Intrepid Optimist is the place where I can share my stories; fact, fiction and thoughts from the past and present. It’s Written by myself for people who believe adventure knows no age
I was twenty-three at the time, working for the Dutch company, Philips Electrical, and temporally living in that celebrated city, Liverpool. While there I met and fell for Fiona B, a young lady the same age as myself. Fiona was the only child of a middle class couple, who I would say, were not without a bob or two.
I cannot recall the nature of Mr. B’s business, but for myself, still metamorphosing from army into civilian life, they enjoyed a higher standard of living to which I was accustomed. Fiona and I had been seeing each other for a few weeks and no hanky-panky had been permitted but my boots, as they say, were practically under her family’s kitchen table. I did not realize just how far until after tea one afternoon Mrs B suggested Fiona and I might like to visit her uncle and his wife, in the Isle of Man.
It would not be my first visit to the island, having once holidayed there under rather different conditions than Mrs B was proposing. I thought it best not to tell them that at seventeen and prior to joining the army I holidayed there with Marjorie, my very first girlfriend. We lodged in a Douglas boarding house and were closely chaperoned by her brother and his wife. Despite many devious and farcical attempts, she and I never managed to be alone for more than five minutes throughout the seven days of our stay.
Mrs B’s proposal promised to be a very different excursion from that one. Her uncle, I was informed in a hushed voice, as if the Queen’s Ministry of Finance could overhear, was an upper crust, tax exile. I saw the visit as the perfect opportunity to move a rung or two up the social ladder, albeit the Liverpudlian one. The year was 1958 and I was as a dapper yuppie – before they came into fashion. On a salary of £550 per annum, I was your original smoothy in my blue pin stripes, starched white shirts, highly polished black brogues and an imitation club tie. There was none of the Teddy Boy nonsense for me.
Fiona’s mother was as excited as we both were about going to the IoM and she who made all the necessary travel arrangements for us. Apart from her embarrassing advice on propriety and behaving ourselves in the Douglas society, she appeared otherwise unconcerned at the two of us going abroad and being alone together. I liked Mrs B despite our difference backgrounds; although sometimes, when she dropped her Hs, I had the feeling she too had entered the Liverpool, middle class scene via the kitchen door. However, as I said, I liked her and I believed she saw me as the ideal partner for her darling daughter.
As to her husband, I was unsure. As an influential businessman in the city, I presumed he must have been around the block a few times, I sensed the crafty Scouse did not altogether approve of his only child becoming involved with an up-start Mancunian. His disapproval was often manifested by the menacing looks he frequently shot in my direction.
On the day, with Mrs B bravely waving us off in a taxi she paid for, we sailed out from Birkenhead, where we were expecting to be met in Douglas by Fiona’s uncle. You can imagine, I was tickled pink when it was with a chauffeured Bentley he awaited us. Their house, on the outskirts of the city, and in keeping with the Bentley was a medium sized, Georgian pile with a gravel drive almost as long as some of the parade grounds I marched and countermarched. The lady of the house, in keeping with the Bentley and the residence, waited at the columned entrance to graciously welcome us. After signing the guest book, Emily the maid, showed us to our separate bedrooms, although adjoined, I noticed, had no connecting door. Returning to the ground floor and on Fiona’s insistence, the good lady consented to show us around her residence.
As we passed into the dining room and being determined to air my knowledge of antiques, acquired prior to the trip from a second-hand furniture dealer I knew, who frequented the same Liverpool pubs as myself, I paused, stroking one of eight ornately carved dining room chairs,
Nice. Hippendale if I’m not mistaken.
No. Biedermeier. Corrected her ladyship.
Now that there, that’s Carrera marble. I declared, as we passed a marble bust prominently placed at the far end of the lounge.
‘fraid not, dear boy, it’s Parian.
Correct me if I’m wrong. I stated, passing in front of it. But isn’t this brass faced clock a Charles Adams.
Wrong again young man it’s a Thomas Taylor long case.
I made a mental note to have serious words with my used furniture mate when I returned to the Pool.
Following pleasantries and family information being exchanged over an alcohol free lunch, uncle offered to take us for a spin around the island. His wife did not accompany us, pleading a siesta and time to prepare for the other guests who, we were informed, would be joining us for dinner.
I took the front seat next to Fred the chauffeur and he and I got along fine. He was ex-army and the Pioneer Corps notwithstanding we had some common ground. He was very chatty throughout the tour, correcting his master’s geographical and historical errors and adding a little humour to an otherwise rather dull afternoon.
On the drive back to the residence, uncle imparted some bad news to us. Neither he, his wife or the other dinner guests, were drinking folk. In a conciliatory effort to prove how unbiased he was, he offered to buy a little drop of something just for the two of us. Fiona, seemingly a trifle overawed by him, declined the offer but I jumped at the proposal. Fred at my behest nipped out of the car and bought a bottle of Plymouth Gin – Pink Gins being my favourite tipple at that time.
