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The Old Ways

A slightly different angle for me.  I’ve described it as gentle.

 

The Old Ways

“What do you think Carol?”

“You look great, a little old-fashioned perhaps, but the barber did a fine job. Did you go to a different place? Usually you look a little like that sheep we tried to shear a few years back.”

“That’s not fair, I’ve never looked that bad, still I’m glad we have Matt the Shearer these days. But no, it was the usual place, but it was a new person. Though it was a little odd.”

“Odd, how? Cup of tea?”

“A cuppa would be lovely. Difficult to put my finger on. Well for one thing, I’m not sure if it was a man or a woman.”

“Don’t be silly Gerald, you must have been able to tell.”

“No, really. He, I’ll call him he, had a scarf over his face, and gloves. It was cold in there and he apologised, apparently the heating conked out this morning. He had a long coat on, and I think he was wearing a wig.”

“That does sound a bit strange.”

“Hmm, no, there was more to it.   He didn’t use the clippers at all, just scissors, and the cut-throat razor. I can’t remember the last time I had a hair cut without clippers, and none of the barbers use the cut-throat any more. I think they keep them these days just there for show.”

“Traditionalist then.”

“Yes, but he did a very good job.”

“He definitely did. How much did he charge?”

“Well that’s the other strange thing. His voice was soft, almost a whisper, and he asked for thruppence. I thought he was being funny, and gave him a tenner. He looked at it bemusedly and then it was if a lightbulb had lit up, and he thanked me effusively. He said as I left, ‘The old ways are best sir.’”

“Sounds like he was just having fun with you!”

“Perhaps.”

#

“Carol…”

“Gerald, you look pleased with yourself love. Come, sit down. Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Please.”

“I’ll just pour you a cup and you can tell me why you’re so happy.”

“Well, my hair was getting a bit long again. A couple of months’ growth, and I went back to my barbers.”

“He’s done you proud again I must say. Here you are love, a nice strong cuppa. Go on…”

“It was looking pretty deserted, but then that new fellow was there again. At least, I think he is a fellow. Same getup as last time. Still problems with the heating he said. I asked why they hadn’t just bought one of those cheap electric things, and he sort of grunted.”

“Maybe they don’t have the cash? It’s tight for everyone these days.”

“You don’t know how right you are…. I sat down, and he went to work on my hair. Like last time there was little conversation, and he used just scissors and a cut throat. When he was finished he asked me for thruppence again.”

“Not one to spot when a joke gets old is he.”

“Well, I’m not sure. I gave him a tenner as before, and he accepted it. I left happy enough with my cut and went to the butchers next door. I was in the mood for steak.”

“Ooh that sounds lovely? Is that’s what is in the bag?”

“Yes. Anyway, I was in the butchers, and it wasn’t the normal guy, you know Frank?”

“The chatty talkative one? I like him. Though I thought he’d moved away a while ago…”

“Well either way he wasn’t there. Instead it was another bloke in a long coat, gloves and scarf. Just like the barber. Could have been brothers. Well none of the cuts were laid out, instead there were carcasses hanging, and he said, ‘What’ll it be?’ Well, I said I wanted steak, he asked a couple more questions and then got a haunch of meat down.”

“Don’t gulp your tea Gerald, you know how sensitive your digestion is.”

“Sorry dear. Could I have another cup?”

“Of course. Sounds old fashioned too.”

“Oh yes. He measured it and quick as a flash I had two fine steaks. He didn’t bother weighing them, just looked at them and said, ‘Sixpence for you sir’.”

“How odd, perhaps he and the barber have the same joke?”

“It did bother me, but I just handed him a twenty. He looked at it, and like the barber, was blank at first before being very happy with it. He handed over my package, wrapped in paper, just like they used to, and nodded at me as I left.”

“Mmm. Gerald, which butchers was it again?”

“Ah, well I think it’s still called Frank’s.”

“Next to old Dudley’s hair dressers?”

“Yes, why do you ask?”

“Where did you really go Gerald? Is it her again?”

“What? What are you talking about, I told you I went to the barbers, just like last month.”

