CHRONICLES OF HALDEN, IV

Anniversary Party

by

Robin Gordon

Auksford crest: a great auk displaying an open book with the words "Ex ovo sapientia"

-  Auksford, 2005  -

Copyright Robin Gordon 2005
The moral rights of the author have been asserted

Honestly, you would have thought our Tony would have had the decency not to spoil Mam's wedding anniversary, wouldn't you? I mean, there are plenty of other Saturdays for him to go out with that gang of his, and Mam and I had worked ever so hard getting it all nice for the party. We'd cleaned the whole house from top to bottom, really sparkling it was, and smelling ever so fresh, like lemons and lavender - all except our Tony's room of course. You can't do anything with it, it's like a pigsty in there.

Anyway, Mam had made some really lovely sandwiches all sorts of different kinds: ham-and-tomato and egg-and-cress, and even some cucumber ones, like they have at Buckingham Palace at the Queen's garden parties. She'd trimmed all the crusts off and cut the sandwiches across into little triangles, and they were all set out on the best plates on little lacy paper doilies that she'd saved specially. I wanted to have sausages on little sticks, but Mam didn't think that was a good idea. She said it might be too fancy for Gran and Grandad, 'cos it wasn't the sort of thing they were used to.

We had new clothes too, Mam and I. Mam locked really gorgeous, all in shocking pink with white trimmings. Honestly, you'd never have believed it was her twenty-first wedding anniversary. Dad said she looked more like it was her twenty- first birthday party, and maybe he should give her the key of the door, and we all laughed, and I said people would think we were sisters.

I had on my new blouse with sort of psychedelic patterns, only very quiet and tasteful, and I had a lovely new mini-skirt, real suede it was, with fringes. It was quite expensive really, and I was ever so proud of it. Even Dad got dressed up, though he doesn't usually like that sort of thing. Mam made him put on his best suit, which she'd had cleaned specially, and he locked really distinguished. He'd have looked like Robin Day, only we couldn't get him to wear a bow-tie.

Mam had even had the piano tuned so that Aunty Vi could play for us to make sure the party went with a swing. It's Gran's piano really, but it came here when they moved up into the old people's flats in Lark Rise. They're nice little flats, all cosy and cheerful, and you can see for miles from some of the windows, only there isn't much room. I think that was the one thing that upset Gran, that she couldn't take her piano with her, but she said it didn't really matter because her hands were too rheumaticky to play it any more.

None of us can really play it: Tony used to make a dreadful din on it when he thought he was an up and coming pop-star, and I can play a few little tunes, but none of us have ever learned. It should really have gone to Aunty Vi's, but she didn't have room for it in that little house down in Kitchener Street, not with Uncle Ernie's fretwork, and bits of Billy's bicycle all over the place, and Penny's rugmaking kit, and the lampshades she started making but never finished, and all sorts of stuff. Honestly, I've never seen a house like it. When Billy was a baby, Mam always used to say she was scared they'd lose him among all the clutter.

Anyway, I was just arranging the biscuits on a fancy dish when our Tony came into the kitchen with his friend Bob Hewitt. And do you know, they were both dressed up ready to go out to a football match, you know the sort of thing, dirty jeans with braces, and skintight pullovers, and those horrible bovver-boots. Honestly, I don't know why boys dress like that nowadays, you would think they wanted to look like hooligans. We always used to dress so nicely when we were young, I mean you can be modern without looking like a tramp. The boys usually wore nice suits and neat duffel-coats and that. I know there were rowdy elements, but nothing like today. I wouldn't dare go down the street when they're all milling about after a football match. Somebody's really going to get hurt one of these days.

Anyway, I just looked at our Tony as he stood there wearing all this skinhead gear, and with his football scarf knotted into his belt so that it hung like a tail, and I said to him, "And just where do you think you're going?"

