It was the usual Catholic wedding, went on a bit too long and there was a lot of hymn singing, or miming in my case. At one point the sun had come through the stained-glass windows, bathing Bernie’s white dress in a rainbow of colours, she looked gorgeous. A number of ‘oohs’ ands ‘aahhs’ rang out around the church, the more religious among the congregation assuming that God himself had chosen to shine down upon us and bless the wedding. Bumper thankfully went for a morning suit rather than his usual banana one.
I approached Elvis as the photos were being taken outside. We avoided discussing our meeting in the Ivy and we were, after the stag night, back on good terms. The weather had been kind it was a gloriously sunny day.
“Who’s that?” said Bumper’s granddad who was pointing at the bride.
He was in his late seventies now and the years had begun to take their toll. He was wearing an old brown suit jacket, the sleeves worn away at the elbows, a pair of black trousers, shirt and tie and a maroon V-neck jumper that was on inside out. He topped the outfit off with a flat cap.
“That’s Bernadette, the girl I’ve just married,” Bumper tried to explain.
“And who are you?”
“I’m Barry, your grandson.” Bumper raised his eyebrows and headed towards us.
“Right, I see,” said his granddad, nodding as he walked away as if it was all beginning to make sense.
“He’s going senile. Not a great deal we can do about it. Thanks for coming Pete, I really appreciate it.”
“Thanks for inviting me.” The sentiment was genuine.
“You know where the hotel is, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I’ll see you there.” Elvis and Marie had already arranged transport.
We had been lucky enough to be sat on the table next to Bumper’s Gran and Grandad. She was a sprightly woman in her seventies with bright pink hair. She appeared to have all her faculties intact, so she must have had the patience of a saint to put up with his eccentricities. I suppose that’s what comes with fifty years of marriage.
“I’m not having bloody turnip in my fruit salad,” Bumper’s Grandad shouted loud enough for everyone’s heads to turn. The waitress explained that it was in fact papaya, not turnip, it was all to no avail.
“I don’t care what fancy name you give it pet, I’m not having turnip in my starter. I wouldn’t expect Yorkshire puddings in a fruit cocktail, so I wouldn’t expect to see turnip either.”
“Don’t worry, love, I’ll take care of him.” Bumper’s Gran reassured the waitress as she removed the papaya from the glass. Elvis and I were stifling our laughs when Marie kicked him under the table.
“You’ll be like that one day, so don’t think I’ll be looking after you when you lose your marbles.”
Bumper was also having problems with his fruit cocktail.
“I’m not eating that.”
“What’s wrong with it?” said Bernie.
“It’s got bloody pineapple in it.”
“Of course it’s got pineapple in it. It’s a fruit cocktail.”
“I hate the stuff. I won’t even have it on the stall.”
“You mean you have a fruit stall and you don’t sell pineapples?” Bumper’s new bride was amazed.
“It’s the Devil’s invention. On the same day that God was inventing, Jaffa Cakes Lucifer invented pineapples.”
“Okay, I’ll take them out for you. Stop making a scene.”
“I’m not eating anything that’s come in contact with it. They’ll be contaminated.”
“Don’t push your luck.”
Even Marie had to laugh when the main meal arrived. It was a standard roast beef dinner, with turnip, and Bumper’s granddad chose not to argue about the choice of vegetable this time. Having lived through the war and rationing, old habits die hard. He took a generous slice of roast beef and placed it in a serviette. While he thought nobody was looking he took the meat and placed it under his cap for later.
“It’ll do for sandwiches,” he told his wife in a conspiring whisper.
She nodded her head in full agreement; maybe her faculties weren’t as intact as we thought.
We howled with laughter at the spectacle, him blissfully unaware at why we were laughing.
Bumper had wanted Elvis to be his best man, but family politics dictated that it was to be his brother Damien who had the honour. Damien was five years younger than Bumper and was commonly acknowledged as the black sheep of the family. His mother had hoped that the responsibility of the speech would make him behave for the duration of the wedding. She was wrong. Nervous at the prospect of standing in front of scores of people he either didn’t know or didn’t like held no appeal for him at all.