“Gerald Tomkins, you should know, and would if you’d actually visited them, that the whole row of shops containing Frank’s and Dudley’s has been condemned, and they’ve been shut for months now. So come on, where did you really go?”

“What… wait, here’s the steak, let me show you!”

“Dear lord Gerald, what is that stench?”

“It’s the steak…”

“Get it out of here right now. And you too. Come back when you’re prepared to tell me the truth.”

“Carol, don’t cry…”

Gerald stumbled out shocked and confused. He went back to the barber, but this time it looked abandoned. He was about to leave when he saw a shape in the window. He moved closer to see who it was, maybe it was the barber and then he could make some sense of it all. However when he got to the doorway there was no one there. He looked around a bit before giving up.

As he left, wondering what he was going to say to Carol, he heard a whisper saying, ‘The old ways are best…’

 

 

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Clothing

Clothing

“You can’t wear that!” said Rita scandalised.

Jessi twisted again, showing off the hot pants and crop top which seemed to be upsetting her friend.

“Too much you think? Maybe a bikini top?” She started reaching into her cupboard.

“No no, it’s too little!” Rita giggled.

“Oh Rita, you really need to chill out. It will be fine. Your mother thinks you’re staying here for the night, and you will be. When we get back. Just make sure you leave your phone here.”

“I know I know.” Rita bit her lip, then said, “Do I look alright?”

Jessi stared at her friend appraisingly. “Well you aren’t showing off your legs enough, and I suspect you have twice as much covering your boobs as the rest of us will have combined! But yes, you look good. Classy even.”

She smiled at her friend, and Rita returned it.

“Rita is this really the first time you’ve been to a club?”

“Yes!”

“Well prepare for fun. Now, let’s get a bit of slap on, and we’ll be ready.”

Over the next hour Jessi and Rita worked on their faces until they were both convinced they couldn’t look any better, though Rita kept having butterflies in her stomach at the thought of what her mother would do if she ever saw her like this.

“Right, ready. Now for a glass to get us fired up, and we’ll head to the club.”

She poured them each a Southern Comfort and lemonade, heavy on the liqueur. Rita eyed hers dubiously, but at Jessi’s insistence drank it. Soon her belly felt warm and the butterflies had bogged off somewhere else.

“Here’s yours,” said Jessi as she passed her the burqcoat with some distaste. It was kind of a cross between a burqa and a coat, and designed for Geordie weather.

Jessi put her own on, and then some mirrored sparkly glasses, and passed Rita a spare pair.

“Right, we are ready to go!”

They almost ran downstairs. Jessi threw a “Goodbye and don’t wait up,” back to her Mum as she closed the door.

“Best to avoid any interrogation!”

The girls skipped down the street happily. Two shapeless figures in black. They didn’t have to wait long at the bus stop before theirs turned up, and they went straight upstairs. At first they were alone on the bus, but as they got closer to the city centre more people got on. Most of the women were wearing burqcoats. The men were wearing heavy winter coats and hats, some even had balaclavas. The whole bus was anonymous.

The girls chatted merrily away, and Rita even had a few more surreptitious slugs of alcohol from the bottle Jessi had brought along for them. The bus arrived at their destination and they got off in a crowded street.

Almost everyone was heavily wrapped up. It had been a cold winter. They did however see one woman walking along uncovered. She kept flinching, and looking around a bit wildly. Rita stared at her, it was the first time she’d seen someone uncovered in public for years and years.

Jessi saw where Rita was staring and said, “Look away Rita. She’s obviously got something wrong with her.” By which she meant some form of mental problem.

They continued walking, Jessi confidently leading the way, until they arrived at the head of an alleyway. A sign in neon stated boldly ‘Ritzys nightclub’, and in smaller lettering, ‘Tech free since ‘03!’ There was a large queue, mostly women in burqcoats. There were some men too, most of whom were covered up, but there were a few who’d clearly already had quite a bit to drink and had thrown off their hats and balaclavas.

“Won’t they get spotted?” whispered Rita.