"Buckingham Palace to see the Queen, where d'you think?" said our Tony, grabbing a sandwich

"Get your hands off them sandwiches," I said. "Mam and me's spent hours setting them ready. You're not going to a football match?"

"Course I'm going to the football match."

"Oh Tony!" I said, really shocked, you know, like Joan Franklyn in Burning Bright. "Oh, Tony.' Today of all days!"

"Oh, Tony" he squeaked, "Today of all days!" I suppose it was supposed to be an imitation of me. He's always doing it. It doesn't sound a bit like me.

"What's so special about today of all days?" he asked.

"As if you didn't know," I said, really dignified and ladylike. "It's our Mam's wedding anniversary, and the whole family's coming round for tea. You know Mam wants everybody there. It really is too bad of you." I got that last bit off Kingsferry Bridge on the telly. Emma Gilchrist's always saying it. I like to speak properly, you know. I mean, if you talked to our Tony on his own level, you'd just go round in circles for hours without getting anywhere. So I said, "It really is too bad of you."

"It really is too bad of you," he squeaked. He does it deliberately, whenever I try to talk nicely he starts.

"Anyway," he said, "them old fogeys'll never notice whether I'm there or not. They'll be too busy yacking about the olden days and singing Come into the garden, Maud for that."

"That's not fair," I said. "You know how much Mam's been looking forward to this party. And Gran'll want to see you. You were always her favourite."

"Well," he said, "it's me natural charm, innit? So I'm not changing it for you or anybody. I'm going out with the lads, and you can't stop me. Anyway, I'll be back for tea."

"Ooh you." I said. "You're determined to spoil everything, aren't you? You won't stay at home on Mam's anniversary, and when you do come in you'll be dressed like a hooligan. Just look at that thing hanging from your belt. It's like a chimpanzee's tail."

"Chimpanzees don't have tails," he said, "and anyway I'll have a few more scarves when I come back - trophies!"

"You're not coming in dressed like that," 1 said. "What would Grandad say if he saw you in those dirty old jeans. And Uncle John, you know how particular he is, and what he thinks about skinheads."

"I don't care what Uncle John or anybody else thinks," said Tony. I'll dress like this 'cos all me mates dress like this. It's solidarity."

"Solidarity," 1 said. "You're solid from the neck up, that's what you are. You're like a lot of sheep, all with the same haircuts and the same jeans and braces and boots. You look ridiculous."

"That's not what people say when they see us coming," he sneered. "You should see 'em getting out of the way, eh Bob'?"

Bob said, "There's nobody dare say owt to us."

I said, "You go swaggering about the streets as if you thought you were heroes, as if it was manly to go round terrorising innocent passers-by." (I got that bit off the news). "You all dress the same 'cos you're scared of being alone, you've all got to be just like all the others. I bet if they started a fashion for baggy three-quarter-length tartan jeans you'd all wear them. There's not one of you can think for yourselves. You're just stupid sheep. You think if you're all marching along together you look tough. Well you don't. You're just stupid and ridiculous."

"Who's ridiculous?" said our Tony. "Did you hear that, Bob? Sandra thinks we look ridiculous. She wants to take a look at herself first. Talk about following fashions! Who is it follows fashion, eh? Not us. It's the women! Just look at her. One minute she's all covered up right down to her ankles, then somebody tells her minis are in, and next thing she's trotting round in a little bum-wrapper showing every- thing she's got. Look at that thing she's wearing now. It's indecent!"

"Listen here, Tony Barrett," I said, "there's nothing wrong with the way I dress. Everybody says how nice I look, and this style of skirt happens to be very fashionable, and anyway, I happen to have good legs."

"I've got good legs an'all," he said, "but I don't go round flashing them at the women. If you lassies knew what we say about you, you wouldn't go round like that, would they, Bob'?"

"It's just as well they don't," said Bob.

"Ay," said our Tony. "Life wouldn't be half so interesting without all them little mini-skirts to look up."

"Ooh!" I said. "You're disgusting, you are. You've got a mind like a sewer."