“That Bumper’s brother?” I asked Elvis as we returned from the toilet. I’d noticed him earlier when he was around the side of the church attempting to avoid the photographer. He was taking big swigs from the hip flask he had stored in his morning suit.
“He’s going to be a mess before he does his speech,” said Elvis. “He was drinking like that before the wedding. Fancy running a sweep on how many people he insults?”
We headed back to the table.
“First of all, I’d like to say what an honour it is to be best man today for my older brother Barry.” Everybody let out a sigh of relief. Whilst Damien was swaying he was at least coherent. “At least that’s what my mam says. I was quite happy to sit in the corner and get pissed. The sooner I get started the sooner I finish so here goes. I’ll get the formalities out of the way, so could you all raise your glasses and toast the barmaids for the wonderful job they are doing today?”
“The bridesmaids, you idiot,” whispered Bumper.
“Yeah, them as well. Thanks to the bridesmaids even if some of the larger ones did take up more space on the photos than they should have done. The photographer needed his wide angled lens at one point.”
“Oh, Christ.” Bumper put his head in his hands.
“I’ve always known our Barry had an eye for the ladies,” Damien rested his hand on the shoulder of the bride’s father, more to steady himself than anything else. Bumper wondered where this was going, “ever since I caught him wanking over a copy of Razzle when he was fourteen.”
There were a few sniggers from the back, some of the older aunts gasped in horror and Bumper just glared. I was quite enjoying myself.
“I’m glad to see that he has moved on from magazines and has got the real thing, not that I’m saying she’s been a model in Razzle or anything.” Bumper was wondering how he could stop the speech while he still had a little bit of respect left. “In fact, I’ve always quite fancied Bernie myself.”
Bernie’s sister, Colleen, started laughing and pointing at Damien. The other bridesmaids started giggling. Damien continued until the whole of the front row was laughing. He thought it was his speech at first until he looked down. There was a black patch spreading across the crotch of his morning suit. The speech finished abruptly, and he plonked himself in his seat.
“Looks like you’ve sprung a leak there Damien,” said Colleen.
He blushed as he dried his pants with the tablecloth, leaving a pale-yellow stain.
It had been a great day and I was enjoying myself. It was a shame I was going to ruin Bumper’s honeymoon by telling him the plan.
Bumper and Bernie sat watching everyone on the dance floor. Despite Damien’s speech, the day had gone very well.
“You never did tell me the reason why you wear a Banana outfit.”
“It helps pull the birds. Phallic symbol and all that,” said Bumper.
“And you find that it works do you?” She nudged him, laughing.
“Beating them off with a shitty stick, love.”
“Ooh, you have such a way with words you little charmer.”
“Tell you the truth, it never worked once. There was one girl, came up to the stall and asked me out, proper little stunner.”
“Oh, yeah?” Bernie had a mock, hurt look on her face.
“You can imagine me all dressed in yellow, with a bright red face. I looked a right bloody picture. Turns out that she did for a bet. Her mates bet her twenty quid that she wouldn’t ask me out.”
“They still haven’t paid me that twenty pounds,” said Bernie.
“You selfish bastard.” Elvis was furious.
“I’m the selfish one? He only has to say no if he doesn’t want to get involved,” I said.
“He’s just got married and you’re going to get him killed.”
“Nobody’s getting killed,” I said, “you opted out, remember? I just thought I’d be polite and let you know what I was doing.”
Elvis was beginning to annoy me.
“You’re still a selfish prick.”
“What are you two arguing about?” Marie returned from the toilets.
“Nothing, I was just saying I was tired and wanted to go home. Elvis was trying to persuade me to stop.”
“Surely you can stop for one more.”
“Let him go if he wants. It’s a free country.”
I grabbed my jacket and said my goodbyes. I left my car in the car park and got the receptionist to phone me a taxi. I needed Elvis on my side, but I didn’t know how to persuade him.
