“Don’t forget you’ve got church in the morning,” said Bernie, “I don’t want you getting drunk tonight and not turning up. I’m stopping at Colleen’s, so I won’t be here to wake you.”
“Don’t worry, love,” Bumper reassured his bride to be, “it will only be a couple of quiet pints with the lads.”
“Okay then, have a good night.” A car horn beeped outside.
“That’ll be the taxi,” said Bumper as he kissed Bernie goodbye. He walked down the stairs from the flat to the waiting car.
“Fuck me,” he said. Elvis, Gilbert and I were standing with our heads sticking out of the sunroof of a white, stretch limousine.
“Evening, Bumper. Ready for a night on the town?” I said.
“Too bloody right,” he said as he stepped into the car and took a glass of champagne from me. “But you have to promise to get me up for church tomorrow morning, Bernie will kill me if I don’t turn up.”
“You big puff,” said Elvis, “this is your stag night, you can’t be worrying about church.”
“I’m not worried about church,” Bumper said, “I’m worried about Bernie chopping my knackers off if I don’t turn up.”
“Let’s have a toast,” I said, “to Bumper’s last week of freedom.”
“Bumper’s freedom,” shouted Elvis and Gilbert.
“Can you take us to Southwick please, mate?” I asked the driver.
“But make sure you don’t stop when you get there,” added Bumper, “they’ll have your wheels off in no time.”
The driver took us for a ride around all our old haunts. The field was now two small houses, Tate’s was a car showroom and Inkerman Print was no more. Perhaps it was a mistake to come here, they always say that you should never go back.
After our drive around Southwick, the driver took us into Sunderland city centre. It had only been a town centre when I left. I tipped the driver and said I would give him a ring when we needed picking up.
“Eeeh, are youse famous?” a young girl said as we stepped out of the limo.
“Aye pet,” said Bumper, “this lad here is Elvis.”
“Frig off, you cheeky get,” was her less than cheerful reply.
We climbed the flight of stairs that took us into Gillespie’s; I was taken aback when we got to the top. The place was packed, and I suddenly felt old, everyone was about fifteen years younger than us. We fought our way to the bar and I got the beers in. Kylie Minogue blasted out of the speakers and the atmosphere was electric, a smile spread across my face. This was a side of Sunderland I had never experienced, and I knew I was going to enjoy tonight.
The next pub was Sinatra’s and Gilbert was bursting for the toilet. “Here get them in while I go to the bog.”
He handed me a twenty-pound note. I got the beers in and slipped a couple of extra twenties into his change. He wouldn’t notice and even if he did I could claim that the barmaid must have made a mistake and thought he had given me a fifty. On his return, Gilbert shoved the change in his pocket without checking.
We went on a pub crawl. Marlowe’s, The Borough, Chaplin’s, Fitzgerald’s (more to my taste and our age group), Baroque, Master’s, The Londonderry then I don’t know, it all became a bit hazy. Perhaps the shooters in Fitzgerald’s were a mistake, the tequila in Baroque definitely was.
We slumped against the window in the kebab shop. I’d ordered a pizza, the other three had ordered kebabs with extra chilli sauce. Bumper asked for a side order of cheesy chips while we were waiting for my pizza. I phoned for the limo and we could tell the driver wasn’t overly pleased with our choice of takeaway food, but I tipped him well, so he let it go.
We cracked open the cans when we got back to Bumper’s flat, but I knew I was done in. It wasn’t long before I drifted asleep on the couch only to be woken by the ringing of the phone.
I awoke on the settee, pizza still in hand. The phone was still ringing, but there was no way I was answering it. Gilbert roused from his slumber at the other end of the sofa. Chilli sauce stained his previously white shirt. Elvis was asleep on the floor beneath Bumper’s IKEA rug.
“Bumper, phone,” I shouted.
“I know, I know,” he said as he stumbled from his bedroom in his boxer shorts. Red cabbage and kebab meat stuck to his hair. He tripped over Elvis and woke him as he went for the phone.
“Hello,” he croaked down the phone. “Bernie?” I wasn’t sure what Bernie was shouting, but it didn’t sound pleasant. “I wasn’t drunk, honest,” he said.
Bumper held the phone away from his ear as Bernie screamed at him. “I’m sorry, love. I thought you wouldn’t mind, I’ve decided to go to a later mass as the lads wanted to come along.”
“We what?” the three of us said, shocked. He waved his hand to shut us up.
“The priest won’t mind,” said Bumper, “he said he wanted to see us in church more often, he didn’t say we had to be together.” Bernie had another outburst on the other end of the phone. “Okay love, see you later.”
Bumper shook his head as he came off the phone, sending kebab flying everywhere. “Best get you arses into gear lads, we’re going to church.”
We didn’t have time to get cleaned up before we got to church.
“I’m sorry lads,” said Bumper, “we’re getting married here next week, but the priest said he wouldn’t marry us if we didn’t start attending regularly.”
We all nodded. I hadn’t been to church since I was at school and I had certainly never been to church with a hangover. I wasn’t looking forward to the experience.
We shuffled into one of the back rows and the elderly lady who had been sat there moved away as soon as she smelt us. Stale beer and old kebabs aren’t a pleasant combination.
“What do we do?” said Gilbert.
“I don’t know, it’s that long since I’ve been,” I said.
Elvis shrugged his shoulders. “Bumper?”
“Follow everyone else,” he said, “stand when they do, sit when they do, it’s a bit like the Hokey Cokey.”
