I’ve lazed the early weeks of summer holiday 1981 away. Bit of cricket. Bit of social. Lot of thinking. Bought a copy of “Face Value” by Phil Collins which is welded to my turntable.
To my surprise, on the morning of summer school starting, I’m awake early, a stirring in my guts. Why?
The concert hall is where all the staff and children assemble. I’ve barely arrived before spotting the familiar figure of Fizz. Her face lights up.
I can feel myself smiling broadly too as she walks over and we hug. A flush of chemicals. A rush.
She’s wearing shorts and T shirt, hair already tinted blonde from sun. ‘Didn’t expect to see you. Thought you said you’d never do summer school.’ And she fixes me with those big blue eyes, a flush in her cheeks.
I tell her about the car. ‘And the Bursar twisted my arm.’ Wrinkling my nose I sniff; a smile on my face. ‘Are you wearing perfume?’
‘Don’t you like it?’
I lean in. Sniff again. ‘I do actually. What’s it called?’
She bubbles into laughter. ‘It’s called “Hope.”’
‘Smells lemony; with some sort of musky thing going on.’
‘Very good,’ she says, eyes bright. ‘The bottle says it’s citrus with notes of patchouli and sandalwood.’
The days drag to be honest, my heart not in the workshops, but occasionally Fizz pops into the theatre to offer help, and my heart skips again. ‘The courts are too wet this morning. Thought you might like a hand.’
Each evening the staff and helpers all gather for BBQ’s on the sports field. We sit and chat, and beers and wine flow. All in it together. Fizz often plonks herself down near me, plate filled. The faintest whiff of “Hope.” ‘I’ve nearly finished “The Grapes Of Wrath.” Can you recommend something else?’ She talks about university offers. ‘I haven’t made up my mind yet. I’ve got an offer from Westchester but the grades might be beyond me.’
On the first Saturday night, I invite several people round to Orchard Cottage for drinks and food. The evening passes in a haze of beer, wine, and burnt sausages. I pop out for a quick pipe as soon as the sun drops, leaving Phil on the sound system.
I’m just returning, the lights on in the garden, and there are small groups gathered chatting comfortably. Fizz is there, buzzing round, the life and soul. ‘Is there any more chocolate?’ All is well with the world.
As soon as I come through the gate she’s beside me. She normally wears tomboy clothes but tonight she’s put on a skirt. Make up. Looks different. A proper young woman. I feel another lurch in my stomach; scent “Hope.”
‘The phone went while you were out.’ She hands me a note. A number. ‘Asked you to ring her back. Seemed keen.’ She sniffs. ‘You don’t smoke do you?’
‘Not cigarettes.’ And raise my eyebrows to her. ‘Our secret.’
I’m amazed to hear Cher’s voice at the end of the phone. ‘I was so sorry to hear about your mum.’ We haven’t met since I started work at Fitzie’s four years ago. Tells me she was involved with some chap. ‘Oh it all went pear shaped. He was a drinker. Unpredictable.’ We talk more. ‘I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet up when you came home,’ she says. Then, ‘I’m in your neck of the woods next week; would you like to meet up?’
‘Next Friday. I’ll see you there.’
‘Got a date?’ Fizz is in the kitchen when I get off the phone, hunting out wine from the fridge. She flashes me a look. Fright? No, something else.
Why do I feel so guilty?
She pulls another face. ‘Is she your girlfriend?’
But I see her look away.
That night in bed I picture her expression when she asked if it was a date. Not fright. What was it?
The White Horse, where I’m to meet with Cher, is busy on the Friday evening. I’ve given the meeting only passing thought; am certainly not expecting anything. If I’m honest, I struggle to picture her clearly. What was it about her that attracted me in the first place?
‘Have a nice time,’ says Fizz that afternoon and throws me that look again before hurrying away. What is it?
I’m in chinos and brogues; Oxford bags and polo shirt. “Souvenir” is playing.
“…it’s my direction, it’s my proposal…”
‘Robert! Here!’ Cher’s changed her hair. It’s shorter and curly, poodle-like, and blonder than I remember. Her facial features are much harsher than I remember too; creases, where laughter might appear, are more drawn and downcast.
Cher stands up and we peck on cheeks. ‘Hello, Rob. Long time no see.’ She’s wearing a denim jacket over a white blouse. Jeans. ‘You don’t look a bit older.’
‘Liar. Neither do you.’ Both lying madly.
Drinks fixed, she speaks. ‘Well, where to start? Look at you.’
‘And you. Your hair; I didn’t recognize you.’
‘Oh yes,’ she says pulling at it. ‘Been like this for a year or more. The new me.’ Then wags a finger at me. ‘Why didn’t you tell me you were working at a private school?’
‘No. Did you know what sort of school it was when you took the job?’
‘No. Well, not until after I’d been for the interview. Besides I needed a job. Any job. Beggars can’t be choosers as my mum might say. Why?’
‘When I found out, I was going to write to give you a piece of my mind.’
‘I was strictly anti private education, or health. Or anyone who worked for them.’
She smiles grimly. ‘After my mess with my ex, I needed another teaching job. Quickly. Well away. Got one at a Steiner type place. Privately funded.’
