Tag: blackpool

Routine Rum and Pep

Photo by Sander Dalhuisen on Pexels.com

‘Rum and pep, Barb?’ the barmaid shouted as Barbara Lamb teetered through the saloon door.

‘Yeah, sweetheart. The usual.’

The Swan was only a couple of minutes walk away from Blackpool Pleasure Beach, and Barbara had to pass the attraction each night. It did indicate another change. Years ago she’d found the place eerie, but as time went on, she’d stand and look and listen for a few moments to all that was going on around her, before making the remaining 5-minute walk to The Swan.

As was her nightly practice, Barbara stopped in front of the metre-wide mirror with its printed advert for Stones bitter. She prodded her newly-dyed copper ringlets, checked her fuchsia-pink lipstick and matching eyeshadow, and wiped a few speckles of errant mascara from beneath her eyes. Yes, she would do.

It was four steps further to the bar, and Barbara’s drink was already waiting. She grabbed the glass, clinking her fuchsia fingernails against the bar. Only two seconds later, the glass was empty. Carol behind the bar had already prepared another.

As nightly rituals go, this particular pattern must have been a good one, as she’d been honing it since the day she started work, more than 40 years earlier. Back in those days, the rum was a single and was the cheapest brand. But nowadays it was a double and was a brand of quality. That was progress. She’d also progressed from leaving the factory’s office at 4 pm and arriving at The Swan by half-past, still in her work clothes.

Nowadays she’d get off the bus and straight into the shower, then she’d make herself a usual dinner of tuna sandwiches with stewed apples with digestive biscuits for dipping. It was the same every work night. She’d also dress up nowadays. Progress indeed that the older she looked, the better she prepared for her night at The Swan.

‘Best pub in Blackpool,’ she said, with a grin, as she did each night.

‘It is that,’ Carol agreed as she did each night.

As nightly rituals go, there can’t be many that are more long-lasting and more comfortable.

‘You alright, love?’ asked Carol.

‘Not so bad. Not so bad.’

‘I like what you’ve done with your hair.’

‘Oh, thanks, Carol.’

Barbara shook her head and spun around on the barstool.

‘Barb, love, you’ve been pooped on. Seagull poo all down the back of your jacket. Here give it to me, and I’ll go and sponge it off.’

‘No need, Carol, I’ll get more of it on the way home. We know it always happens at this time of year. There’s so much rich food lying about for them to forage, and it gives them dicky tummies. No point fretting on it, is there?’

‘You have a point.’

The two old friends chatted while Carol prepared drinks – some for regulars and some for the tourists. Barbara had always noticed that Carol treated everyone the same. That was not common practice by the seaside!

As they spoke, Barbara shed her layers. At first, it was the offending coat, then her polyester neck scarf with mock Chanel-style pattern, then her turquoise cardigan. After her third rum and pep, it was time for Barbara to shed her shoes.

‘I always get hot feet, don’t you?’

‘I do, love. I do.’

Another nightly exchange.

Barbara carefully placed her new shoes on the plush-covered stool next to her.

‘Ooh, they are nice,’ said Carol. ‘Are they new?’

‘From the factory. Staff discount as usual. Smart and comfortable. They’re a bit like Hush Puppies but lots cheaper.’

‘Get us a pair, would you? Size 5. Do they make them in navy?’

Barbara nodded as Carol went to serve Arthur with his pint of lager top and two packets of plain crisps.

He little-acknowledged Barbara’s presence, as he never did.

‘Got any new plants, love?’ Carol asked Barbara.

‘A yucca and four African violets.’

‘Ooh, nice.’

‘And I got this too,’ Barbara chuckled as she removed a small brown box from her capacious handbag. She unwrapped it carefully using her fuchsia fingernails, and proudly showed Carol her latest find – a bone china cheetah of about six inches in height.

‘For the collection?’ asked Carol.

Barbara nodded and carefully packed the cheetah back into the box, which she replaced in her bag. She zipped it up thoughtfully, then unzipped it to remove a small tetra pack of cold, sweet coffee, and unscrewed its plastic cap. She downed it in one, in a recently-acquired nightly ritual which prevented her from falling asleep as she walked home.

Arthur left the pub, and other customers came and left. Some were drinkers; others like her were in the pub as a social thing. Still others came in only to get themselves out of the rain.

Apart from two toilet visits, Barbara has remained on her usual stool all evening and had purchased her typical five rum and peps. Also usual, she felt suddenly hungry.

‘Right, darling, I’m off,’ she told Carol. ‘See you tomorrow.’

Carol waved her out, and Barbara toddled off along her stretch of Blackpool’s Golden Mile. She watched the tourists still dressed in shorts and t-shirts, stumbling out of bingo halls and amusement arcades, then called in at her usual burger bar.

‘Usual, please,’ she said and was near immediately presented with a cheeseburger, cut into quarters. She ate the first as she paid for the food. She ate the second as she walked towards her home. The third she saved for eating as she made herself a nice mug of milky tea. She wiped the bird poo from her jacket, as usual, then sat on the sofa with a grunt and leaned across to open the cage that dominated her entire living room.

