on their path and the two females once again followed, this time, more clamorously, in fact took to kicking a can at them to make their point.
"I weesh Colin were not 'ere," Jules whispered into Carl's ear.
"Colin's presence is disconcerting them."
As soon as Jules had finished talking, the two girls turned a corner:
"See ya, then!" they shouted.
"Bye, Carl darling!"
"I wonder where zey went?" said Jules
"I shouldn't worry about it, you've got your Belgian girl"
Came the second to last day and a trip for both the yacht and the dinghy party to the Isle of Wight. Carl was determined to get to know some of the girls on the course a little better. He asked Alan what he thought about some of the female monitors:
"How about Jane, for example?"
"She's too old for me. Why she was ten years in the WRNS."
"She's always nice to me."
"Sally's a pretty girl."
Yes, Carl liked Sally and determined to talk to her on this little excursion. Lunch was in a Yarmouth public house where slender men in double-breasted reefer jackets, flannels and sailing shoes would go between sails. Some wore white trousers, some wore R.A.F moustaches and some even wore bow ties; their ladies dressed in slacks, large navy-blue pull-overs and silk scarves. In the evening, they would all be in full evening wear.
Back in port again, cutting across a nearby lawn, he met the natural and rosy-cheeked Sally:
"Hello." She said with a smile that brought beauty to a face which was free of glamourising paint.
"Hello," Carl answered, where are you going?"
"Back to my room."
"Oh...hey, apparently there's a get-together tonight, you know, a few drinks, a bit of dancing, a lot of laughs, are you going?"
"I don't know, I..."
"Oh, go on. I'm going..."
Sally looked at Carl, dressed in sweater and brown cords and sneakers, his yellow-brown hair ruffled, and thought: what a sweet chap.
"Well...okay," she said, "I suppose I'll go...uh...this is where I turn off."
"See you tonight then."
"Yes, bye...hey wait! Do you know my name?"
"Yes, of course I do, Carl, bye!"
Back at the guest house, the clock struck five and Carl was all-a-spruce, taking tea with Mrs C-C, who would have been deeply outraged if anyone suggested that Carl was anything but a kind, courteous and thoroughly likable young man, who had but one fault, forgetfulness. She was supposed to charge for each packed lunch forgotten, but never did in Carl's case, even if he was the only one who ever forgot his lunch. It must be said, however, that it was difficult not to be thoroughly likable in the presence of this distinguished, well-preserved and attractive middle-aged woman.
Carl and Jules and Colin set out together for the dance. On the way, they stopped in a pub.
"Half of bitter!" Colin ordered.
"Half a shandy!" Jules ordered.
"Double scotch!" Carl ordered and then ten minutes later, "double scotch!"
"Nothing for me!" Said Colin.
"'Alf o' shandy!" Jules ordered.
"Pint of bitter!" Carl ordered ten minutes later.
"Come on Carl, let's go." Colin said.
"We mus' go," Jules said.
"Drink up!" Colin ordered. "We don't want you in a disordered state before the dance, do we?"
Carl swallowed his pint and the three departed. Arriving at the lieu reserved for the evening's festivities, they sat down at a communal table. Carl's blue spotted eyeballs slid from side to side in an effort to register Sally's exact position. They found her, sitting next to a slim, smart but casually dressed young man with light blonde collar length hair and beard. He got up and approached the pair.
"Hello, Sally," he said, with a slightly reproachful look in his eyes.
"Hello," she said, slightly taken aback, especially as he was no longer the sweet, tousle headed gamin of that afternoon but a world-weary and rakish looking youth.
"Do you want a drink?" he asked.
"Er, no thanks," she said, "but I will have one later on."
"Okay then," the disappointed youth said, and he turned around and made his way to the bar.
"Double scotch!" He ordered, and then ten minutes later, "double scotch!"
Sally appeared to be less and less able to back away from her admirer's nose, leading the way below two amorously lit little eyes and above two fatuously cooing lips. Carl took a large slug of the weighty liquid that lay in his glass thereby emptying it. Then, he decided to step in and putting the glass down made straight for the couple.
"Oh hello, Carl," Sally said, suddenly looking up with a grateful smile whose sun-like radiance quickly darkened as soon as the youth's apparent drunkenness dawned on her.
Tapped on the shoulder and led away by Gareth, he was taken, across the room and seated next to Captain Aubyn-H at a long table populated entirely by the latter's set.
"Hello, Carl," the Captain said, "you look a bit excited...fancy a drink?"
"Yes. Pint of bitter, please."
"Pint of water? Right."
Mainly for the benefit of Gareth, who was sitting opposite him, Carl filled the room with his manic laugh, which was greeted by looks of intimidated derision.
"No, Carl," said Gareth, "you're just not funny this evening."
"Not funny? If I ain't even funny, then what am I?"
Carl got up, rather slowly, and walked, just as slowly and wordlessly to the door, opened it, then stepped into the warm summer's night...where there were no dreams of romance just around the corner of one lonely seatown street. Tonight everyone had abandoned him. Tonight there was nothing.
"Carl!" A boyish voice was heard. "Carl, it's me."
Carl's sad eyes looked behind him to be faced by a soul-cheering sight. He suddenly felt warm all over.
"Alan, it's you."
"Where ya going, Carl?"
"Alan, it's not where am I going, it's where are we going."
"Listen, brother, you and me is gonna find a party even if it takes all night!"
"Well, I...I...I better ask my old man first. I think he's expecting me back at around eleven."
"Tha's fine, jus' fine. Le's go'n find daddy!"