It’s April review time

Life is not a highway strewn with flowers,
Still it holds a goodly share of bliss,
When the sun gives way to April showers,
Here is the point you should never miss.

Though April showers may come your way,
They bring the flowers that bloom in May.
So if it’s raining, have no regrets,
Because it isn’t raining rain, you know, (It’s raining violets,)
And where you see clouds upon the hills,
You soon will see crowds of daffodils,
So keep on looking for a blue bird, And list’ning for his song,
Whenever April showers come along.

**********************

So it’s time for the showers folks, showers of praise or a rainy squall.
Whichever it is, this is where your shower should fall,  preferably wrapped up neatly in a comment on our April Reviews page.

And for those who would like a little musical accompaniment while they ponder, here it is … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dLoCQzzIo7Q

Waltzing with Ivy – April 2017 CW entry

Tony saw Gerald had his eyes closed and took out a cloth to wipe up the trickle of stout that had spent the last five minutes inching its way down from the rim of Gerald’s glass and across the oak bar top.

He dabbed at the bottom of the pint glass while Gerald sat with his two hands nestled around its curve.

“Won’t be long now, will it?” said Mike.

“No, I’d say not,” answered Tony. “Normally it’s when he’s on his third pint. That’s only his second tonight but he told me he’s on an empty stomach as he’s all out of tinned spaghetti.”

“Christ,” said Mike. “Isn’t he getting wheels on meals or something?”

Tony shrugged.

Mike tapped his fingers on the bartop and looked up at the nine o’clock bulletin of the news channel Tony had put on the TV when he opened the pub at two. For some reason, Tony tended to always have the TV on a very low volume – not muted but not audible without straining your ears either.

“Any more of those young ‘uns in here recently?” asked Mike.

“Yeah,” said Tony, “two groups of them on Saturday night.”

“Oh,” said Mike.

He slurped at his beer and looked across to Gerald, who had brought his forehead close to his glass in a gesture that seemed to show increased concentration. Gerald’s lower lip was quivering – perhaps he was trying to whisper something, perhaps from emotion.

Mike sniffed. The dampness that always hung around Gerald’s tweed jacket had a slightly putrid whiff to it tonight. Poor Gerald. He’d told Mike once, back when his speech was fairly lucid, that news of the death of their son, and only child, in Australia had brought him and Ivy closer together than ever before. Now she was gone too.

“I was round Cartwright Court to see George and Belinda the other week, and you wouldn’t believe how many there are. All these posh bikes chained up outside,” said Mike.

“Christ, I wouldn’t leave a bike round there even if it was anchored into the bleeding pavement,” said Tony.

Mike eyed the barman with a smile as he watched him take a spotless glass from the rack above the bar and wipe it. He considered joking about Tony’s unnecessary cleaning but decided not to.

“’Apparently they’re getting leaflets all the time asking if they’ll sell their flat to a buy-to-let. Saying they can get 200 grand for it,” said Mike.

“Get away!” said Tony.

“They’ll be trying to turn this place into a wine bar next,” said Mike.

“It’s all theirs for a bottle or two or Rioja,” said Tony, who had moved onto wiping his next dry glass.

Mike took the opportunity to look around. He took in the tarred seams of the chintz wallpaper that had long ago peeled off at various corners to reveal pockmarked plaster. It must have been a while since Tony had even straightened the pictures on the wall – one of the 1987 pub darts team had a striking slant. ‘I don’t need no fancy gimmicks’, was Tony’s mantra whenever a regular suggested a refurbishment, and there was some truth to this. No visual features were needed for the sense of comforting isolation the pub provided – the sturdy black door with its big brass handle that had always creaked in exactly the same places was enough.

Tony nudged Mike on the elbow. “Here we go,” the barman whispered.

Mike swivelled around to see Gerald’s shaky right hand lift his stout up towards his lips. Gerald’s eyes were half open now, and focused fully on beholding the glass. He held the glass in front of his lips for a few seconds before kissing it gently on the rim and placing it back down, closing his eyes.

Tony shook his head and Mike put his hand to his mouth to smother a giggle. To avoid laughing, he avoided making eye contact with Tony for a while, and instead focused on the wild splatter of countless punctures in the corkboard and wall around the dartboard, accrued over the years.