‘Out you come, Precious,’ she sang, and her grey parrot hopped onto her hand, then onto her lap for a ruffle of feathers and a nuzzling head stroke.
Even Precious had his routine, and he dug around in her pocket for the remaining burger quarter. He ate it excitedly, chattering as she did so.

Barbara quickly drunk her tea, then poured herself her usual nightcap – a small dry Amontillado sherry. Precious nestled in the crook of her arm, and the pair of them watched evening telly and fell asleep together, as they had every night for forty years.

It was family, of sorts. It was love, of sorts. And it was undoubtedly contentment.

The regularity of routine. The security of simple friendships.

Life was good. Life was good with rum and pep.

#meredithschumann #author #authors #fiction #shortstory #shortstories #blackpool #rum #publife

Viva Miss Merryweather – Politics Warning

Joanne Merryweather’s speech to the Republican-Democratic Party Conference in Blackpool, 2021, promised to be quite a spectacle. Not only because Joanne had triumphed brilliantly in her most recent commons speeches and had transformed the stubborn British electorate from a fragmented, angry mass into the most weirdly aligned voter-pool this group of countries had ever experienced…

Not only that. But also because it was to be her inauguration as party president (for life). Such was her reward for the reversing of the previous two years’ worth of both pro and anti-Europe decisions, in a way that each and every person on all sides of the argument could nod their head and say. ‘Well, well, well, that’s one hell of a solution. Of course. That Miss Merryweather’s a genius, for sure.’  

And as befitted such a major inauguration event, the like of which had never before been seen, the ceremony promised pomp and ceremony to exceed even the most jingoistic of American electioneering, with accompanying preachy speeches and crowds of overly-enthusiastic supporters. Two weeks before the event and Blackpool was already awash with slogan t-shirts, specially-written conference anthems, flags, posters, and banners. Even more unusually, there were no dissenting voices and no disrespectful slogans. The Indomitable Joanne Merryweather had managed to get her message absorbed by the inner souls of each and every Briton. All now met in the middle, yet nobody lost any ground.

Five days before the scheduled event, gigantic portraits of the dynamic Miss Merryweather appeared on every billboard in the Blackpool area, winning the universal approval of all residents and visitors. And every pole flew a flag of her face, overprinted with the words: Unity through Federalist Independence.

Joanne Merryweather’s speech had been eagerly awaited by politicians on both sides of the house – male and female, youngs and old, and both front and back benchers. The media in all its forms dedicated hours to detailed anticipation of the speech’s content, mainly during radio and television programmes usually more well known for pig-headedness and bigotry.

Historically, and internationally, no speech had been more theoretically dissected, and all political commentators were claiming insider knowledge of its contents. The broadsheets congratulated Miss Merryweather on the speech’s energetic intellectualism and analytical capacity. The tabloids simply stated ‘Jo’s got balls’.

The Republican-Democratic Party Conference was soon in full swing. Blackpool was buzzing, but for Danny Beacon, Miss Merryweather wasn’t just a well-respected party leader with an uncanny ability to entice compromise. She was his life. A long-term Republican-Democrat, Danny had never before allowed himself feelings for a fellow party member before, let alone an MP of such high-standing.

As was his usual practice, Danny had purchased his Party Conference ticket five months earlier, and had also booked his room in the Royal Hotel, where the curtains were referred to as ‘drapes’ and the bed linen wasn’t only  changed daily, but was also hand-sewn organic Egyptian cotton with a thread count of 1200, and was topped off with a high quality duck-down duvet. He’d advance-purchased his train ticket, and had booked a week off work. His boss asked ‘Where you off to, Danny-lad? Canaries again?’ – and Danny had nodded absently. Although the country was buzzing with Merryweather mania, he was reluctant to share his interest with his workmates. Why should he? Every person in the country seemed to have something to say about Joanne Merryweather, but nobody knew her as he did.

Danny had sat next to her at the bar twenty years earlier when she was simply a local party member who was considering taking baby steps towards a political career. And Danny had provided a sympathetic ear for her semi-drunken ramblings. He had walked with her along the sea front, and had even rescued her from being hit by a late-night tram. She became the reason why he retained his party membership card, why he attended each year and why he told all his friends he took a yearly trip to the Mediterranean. Each year they’d meet up, chat and enjoy each other’s company. Always innocent, and always intense. Perhaps she’d been a little busier in recent years, but she always made time for him. He knew she loved him, and this year was to be ‘their year’.

Of course, the key note speech was a rip-roaring success. Danny had been there to congratulate her, but was just one face amongst the crowd of acolytes. She scanned the crowds, but failed to notice his face. He watched her stand on tiptoes and saw her talk, knowing her lips formed the words, ‘Danny, where are you?’ He watched her brows twitch. He saw her shoulders hunch and noticed how she scratched her scalp. A nervous twitch that nobody else would interpret as he would. He knew more clearly than he ever had before – she needed him, and him alone.

