Short story first published here

Photo of the original Morecambe Winter Gardens poster by kind permission of Daphne Driver (Facebook – New Morecambe, Heysham and Lancaster Past and Present)

1964: Not Fade Away

The song ‘Not Fade Away’ written by Petty & Hardin and performed by the Rolling Stones reached no. 3 in the UK Charts on 27th February 1964 and stayed in for 15 weeks.
On 7 March 1964 the Stones gave two live performances as top-of-the-bill at the Morecambe Winter Gardens Theatre.

“I wanna tell you how it’s gonna be. You’re gonna give your love to me.”

I first heard it on the radio. Those words summed up my intentions exactly. They were what I wanted to say myself, a powerful and positive statement of intent, a battle cry, a summary of my feelings for Caroline. I decided to deliver them to her – but maybe not with that exact phrasing. Mick Jagger might have used those words but I’d probably change them when the heat was on. I didn’t want to make too big a berk of myself. I didn’t want to make any kind of a berk of myself. Better to minimise the risk just in case. Well, I had to be careful.

I’d read an article in a magazine a few weeks earlier. Look for a positive statement to focus on it said. Now I’d found one. The opening lines of the song seemed to say it all. Add to that the good omen, that I proposed to deliver my message right under the very nose of the singer himself, and it all pointed to divine providence – a sign from the gods. I convinced myself that there must be a higher power governing all things and that I’d tapped into it. Caroline would be mine – no doubt about it. Well, maybe.

When you’re sixteen you’ll believe in anything if you want something badly enough. I wanted Caroline badly enough. She was beautiful. Blonde, blue-eyed, the right height, the right age, curved in all the right places, long legs – what more could anybody ask for. I’d been building up to asking her out for weeks but had never plucked up the courage. Talking to girls was not a skill that I’d mastered. Having no sisters and attending an all-boys school perpetuated that continuing failing. Some people, like Speed, had a natural gift for it and no apparent sense of self-consciousness. Speed could talk quietly to them, up close, his mouth brushing an ear and they would giggle and blush. He seemed to have the hypnotic powers of a swaying cobra. When he focused on them they couldn’t turn their attention away. I just couldn’t do it. God knows what he said to them. I didn’t know; it wasn’t something you could ask, and Speed never told. Probably something as corny as hell if the truth was known; probably something that I could never utter in a million years from sheer embarrassment. On the rare occasions that I tentatively tried the up close approach, my mouth would dry and my thoughts would jumble. For me, crossing that last little distance into any girl’s personal space – an action which heralded my intentions as clearly as a fanfare of trumpets – to deliver an intimate comment designed to make her melt with desire was more frightening than joining in mortal combat. And that was assuming I could come up with a captivating comment to finish it off. I’d rather face instant death from a stabbing sword stroke than lingering death from the prospect of a public rebuff from an unreceptive girl. Close proximity romance seemed deadlier than hand to hand fighting. Defeat at the hands of a worthy opponent was honourable but what could you do if you were publicly humbled by a girl; nothing except crawl away to die of shame? So far I had adopted the strong, silent and distant approach, a defensive position, hoping that she would give me a hint instead, but this had clearly not been successful. I’d suffered no injuries but won no victories. She said ‘Hello’ and smiled when she saw me but that was it. An expectant silence would follow. I sensed that she was waiting for me to follow up. I knew that I had to attack, be an aggressor, more like Speed, and that meant sticking my neck out.  I had to come out from behind my shield and ask her out. Now I had found the words in the song and the method in the article. Well, possibly.

