A Strange Small Town – Week 48 of the 52 week short story challenge

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It was a funny little place; lacking the charm of the nearby yachting village or the charismas of the larger and well-know yachting town upstream. As teenagers involved in the sailing scene, we were dismissive of the place. It was ‘touristy’; shops decked out with brightly coloured buckets and spades, inflatable rings and airbeds, rock with a generic county name through the inside and boxes of fudge and toffee bearing pictures of grazing ponies.

It was a place for passing through and rarely stopping. A place inhabited by holidaying grockles and nouveau riche who had bought their holiday homes without realising that the town was quite a way from the sea. Our village, the village where we stayed in the summer, sailed out to the castle and camped in the boat park. Apart from the yacht clubs and the pub, there was nowhere else to spend your money and any other entertainment or supplies good be acquired in the big town – without having to pay over-inflated tourist prices.

I remember one summer in particular. I still have the photographs of us all lounging outside OUR yacht club – there was great rivalry between the two clubs. Hair stiff and bleached from hours sailing, half-worn wet suits (it was easier to leave the bottom half on and wriggle out of the top).  Clutching half pints of rough cider and feasting on freshly made crab sandwiches. Nothing else really mattered that summer.

One of our group had very rich parents who owned a holiday cottage across the road from the pub. We took it in turns to sleep there or in hastily erected two man tents in the boat park once the clubs were closed. We knew that we weren’t supposed to be there but provided the tent was packed away before the morning sailing started, the older members of the club turned a blind eye.

Not that it was peaceful sleeping in the boat park; people ignored the sign ‘Frap your halyards’, and a s a consequence the night was punctuated with the sound of unfrapped halyards tinkling against masts. Hedgehogs and foxes rustled their way round the boats, looking for dropped sandwich crusts and half-empty crisp packets. The sun disturbed our fretful dozing and spurred us on to collapse the tent and stagger across the road to the cottage for coffee and toast.

The summer came to an end – as it always does  – and we departed to our various courses and jobs. That summer could never be repeated anyway. In moving on, we jolly sailors lost touch with each other and other entertainments replaced the joys of sailing.

The village never lost its charm for me; enhanced by discovering that one of my favourite authors had written a trilogy of books loosely based on family life in Little Village and Big Village, with the Island across the sea playing an integral part. I made subsequent visits; with friends, with groups of children I was responsible for, and ultimately with my own husband and family. It became a place of pilgrimage; somewhere to go and lose the troubles or celebrate happiness. There was a stark contrast between the still quiet waters around the harbour and the crashing waves out on the
Spit. Waves that were so ferocious that year in and out, new methods of prevention had to be found to prevent the sea encroaching on the houses nearby.

I found out very early in our relationship that my husband had also sailed from the village – though at a different time from me – and that he loved it as much as I did.

 

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Winding the time clock on, our children became adults and needed less entertaining on holidays, so when the opportunity arose to spend two summer weeks in a cottage in ‘my’ village, we jumped at it. Part of me was worried that the village would have changed, that it would no longer be the magical place I remembered – that we both remembered.

It was like stepping back into a time capsule. The pub was still there – although it had added an extra wing and a conservatory – but the cider was just as good and the sandwiches – made from freshly caught crab – was wonderful. We could see the boat park from our bedroom window; people were still neglecting to frap their halyards, and although we didn’t have the credentials to venture into either of the yacht clubs, we didn’t need to sleep in tents either. I had my favourite author’s books on my Kindle and delighted in spotting thinly disguised landmarks as we walked the dog along the harbour side and around the various beaches.

It was a wonderful fortnight. We caught up with family and friends; the tiny backyard was the ideal venue for a family get together in the sunshine. The dog loved his seaside walks and I achieved a lifelong wish. I had sailed out to the castle on many an occasion – and  came back the same way, but I had never walked the mile and a half along the shingle bank, nor taken a ride on the little ferry boat that tied up at the harbour wall.

The strangest revelation of our holiday was the exploration of Big Village.

It wasn’t full of grockles and holiday shops anymore. Charity shops rubbed shoulders with a wine bar and a delicatessen. The Co-op was stocked with normal food and there was no sign of sticks of rock or boxes of fudge. At the suggestion of friends, we ventured further to the beaches further away from Little Village, and found some beautiful examples of Art Deco architecture along the sea view.

Big Village wasn’t such a bad place.

On our last day we met up with our lovely friends for a long and leisurely brunch in the sunshine at a cafe on the beach. A very happy start to the process of packing everything back into the car and heading North for home.

It was good to go back to Little Village and find it just as beautiful and enchanting as I had found it before. Better to still was to roam around Big Village and find that it wasn’t such a strange small town after all.

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‘Seconds Away! Round Two’

Saturday afternoons. ‘World of Sport‘ in the mid 1960s.

Curled up on the sofa next to her beloved Daddy for a whole three-quarters of an hour that seemed to go in a flash.

A fair-haired tomboy who lived for the moment that her Daddy came home from work mid-afternoon, reveled in the joy that was British wrestling, then stole quietly from the room so as not to disturb him whilst he listened to the final scores and checked his pools coupon.

