The following short story was originally meant to be a full length one. I got through the first chapter but not much further. However, after looking at it again I decided it wasn’t worth completely wasting what I had written. So here you go… Rather than a book you instead get a short story about three old men in a beer garden… As for what happens after the end, I’ll leave it to your imagination.
By James Churchill
When you’re seventy eight years old summers don’t seem to last as long as they once did. When I were a lad, back during the war, summers went on forever and I can clearly recall lying on the banks of the Mender for what seemed liked a lifetime, even though it were only a few hours. Then again, to my eyes, the war seemed to last a lifetime. In sharp contrast the summer just gone had passed in the blink of an eye and now the last balmy day of the year had arrived. I can’t say it had been a particularly splendid summer. My onions and carrots and whatnot had all grown fine and dandy and the weather had kept its place but the summer hadn’t been a particularly memorable one. It hadn’t been nearly as good as those summers we had back during the war. In fact, now that I think about it, no summer ever seems to have been as good as those we had back during the war. But as I say, it were the last balmy day of the year. The young Scottish lass who does the weather in a morning was saying that it were going to rain for weeks on end come tomorrow and as she always seems to get the gist of what’s going down I had little reason to doubt her word.
Claude, Derek and myself were spending that day in the beer garden of the Old Farrier. We each had our usual, a pint of Yorkshire bitter, and Claude were telling us all about his grandlass, Demelza, and how she’d got engaged to this strapping young football player who her father didn’t much approve of. We couldn’t see why ourselves. According to Claude the lad were polite and friendly enough. He played in the A-team for Worton town and although they aren’t quite Tottenham Hotspur I’m sure that in a few years they’ll have at least made it into the third division. Claude were telling us about this as we all supped our pints and as he were telling us I noticed a group of young’uns coming out of the pub into the garden, a tray of pints between them. They must have only just turned eighteen because they sure as heck didn’t look old enough to drink. But they all looked to me exactly as young’uns often do these days. They all wore these long shorts that hung about their knees and black shades over their eyes. One of them had his shirt off but at the same time had this old, battered looking trilby on his head. That lad stood out more than the others because he appeared so typical of the youth of today. Even the way he styled himself was typical. He had this ugly, tribal tattoo on his shoulder, a scruffy, patchy lump of hair on his chin and some sort of plastic hole in his ear. He looked a right state if you get my drift. All of this group, that lad in particular, were acting unspeakably loud and shouting at each other and I kept half an eye on them as Claude were finishing what he had to say.
“You know… I don’t think I’ll ever understand these young’uns,” I said once Claude had finished, silently pointing to the group who were now lolling on a table at the back of the garden. “I mean look at that lot… We’d have never got away with behaving like that back in our day.” My two compatriots turned around and stared for a while.
“If we behaved or looked like that anybody who saw us would go round to our Ma and kick up a right two and eight. Then when we got home it’d be a clop round the ear hole and off to bed without any supper,” Derek buffed after an interval.
“Aye… And you’d likely lose your job and all,” Claude added. “I used to work for old Mr Hamlet the butcher. If he’d have caught me looking like that I’d have been out on me ear for bringing the firm into disrepute.”
“That’s what I’m saying. We weren’t allowed to look like that and we didn’t dare. Even the scruffy Marxist sods you found down Hawley didn’t go around looking like that. Even that lot had some decency.”
“Makes you wonder why they get away with it…” Claude mused. “Why do their parents or bosses or teachers not say ought?”
“More to the point how can they let themselves go around looking and behaving like that? Don’t they look in the mirror and say to themselves ‘Bye eck I look a state… I need to sort myself out.’”
“P’raps they like behaving that way,” Derek opined. “P’raps it’s enjoyable.”
“Enjoyable?” I laughed. “What could be so enjoyable about looking a tit? What’s so enjoyable about behaving like a lout?”
“Well all these young’uns do it so there must be something about it…”
“We could always go and ask them… I mean, nobody knows better than them… Right?” Claude scratched his beard for a second, thinking.
“You may be onto something there Derek… Nobody knows better than them!”
“Should I go and ask then…” Derek stood up and started to go over but Claude fussed him back down.