I’d read the article in the Barber’s shop. It had been in one of those American Magazines with the glossy pages. “The Art of Positive Thinking” by Dr somebody or other. OK it was American, but that didn’t mean it wouldn’t work, did it? Well they weren’t doing too well in Vietnam, the tide seemed to be turning against them. But then again they were doing well in the Space Race, drawing level with the Russians.  Apparently if you wanted something to happen you had to think positively about it and visualise it in your mind. If you kept on willing it then it increased the chances of it happening as you wanted it to. Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it, I thought. It claimed that the Doctor had proved his theories over years and years of testing and included extracts of letters from satisfied customers to support his claims. He gave examples – how to win money, how to gain promotion at work, how to be popular – of what could be achieved by positive thinking. The one prospect that I was most impressed by was – how to be successful in romance. The Space Race won out over Vietnam. I swallowed it whole – or at least, subject to testing. Unfortunately, it was tied in to having faith in God. God and positive thinking went hand in hand. Why couldn’t Americans be more like us and just ignore religion? Being mostly an atheist, or at least a committed non-attender, I kind of glossed over that bit by silently agreeing that if it worked then I might start to believe in God again. The problem with believing in God was that, throughout history, all warriors did it. The Greeks and the Romans all had their gods and look what happened to them. All ultimately defeated. Anyway, in any battle, both sides usually prayed to their gods and someone still had to lose, so how did you know which god to choose? Or, if both sides prayed to the same god, then how did that god choose who would win. Or was it all just a big con. It was too confusing. Didn’t the best side or the luckiest usually win? I hedged my bets. This would be a sort of test for him. If it worked I’d start going to Church, especially to the Sunday evening service that Caroline occasionally attended. A sort of favour for a favour with God. Well, why not?

The good Doctor’s book was available by mail order. I’d added the ‘good’ to his title but I had no real idea why. Maybe it just made him sound more convincing. I wanted to believe he was good. Good always conquered evil in the end, didn’t it? Public humiliation was evil. I also had no idea how long it would take for the book to arrive from America even if I paid the postage and packing, nor how much in pound notes that the dollars amounted to even if I could afford it. In any event I needed the money to buy a ticket to see the Rolling Stones at the Winter Gardens so I couldn’t do that and buy the book. Instead, whilst the Barber was in the back of the shop obtaining something for the weekend for the customer in the chair, I furtively plucked the pages out from the staples holding the magazine together, folded them lengthways and slipped them into the inside pocket of my jacket. Well the guy in the chair wasn’t going to say anything – not when he knew that I knew what he was buying. I’d seen him glance at me in the mirror when he’d placed his coded order. Public humiliation was a powerful weapon. All fighters had to have a battle plan. Surely, if God was a man he would understand my need for one. All’s fair in love and war. He’d forgive a desperate youth – especially if that youth repented the theft once he’d won over Caroline? God needed as many customers as he could get in Britain. The end justified the means. He’d have to make allowances. And so would the Barber. That magazine was six months old. It was time he got some new ones – he charged enough, the tight bastard. There was enough in that article to enable me to work out the good Doctor’s method for myself. Well, almost.

I was meeting the lads – Bart, Hol, Speed and Bear. They would catch the bus at later stops along its route. Caroline was going to the same show with her friends. I walked up from the village to the terminus in the nearby town. The spring evening was fine and dry and it was still light. The freshening wind that had been loitering offshore, pushing the clouds towards the coast for most of the day, had not yet moved inland. Things looked promising for the evening and I felt optimistic; honed for action. The Corporation double-decker was waiting; its cream and green livery gleaming from a recent wash. I liked that – a clean bus for a clean kill. The immense Leyland engine throbbed, vibrating the window panels within their rubber seals, as it ticked over ready for the return journey to the small seaside resort where the Rolling Stones were appearing. I swung onto the back platform. This was my war-horse. It was ready to go. I was ready to go. Well, nearly.

I went over the preparations in my mind, checking for faults. If I had a problem, that was it. A true warrior wouldn’t hesitate. Optimism was fine but I preferred certainty. Hesitation could be fatal. I couldn’t afford any room for doubt. I’d spent an unusually long time getting ready; bathing, shaving with my Dad’s old war-issue bakelite razor, stemming the blood specks with spit and strips from the white-grey edges of the Daily Mirror, gingerly dabbing his Imperial Leather after-shave around the tabs of paper. I’d slicked back and guided every strand of my hairstyle into place with his Brylcreem. My lucky tie – the black one with thin diagonal threads of red woven into it – stood out against the second crisp white shirt with the button-down collar that my Mam had hurriedly ironed for me after the first one had caught the razor grazes on my neck. A warrior always took a good luck charm with him. Well, you never knew what might happen.