Jackie Pallo, Mick McManus, Kendo Nagasaki, Big Daddy (why would anyone call a boy Shirley?) and best of all, Les Kellett.

It never occurred to her that anyone got hurt when they wrestled; they seemed to be made of india-rubber, and although there were times when her funny hero Les appeared to have been worn out and in pain, she learned quickly that this was just part of his act.  He would be on the verge of collapse but once his opponent had been lulled into a false sense of security, Les would come back with a vengeance and wipe the floor with him.

Together the child and her Daddy shouted encouragement and hissed at the designated ‘baddy’ who in turn was hurling mild insults at the umbrella wielding grannies ringside. It was real and scary and exciting; at that time there was little talk of fixing matches and the limited black and white camera shots showed only what the producers wanted the public to see.

It was bliss. It belonged to a time when she was Daddy’s little ‘Chuckles’.  A time when she first encountered the consequences of choice.  Coming home on the bus from her Auntie’s house in the early evening.  Should she fall asleep leaning against the warm cloth of Daddy’s coat sleeve, then be carried home in his loving arms and put straight to bed.  Or should she stay awake, enjoy the ride, skip home holding his hand and have  the luxury of a few extra minutes before it was bedtime?

Mummy was home; laughter and mock anger, the shaking fist whenever they tried to take a photograph of her, the steak and kidney pie which always had a little bit of pastry left over so that the child could make a grey and grimy jam tart.  Mummy was the one that read books and answered questions.  If she didn’t know then the four handsome blue and gold-bound volumes of the Encyclopedia Britannica did.

It was a time of few complications. Of a large and loving family, of sunny evenings playing out with her friends, of learning to ride a friend’s bicycle, despite it being too big and the cause of her falling off often only to get straight back on it again.  The fearlessness of this action impressed her Daddy so much that he walked five miles to the nearest bicycle shop, bought a bicycle that they could ill-afford and proudly walked it back home. To see the look of joy on the child’s face and watch her, wobbling at first but growing in confidence as she rode round and round the grassy triangle outside the house, it made it all worthwhile.

Halcyon days with no indication of the storms to come.

In any relationship between two people there will be issues and challenges. Opposites may attract but the strength of a relationship depends not on the ability of one person to change the other, but on the desire to adapt to each other, to grow together or to part before any real damage is done.

Take a volatile woman with ambitions; with a need to acquire knowledge and experiences.

Take a man with a tendency to dark moods; with a history of war horrors and a need for quiet domesticity.

Take a child who loved them both dearly and who was growing distressed by her Daddy’s constant pleas that she would stay with him and always be his Chuckles, and by the increasing amount of time that her mother was spending at work .

The storm broke late one night. Her Mummy had been out at work, her Daddy had been particularly sad and demanding when she had wanted to be left to read her book.  She had felt resentful towards both of them and went off to bed early.  Raised voices from downstairs woke her and the child was witness to the sight of her Mummy, knife in hand, being strangled by her beloved Daddy.  The presence of the screaming child brought them to their senses and they backed away from each other, not realising that the scene would be imprinted in the child’s memory for many years, and that she would always feel that she was the cause of their separation.

Bags were packed, a taxi called and the child left with her Mummy in the middle of the night. She was shocked by the sudden change of circumstances and guilty because she felt that somehow, it must be her fault for having been cross with her parents.

She saw her Daddy once but the visit was spoiled by his insistence that her Mummy was a bad woman who had split the family up.  She wanted reassurance from him but all she got was anger and hurt.  She concentrated on her relationship with her Mummy from then on and her anger became focused instead on her Daddy.

The child stayed away from him for five years. Her Mum remarried and the child became a resentful and truculent teenager.

Adolescence raises many questions and circumstances led to a reconciliation.  An unspoken decision between the girl and her Dad meant that they never discussed her Mum.  The girl visited him once a week and ate his overcooked meals and eye-watering pickled onions with a love that repaired their separation.

There was no need for choice anymore.  She loved them both and the passage of time had mellowed the hurt for all of them.

The girl became a woman and after a series of wrong turnings, she found the right man.  Her Mum loved him and so did her Dad.  She knew she had made the right choice and was determined that if they had children, they would never have to experience the sudden shock of separation as she had, would never be frightened  by the murderous anger between two people who once loved each other.

Both parents are gone now but they lived to see their children make happy marriages and to know their beloved grandchildren.

For a long time the woman continued to blame herself for the events that led up to that night when she so nearly lost both her parents.  Eventually, and with some help, she realised that her parents – as adults – were  responsible for all that happened.  How could she, as a child, possibly have influenced their actions?  Her presence had not caused the split but it had certainly prevented a potential death and incarceration.

She broached the subject with her Mum some years after her Dad’s death, only to find that time had eroded the details of that night and been minimised to a minor spat, engineered by her Mum because she needed to escape the marriage so desperately.

The woman was glad that she had never discussed it with her Dad.

Saturday afternoons. Seconds Away!  Round Two.