“Oh not here. Ritzys make sure that only dead cameras are allowed in this alleyway. If you’d brought your phone you’d have seen that it wouldn’t be able to get any signal. Only dead spot in the city apparently. And conveniently for us!”

They inched closer to the front. There were a group of lads in front of them and Jessi had bumped into the back of one of them a couple of times. The first response had been a little grumpy, but the second time the lad had realised that it was a girl. He’d started chatting to Jessi. After flirting for quite a while Jessi remembered Rita and introduced her, and soon they were talking to the other three lads in the party. Jessi decided she’d had enough of the burqcoat and took it off, much to the delight of the lads. They all followed suit until only Rita had hers on.

She looked around at them, and the fear of being uncovered in the open fought with the peer pressure. The latter won and she gingerly took the black thing off, to sounds of appreciation, both from the lads they were with, and some of the others around them. Rita blushed deeply and said little as they continued in.

At the doorway they were scanned by a standard entry system, and Rita looked a question at Jessi.

“Don’t worry. It only checks who we are, it doesn’t tell anyone we’re here. Trust me, I’ve been here tons of times and my Mum is none the wiser.”

Rita shook her head. Still she was here now. They paid, in cash no less, checked their burqcoats in and were inside. The music was so loud Rita thought her head would explode. Jessi was laughing, and quickly persuaded one of the boys to buy them drinks.

Over the next few hours the drinks flowed, and the girls relaxed. There was dancing and flirting, and all was good.   The girls got mighty tipsy, and the boys did too. Jessi particularly liked one of them, and was soon in a corner getting to know him better. Rita was left talking to the others, and feeling like a bit of a lemon. The alcohol coursing through her system was starting to make her feel queasy and when the boy she’d been talking to leaned forward and tried to kiss her she panicked.

Next thing she knew she was out on the street. She stumbled along, looking around in a bit of a daze. Then suddenly a willowy figure appeared next to her.

“Rita, you would look fabulous in our new autumn catalogue! With your credit rating we would happily give you a store card which would give you an extra 10% off all purchases.”

Another figure appeared and started to talk over the first.

“Miss Johnson, our winter clothing range will give you all the protection you need from the elements.”

Then more figures appeared, all talking, all trying to sell her something. She walked away, but everywhere she looked new figures appeared. They were projected from the posters on the walls, from the shop windows, from passing buses.

“Rita Johnson, you haven’t visited our shop for twenty three days, but we’d love to see you again. To encourage you back we’d like to offer you a 5%…”

“Ms Johnson, have you considered starting a pension? While you are very young, it is best to start early. The projections if you start with a small amount, as little as £5 a month…”

It went on and on, she started to run and then slipped and fell over. The ghosts continued to plague her.

“Rita we have the new album by GreenFish. You rated their last album 4 stars, would you like to buy this one?”

“Ms Johnson. Ms Johnson, are you ok?”

She realised that the last of the figures was real. It was a policeman. She didn’t know what to say. Getting up she managed a slightly shaky, “Ah, yes I’m fine.”

He looked at her for thirty seconds.

“I’ve just informed your parents that you are in central Newcastle. They seemed surprised. As you are under eighteen I’m afraid I’ve also had to tell them that you are intoxicated. They have asked me to stay with you while they drive here.”

“Oh no. Oh god no.”

“In addition I’ve been asked where Ms Jessi Phillips is. Her parents, notified by yours I believe, are also on their way.”

Rita was mortified. Jessi would never forgive her. How could she have left without her burqcoat? She started to sob.

The policeman looked at her in sympathy.

“You’re not the first lass to forget her covering and get confused by these damn adghosts. I’m guessing you’ll never make the mistake again.”

She shook her head miserably.

He looked wistful, “It’s getting harder to hide though. I hear they’ve nearly got the gait recognition software bug free. Once that happens. Well, God help us all, nowhere will be safe. Anyway, let’s head back to Ritzys and we’ll pick up your coat. That’ll stop this lot at least.” He pointed at the gaggle of ghosts, and Rita nodded, looking forward again to the anonymity of her burqcoat.