“Could be handy if you ever want to sell this place,” said Mike.

“What’s that?” asked Tony.

“Having all those youngsters in here,” said Mike.

Tony mumbled a laugh.

Mike took his phone out to check for any messages from his wife. Tony was rattling some glasses around overhead, and Gerald was now moving his hand up and down to caress his pint glass. How long this went on for, Mike couldn’t say. It was one of those moments were life just seemed to freeze and before resuming again.

Which it did. Suddenly.

Mike’s right arm jumped in fright as he heard the creak of the door and the dim light of the spring evening crept along the wall to the bar, before being shut out back to the world outside again.

He was aware that instead of the usual lumbering in of the regular customers, there was a sheepish pitter-pattering on the sticky floor behind him.

Mike could see Tony scratching one of his eyebrows.

He looked to his side as two faces pulled up alongside and below him at the bar. A young man with curly hair sprouting in all directions, angular-framed glasses and a pastel-coloured jumper that reminded him of a doormat he had decades ago. Then his friend, and possibly also his lover – a young girl with long jet black hair, an oval face, a leather jacket over her sweater and shiny black leggings.

“Do you serve mojitos?” asked the young man.

“This isn’t a curry house,” said Tony. “We used to do bacon sandwiches on a Sunday afternoon but we ain’t doing any food at the moment pal.”

The young man reddened in the face and swapped several glances with his friend.

“I’ll have a pint of bitter and a tap water then please,” said the young man.

“Fine,” said Tony, reaching for a glass and the tap.

The pub returned to its normal level of quietness, with a newsreader – who was summarising the local football and cricket news on the TV in an enthusiastic tone – becoming the centre of attention.

Mike looked across to Gerald, who was now sat upright with his eyes closed and lower lip quivering away. He saw the young man moving along the bar towards Gerald and felt his heart beating. Then came the sound of the empty stool on Gerald’s right, on the far side of the bar, being dragged a little across the floor before the man jumped up on it and took out his wallet – leaving it on the bar top.

“Don’t” said Tony, and “please” said Mike, both speaking at the same time and stretching their hands out towards the young man.

“This man’s wife sits there,” said Tony, pointing to Gerald. “She’s –” he looked at Mike for help.

“She’s in the toilet,” said Mike.

“Oh,” said the youngster surprised, “well we’ll go to a table to have our drinks, I was just going to count out some change here.”

Gerald then turned his head to see the young man and emitted a deep prolonged shriek. The man climbed down, alarmed, and tugged on the sleeve of his friend’s jacket.

“You know what, I think I better go back home, sorry,” said the young man. “I’ll leave you a fiver – I guess that should cover the pint?”

“But what about the tap water?” asked Tony. The young man reddened again.

“Only kidding you!” said the barman.

The pair returned to the door much more quickly than they had come in and Mike heard it swing shut.

“On the house!” said Tony, placing the freshly poured pint of bitter in front of Mike.

Mike went to place the empty stool back where it had been at Gerald’s side.

The weather report was followed by a few minutes of nothingness.

Then, Gerald turned to the seat on his right.

“Pleased to meet you, Miss!” he said, his words slow and gravelly. “There was some rotter trying to pinch your seat but I think I scared him off.”

“Ivy Buttleworth, you say?” Gerald continued. “What a splendid name! You’re the stationmaster’s daughter are you? I must say I have a great interest in the latest locomotives myself, but I suppose that kind of talk is quite the tedium for you.” He laughed.

“I’m going out for a smoke” said Tony, “just keep on eye on him will you? You know, make sure he doesn’t come off his stool again when he starts waltzing with Ivy.”