"One track mind," said Bob.

"Dirt track," said our Tony, and they both laughed as if they'd said something clever.

"Not everyone's like you," I said.

"That's what you think," said Bob. I could've killed him. It's our Tony leads him on, but he had no business to be there in the first place.

"If you put the goods on display," said our Tony, "we're going to look at 'em, aren't we?"

And that Bob started laughing again. "S'only natural, innit?" said Tony.

"I think that's enough of that sort of talk," I said. "Mam'll be down in a minute, and the guests'll be starting to arrive."

I thought that would stop them. I mean, our Tony's really crude at times, and he's got worse since he started up at Collerford's, but he wouldn't say things like that in front of Mam. But that Bob said, "Hey, what are they going to think of that little mini-skirt, then? I bet it gives your Grandad a heart attack."

If our Tony had been half as much a man as he always says he is, held have thumped Bob Hewitt for that. But he just stood there laughing.

"Well go on if you're going," I said. "I don't want Mam's guests seeing you dressed like that. I don't know what they would think."

"Ah divven't care what they think. Most of 'em have got one foot in the grave anyway," said Tony. Honestly, he doesn't care one bit about us. It doesn't matter what you do for him, you get no thanks. All he cares about is that gang of his. You would think held have more sense.

"We're going," he said, "don't worry. We'll leave you to look after your old folks' tea-party."

"Pensioners' bun-fight," said Bob.

"She's cut all the crusts off the sandwiches," said Tony. "That's because they haven't any teeth left."

And the two of them started making gummy faces as if they'd lost their teeth.

"You're determined to spoil Mam's big day," I said, "well you're not going to. I'm not going to take any more notice of you, no matter what. And anyway, it's not just older people. There's Andrew and Donald, and Sheila and Penny."

"You didn't tell me Sheila and Penny were coming," said Tony.

I ignored him and started filling the kettle.

"Who's Sheila and Penny?" Bob asked.

"They're me cousins. Sheila was a year down from us at school, you maybe knew her. Penny went to the Catholic school."

"I remember Sheila."

"Hey, we'll have to be back for Sheila and Penny. You'd better come back here an'all, Bob."

"He's not invited," I said, "and anyway, Sheila and Penny won't want anything to do with you in these filthy old jeans."

"Hey-hey! We'll take 'em off," yelled our Tony - ooh, he's just a savage - "then we can really get friendly with the girls."

Bob giggled.

"You've just got cruder and cruder since you went to that factory," I said. "Sheila and Penny won't want to know you. You're just like ... I dunno what you're like. Why can't you be civilised for a change, like Donald and Andrew?"

"Andrew!" he yelled, "I wouldn't want to be like Andrew! He's a poof! Hey, Bob, do you remember me cousin Andrew? He used to go to our school."

"No."

"Course you do," said our Tony. "Man, we used to have some fun with him. We used to call him Christine."

"Christine!" yelled Bob. "Hey, man, that wasn't your cousin was it? You never let on."

"Course Ah didn't," said Tony. "You wouldn't have let people know if he was your cousin, would you? Hey, remember when we used to get him behind the canteen. We had some fun."

"Hey, man," said Bob, "if Billy Routledge had known he was your cousin..."

"Gerroff!" said our Tony. Well, he didn't actually say "Gerroff", but I'm not going to repeat words like that.

"Listen," I said, "I know what they used to do to Andrew, and I'm surprised at you, Tony. You should have been looking after him."

"Don't he daft," said our Tony, "I wasn't going to get mixed up with him."

"You're just a coward," I said. "You'd do things like that to your own cousin just 'cos you're scared of the others. I bet you even led them on."

"So, what if Ah did?" he said. "He deserved it - and he still does."

Honestly, I don't know how I came to have anyone so crude and horrible as my brother. It makes you think, it does really.

"You're just jealous of Andrew," I said, "you always have been. He's cleverer than you are, and he's got a better job."