I’d laid out my new Italian-cut ‘John Collier’ suit, dark-blue with black pinstripes, on my bed. “John Collier, John Collier – the window to watch, boom diddy boom boom!” That drummer really gave those drums a hammering at the end. The advert had jingled in my brain as I’d suited up, temporarily displacing ‘Not Fade Away’ from the front of my mind. The jacket was single-breasted with narrow lapels, three buttons down the front and with a light-blue silk lining that felt slick as it slithered past my rolled gold cufflinks, down my arms and over the shirt. The trousers fitted to perfection, with no need for a belt, tapering to twelve-inch bottoms with no turn-ups and spreading evenly over the sides of my highly polished cuban-heeled Beatle boots, with the side zips and the winkle-picker toes. Those heels put an inch and a half on my height. Details were important when dressing. A warrior had to present an image. This was my armour – it might be the difference between success and failure, life and death. I’d put a lot of positive thought into this aspect of my campaign. It was something I could control; where doubt could be removed. I looked good. My appearance couldn’t fail to impress her tonight. Well, probably.

But dressing was only part of it. I’d studied that article until I could almost recite it by heart. I’d wanted to give it a trial with something simple and provable. Weapons had to be tested – you relied on your trusty sword. Getting up in a morning was never my strongpoint so I’d decided to use the power of positive thinking to overcome that failing first. If I was testing God then why not the good Doctor too. I’d switched off my bedside alarm clock. Every night for a week, immediately before going to sleep, I’d visualised myself getting out of bed at 7:30 each morning. Then I’d banged my head on the pillow seven and a half times, the half was really an eighth bang but weaker than the others, whilst silently repeating inside my head the mantra “I will get up at seven thirty.” Amazingly, every morning it had worked. That was proof enough for me. Thank God for the good Doctor…….oh, and thank God for God. Well, maybe he did exist.

For the next week I’d worked on my technique for Caroline. Using the lines from the song I’d visualised us leaving the Winter Gardens at the end of the show. The Stones, as top of the bill, would be on last. They were bound to perform their hit song. The words would be fresh in her mind. They would be the signal to strike. She’d be feeling good after a night out. I’d casually walk up to her, reach for her hand and smoothly whisper in her ear,

“I wanna tell you ….”

Oh shit. I couldn’t say that. I’d say something else like, “Can I walk you to the bus?” or something similar. That was shite too. Sod it for now. She’d get the message. I hadn’t worked out the exact words. They’d come to me on the night. You also need to be able to improvise in combat. For now I’d use the lyrics just for visualisation practice to save having a gap in the sequence. I’d visualise her nodding acceptance and visualise us walking off into the sunset towards the bus stop, hand in hand whilst enjoying a beautiful silence together which required no further conversation from me. I’d switched my alarm clock back on. There could be only one visualisation. I’d repeated the new mantra five times each night, once for each member of the Stones, to fix the vision into my head before going to sleep whilst simultaneously drumming my head on the pillow in rhythm with each line. Thank God for the good Doctor, he was good, and good old Mick Jagger …. and God. God was good. He was favouring me. After my victory I’d see him next Sunday at Church. It was foolproof. Well, wasn’t it?

I’d repeated the lines so many times that I couldn’t get them out of my head. I was chanting it silently as the bus wound its way along the Coastal Road, cresting the hill to look down onto the arc of streetlights picking out the curve of the Bay in the distance below as the daylight began to fade. Only when Caroline climbed aboard and smiled at me and said ‘Hello’ did I stop chanting. Then it was time to get nervous. I started to sweat into that crisp, white shirt. I hoped it wouldn’t harm the suit lining. She smiled and said ‘Hello’ to everybody else as well but it was still a good sign. She was with three other girls, one being Bart’s girl Katie. That’s how I’d known that she would be at the show and that she’d be sitting somewhere nearby when the show ended. The visualisation had to be as accurate as possible. Bart wanted to be with Katie. Even the good Doctor and the higher power could be helped by good organisation. Strategy and tactics – that’s how to win battles. This was a fight to the death after all. She looked fantastic. It was all coming together as planned. Well, so it seemed.

