Donna’s Men

by Michael E. Lloyd

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Synopses
Book III: At Home With Robert

Chapter 3: Chilly Mornings, Hot Afternoons


‘So, Donna, how did you react to Peter’s reflections on the events of 1963? And to “Jane’s” crystal ball gazing ...?’

‘I felt he was slowly getting a little more mature, at last — despite the continued moaning and his declining interest in his sister — and I began to have high hopes for him. But I was concerned about the increasing attraction of gambling. As for Jane’s predictions ... well, either Peter cheated himself and everybody else and typed that whole section up a full year later, or “somebody” had an entry key to a very large number of worldwide strategic planning meetings and think-tanks ...’

‘So you believe “Jane” really was still around ... until she finally died again?’

‘I don’t know, Robert. But I’m tempted to give Peter the benefit of the doubt ...’

* * *

My friendship with Marianne only lasted about three months. All we ever really did was chat together on the bus, on the rare occasions we weren’t surrounded by our own friends. It turned out we didn’t have much in common, and we simply drifted apart early in the new year, and I went back to having fun with the lads as usual.

Mum got very busy helping Peter with all his homework, especially French, which she’d remembered quite well from her schooldays. I was pleased about that, for her sake. She’d finally taken on a new lease of life again.

And then came another house move bombshell! But I understood the reasons much better this time, especially the relocation of Dad’s factory. I even felt a bit pleased that Peter wouldn’t have to do so much travelling, because it really had been wearing him down, especially during the Big Freeze and with all his homework and choir practices and so on. And I soon worked out that I’d benefit from being much nearer the town centre in the evenings ...

The move went smoothly enough, and I just shrugged my shoulders about how cramped the new place was compared with our big village bungalow. And on Peter’s twelfth birthday we both got baby fishing kits! He was quite happy with his, of course, but then he was forever pestering me to go with him down to the pit at the bottom of our garden and catch all those tiddlers!

And he persuaded Mum to get me to take him to see the new Summer Holiday film. Boy, was that boring! ‘Cliff Richard is for old women,’ I was thinking all the way through. I was just getting into the Rolling Stones! Come On!

Talking of summer holidays — what a fuss Peter made after that little accident with the pushcart down in Bristol! I was now seriously wondering if he would ever grow up ...

* * *

He mentions in his diary that I went to stay with Grandpa and Uncle Charlie in Wood Green for a week at the very end of the school holidays. And my main reason for doing that was just what I’d told Peter — to discuss all sorts of things with them about their trade as electricians. But he was right about also wanting a chance to be near the big city!

I did spend a whole day looking around the West End on my own, but I soon got bored, and I didn’t have much cash to spend on anything interesting, if you know what I mean. And I stayed in with the family for the first three evenings, just chatting and watching the telly. It was lovely to talk to Sally properly at last: she was coming up to seven years old, and she’d turned into a very well behaved little girl. Maybe that’s because Charlie was always so strict with her — very kind, but very firm as well.

But I was determined to get out on my own for the one Saturday night of my stay there. It was the very last day of August, and the weather was really warm. I took the bus into the centre of Wood Green, and strolled around for an hour or two, wondering if I should risk trying to buy a drink in a bar. I was only a week away from my fifteenth birthday, but I was now nearly six foot tall and solidly built. I still had a bit of a baby face, though, so I decided not to push my luck, because I had a bigger plan. And then I found just what I was after — a pub that was playing records in a back room. They hadn’t yet discovered the word “discotheque” in Wood Green!

Well, I ended up dancing with a very pretty girl who also turned up on her own. Her name was Catherine Horten. She was tall and slim, with a short flicked-out hairstyle in that year’s fashion. I felt really pleased she was willing even to talk to me, let alone dance and then stick with me for the rest of the evening — especially when I discovered she was already sixteen! Teenage girls always used to go out with much older boys in those days. They probably still do ...

And at the end of the evening we agreed to meet up again in the town centre the next morning ...

I can’t resist scribbling a little side note here, to transcribe later!

Now we have another “Catherine” living quite near Northgate Hill! I agree with what Peter wrote in his diary — it’s a fascinating coincidence (he actually called it “funny”). But I wonder what Jane meant by her rather unkind response of ‘Hilarious’?

And this teenage Catherine would have been about thirty-four in the year I was born ...

But you’re being quite ridiculous again, Donna! For god’s sake drop such a silly idea, here and now!

Once I was back home in Orlesbury, I proudly told my parents and my brother about meeting Catherine at the dance club — I only ever mentioned her first name — and I said we’d spent an hour or so in a coffee bar that Sunday morning, and then just strolled around the town for a while, chatting about pop music and football.

Peter obviously spotted I had fond memories of her, although he only knew I’d written her a few letters because I told him so! I was just showing off, of course! But a few months later, probably around Christmas time, I casually mentioned to everyone at home that we’d completely forgotten about each other, and I never talked about her again.

But Catherine and I had actually taken a bus ride together out towards Potters Bar, that Sunday morning, and we’d then been for a lovely long summer’s walk in the beautiful Hertfordshire countryside.

‘I remember that bus route very well myself, Robert. Some very statuesque cows lying around in those fields.’

‘Really, Donna?’

‘Yes.’

Anyway, a few days after I got home from London I went back to school, in the week of my birthday as usual. I’d already decided I was definitely going to leave at the earliest legally permitted date the following summer, and get stuck into earning some real money.

And I wrote Catherine those little teenage love letters, and she finally answered one of them and gave me a phone number to call. So that evening I rang her from the box at the end of our road.

And as soon as I got through, before I could even speak my name or ask her how she was, she told me she was pregnant. Just like that!