"He's a poof!"

"You think everybody's a poof that doesn't go round with that gang of yours. You think you're so tough don't you! Well you're not. You go swarming round in that gang of yours like a pack of squalid little animals." (I got that off Emma Gilchrist too, squalid little animals, I thought it was very apt). "You know what you are" I said, "you're just nasty little playground bullies. For all your big talk, and your swaggering, and your 'solidarity', you're just a squalid pack of playground bullies. And as for your crudity, well..." (I couldn't think what Emma Gilchrist would have said, but I remembered Miss Martin from school). "It's just schoolboy smut," I said. "You want to grow up, that's what you want to do. Real men don't go round sniggering and ogling girls' legs in that horrible way. Look at Donald. You can't say he's not a he-man, and he doesn't go on like that."

"Ha ha ha!" he crowed. I could have thumped him. "You haven't seen him in Milton's on Saturdays, then, have you?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"You mean you haven't seen him and Peter Ward standing under the stairs at Miltons? They go there nearly every Saturday. They just stand there watching the lassies go upstairs. You get a good view. You can see right up, especially when they're only wearing their little minis."

"I don't believe a word you say," I said. "You're just making it up. Donald's not like that!"

"Well," he said, "you'll find out this afternoon, if you let him get near that little mini-skirt of yours. Hey, if we went out showing as much as that, we'd get arrested. I'm not sure that she wouldn't. Hey, Bob, have you ever seen anybody showing as much leg in public - apart from Andrew, I mean?"

I was so mad, I just turned and threw the dishcloth at him. I'd have hit him, too, only he dodged out of the door, and I heard the two of them laughing in the hall and going on about mini-skirts being indecent. Well, I don't need to tell you how upset I was. Tony was determined to spoil the whole day, and after what he'd said, I just couldn't wear my mini. I would have felt as if everyone was staring at me, like in those dreams where you suddenly find yourself walking down the street in the nude. I just had to go and change into a longer skirt, quite a nice one really, but I'd had it for ages, and everybody had seen it.

***

Still, it was a lovely party. Everybody was very jolly and talkative, and they all said how nice Mam looked, and how delicious the sandwiches were. Of course Gran wanted to know where Tony was and we had to tell her that held gone to the match with his friends.

"I didn't know he was that interested in football," said Uncle John. "There won't be much of a game today, not against Bleasford."

"There's not one of them could knock the skin off a rice pudding!'' said Uncle Ernie.

"Halden are no better," said Grandad. "I remember when they had a good chance of getting into the first division, but look at them now."

"They've had some bad luck," said Uncle Ernie.

"Bad luck! Bad luck!" said Uncle John. "The only bad luck they've got is that manager, McDougal. He wants to get back to Scotland and stay there."

"It was him that bought Wallaby and McHummel," said Uncle Ernie.

"Wallaby and McHummel," shouted Uncle John, almost turning purple. "Wallaby and McHumnell?! That pair of fairies. They fall over as soon as they see the ball: Oh. I'm in agony, I'm dying. Foul."

"Wallaby scored half a dozen goals last season," put in Uncle Ernie.

"The whole bloody team never scored half a dozen," said Uncle John.

"He's not a bad player when he's on form."

Grandad said, "He's nowt without McHummel."

"That's what I'm saying," said Uncle Ernie. "They complement each other."

"They spend their whole bloody time complimenting each other," said Uncle John. "Talk about a mutual admiration society. I've never seen such a couple of bloody fairies. I wouldn't pay tuppence to see them. I wouldn't cross the street. Why do you think attendances are dropping?"

"There's no skill left," said Grandad.

"There's nothing left," said Uncle John. "Just a pack of fairies walzing around kissing each other and falling over if anyone runs within five yards of them. There's no pleasure in watching that!"

"There's plenty of rough play, if that's what you want," said Uncle Ernie. "There's more fouls to the minute than there used to be in a season."