The place was filling with young people. Outside, coaches were queuing up to deliver busloads from the surrounding hills and valleys, towns and villages, factories and farms. They poured through the magnificent foyer and into the aisles, filling the plush red and gold seats, closing the gaps for a full house, bustling and buzzing with expectation. The Winter Gardens was a fine arena for such an important occasion. Dominating the Promenade and facing square on to the bay, it’s size and prominence defied all the elements that the coastal location could throw at it. The pillars and domes and ornate mouldings of its façade towered into the evening sky, inviting entrance to its opulent and luxurious interior. It offered excitement and entertainment and, like the Coliseum in Rome in its glory days, this was a building fit to honour the modern gladiators of Rock and Roll. This night was building into a memorable event; a magical harmony of venue, audience and artistes. And I was part of it. I stood alongside them, linked to them in spirit by the lyrics. What better setting for me to triumph in my personal quest. Well, hopefully.

We took our places in the theatre, perched high in the cheaper seats of the balcony, looking down onto the tiny stage. Lining up from one end of the row and, by either a piece of divine intervention or inspired planning by Bart, the girls were in the seats immediately adjoining ours. To my amazement, although I hoped that I had given the impression of remaining cool and detached about it, Caroline and Bart swapped seats, allowing Bart to sit with Katie whilst Caroline sat between Speed and I. Every warrior needs a little luck but this was too good to be true. A golden opportunity handed to me on a plate. The lyrics banged in my head, bouncing off the inside walls of my skull until the words were in the wrong order, jumbled up. I couldn’t say them. It was too early. There’d be no escape until the end if I failed now. I couldn’t think of anything else to say. My throat dried. I knew that if I spoke it would emerge as a high-pitched squeak. I started to sweat again. I forced myself to think. Positive… positive thinking. Take your time. Let it happen naturally. Don’t force it. Find something else to say. Rehearse the words in your head. Visualise. Stick to the plan. I fought the panic. Be patient. The panic subsided. All great warriors knew fear. It was how you dealt with it that mattered most. She smiled and said nothing. I said nothing. I had powerful allies on my side. Everything would come right. Well, wouldn’t it?

I gained a further ally. Thank God for Speed. He distracted Caroline with his effortless chat, buying me time. From the bits that I could hear it all seemed perfectly ordinary stuff – nothing that I couldn’t have managed – about what we were expecting to see; the groups, their clothes, the songs. A bit like he would talk to a mate really. What was so special about it all? Why did I find it so difficult? Occasionally Speed spoke across her and brought me into the conversation with her. I sensed that he was trying to help me. I exchanged a few phrases with them. I did my best to impress but I knew that it wasn’t impressive. Short answers gave her nothing to work with. Better to say too little than too much. Conserve my strength for the final onslaught. Anything more was cut short when the curtain rose.

The performances generally went well, if with some unexpected events. In some ways it was a curious show. All Stars ’64 was a mixture of fading stars on their way down and shooting stars on their way up. In reality, everyone on the bill was there only to support the Stones but they had to play their part. The audience only really wanted to see the Stones but, in the main, they accepted the conventions – they had to wade through the other acts as part of the build up. There were calls of ‘Bring on the Stones’ but those were more in hope than expectation. Live performances only give artistes one chance to get it right, so it was entertaining to watch the efforts of those other acts and there were some strange events happening on stage.

First up was John Leyton, a singer from a past era, wearing a black suit with a pair of white shoes that you would never have seen anyone wearing in the street. Watching him was like watching a whole way of life trying to cling on by its fingertips – just too out of touch with the new image of modern groups. Suits and Elvis hairstyles were going out. Whilst we in the audience hadn’t yet dared to abandon those suits and swept-back hairstyles ourselves, the new requirement from our heroes was for rebellion and that was best expressed by unmatched clothes and long hair; an appearance that we knew flew in the face of convention. Whilst we still got dressed up to go out, they dressed down to entertain us. John Leyton gave us his last moderate hit and won his share of screams from some of the girls and polite applause from the rest of us but his days, and those of Mike Sarne, Jet Harris and Mike Berry and the Innocents in the following acts, were numbered. A new breed was taking over and as the show progressed the audience called more and more for the new heroes.

