Patrick and Isla
When they came out of the station it was only ten minutes walk into the main street. His arm was around her shoulders and hers around his waist, her head leaning slightly into his shoulder, the sun was shining and they were at one with the world.
They passed the Co-op and saw the library on the other side of the road.
“Let’s see if there’s a walk or something around here. So we don’t miss anything, you know,” she said.
They asked the woman behind the counter if there was such a walk and she gave them a printed sheet for the Peter Cushing trail.
“He’s our only famous resident,” she explained. “Well, apart from William Joyce – Lord Haw Haw – but we don’t talk about him.”
Neither Patrick nor Isla had ever heard of Lord Haw Haw, let alone Peter Cushing, so they took a quick look in the local books section and discovered that one was a famous Nazi sympathiser who broadcast propaganda during the Second World War and been hung for this troubles and the other was an old actor who’d been in loads of British horror films.
“It starts here,” said Isla, reading the printed sheet. “Look, there’s Woolley’s, that’s where Peter Cushing used to buy his slippers.”
The old cinema had been converted into a Wetherspoons and they’d called it The Peter Cushing. The museum had an exhibition on – 100 years of Peter Cushing.
“They like Peter Cushing then,” said Patrick. “Shame we’ve never heard of him.” And they giggled.
Isla was so glad. It’d been ages since she’d seen Patrick laugh. He lost his job just over a year ago. He’d been an Admin Assistant in the Department of the Environment and so proud to be a civil servant. She had been made redundant six months later when the florists she’d worked in, just round the corner from their flat in Tottenham, closed down and they’d hardly been out since. Money was tight, seriously tight. They spent almost all they had left after rent, council tax, utilities and food on their internet connection so that Patrick could send off his CV to everyone and anyone they could think of. They hadn’t had a single reply.
He’d done a bit of lugging for a bloke who lived down the hall and got a bit of cash put away. Isla had got a couple of nights babysitting and they’d saved that money for a day out.
They’d chosen Whitstable as a seaside place within easy reach of London that wasn’t a flash resort like Southend or Margate.
The walk took them on down Oxford Street – “I wonder what the Christmas lights are like,” said Isla – and past V.C. Jones where the pamphlet told them Peter Cushing had bought his Fish and Chips.
“Shame we can’t afford them,” said Patrick.
“Never mind,” she replied “we’ve got lovely sandwiches we can eat on the beach. Look in this shop, they’re selling chocolate Whitstable Seagull poo.”
When they reached the Harbour they turned left down the front. The beach was a mess of ugly vegetation and stones and the tide was far out, over grey mud flats. The view out to sea showed a mass of wind farms, they could see the Isle of Sheppey over the water opposite and as they looked west they could see the channel narrow as it turned into the Thames Estuary.
The old fishing huts behind them had been made into bijou holiday rentals and they peered in the windows to see a mass of pale wood and hanging pots and pans.
“This is a lovely place,” said Isla. “We could move here. We don’t need to be in Tottenham any more. Shall we ask about rentals in one of those estate agents?”
“I don’t think that would be practical,” he said. “No work. But there’s no harm in dreaming. And have you noticed something?”
She shook her head.
“I’m the only black person here.”
“You’re right – it’s like stepping back into 1947. All those little independent shops, the greengrocers, the butchers, the flower shop, the gift shops, the cheese shop. Not one of them a chain.”
“There was a Costas.”
“There’s always a Costas.”
And they grinned at each other and walked on.
“Tell you what,” he said. “Let’s go in to one of those little pubs off the main drag and have half a pint each. We can do that. It’ll be a treat.”
She whooped and skipped and told him he was trying to get her drunk so he could have his wicked way with her. And they laughed and they were happy and she felt the weight of the last year lifting off her shoulders.
So they made their way back into town and stepped into an olde worlde pub. She went and got a seat and he made his way to the bar. He stood for a while as the landlord continued his conversation with his regular. And he stood a while longer.
Then the landlord turned his head and said “Sorry mate, beer’s off.”
“But he’s got a pint,” said Patrick, looking at the glass in the regular’s hand.
“Just gone,”said the landlord. “Won’t come on again until after you’ve gone home.”
And then he got it. The shock was complete. He just waved his hand at Isla and they made their way out. You could cut the silence in the heavy air with a knife.
“Let’s go home,” he said.
They walked back up Oxford Street, past all the Peter Cushings, and they didn’t say a word.
A London train pulled in a couple of minutes after they got to the station.
“At least we’ll be home in time for Pointless,” she said as it pulled away.