I was quite surprised to find Bumper working the day after his nuptials. He explained that he couldn’t afford to lose the business by going away on honeymoon, which was understandable. I was even more surprised at how readily he agreed to my plan.
“You do realise how dangerous this could be, don’t you?”
“Dangerous? I spend all day dressed as a great big banana and it begins to wear you down after a while. It’s about time I had some excitement in my life. Count me in.”
“If you’re sure?”
“Never been more sure in my life.” Bumper’s big yellow hand slapped me on the back.
“We’ll meet up for a drink tomorrow night then?”
I felt a little guilty asking him to go out with me the day after his wedding, but if it bothered him, he didn’t show it.
“Yeah. Who else has volunteered so far?”
“There’s a couple who have put their names forward, I’d rather keep the names to myself for now.”
I knew that I only had Gilbert on board at the moment, but I didn’t want to scare Bumper off straight away.
“Need to know basis and all that. I like it. Very Secret Squirrel.”
Bumper was getting into the spirit of things. Hopefully his involvement might encourage Elvis. A young girl approached the stall.
“All right, Bumper? I’ll have a dozen bananas and a pound of grapes please.”
“Jesus, pet. You’ll shite yourself away with all that.” Bumper got a snigger out of his customer and I wondered how he got away with it.
“See you tomorrow then?”
“Yeah, good to see you again mate”
I headed back to the car, pleased that I’d got Bumper to agree, but I needed Elvis’ help. I knew I had to go and see him.
I climbed the cold, damp stairwell to Elvis’ flat, it was a depressing walk. I wasn’t sure what I was going to say but knew I had to make amends for last night. I possibly shouldn’t have told Elvis that I was approaching Bumper, but I thought he needed convincing. Marie answered the door.
“He’s in there,” she said pointing to the living room, “nursing a very big hangover I hope.”
“We didn’t have that much last night.”
Whilst we had been at the hotel all day we had paced ourselves. Elvis hadn’t seemed drunk when I left. Angry, maybe, but certainly not drunk.
“You might not have, but he did when he came home. He got through best part of a bottle of whisky. I don’t know what you were talking about, you certainly got him wound up. I’ve never seen him like that.” Marie looked worried.
“Do you think he’s up to visitors? I can go away if you like.”
She shook her head and frowned.
“No, fifteen years is long enough. You’re not disappearing again that easily. Whatever it is you two need to sort out, you’d better get it done. I’m away down the shops.” She removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes. “I’ll be back in about half an hour and you can tell him I’ll expect him to be gone by the time I get back.”
“You can’t throw him out for getting drunk once,” I said, “it was my fault.”
“Thank you for your concern but I meant I expect him to go to work. He should have been there an hour ago.”
“Sorry, bit of an over-reaction there. I’ll see how he is. See you later,” I said.
“You’re a right pair. One’s as bad as the other. Don’t forget, I don’t want to see either of you when I get back.”
“Message received and understood.”
I walked into the sitting room as Marie left for the shops. Elvis was sat on the couch with a blanket wrapped around him. He hadn’t been shaved and his eyes were bloodshot. In fact, they looked that bad I thought he had been punched. He looked rough.
“In the dog house then?” I went for the direct approach.
“Looks that way. I suppose I did go a bit over the top last night.”
“About last night. I’m sorry to have pushed you. I should never have asked you to get involved in the first place. I realise that now. I didn’t take into consideration what you had to lose. Marie and Declan, the flat, you were right to turn me down.”
I sat in the armchair opposite Elvis.
“Yeah? I did a lot of thinking last night. Maybe you were right. Maybe I should start sticking up for myself. I don’t want my child to be brought up in this stinking little flat.”
“It’s quite a nice flat…”
“Don’t patronise me, I deserve better. It’s time I fought back. Give Davison a taste of his own medicine.”
“Quite a bit has changed since I spoke to you last night. I’ve got a couple more willing parties. There’s no need for you to get involved if you don’t want to. We’ll manage.”
I desperately wanted him on board, but I wanted it to be his decision.
“Has anybody else been stupid enough to agree to your mad plan?”
“Yeah… and Gilbert.”