Female singers were still pretty rare so an appearance by Billie Davis broke up the male dominance. During a turn by her backing group, the Leroys, Brian Jones and Bill Wyman made an appearance dressed in overalls and swept the stage behind them, firing the expectation in the crowd. The Stones’ manager, Andrew Loog Oldham, fanned the flames after each act by sticking his leg through the curtains, winding up the audience even more. Jet Harris, the bass guitarist who had left Cliff Richard and the Shadows to pursue a solo career, was so drunk that he interrupted his act to tell dirty jokes. This stunned the audience into an uncomfortable silence until Billie Davis’s poodle wandered on stage and, in the full glare of the spotlight, peed on his microphone stand, sending the crowd into hysterics. Only Bern Elliott and the Fenmen, having had a recent hit with a cover version of the Beatles ‘Money’ managed a performance capable of distracting the audience from calling for the long-awaited appearance of the top of the bill. It was only a temporary stay as the curtains closed on them to await the finale.

All the while, I was conscious of Caroline sitting besides me. There was little opportunity to talk during the acts, with the constant noise and so many unexpected events on stage. Now, Jagger was about to appear and sing the words that would start a chain of events to change my life forever. I was nervous but ready. This was it. No turning back. No fading away. The silent countdown had begun. The noise in the theatre began to grow even louder. Girls in the stalls below us rushed forward from their seats screaming to crush into the space against the low wall of the empty orchestra pit below the stage. Everybody in the place was stamping and shouting and clapping in a crescendo which reached its peak as the huge red velvet curtains pulled back to the opening chords of ‘Not Fade Away’.

Something was wrong.

They were all there – Brian Jones, with his long fair hair hanging down over his face as he concentrated on the rhythm, Charlie Watts hammering out the beat on drums, Bill Wyman caressing his bass as he held it almost vertically, Keith Richards with his eyes vacant but his hands skilfully picking out the lead. All expressionless, emotionless, disdainful, aloof from the now baying and screaming mob in front of them. All dressed individually, rebelliously as we needed them to be, but working together to produce that fantastic sound – a sound that we craved and with which they controlled us. And there was Mick Jagger, in just a simple white ‘T’- shirt and black trousers, holding centre stage, bouncing about in an un-choreographed, wild abandon as his huge lips mouthed into a hand mic.

It should have been the climax of a special night. We should have been jumping and shouting and drinking in the experience. Memorising it to talk about in the back room of the pub where we knew we could get served under age. Something to tell those who hadn’t been there, to make them envious. ‘Remember the night we saw the Stones’. ‘Oh man, you should have been there.’ Instead we looked around at each other and said nothing. They only played one number. Then it was ended; they left the stage and the show was over. No second chance with a live show. That was it. And then, the realisation rose up from our guts like a creeping nausea. We had been cheated, let down, short-changed. Our expectations dashed, our dreams destroyed. The lions had killed the gladiators. We had heard the backing instruments but not the singer. The main microphone had failed. Jagger’s lips were silent.