Blowing out her cheeks, she continues. ‘I’ve had to rethink my values on money. My ex was useless with it; spent it in the pub or sneaking down the bookies or loading credit cards. Oh my word!’ She shakes her head. ‘If he’d had more money he’d have just wasted it. Maybe I’ve come to the conclusion that people should be able to spend money on whatever they want. Anything’s better than pissing or gambling it away.’
She takes a slurp of wine. ‘I sometimes wonder how I got myself involved in the first place. But, he was, I don’t know, funny. Played a bit of rugby. But he was Jekyll and Hyde; you know? In the end I couldn’t trust him. And dragging me down with him. So I left. Moved away. Best thing I’ve ever done.’
She pops her glass on the table and raises her eyes to mine. ‘You’ve changed haven’t you?’
‘You don’t sound the same.’
There’s a silence broken only by the piped music.
“…but no excuses my feelings just remain…”
‘Is there anyone else on the scene?’ I ask, eventually,
‘No.’ Is she telling the truth? ‘You?’
‘No.’ Am I?
We eat, a leisurely meal, a relaxing bottle of wine; liquers. ‘I miss those college days,’ she says. ‘Everything seemed easier somehow.’
The Temptations are now piped. “…but it was just my imagination running away with me…”
‘But you seem happy,’ she says. And for a brief moment I can just see what it was that attracted to me her in the first place. A softening of lines. ‘You sound as if you love your job. The way you talk about it.’
‘I suppose I do. Sometimes I feel like I’m married to it. But I can’t knock it really. I mean, kids are kids, whether they’ve got money or not. They’re just as tricky as the ones I taught back home. Just in smaller numbers. Maybe that’s the key to it all.’ I chuckle. ‘If someone had told me all those years ago I’d be spouting all this educational bosh, I’d have laughed them out of the room.’
She laughs, her face more animated, flushed. ‘What about your personal life?’
‘Well, like I say, there isn’t any. That’s the payback. The only women I see are the few frumps on the staff, or loaded parents. Or the sixth form girls. There’s no social scene for me. Job takes up all my time. Nothing doing there.’
‘But you get long holidays.’
‘Yes. To make up for the seven day slog during term. But I never seem to meet anyone to be honest. I either disappear abroad, hoping by some miracle someone’ll turn up out of the blue, or sleep. Or try to play some sport. All very male stuff.
‘Do you ever think about coming home?’
‘Now and again.’
She leans in and raises her eyes steadily to mine. ‘Or us?’
Do I? ‘Sometimes. You?’
She nods. Cheeks flushing. ‘Sometimes.’
“…but in reality she doesn’t even know me …”
She’s looking intently at me now. ‘We never really got to find out much about each other did we?’
‘I suppose not.’
‘Are you looking for a long term thing? Want kids and stuff? Get married?’
‘I don’t know. Maybe with the right person. Right now I’m just happy to go with the flow. You?’
She nods. Takes a sip from her glass. ‘I’ve had my fingers burned. I’m resolved to go with the flow as well. Take each day as it comes.’ She fixes me in her sights again. ‘Live for the moment.’
“…just my imagination…”
Now what? ‘Me too.’
‘Well,’ she says, smiling, before speaking cautiously, reaching for my hand across the table and touching it briefly. ‘There’s always tonight.’
“…just my imagination running away with me…”
Phil Collins - In The Air Tonight
The thing is, I was a massive early Genesis fan – you know, the days of “Selling England By The Pound” and “Foxtrot” and ‘Lamb Lies Down…” but it’s hard to escape the fact that Peter Gabriel was the driving and creative force. Perhaps it was inevitable that they’d struggle without him, though Phil’s voice is pretty compatible…and this first solo album is…well…rather good! “Something In The Air” is a cool song, and the drumming is sublime…
Orchestral Manouevres In The Dark - Souvenir
Ah the 80’s and all that electro stuff which somehow I associate with either pop/glam or withdrawn angst. OMD are probably better called new wave artists…led by a guy called Andy McCluskey…Whatever, this is one of those songs that I must have heard late night on the radio and been hooked by the riff sufficiently to seek it out and buy as a single…something practically unheard of for me! ( though I think I may have bought “Stay With Me Till Dawn” by Judy Tzuke around the same time)…and – much later – “Calling All The Heroes” by It Bites!! Forgive me for my sins…
The Temptations – Just My Imagination
I loved the Tamla sound of the mid/late 60’s and The Temptations were right up there for me with early Stevie Wonder and The Four Tops. Later they morphed into some more psychedelic Tamla…if that’s possible! Listen to “Papa Was A Rolling Stone”…but not before hearing this classic song.
About the Author: Richard Parsons
I’ve been fascinated with writing since I was a youngster; creative writing in English lessons was my favourite part of school life along with swapping music with mates or playing sport.
When I decided to quit teaching after many happy years, I applied for and won a scholarship to do a Masters at Plymouth Uni in Creative Writing. Drama was really the main string to my bow, but I soon became hooked on the idea of crafting short stories, and, eventually, the longer form of narrative. After graduating with a distinction, I cut my teeth writing for women’s magazines, but this was never in my own “voice” and was always formulaic. “Given Circumstances” is the real me.
Hope you enjoy it!