“Gilbert? You are scraping the barrel. Jesus, you can definitely count me in now. If I don’t come along you are bound to get killed. How did you agree to him coming along?”
“It just sort of happened. I saw Gilbert on the way home the other night. He’d had a bit of a run in with Kev, we got talking and then we went back to his house for a coffee.”
“Very cosy, I must say. He’s probably forgotten by now. He’s not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree you know.”
“I know, I know, but he is going to come in very handy. Gilbert has hidden depths.”
“Hidden depths, Gilbert? I’ll take your word for it. What about banana boy, how did you persuade him to get involved?”
“Strange one Bumper. He didn’t take any persuading at all. Agreed straight away. I think you’re forgetting how many people hold grudges against our Mr Davison.”
“I see your point. I suppose we’ll be the last people he’ll be expecting trouble from.”
“Exactly. I can count you in then?”
“I suppose so. It’s not like I’ve got anything better to do with my sad miserable life.”
“I’ll see you tomorrow night then. Half seven at the Ivy House.”
“I don’t think Marie will let me out again after last night.”
“I’ll tell her I’m having a serious word with you about your drinking. How could she refuse me? You haven’t seen me for fifteen years. She’ll understand.”
“I hope so because if she doesn’t, we’ll have to worry about more than Kevin Davison!”
By the time Elvis got to the Ivy House, Gilbert and I were already there. I was worried that he might have changed his mind again and not turned up. He ordered a pint of Guinness and sat with us in the corner of the bar.
“Fine mate, yourself?”
“Not too bad. Bumper not here yet?” Elvis pulled up a chair.
“No, he said he might be a little late. Peak time for his stall after office hours,” said Gilbert.
“What’s the big plan then?” Elvis looked me straight in the eye.
“I think we should wait till Bumper gets here, but you’ll be impressed, I guarantee it. You should see what Gilbert has come up with, outstanding it is.”
“I’m sure it is. What have you been up to recently then, Gilbert? I never got around to asking at the stag do or the wedding.”
“A bit of gardening. I’ve been working down the park. I’ve also been getting a bit fiddle work here and there. Cash in hand. I was working for Kev until the other day. I used to get four pound an hour and I pretty much could do what I wanted with the garden. I quite enjoyed it. He began to get on my nerves though, constantly criticising. I mean, what does he know about gardening? He was always having a go, calling me stupid.”
“I can see how you were offended.”
Elvis’s sarcasm wasn’t well hidden, but it went unnoticed.
Gilbert continued, “I know people have always called me stupid, even when I was at school. Especially when I was at school. You probably thought I was as well.”
Elvis said nothing, his scarlet face told its own story.
“I’d been left school for about five years when I heard about dyslexia. It wasn’t something that people mentioned back then. It all started to make sense, the problems I was having at school. Know what I mean?”
We were now transfixed.
“I looked into it a bit further, then I went for some tests.”
“That was it then?” I said. “You suffer from dyslexia?”
“No, it turns out I was just thick after all.”
Gilbert looked deflated. Elvis and I were lost for words, so I changed the subject.
“You never said what happened the other day at Kev’s. How did you lose your job?”
“He’d been arguing with Claire,” said Gilbert. “Not one of their normal spats either, this was all out war. I normally try and ignore it when they shout at each other; I’m just there to do the garden. This time was different though, I was thinking about going in and stepping in between them.”
“You stood up to Kev?” Elvis was surprised.
“No, I thought about it, but once again the coward in me came out, too many years of beatings. I’ve learnt my lesson, learnt to keep my head down. I’m not proud of myself, you probably think I’m pathetic.” His eyes were welling up.
“Nobody would expect you to intervene in one of their arguments,” I tried to reassure Gilbert, “in fact, I’m not sure I would intervene either.”
“And you’d stand back and let him hit Claire then, would you?”
“He hit her?” My mood changed, I could feel the anger building inside of me. I was going to explode. “I should go around and kill the bastard now.”
The next chapter will be released soon. If you can’t wait, Leg It is available on Kindle, Paperback and Hardback.