There was no visible reaction. There was no trouble. We wanted to be rebels but we didn’t know how to rebel. We were more stunned than angry. Instead we stood up from our seats and waited to file out, mostly in silence, with only the faintest murmur of discontent hovering listlessly like cigarette smoke in the still air over our heads. More important to me than the show itself, my plans had gone astray. All I could think of now was that Jagger had not got my words across. The signal to strike had not been sent. All the other gladiators had gone, had failed. Now I stood alone. Was it a bad omen from the higher power – a sign that I should abandon my quest? But that was negative thinking. Like those gladiators on stage, I had trained myself for the fight. I had prepared meticulously. I was dressed for combat. I had to do something or it would all have been in vain. Great heroes rise to the occasion; conquer all odds. Maybe it was just a sign that I should vary my tactics, that I should use my own words. The song lyrics were shite. They weren’t my words. At the back of my mind I’d known it all along. She’d probably die laughing. So, maybe it didn’t need words at all – a gesture instead? A surprise move? A subtle feint? A slight variation in the battle plan? I was getting there. Perhaps that was the message from above, delivered by Jagger. Don’t speak. Act! I was still waiting in the tunnel for my turn to face the lions, waiting to enter the arena, waiting for the roar of the crowd to come again. This was my finale. Yes, it was neat. It felt right. Positive thinking evolving into positive action. Well … what action?

Hol and Bear moved to the end of the row of seats. Stepping out into the aisle they shielded the rest of us as we stepped into the gap that they had created by holding back the other people filing out from the seats below us. The aisle led to the top landing and then to exit doors onto the stairs leading down to the foyer. We were pressed close together in the crowd, shuffling slowly along that top landing when divine inspiration finally came to me. I didn’t need to leave the tunnel. I didn’t need to hear the roar of the crowd. I just needed victory and any way that I could get it. Not glory, just success. Not a hero, just a winner. If I could reach down and take her hand and just look across at her, she would know it was me. That was the action. She was the prize. A surprise move to win the day. If she didn’t withdraw her hand then I would know that she was interested. If she withdrew her hand then I would know that it wasn’t on. On the one hand success, on the other hand failure, so to speak. But the beauty of it was that no-one else but her would know. No groan from the crowd if I failed. Why should I entertain them? It was minimum risk. Playing the odds. I was seizing the day. She was close to my side and slightly behind. Only Speed was directly behind me and he was so near that he couldn’t possibly see down. No fanfare would sound. Nothing would be said, we’d be hidden amongst the crowd. It was foolproof. Well…..well nothing. Do it!

It had to be there and then, before we reached the stairs, before we appeared on the open of the landing. I wiped the nervous perspiration from my hand by casually running it across the sports jacket of the lad in front. He never noticed in the crush. Then, holding back slightly to allow Caroline to move up alongside me, I slowly reached out and across to feel for her hand. I could hear the blood pounding in my ears as I forced myself to make that final commitment. I chanted the battle cry in my mind and as my hand closed over hers, willing her with all the positive thoughts that I could muster not to draw away, I felt two other hands firmly clasped together. Instead of looking across at Caroline, I instinctively glanced down through the tightest of gaps to see Speed’s hand already holding hers. He had struck first. Well… shit!

Unbelievable embarrassment took over. My hand pulled away instantly, faster than I had seen my Dad pull his hand off the electrics that he’d accidentally touched as he’d tried to tighten up a valve that night when he’d been reaching around the back to fix the wireless so I could get Radio Luxembourg. My mind was reeling again. The bastard! Betrayed by an ally. Surely we’d had an unspoken pact? I said nothing. I wanted to make it look as if it had been accidental but there was no hiding the intense crimson line that started to spread upwards from my neck like a thermometer plunged into a pan of boiling water. I was wounded. This was my blood spilling out of me in uncontrolled spurts. The sweat began to soak my shirt again and I felt trapped in the slow moving crowd. I just needed to get outside, to get away, away from them, to retreat to a place of safety to tend to my wounds. I fixed my gaze on the Exit sign above the door and pushed on into any slight gap that opened up to allow me to put some distance between us. From then on, that was my only positive thought.

We spilled out onto the top of the stairs and the pace of the crowd quickened slightly, the gaps opening out a little to allow me to push on as we went down. I pushed too hard. My boots were designed for style not flight. As we followed the turn in the stairs the extended toe of my left winkle-picker caught on the stair nosing and I pitched forward, falling down into the backs of the legs of the people in front of me. I hit them hard. One of the lads, the one in the sports jacket, involuntarily sat back on top of me. He’d got his revenge without even knowing it. Fortunately my head was out of the way, saving my hairstyle. I rolled over, looking up at them and mumbled:

‘Sorry, Sorry,’ and ‘Shit.’