The Reunion

Paul gazed across the room recognizing many faces he hadn’t seen for years, well in fact most of them, as he’d been living and working abroad for the last twenty years. He looked around to see who else was there, especially certain old members whom he’d hoped very much to meet up with again. Something had suddenly spurred him a few months ago into accepting the invite to attend and booking his flight from Toulouse.
He greeted them and chatted, some he remembered he’d liked and been friendly with – Phil, now a classics teacher at a private school in Dorset (unmarried, but in a “committed relationship” he’d admittedly slightly nervously); Johnnie, the Jewish sportsman who’d strayed so often from the path of righteousness it used to be a standing joke – along with the fact he used (not so) secretly to eat pork sausages with relish – but who was now married with four children and MD of the family business; Sean, the Essex lad who’d gone to school with a former West Ham and England footballer, a decent footballer himself but now a consulting engineer in South East Africa Africa; Tim, a quietly spoken maths student, now a respectable and prosperous accountant in Birmingham.
Then the women. The college had been one of the earliest to admit women – Geraldine the philosopher and currently a newly minted Professor at King’s London, Jenny the earnest and starchy lawyer and now a Q.C., Harriet, the medic, now a GP in prosperous Stratford-on-Avon.
Yes, Paul had read all the brief biographical summaries the College had circulated.
And then those he’d rather disliked, James the still utterly self-assured lawyer who now “managed funds” in the City and oozed wealth from every pore – as he had as an undergraduate; Martin, the brash Birmingham boy who still had the short bandy legs and the beard – greying now – still talked the loudest, clearly still thought he was the most important person in the room and was “something in the City” and Chris, one of the smoothest people to glide across this earth, still smooth and obviously so wealthy from being in banking – wealthier, that is, than when he was an undergraduate. They wouldn’t be out of place in a Parisian salon or a Geneva soiree Paul thought.
There was a loud bang of a gong and Sir Thomas Ewen, the College Master, stood a on a chair at the back of the room.
“Ladies and gentlemen, can I formally welcome you all back to St. Matthew’s College for this gaudy. I will say a few more words later at the end of dinner but in the meantime renew old friendships and enjoy the meal. Oh, and Ted assures me the bar in Deep Hall will be open for a good few hours after dinner.”
Gosh, Paul thought, Ted was still going strong though he must be in his late sixties. He was glad, he reflected, as the College servants had mostly been very kind to the students and Ted had been – still was presumably – one of the best.
The old members filed into the Hall, with Paul still looking around to see if certain old friends were present. So far, no luck. They finished the traditional college grace (read in impeccable Latin) by Phil and sat down to dinner.
He seated himself next to several old friends with whom he chatted politely and, in some cases, quite animatedly. A number of them were interested, even slightly puzzled, by his permanent move to teach in France.
“Well, as you know, I read Modern Languages, qualified as a teacher, then after a year or so at a public school in Dorset, saw an interesting job for a teacher at a private school in Tours and I went for it – yes, they do have private schools over there. Having been in France twenty or so years, I now have a really good job as deputy head teacher at an international school in Auch down in the south-west. I’m accepted by the locals so really pretty content. Never got on with my family, as some of you might remember – well, except for my sister – but she lives in Switzerland so I see her quite often.”
“But who are your pupils?” Sean enquired. “An international school in the south-west of France?”
“Oh, we take boarders so we get pupils from all over, Airbus people and other employees from the Toulouse send their children to us…. And some French people want their children to have a broader education. We teach the International Baccalaureat mainly. I like it as it’s better than teaching GCSE and A level stuff. And the lifestyle is better.”
“I have to say, you sound a bit French,” Phil joked. “Your dress sense is a bit more sophisticated than the rest of us.”
“Really,” Paul raised an eyebrow. “I had a devil of a job to hire the dinner jacket in Toulouse – couldn’t get one in Auch- as we don’t tend to wear them in France, at least not in the country – not worn one in twenty years. It took me a while to hunt one down.”
The dinner finished with a few speeches, mercifully fairly short, though Sir Thomas made his usual appeal for funds before the guests filed down to the cellar bar to continue the convivial conversations, fuelled by Ted’s seemingly inexhaustible memories of individual students.
It was then he felt a hand on his shoulder and heard a soft quiet voice behind him,
