Even although she pulled her coat in as tight as she could, the snow and sleet coming off the Channel still managed to make her shiver. She’d stop in at the Empire Café for a reviving cup of tea she had decided. It’s not as if Mother was in any danger; at least she could wait another fifteen minutes for her prescription medicines.
She managed to have so little time to herself these days. It hadn’t meant to be this way. By now, she should have been living out on some farm in Western Australia with the love of her life. Except he had never returned – like so many others – and after her father died of pneumonia, her mother had deteriorated so quickly that it had caught her unawares.
She was destined to being her mother’s nurse until the end.
When she had finished her tea and cake, she noticed that the snow had stopped and that the sun was fighting to come through. A little hope, she thought, and she caught herself smiling as she stepped out into the afternoon.
The Empire Café was still there – thank goodness. He’d come here with his grandparents before the Great War, and it was always a place of happiness to him. Today all the bright young things were occupying the promenade with their energy and laughter and the rest of the world could go hang, as far as they were concerned.
He had been young once, too. A very long time ago when Victorian values had ruled on things such as smiling and laughter; they had been frowned upon and were always kept behind closed doors.
He was jealous of the young, they had it so much easier – and as he sat in the Empire nursing his tea, he wished that this was his time and that he was nineteen again. He was startled by a very pretty girl, high on champagne, who knocked on the large glass window and waved to those inside. They did all they could not to catch her eye, not in disapproval, but knowing if they looked up, they’d wish it was them who were out there that day.
He doubted if anyone in the world could be more excited than he was right at that moment.
He’d asked his boss if he could leave at mid-day as he had to visit his grandmother on the south coast. She was keeping poorly and probably wouldn’t make it to Christmas. He wondered if his boss had realised that was the third time he’d used that excuse in as many months?
He’d never been to Hastings before, but thought that the Empire Café seemed a reasonable place to change his clothes. He’d left for work that morning to go to Friars and Friars, who were known as the best accountants in Westly. He sat in the café dressed in his dull brown suit and drank his tea. He was hoping that the place would quieten down, and then he’d make his move.
By his third cup of tea, he decided that things weren’t going to improve and took his chance. Both he, and the little suitcase, he’d packed away and hidden under the bed, went to the Men’s toilets. He carefully folded away his dull clothes and changed into his glam-rock ones. It was a bit like superman, except this wasn’t a telephone kiosk.
No one had noticed him enter the café, but they all noticed him now. He was dressed from head to toe in a shiny silver suit and he wore the largest pair of glittery bright red boots ever seen in the Empire. He wondered if the make-up on his face was a step too far.
He could hear a few of the older ones choke on their teacakes, as he proudly strolled out of the café into the big wide world – accountant by day and glam-rocker by night. It was 1972 and anything was possible.
bobby stevenson 2016