Two of the lads that I’d hit were farmer types with pointy chins and sticky out ears. Obviously they were in-breds, down from the hills for a night in civilization. I was in no mood to be generous.

“Christ – what an ugly pair of bastards,” I thought and tried to scramble to my feet. A huge hand reached down and hauled me upright. It was Bear. Hol and Bart stood behind him, grinning down at me.

“Do that again, I missed it,” Bear boomed at me.

His sheer size must have made the farmers think twice. We didn’t call him Bear for nothing. They turned and moved on down.

My knee hurt where I had caught it and reaching down to rub the sore spot I felt a tear in the leg of my trousers. The tear also felt damp and the blood on the ends of my fingers confirmed that I had cut my knee. At least I hadn’t had to fight the Ugly Twins to add to my injuries. I slowed up, reached the bottom and limped outside to stand on the Promenade. The cool night air met my blazing face with a slap. The crowds milled about on the pavement, searching for friends and coaches. I stepped behind one of the columns holding up the canopy to avoid Speed and Caroline as they exited, hand in hand, walking towards the bus terminus. As I stood there, waiting for the others to follow, bending to examine my wounds, that freshening wind that had been playing offshore all day decided to send an advance gust across the Irish Sea. It was part of the continuous probing and testing of the defiant Winter Gardens defences by the elements. It swept up the Bay, funnelling itself between the headlands, and arrowed itself through a narrow slit between two waiting coaches, devastating my hairstyle and plastering the greasy strands to the sides of my head. The Winter Gardens didn’t even flinch. I didn’t bother to fish out my comb and make running repairs. Instead, I raised my collar, fastened the three buttons on my jacket against the chill, stuck my hands in my pockets and joined the others in the walk to the bus. All pretence of resistance had gone. My fight was over. I was defeated. Lions two, gladiators nil.

‘Bugger it all’ I thought to myself.

They walked back as a group. I trailed along a pace behind. Along the way we passed Speed and Caroline. They’d stopped to linger under one of those one-sided cast iron Corporation bus shelters, the ones with the cantilevered roof that angle back towards the pavement. She was wrapped around him and Speed was hoovering her mouth. He’d advanced well beyond the whispering-in-the-ear stage.

Hol shouted out to him, “You’ll miss the bus.”

“Don’t bother about us. We’ll catch you up,” he replied, switching off the vacuum.

“Don’t bloody bother on my account,” I thought.

Furtively I glanced across at Caroline. The street lamps were casting shadows under her eyes. She didn’t look as good as she used to. I preferred brunettes really.

Bart was feeling responsible for the poor ending to the show. He’d booked the tickets. He wanted some reassurance that we didn’t blame him. He was trying to make light of it.

“Well, that’s something to tell the kids about when you’re older- if you have any.”

“What’s that?” asked Hol.

“That you saw the Stones play live. What’s more, you can say you heard them play the first, and possibly only, instrumental version of ‘Not Fade Away’.”

The others laughed.

“Big bloody deal,” I thought.

The night had been a failure. I needed to have a prod at somebody; a token victory. Sod the Doctor, there was nothing good about him. Sod Jagger, and sod God too. He’d lost a customer for next Sunday for sure. And Speed was no believer so he’d gain nothing there either. But they weren’t around to lash out at. Bart seemed a vulnerable target instead.

“The Stones will be big,” he was saying. “It won’t be long before they conquer America.”

“Bollocks,” I said, jumping in. “Bern Elliott and the Fenmen will be big; bigger than the Stones. The Stones will be one-hit wonders. You mark my words. We’ll have forgotten them in six months.”

It didn’t have the intended effect. In my mind I can still hear them laughing. I wasn’t going to make it as the world’s greatest lover. And now, not even as the world’s greatest expert on Rock Groups. Still, if you’re going to make a berk of yourself, you might as well go the whole hog and become the world’s greatest berk. The world was crying out for one of those and I’d just achieved it. Well, that’s positive thinking.

©DavidLewisPogson2003

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