 

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Airport Please

Apologies for the hiatus, there’s been a lot going on… but hopefully back to one (or so) stories a month.  Here’s December’s:

Airport Please

“Janine, do hurry please!”

“Sorry Jonathan, I thought I’d left my face cream.”

“Hmm, well I guess given the cost of that stuff it’s best you checked.”

“It helps me stay looking beautiful.”

“Well it’s jolly expensive.”

She looked at him reproachfully.

“I mean, you don’t need it my dear, you’re a true beauty without worrying about all those potions and lotions.”

It was too late. She was in a sulk now. He sighed and went up to the concierge,

“Look, I thought you said there’d be a taxi here by now.”

“Ah, yes sir. Sorry. The only one to have responded is an old style London Black Cab, which would be fine if you were going for a tour, but it’s a little slow if you want to go to the airport.”

“Well, do something man!”

“Jonathan?”

“Yes dear.”

“I’d like to take the black cab.”

“But dear…”

“Oh Jonathan, it’s our last time here for who knows how long. I’d just like to actually see the buildings as we say goodbye.”

He looked to heaven, nodded and turned to the concierge and nodded again. The concierge gave him a smile which might have contained the hint of a wink, and then waved over at a trench-coated man outside. The man appeared to throw a cigarette stub to the ground, which couldn’t possibly be the case given the fine he’d have received, and headed in.

The taxi driver looked to be in his fifties, possibly even well-worn sixties. His coat was heavy and old fashioned, and he was wearing glasses. There was a faint smell of smokiness, with a hint of decay, wafting from him. Janine giggled and whispered to Jonathan, “He’s really putting on the act!” He shushed her and pointed the man at their bags.

“Where to guv’nor?”

Jonathan looked to the concierge as if to ask why the driver didn’t already know, catching the smile on the man’s face he realised this was part of the act.

“The airport please.”

“Which one?”

Getting a little tired of this act, Jonathan said, “Estuary Main, of course.”

“Estuary Main, oh right, that’s the new one out past the East End. Certainly sir, I’ll get you there.”

The driver moved to pick up the bags, but his patience now exhausted Jonathan waved at them and they trundled towards the taxi. The driver almost jumped back in surprise, muttered to himself and went back out to his car. He opened the boot and started to lever the bags up, and then had to back off quickly when they climbed in. He slammed the boot shut with rather more vehemence then Jonathan thought was needed.

“Isn’t he a character.”

“Yes dear.”

Given that Janine was enjoying the act he might as well relax. They walked to the cab and the cabbie opened the door for them. Jonathan thought the machine looked a little shabby, but was quickly inside and sitting in the back seat. It was extra wide, with old style seat belt details. He wondered where the modern restraints came out, he couldn’t see anything.

The cabbie got in, and started the engine up by twisting his hand. He seemed to play with a lever, and then put his hands on the wheel.

“He’s going to do the whole act,” whispered Janine.

“Yes, I fear he is.”

The car pulled out into traffic.

“Excuse me. Driver. Do we need to put these old seat belts on?”

“No need sir, while you’re in Black Bess you’ll have nothing to worry about. “

Perhaps there were some of the modern field restraints? Probably, though he couldn’t feel anything, and he’d heard you were supposed to feel a little tingle across your chest when they were switched on.

“Did you say Black Bess?” asked Janine.

“Yes Madam. Named after Dick Turpin’s horse, fastest equine ever to have lived in literature.”

Janine looked at Jonathan and mouthed “Dick Turpin?”

He shrugged his shoulders.

The cab trundled along, going through some of the back streets off Edgware Road. Jonathan assumed it was just to give them the full tour. He checked his watch, and realising they had nearly half an hour before check in closed, he relaxed. A few more minutes of this messing around, they’d get on the flyway, and they’d be there in time, if barely.

The whole cab juddered, and then swerved a little. Jonathan looked out and realised they’d hit the curb.

“Ah driver, what happened there?”

The cabbie, who still hadn’t turned round to face them when talking, said, “Sorry guv, just the curb, must’ve been broken recent-like. Don’t you worry though, this old beauty will see you through.”