‘Joanne, Joanne,’ he called, his voice lost in the melee of glib shouted questions and sycophancy.

That night was to be their first night together, and a fitting celebration of her untouchable victory against all she despised. And only Danny knew that night was to mark the end of her political career. He’d purchased tickets – one way to Tasmania. He’d found them a home and had arranged their marriage licence.

It therefore came as a shock when Danny found himself escorted roughly from the conference centre by a battalion of eight soldiers. He was forced to the ground in the delivery area of the converence centre, and whined at the large man who sat on his back. As the man brutally rummaged in Danny’s pockets, Danny moaned.

‘Mr Danny Beacon?’ came the man on top’s voice. ‘We know all about the tickets and the marriage licence. Oh yes, Danny. Miss Merryweather told us all about your stalking, your letters and your internet messages. Now perhaps you could tell us who you really are.’

The flattened man shivered. ‘Never,’ he whispered. ‘Long live the revolution.’

And the pistol held to the back of his skull was activated. The danger of Danny was no more.

Photographic studio

Child and mother? Or sister and brother?

A photographic studio, in best clothes, matching mustard and apple green?

Or just two holiday-makers on the pier, forced to pose in uncomfortable fancy-dress in a shabby photo booth?

Charlotte unprised her hand from that of her brother, Peter, his puffy hot fingers, sweaty with the heat of the sunny day. Checking that her mother wasn’t watching, she wiped her own hand on the front of her best holiday cardigan – the pretty blue one with the daisy ribbons and yellow buttons.

‘Charlotte!’ her mother chided. ‘Charlotte, you must keep hold of Peter’s hand at all times. This pier is a dangerous place. Full of criminal types. We must trust none and suspect all.’

She looked at her daughter once again. ‘And, young lady, what on earth is that stain on your Sunday Best?’

Charlotte looked down at her own garment and the brand new sticky pink stain. She grabbed Peter’s hand and turned it over. Rock. He’d been clutching a broken stick of peppermint rock.

‘Oh Peter, you worm,’ scolded Charlotte, and Mother hurried her two children towards the water fountain, first pushing away a tousled urchin who was cooling himself. She forcibly rinsed the palms of both her children.

‘I have a wonderful surprise for you both, Peter and Charlotte,’ announced Mother as she recklessly dried their hands on the outside of her own artificial silk jacket.

Charlotte’s eyebrows twitched a little and her lips pursed.

‘Mother, please don’t make us go into the photographic studio, again…’

‘Oh, but darling Charlotte, you loved it last year.’

Charlotte shook her head and began to walk towards the painted carousel. There was never any point arguing with Mother, but she hadn’t loved it. She thought her behaviour afterwards may have given Mother the correct clues. It had been Peter who had loved every part of dressing up and posing. Hands dried, he scurried after his big sister with his thumb in his mouth, but started at the yawp of a far-too-close seagull then stumbled face-down. When his face re-emerged, his lips and thumb were covered with quickly bruising toothmarks and blood.

Charlotte scooped up her brother before he had the chance to begin with the almost inevitable tears. ‘Come on, Peter, let’s get our photographs taken,’ she said with as much fake jollity as she could muster.

‘But I thought you said…’ protested Mother.

‘I didn’t like it. But we’ll go for Peter. He loves to dress up, don’t you, little brother?’

Peter smiled up at her, bloodied face and fingers forgotten until Mother took her handkerchief from her jacket pocket, licked it gently, and proceeded to clean up her little boy’s already crusting wound, despite his vigorous, wriggling protest.

‘Come on Peter,’ said Charlotte, gaily, as she stopped him wriggle by tickling his armpit, ‘Let’s run to the photographer’.

The 15 year old girl and her 7 year old little brother ran happily to the studio. But, as soon as Charlotte neared the window and Peter began to shriek happily, Charlotte’s face fell as she viewed the heavy satin and silk clothes in the window mock-up. There was nothing she disliked more than being too hot and covered with very heavy clothing. Apart from being too hot, covered with very heavy clothing, and being forced to stand still for a very, very long time almost without breathing. Last year at Blackpool pier, the photographer had just taken the third picture of Charlotte and Peter dressed as an ancient king and queen of Britain, when she felt so faint that she fell and cracked her head on the tiled ornamental fireplace. She didn’t want to go through that again.

‘Charlotte, Charlotte!’ came Peter’s shrieks as he pointed manically towards one of the display photographs that had been framed for display around the shopfront: a photograph of a young boy, with mustard shirt and turquoise trim, and an older girl with a skirt of the same colours. Both wore black hats. ‘Cowboys, Charlotte. Please may we be cowboys?’ His big sister looked at the costume, all slinky and cool-looking, with bare arms too, then nodded and smiled and the pair of them walked inside.

Mother sighed momentarily and leaned against the studio’s window. She picked up a postcard. ‘Holidays by the Sea are Such Good Fun’. She sighed again and followed her children inside.