“Hello, Paul, how are you after all these years?”
He spun round recognising the voice immediately.
“Jeanette…. I’m fine, thanks, and enjoying life and it’s really lovely to see you again. But more importantly how are you?”
Paul beamed at the woman in front of him, somewhat shorter than him with a broad smile, short but curly dark hair, greying a bit in parts, piercing blue eyes, a slim face and a reasonably trim body suitably attired in a blue evening dress. He gulped then politely asked her how she was as they moved away from the crowded bar area.
“I’m well too, given life’s little bumps. But what are you doing with yourself? I keep reading in the College Record you’re living in France and are a deputy head teacher. I guess you seem to have done well. You live in Toulouse now, don’t you? Isn’t that in south-west France?”
“In Auch actually but it’s quite near Toulouse. I’m a deputy head at a private international school.” Paul laughed. “But what about you? I gather you’re one of the editors of “Europe” magazine – yes, I read the Record too, you know.”
“Oh, I live in London….. Have done since I left the College. I went into journalism as you’ve probably guessed – started as a junior reporter with the Evening Standard then worked my way up steadily with a slight hiatus after a couple of years….”
Paul raised his eyebrows questioningly, though half guessing what was coming. He had already glanced at her left hand and observed the absence of a wedding ring.
“You know,” Jeanette continued, “I was with that wretched man from Balliol when I left, when you were on your year out in France and Germany….. Of course, you do….. Well we married although I’m not sure why…. Seemed to be a natural progression. Anyway after three years I got pregnant but miscarried and lost the baby at six months. I got a bad infection and I was in and out of hospital for some more months.”
“I didn’t know, I am so sorry,”
“Well, it left me incapable of having children. And then Robert, the bastard, walked out. So, I thought bloody great and devoted myself to my career with the odd “dalliance” along the way. And I climbed the ladder pretty successfully. What about you?”
“Finals – I managed a First….. but I suppose that was because the best distraction was gone and the rugby only took up the Michaelmas term.” Paul smiled at Jeanette knowingly, “Then I thought to myself, I fancy teaching as I’d done that whilst abroad on my year out. I did my CertEd and went off to teach at a good private school in Dorset for three years but got bored. One evening, I saw an advert for a modern languages teacher based at a private international school in Tours – so I thought, what the hell, I’ve no real ties here as my sister had gone to Switzerland and I couldn’t get on with my parents – and I applied. I got the job and off I went…..”
“Wasn’t it – or isn’t it – odd living full-time in France?” Jeanette asked. “After all, I’ve travelled – still do – a huge amount mainly in Europe, but I’ve never thought I’d feel really settled except in England. That said, I’ve never had a reason to consider it.”
“No, not really,” Paul answered smiling. “I knew the culture fairly well, I spoke the language and I was pretty rootless. Besides teaching in France is different to an English boarding school. One has a bit more time to make friends, be social. I had time to play rugby again so I had a good social life that way too.”
“Then, since you’re bound to wonder,” he paused, his voice starting to crack, “I too got married – another teacher called Nadine. She taught at a school across the city in Tours. I met her at a quatorze juillet dance and we married eighteen months later. I think her parents were a little worried about her marrying a Brit but in the end I won them over. My parents, well they said nothing about me marrying a French girl whatever they thought, but at least they came to the wedding and managed to stop themselves being an embarrassment to Nadine’s parents.”
“So you’re married then?”
“No, Nadine was killed in a hit and run on her way home from work two years after we got married. ” Paul went silent for a minute, gazing at the floor, his eyes watering. “It’s a painful memory, the policeman coming to the door…..”
“She was pregnant with twins….. I found out it was twins after the accident…..”
Jeanette put her hand on his arm.
“I’m so sorry,” she answered gently as a tear rolled down his cheek. “Shall we go and sit in the garden as it’s pretty warm this evening. Then you can tell me as much or as little as you like and I can do the same.”
She picked up a wrap and grabbed a bottle of wine and two glasses. Paul followed her up the stairs admiring her still trim outline under her dress. They sat in a quiet corner of the garden, gently bathed in warm moonlight, sipped the wine and talked about their lives and experiences since leaving.
“Are you happy in France?” Jeanette asked after a while. “You sound fairly settled. But the loss of your wife must have hurt.”