The man’s insistence on holding on to the wheel while driving was really starting to bother Jonathan, so he decided not to the think about it, and instead reached for Janine’s hand. She gripped it tightly, and he turned to her. She smiled and leant forward to kiss him. He responded, and it was a little while later when they both came up for air.

Janine giggled again, and he smiled. It was strange, they’d never normally kiss in front of someone, and yet because the driver was facing away it was like a license to kiss. It was naughty even. They kissed again, and it wasn’t until they hit the on-ramp for the flyway that they both looked up. Janine took out a hanky and wiped his face, and then looked in her mirror and squealed at her smeared lipstick.

“I’ll have to fix it up as we’ll be there in a few minutes.”

He gave her another cheeky kiss and then looked out again. He’d been looking for a minute when he realised what was bothering him. They were going so slowly, the other cars were zipping past them.

“Ah driver, we have to be there in less than ten minutes, any chance of putting on a little speed.”

The driver mumbled something which sounded like ‘impatient punters’ and then said more clearly, “Sir, the old beauty is doing her best, we’re at 75.”

Jonathan felt a flush of irritation. They were going to miss their plane! Damned Janine and her sentimentality. He took his phone out and punched in their details. The system showed another flight twenty minutes later they could take, and as they’d flagged it before check-in closed they were only charged a small fee. By the time he’d confirmed his irritation had subsided and he looked out at the city again.

The view from the skyway was pretty spectacular, and from this bend he could see all of Canary Wharf, the City, and even the London Eye. He would miss this city, it had been good to them. Still, new opportunities, new challenges. This new posting could be the making of Janine, and he’d quickly find a new job with his skills. The future was bright.

His musing was interrupted when the cab swerved wildly. Janine squeaked, and managed to smear her lipstick again. The next thing he knew he was flying forward into the partition as the cab braked sharply.

He came to a little while later, crumpled on the floor, with Janine next to him. He reached out to her, and was relieved when he heard her say, “Jonathan. Jonathan, what happened?”

The cab was still trundling along, Jonathan put his head up, “What happened?”

“Oh, sorry guvnor, some idiot in one of those jumped up cabs cut me up. Would’ve hit him if I hadn’t braked. Are you and the missus alright?”

“No we are not! What happened to the restraint fields?”

“Fields? Not out here. Not for years. Not since, hmm, let me see, must’ve been thirty years ago they started building this thing.”

Jonathan stared at the back of the drivers head, and realised what he was seeing. The man was actually physically driving the cab. He sank to the floor of the cab.

“Janine. The driver. He’s. He’s actually driving this machine!”

“Well of course silly.”

She had tidied herself up, and seemed to be taking this as all part of the fun.

“No, you don’t understand. He. Is. Physically. Driving. This. Car.”

“What?” she screeched.

They looked at each other in panic. How was it possible in this day and age for someone to actually drive a car? It couldn’t happen, no modern cars even had steering wheels. Jonathan could feel the panic starting to bubble up.

“How long till we’re there?” asked Janine in a voice which quavered slightly.

“’Alf an hour tops, and we’ll be there,” called the cabbie.

How could they survive another thirty minutes in this death-trap machine? Could they ask him to stop? Not on the skyway. The clutched each other, and lay on the floor, feeling every judder in the road. The cabs creaks and moans took on more sinister aspects, and they feared the whole thing would fly apart at any moment. The cab changed lanes, and each time the two of them shook, as they felt the sharp turns, so different from the smooth changes they’d come to expect from cars.

After an eternity they arrived at the airport, and the cabbie unlocked their door, and beamed at them through the partition.

“Here you are, at the airport. Fastest she’s ever done it. Isn’t she a beauty, my Black Bess.”

The couple stumbled out, and were soon joined by their luggage. As Jonathan shakily got out his wallet to pay, their driver leaned across and said, “That’ll be twenty-five seventy.”

Janine was staring at the cabbie in terror. Jonathan passed his card over and the cabbie took their fare.

With a cheery “Good luck” he doffed his cap and pulled off. Leaving only fear and a puff of black smoke in his wake.

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