"That's not what I want," said Uncle John. "There's far too much of that sort of thing. I want a good open game with lots of excitement. Something to watch."

"I know what you mean," said Grandad, sucking at his pipe. "When we were lads ..." He sucked again and by the time held got it going properly, he'd forgotten what he was going to say. There was a bit of a pause.

"Of course," said Aunty Vi, "there's a lot of violence on the terraces now. Fighting among the fans."

"Fans!" snorted Uncle John. "Half of 'em wouldn't know one end of a football pitch from the other. They don't go to see the match, they go looking for trouble, just to see what they can stir up. You see them swaggering along the streets before the game. You just have to look at them to see what they're up to. It's yobbos like that that are getting sport a bad name."

Mam and me started edging towards the kitchen.

"I was talking to Billy Tuddenham," said Uncle Ernie, "and he says some people think they'll have to take the law into their own hands and make an example of some of these hooligans."

"That's daft talk," said Uncle John, "that would only cause more trouble. The police won't stand for that sort of thing. Where would we be if everyone took the law into his own hands? Answer me that. It would be chaos. Anarchy."

"Billy Tuddenham says ... began Uncle Ernie.

"Billy Tuddenham's just a bag of hot air," said Uncle John "It was him told us buying Clive Maddern was going to make all the difference to Halden. To hear him talk you would have thought they were going to win the cup."

Mam and me slipped out and left them to it. When we got back they were still talking about football, something to do with Chelsea and Aston Villa. Donald was talking to Sheila and Penny, and Gran and Aunty Vi were talking about knitting patterns. Andrew was just sitting next to Gran, listening. I thought maybe I'd better go over and talk to him, when I heard the noise of people laughing and cheering outside. I thought it was funny, 'cos the football crowds don't usually come along our way, but that's what it sounded like, and it was getting closer.

Aunty Vi got up to look out of the window, but she couldn't see anything.

"I wouldn't look out, if I was you," said Uncle Ernie. "If they see a light they could put a brick through the window."

Aunty Vi closed the curtains and moved away from the window.

"Funny," said Dad. "There's never any trouble down here."

"Teenage yobs!" said Uncle John.

They seemed to be right outside, and just then we heard the front door bang and somebody on the stairs.

"Come on," said Uncle John, and him and Dad and Uncle Ernie all went rushing out into the hall, and Donald tried to follow them, only Grandad started getting up, and Gran started telling him not to be silly, and Aunty Vi and them started fussing around, and Mam was trying to calm everybody down, though I could see she was worried herself - well you hear such things nowadays, and with our Tony out in it, you can't blame her for getting upset - and on her wedding anniversary too. I said our Tony was out to spoil things, and I really thought he'd succeeded, but just then we heard the men in the hall, laughing, and then Dad came back into the room, and Mam started asking if our Tony was all right. You could see she was worried sick.

Anyway, Dad calmed her down and told her it was just Tony back from the match, and he wasn't hurt, but she was still on edge.

"Where is he?" she said. "Why doesn't he come in?"

"Well," said Dad, "he's been making an exhibition of himself, and he's feeling a little bit foolish. Bring 'em in, John, and let's have a look at 'em."

Well honestly, we had to laugh when Uncle John and Uncle Ernie shoved our Tony and his friend Bob into the room. I mean, they'd gone out swaggering as if they owned the whole town, and now...well, I've never seen anything so ridiculous. There's one thing though, they won't say anything about my mini-skirts again.

"I never believed Billy Tuddenham would do anything like this," chuckled Uncle John, "but he's certainly taught these two a lesson."

"And others, I dare say," put in Uncle Ernie.

"Yes," said Uncle John, "and a dose of ridicule's just what these lads need. They seem to think it proves their manhood to go swaggering along in gangs terrorising the district. Well, they don't feel such heroes now, do they? - Not without their trousers!"

Even Mam had to laugh, and Gran enjoyed it all so much, she nearly choked herself.


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