Back in the manse and after a cautionary reprimand from Fiona that a half bottle would have been sufficient, I managed to down a couple of small ones before being informed we should change for dinner. At six-thirty, hand in hand Fiona and I descended the broad, carpeted staircase leading down to the hall and went through to the lounge.
The other guests were already there and in front of a blazing coal fire, we were introduced; a doctor, a local business man and their respective spouses. Small talk was made as I continued to help myself to the Plymouth, which Emily the maid kindly placed on a wine table beside the Edwardian armchair I plunked myself into.
I have long since forgotten what was served for dinner but I do recall feeling at ease enough to become the heart and soul of the party. Oblivious to the occasional raised eyebrows and glances between themselves, I believe I quite impressed and amused the group with some exaggerated anecdotes of my military service in Egypt. Dinner completed, we returned to take coffee in the lounge, where I finished what little gin was left.
As the fire, the conversation and I began to dwindle, I thought it only right to play the gentleman and bring my part of the evening to its conclusion. Thanking mine host, their guests and my Fiona for the hospitality, I bade them all a fond goodnight. It was a dignified exit on my part, although I do remember almost over-balancing in an attempt to kiss Fiona on the forehead.
The staircase seemed to take longer to manipulate than it did earlier but I made it to my appointed boudoir. I did a quick survey of the room which was about the same size as a soccer pitch. Oh Boy! I thought, if only my army mates could see me now. I was just about to clamber into my solitary four-poster when I realized I had forgotten my wristwatch; which I remembered earlier having removed and placed it on the wine table beside the then empty gin bottle.
Once again I descended that broad, curved staircase into the lounge and picked up timepiece and for the second time, wished everyone a pleasant evening. My second departure from the lounge was greeted with a stony silence. Funny buggers, these Manx folk, I remember thinking. I could not understand why Fiona was not already in bed. She must have been tired because I noticed she her head in her hands as I negotiated my way through the leather chairs and sofas on my way back upstairs to my lonely room.
I must have slept well and I do not recall if during the night, I visited the toilet or even relieved myself in one of the two bedroom wardrobes, as I have heard, can sometimes happen when in unfamiliar territory. What I do remember is being annoyed at being roughly shaken out of a second sleep by our Fred; advising me to dress and pack with all haste and get myself down to the kitchen where breakfast awaited me.
For those who have been there and done it, there is no need to describe the physical appearance and nauseous feeling which follow an empty gin bottle. I managed to dress and complete my ablutions before gingerly easing myself down those steps; maintaining a firm grip on the banister rail. In the kitchen – the kitchen mind you – I was somewhat disrespectfully greeted by Emily and Fred, both crippled with subdued laughter at my miserable appearance.
A plate of eggs, bacon, fried bread and I was informed, genuine Isle of Man black pudding, was set before me. Such delicacies were a little too early for my unsettled stomach, although I did appreciate and manage to keep a cup of tea down. I attempted to elicit out of them, what all the fuss was about but they were disinclined to explain. However, Fred did promise to give details before the next boat to Birkenhead – which he had received instructions to place me upon asap – sailed.
Was it possible I had made the odd feux pas at dinner the previous evening? I did not think so, apart from the couple of times I caught the doctor frowning and detected a grimace of disapproval from his wife, when I called him a Vet. I do not believe either that the corpulent businessman would have been upset when I told him he was the double of an Aintree bookmaker I had met in a Liverpool pub. Otherwise I thought my social graces had been exemplary. What had I done to deserve the heavy handed wake-up summons by Fred – a chauffeur would you believe? Then there was the breakfast in the kitchen of all places, whereas the previous night it had been the Bohemian crystal and Georgian silver candelabra in the dining room?
Gently but firmly assisted out of the house by Fred who, remembering his station in life, carried my imitation, leather suitcase to the car for me. My final glimpse of the mansion as the Bentley bore me over the gravel was lady wife, staring down at me from an upstairs window. I waved my right hand in farewell but she withdrew hurriedly behind the curtains. It was only natural I supposed – no woman wants to be seen with her hair in curlers.
We made it to the dockside following a couple of emergency stops to allow me to regurgitate the remnants of the gin and the breakfast. Fred kindly escorted me to the ship’s gangway but I did have to carry my own suit case.
“So?” I pleaded as I shook his hand, “put me out of my misery. Where’s Fiona and why the bum’s rush this morning, when it was all bloody roses last night?”
“You really don’t remember do you?” Shaking his head in amused disbelief. “Son.” He continued, when he finally managed to get himself under control. “You played a blinder. I’d have given my pension to have been there with a camera.”
“So? Go on. What did I do wrong?”
“Well lad, seems when you tottered back down the stairs for the wristwatch, you neglected to put your clothes back on. Mate, you were stark bollock naked.”
The rough crossing helped not at bit and later back on the main land, I did try on numerous occasions to call Fiona but neither she or her parents deigned to speak to me.
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