“No… Sit down you silly old sod. Asking’ll do no good. Those young’uns are just going to say it’s ‘cool’ or trendy or something like that and we’ll still be left wondering why they think it’s cool and trendy. We’ll be no better off understanding them than we are now. The only way we’re ever going to understand these young’uns is if we start behaving like them.”
Derek and I looked at him in complete bemusement.
“The old fool’s flippered,” Derek scoffed.
“He’s done more than flippered,” I sniffed. “He’s done a double somersault.”
“I’m not saying we should behave like that…” Claude protested. “Just that it’s the only way we’ll have any hope of understanding them.” Derek and I continued to stare. Even if he wasn’t suggesting we try and behave like those young’uns the idea of three old men acting in such a manner was unthinkable. We’d look absolutely ridiculous if we tried to act like them.
“Why on earth would you suggest such a damned silly idea?” I got the impression that the notion had upset Derek somewhat. “Haven’t you got any sense? Three men of our age can’t go around acting like the young’uns of today. What would people think?” Claude looked at him with scepticism.
“Since when have you cared about what people think?”
“I don’t… But if you think you can get away with behaving like that then do as that lad over there has done. Take your shirt off!”
“I weren’t suggesting we start behaving like them,” Claude reiterated.
“I know you weren’t… But you said it so go on… Take your shirt off!”
Claude were never one for an argument so he quickly surrendered and began to unbutton his shirt. It were unquestionably revolting and the sight of an eighty year old man with his shirt off were not a pleasant one. Once unshirted Claude looked at Derek and I with innocence.
“You know,” he leaned towards us after about a minute. “I actually feel better like this!”
“Yes well… You look revolting. Old men shouldn’t go around shirtless,” I commented at the same time as noticing that my glass was nearing empty. “ Who’s round is it?” I asked.
“Yours,” Claude sniffed.
“Well put your shirt back on and I’ll get them in.”
I stood up and shuffled into the bar, all prepared to order three more pints of Yorkshire bitter. I was standing at the bar waiting to be served and for a second I looked down at one of the glass fridges they keep behind there. I saw that there were an entire shelf full of those fruity-pop things that you see the young’uns drinking, the brightly coloured stuff that have names like ‘OMG’ and other unpronounceable nonsense. As the barman came over to serve me I too suffered a brief moment of madness. It were all Claude’s fault.
“I’ll have three of those fruity pop things please…” The barman gave me a queer look for a moment.
“Which colour do you want?” I scanned the shelf and tried to look for the least garish colour. Sadly they were all garish so I tried to find the least toxic looking and in the end went for one that were golden yellow.
“Do you want glasses with those mate?”
“How do the young’uns drink them?” I questioned in all earnestness. The barman silently placed three straws in the bottles.
I got more funny looks when I returned to the table. The only plus were that Claude had replaced his shirt.
“What are those things?” Derek questioned suspiciously.
“It’s what the young’uns drink,” I told. “I thought since we were on the subject of behaving like them we might as well try some of what they drink… You know as a kind of experiment!” The funny looks only deepened so I pulled my own bottle close and lifted it into the air to take a sip. I think Claude and Derek were actually struck dumb as I put the straw to my mouth and began to take in the fruity-pop drink. It were very sweet but not sickly enough to render it undrinkable. I stopped sipping and put the bottle down, thinking over the taste. I weren’t really sure if I liked it or not so I took another drink to determine this whilst my two friends looked on, now in amazement. As I drank again I decided that I did like it although I wouldn’t replace my regular Yorkshire bitter for the stuff. “It isn’t so bad as you might think!” I blushed as I put my bottle down. Claude and Derek gave each other a worried glance before reluctantly lifting their drinks.
They each took a slow sip and when they brought the bottles down they had a curious glint in their eyes. The first to speak was Claude.
“You know… I can see why these young’uns binge if they’re drinking that stuff.”
“Binge?” I confuddled.
“Aye… Like you see ‘em doing on the news… Binge drinking… This stuff’s got almost no alcohol in it. You‘d need ten bottles just get tipsy!” He was interrupted by Derek.
“You know… Maybe there is something in this idea of behaving like a young’un lark after all.” Claude and I looked at him with interest…