I didn’t know what to do. But she’d already taken complete control. It’s amazing how much difference one extra year makes at that age — especially if you’re an experienced young woman with a very firm plan!

‘And I’m going to have the baby, and I’m going to keep it.’

‘Are you sure?’

‘Yes. And I like you, but not enough to want to marry you. And anyway I wouldn’t even consider disrupting your schooling and your career by insisting on anything like that.’

‘But ...’

‘And my parents know all about it, but not who you are, and I’m never going to mention even your first name to them or anybody else — never, ever. They’re very modern and they’ve accepted that completely.’

I was wondering if she’d given them any option either ...

‘And I’m not going to ask you for a penny towards the baby’s support. They’ve agreed with that as well.’

‘But ...’

‘And in exchange for everything I’m offering you, I want you to agree to play no part whatsoever in my baby’s life. Ever. And to never try to contact me again. Ever. I want you to promise all that, right now, without reservation.’

I was very unsure about doing that, of course. I really had no idea what I thought about it all, to start with — we’d only been on the phone for a couple of minutes, for heaven’s sake! I was certainly not at all interested in becoming a father, and part of me was already very relieved at what she was proposing. But I was also feeling a strange sense of duty, and I tried to persuade her to at least talk it over with me much more fully. Or even just a tiny bit!

But she insisted she didn’t want to do that. So then I tried to play for time ...

‘Well, can I at least have a little think about it, and phone you back tomorrow?’

‘I’m not going to change my mind, so there’s really no point in doing that, is there?

I shrugged my shoulders, for what that was worth, and gave up.

‘OK, Catherine. I promise.’

‘Thank you. Really, thank you. And I truly hope you’ll have a very happy and successful life. I certainly intend to, believe me. So, ’bye now.’

And before I could even say goodbye myself, she’d gone. She didn’t mention my name as she spoke those final words, and then I realised she hadn’t said it once throughout the call. Maybe her parents were listening in. Who knows?

I have to write this down, too ...

So now this second Catherine turns out to be a future unmarried mother in Wood Green! Eighteen years before I was born, of course. But I wonder how many more babies a girl like her went on to have ...?

Oh, cut it out, Donna! This is still quite ridiculous!

I thought about it a great deal afterwards, of course. And I decided that we had both been acting with huge consideration for each other, which was fine and practical and very civilised, but that neither of us was really thinking about the baby and its future needs.

But I knew I would have to go against all of Catherine’s strongly stated wishes if I really wanted to take a stand on that, and contact her again, and make a fuss. And she was the one with the big challenge to deal with, of course — I was back at home, sitting pretty with nothing to worry about, so why should I interfere with her firm desire to play it her way? And at the age of fifteen, with your whole life ahead of you, and someone graciously letting you keep hold of the key to it, a key that you’d very nearly lost — well, you just take the easy way out, don’t you ...?

I’m still not at all sure it was the right way. But it’s what I had promised to do, and I stuck with that promise. I certainly know I was never cut out to be a parent. I’d had no interest in it up till then, of course, and nothing else happened to change my mind on the subject for the next fifty-five years!

‘In my short acquaintance with you, Robert, I’ve actually been imagining you as a wonderful family man. But I do appreciate the dilemmas and the pressures of that remarkable situation. Wow!’

* * *

Dad set up “shop” at home, although he was now back to the confines of a small garden shed again. Then his new factory finally opened, and he was very happy with the easy bike ride and the clean new working conditions. And he’d already made some discreet enquiries and discovered the firm wasn’t just expanding its premises. There would be apprenticeships on offer the following year! That was music to our ears, of course, and he quickly got me on the list, and probably quite near the top of it ...

Poor Grandma died that month, and that was the end of an era as far as I was concerned. And although I was sad to have lost her, and very sorry for Mum, who took it quite badly, of course, I couldn’t help being pleased to hear about the silver lining of a little money left to us in Beatrice’s will. I started to look forward to Christmas more than I ever had.

But before that happy day came, there was to be more tragedy for everybody, on a much bigger stage. Jack Kennedy was assassinated, and I was as stunned as the rest of the world. I had a sense of “irreversible change” that evening: a feeling I only got twice more, in 2001 and 2012.

I can’t imagine how “Jane” knew I was getting a motorbike for Christmas! I’d lay a lot of money that Dad was hiding it deep in his workshop and Peter managed to ferret it out, just as he’d found his own electric guitar in the loft!

And I certainly did spend a lot of the following year preparing that motorbike for the road. It became my pride and joy, of course. My own little baby, and I had nearly nine months to make it perfect ...

At the end of May, I decided I was also probably now a real father, even though I would never even know whether I’d had a son or a daughter ... or maybe neither, after all.

I left school in July — a few weeks before my sixteenth birthday — without taking any O-levels (they didn’t introduce the CSE exams for another two years), and went straight out to work at my father’s factory. And I spent most of the summer weekends on the nearest beaches (I had to get there by bus, of course — none of my close friends had their own wheels at that time either), so I now had minimal interaction with Peter. He was already going very solo, anyway, and he seemed to do very little except slave away at his homework and read books on playing chess ...

And at long last September arrived, and I was on the road! Peter might have often been “First in Class” in his way, but I was the first in my gang for what really mattered that year!!

And our Christmas was much the same as usual. Of course I now know that “Jane” was no longer haunting Peter, but I think he was doing a perfectly good job of continuing to haunt himself.

‘But her long list of predictions for 1964 does seem to have proved very accurate, doesn’t it, Robert? I checked it all out on my Nettie last night.’

‘Yes. It’s certainly the strangest aspect of the whole business .......’


To be continued ...

Copyright © 2010 by Michael E. Lloyd

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