The first hymn begun and the woman in front passed us a hymn book under the misapprehension that we were going to sing along.
Gilbert nudged me. “Have you seen who’s at the front?” I craned my neck to see. I elbowed Elvis who in turn nudged Bumper.
Mr Burns sat uncomfortably in the front row. “Perhaps I should have bought the extra-large after all,” he thought, “you can never be sure when you are buying off the internet.”
Burns had been at a bit of a loose end since he had retired from the school, but he had now found something to occupy his time. Giving out communion at church was right up his street. It was a high-profile position and fuelled his holier than thou attitude.
He was the priest’s right-hand man and he loved every minute of it. Perhaps the job should have rightly been Mrs Turner’s. Perhaps Burns had embellished a little when he told Father McAllister that there had been complaints about her smelling of fish, but the job was his now and he wasn’t letting it go without a fight.
It was time to hand out the communion and he shuffled awkwardly onto the stage, sorry altar, to do his duty. His new PVC underpants were beginning to chafe a little.
“Hair of the dog?” said Bumper.
“Hair of the dog, they’re giving out free wine at the front. If you feel half as bad as me, you’ll try anything.”
“Got to be worth a go,” I said.
“Come on it’ll be a laugh,” said Gilbert, “imagine Burns’ face when we get to the front of the queue.”
We shuffled out into the aisle and joined the queue for communion, barely suppressing our laughs.
Burns had bigger things to worry about; his pants were beginning to cause him problems.
“Body of Christ?”
“Amen.” The eager child took communion from him.
“Christ on a moped,” thought Burns, “I can’t go on like this for much longer.” Sweat poured from his brow as his black mini briefs dug into his flesh. He raked beneath the elasticated leg and gave his testicles some breathing space. “That’s better.”
“Body of Christ?” he said as he offered the communion host.
“Err I don’t think so,” said the young mother, “that was disgusting.”
She ushered her son into the next queue as she explained to the elderly woman behind her. The whole of Burn’s queue shuffled across into the next one leaving him embarrassed and ashamed. The colour drained from his face as he realised the only four people left were Elvis, Gilbert, Bumper and me.
“Body of Christ?”
“No thanks,” I said, “I’ll go straight for the free wine if it’s okay with you.”
He dropped his communion wafers and ran for the side door humiliated. This church lark was turning out far better than I could have ever imagined.
When I got back to the lighthouse, the decorators were still there. Most of the restoration had been completed before I had returned to Sunderland, but they were adding the finishing touches, claiming overtime for working a Sunday. The builders had recommended Jim and Dave and, and whilst they were only half joking when they commented that there wasn’t a straight wall in the house, they had done quite a good job.
They were the classic double act, the fat loud one and the skinny one who was the foil for the humour. The larger one had a mop of brown curly hair, which was speckled with white paint. I went to the bathroom to freshen up and was hit by the overpowering smell of air freshener that was still only barely disguising the smell from the toilet.
“Sorry about that, mate. Bit of a wild night last night,” said the larger of the two painters. The combination of these smells along with the paint fumes and cigarette smoke made me feel nauseous. That was the last thing I needed, so I went out onto the balcony at the top of the lighthouse to get some fresh air.
The main light was still in working order although I hadn’t had it switched on yet; it was part of the agreement I had with the council when I was granted planning permission. Over the past months I had visited the lighthouse on a number of occasions with the planning officers. My visits were always brief, and I left Sunderland as soon as they were finished. Ideally, I wouldn’t have visited at all however they were being difficult, so I needed to meet them personally to persuade them. The oval sitting room was positioned around the central light with a specially built, curved sofa at one side of the room. I had panoramic views across the city and out to the North Sea and on a clear day I could see all the way down the coast to Cleveland.
“We’re away mate. We’ll finish up tomorrow.”
I thanked the decorators and watched them leave, waiting until they were nothing more than specks at the end of the pier.
I looked at Joe Ingham’s business card and put it back in my pocket.
The air was sharp and refreshing on the balcony. I took some deep breaths and composed myself. I had purchased a telescope, mainly to watch passing ships and to look along the coast. I had always wanted one as a kid and it was one of the first things I bought when I knew I was getting the lighthouse. I pointed the telescope towards Seaburn. I could clearly see Claire’s house, Kev’s house, Kev and Claire’s house. There was a feeling in the pit of my stomach, not the nausea, something different, emptiness perhaps.
The rain had stopped some time ago, the night was drawing in and it was becoming colder. I put on a woollen Paul Smith jumper and a jacket and sat with a cup of coffee, black as usual, watching, waiting, and hoping to find some clue as to why Claire had chosen to live with such a Neanderthal.
Admittedly it was a lovely house and the MGF on the driveway suggested that Claire didn’t do without, but how could she be happy; with him? It made me all the more determined that I needed to carry through with my plan.
The purchase of the lighthouse now seemed more like a good idea for a number of reasons. I had bought it on a whim when I realised it was coming up for sale. Nostalgia, something I generally avoided, had taken over and I got into a bidding war with someone who was being as nostalgic as I was. Now that I had it though, I could see the possibilities. First and foremost, it brought back a number of memories from my childhood, not many of them good admittedly, but the lighthouse portrayed a sense of calm in an otherwise turbulent period. It was also converted into a luxury seafront home with undisturbed views up and down the coast. Now, it would appear, most importantly of all it offered a view of the palatial, if somewhat tacky residence of Mr and Mrs Kevin Davison.
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.