“Oh yes. I’m settled. Of course, I miss Nadine – and the twins – and sometimes think of what could have been but the pain has got less with the years. But it was really to get away from Tours and the memories that drove me to look for a job away from the capital. So the job in Auch came up and I love it. I live in a small hamlet on the edge of the city. A really nice house with views over the countryside and a swimming pool. I had this small barn in the garden done up to make a two bed apartment which my sister and her husband and their children can use in the summer and I occasionally let it out to people I know. I’ve made lots of friends and these days I help with rugby coaching – Auch is a big rugby town – but I’m a bit too old to play and veterans rugby in France can be – well – let’s say, rough and tough! It’s a really civilised lifestyle and I enjoy it – and not far from Toulouse. But what about you? I couldn’t imagine living in a large city anymore.”
Jeanette sipped her wine and thought hard. She was quiet for a while.
“Do you know, I don’t know….. I’ve never ever really stopped to think and answer that really. I live in Fulham, have a nice flat in a reasonably quiet road, have a really interesting but busy job, I have a good circle of friends, the odd boyfriend – but nothing too serious – I’m well paid, I travel a lot. I’m just busy busy and I mostly enjoy it.”
“Yes,” Paul gently interrupted her, “But are you settled….? Do you really enjoy it? What do you do for time off, to relax, at Christmas or Easter holidays, in the summer. You must take holidays. Or does the work enjoy you rather than you enjoy the work?”
He sensed Jeanette’s discomfort at his questions.
“Oh, I go to visit my relatives or friends. Summer holidays, I normally go with friends for a week or two……But now you ask, I suppose I’m on a treadmill of my own making.”
She stopped and Paul realised that her shoulders were shaking gently in the moonlight. He took her wrap, placed it round her shoulders and have her a gentle hug. Jeanette leaned her head on his shoulder.
“Paul, do you ever think of me these days?”
“Yes, quite frequently actually…..” He squeezed her shoulder gently. “But can I ask you the same in reverse.”
“Yes, often. Can I ask a personal question?”
“Of course, what is it?”
“Do you have a girlfriend hidden away out in France?”
Paul burst into a loud chuckle. “No, I don’t. Not currently…. I had a girlfriend but that finished over a year ago.”
Jeanette gave him a peck on the cheek then snuggled into his shoulder. Paul kissed the top of her head gently and then squeezed her thinking how much he’d really liked Jeanette when they’d been together and how he’d missed her over the years even if only at times subconsciously.
“What are you doing tomorrow?” Jeanette asked after a while
“Getting the train to Heathrow for a flight back to Toulouse as I have school on Monday,” Paul answered. “Would have flown to Bristol or Stansted but I needed a Sunday flight back.”
“Have you time for breakfast in the Market? Just like old times…..” Jeanette turned her face to him with a beseeching smile.
Paul looked at her face then answered, “Of course. And, of course, if you ever fancy trying a holiday in the south west of France or just popping in for a short stay……”
“I think that’s a lovely idea. But where would I stay?”
“Oh, I recommend Auch as a good centre – a private house preferably somewhere with a private swimming pool.”
“Is that an invitation?” Jeanette asked very quietly.
“Anytime you like,” Paul replied softly then kissed her for the first time in years, savouring her response, gentle at first then more passionate.
“Time for bed.” Paul said very quietly after ten minutes or so. “What time shall I see you tomorrow? I need to get the train at half eleven.”
“Half eight?”
“Suits me…. Let’s meet in the Lodge,” Paul whispered.
****************************
The 4th July, at L’Abris, and Paul poured two glasses of the lovely local chilled Cotes de Gascogne for himself and his guest before taking them out on a tray with some tapenade and rillettes de porc on bread he’d bought from the boulangerie on way back from the airport. Jeanette was standing out on the patio by the pool in her enticing sun dress and straw hat enjoying the quiet of the garden and the evening sunshine and surveying the surrounding farmland.
“Salut” Paul toasted her, “it’s so lovely to see you here.”
“Well, I think it’s just idyllic,” Jeanette replied smiling at him, ”so peaceful and beautiful. I can quite see why you love it here. I didn’t know this existed – so different to Paris or one of the big cities.”
They sat quietly for a few minutes, then Paul said,
“I’m cooking supper which we can eat out here. Then tomorrow I thought we’d go into Auch and have dinner at a really nice restaurant I know. Perhaps in a few days we could drive over to Tarbes and the Pyrenees. Otherwise, there’s the pool here…..”
“Don’t worry, Paul,” Jeanette replied, “this is so relaxing. I’m quite happy just doing very little for a few days. I think I could just truly relax here.”
She turned her face to Paul and they just smiled broadly at each other, exchanged a kiss and gingerly held hands.