SO MANY HAPPY MEMORIES
Now that I’m here I’d better make sure I suppose.
The removal van has gone with all our worldly possessions.
Mrs Cramer next door has got the spare keys to let the estate agents and any interested purchasers in.
Angela has already gone ahead with Luigi, our dog and Lucia our cat in her basket on the back seat.
Did she turn off the gas? Better go and check.
Where’s my list? Right, let’s go through it and tick everything off.
Airing cupboard first. Hot water off. Check.
Small bedroom, windows locked. Radiator off.
Bathroom. Everything off.
Our bedroom. Windows locked. Radiator off. Nostalgia on.
Spare room. Windows locked. Radiator off.
Hallway. Window locked. Radiator off.
Loft door closed, good.
Last look in our bedroom’!!.
Hello, hello, hello, what’s that shining away in that gap in the floorboard?
I can’t work out what it is. It looks fairly solid and the light is making it sparkle, but how am I going to get it out.
This should get it. It's a bit of a fiddle holding onto things nowadays, but I’m learning.
This small knife on my key ring has been very useful at odd times over the years. I’m glad I managed to hang onto it.
It was our first Christmas together and this little trinket had fallen out of Angela’s cracker, but she turned to me with a flourish and a smile and handed it to me with so much panache that you would have thought it was a valuable gold watch and said that she had saved it as another present.
We had both laughed at her obvious fib, but it didn’t matter.
We hadn’t had much money in those days and expensive presents were just a dream.
So we had sent each other pretend presents for our first Christmas together.
Angela had made a card and written down the pretend presents she would have bought for me on it.
Then she had wrapped it in a huge cardboard box packed full of old newspapers.
She had pretended to buy me a new pair of shoes; some socks a Sinclair computer, all the rage thirty years ago, and a new car.
Opening the box and rummaging through to find the card and what she had written had seemed like the best present that I have ever had.
For my pretend present, I had bought her proper honeymoon to an exotic desert island, a new dress and the flimsiest bikini to wear on our deserted beach.
Her eyes said it all as she slowly unwrapped my present. Carefully pulling back the sellotape from the wrapping paper, being careful not to tear it and then folding it neatly before getting to grips with the next piece.
She had used this same piece of wrapping paper every Christmas since.
It's a bit tatty now and she hasn’t used sellotape on it since that first and only time, but she still carefully puts it away ready for the next present, next Christmas.
I’m not sure what it is between the floorboards, but it's well and truly wedged in this crack, I’m nearly there, oh good it's moving, here it comes.
My word. I don’t believe it, after all these years, good job I’m a careful soul or I would have missed that.
Angela’s first engagement ring. Gosh it must have been there for more than thirty years.
Fancy finding it after all this time.
She thought she had lost it on that trip we had to Southend for the day.
What a lovely day for the scrapbook memory files that was.
We had only been married for a few weeks and with not enough money for a proper honeymoon, we decided that we would treat ourselves to some days out together over the next few weeks.
Our day in Southend had been really nice. We’d won six pounds on the bingo stand at the end of the pier. That was half a week’s wages then.
We had a paddle in the sea. Ate fish and chips out of a newspaper whilst we sat on the sand.
And most importantly we’d laughed. We spent the whole day just laughing. Everything we did or said was funny. Well at least we thought so.
Even now. Thirty years on and goodness knows how many belly laughs later, we still manage to smile at most things. We’ve laughed our way through some pretty hairy situations over the years I can tell you.
After the coach had dropped us off in Putney high street, we stood on the pavement, arms wrapped around each other and waved goodbye to all the old dears who had been ribbing us all day about being newly weds.
As we walked up the high street laughing about our good fortune at winning on the bingo, we passed an off licence and on the spur of the moment decided that we should treat ourselves to a bottle of wine.
Such a luxury in those days. Wine was the sole prerogative of all the ‘big nobs’.
So we had felt really important when we walked into the shop and asked for a bottle.
Then the assistant had asked us which type we had wanted.
Did we want red or white, sweet or dry. French, German, Italian or whatever. We hadn’t realised that buying a bottle of wine could be so complicated.
We had never bought any before, so we had just pointed to a bottle and said, “One of those please”.
Actually it had tasted really nice. Bulls Blood. That was the name. I remember saying to Angela at the time that I hoped it didn’t contain what the label said. Fifteen and ninepence it had cost. Neither of us could believe that we had spent so much money on such a luxury.
Then I had to dig the cork out with a screwdriver because we didn’t have a corkscrew.
But we sat and enjoyed our first ever bottle of wine in our own front room downstairs.
We had had to make do with cups instead of wine glasses. We didn’t run to such fineries.
We made sure the gas had another shilling in the meter and had then settled down on the rug in front of the fire. We didn’t turn the light on. We didn’t intend on doing anything that needed light, all we needed was to be close to one another.
We just sat talking. My back was against the old sofa that Aunt Sophie had given us when we had moved in. I had taken the cushions off and thrown them on the floor for Angela to sit on.
My left arm was around Angela and she was lying beside me with her head on my chest, her eyes watching the patterns on the floor from the dancing gas flames.
She said that she could see the shapes of horses galloping along a sea shore and that the heat she could feel from the fire was actually the sun.
Angela always did have such a wonderful imagination, she always knew that one day we would realise all of our ambitions and dreams.
I remember that evening so well, we sat like that for hours, making plans. Planning dreams. Living a fantasy, that at that moment in time was well beyond our reach.
But it didn’t matter.
We were poor, but madly in love. And we had each other.
I remember our first kiss like it was yesterday.
We had lost the dare and had to give each other a kiss in the middle of the playground. It tickled my lips and made me sneeze.
Angela had been sucking aniseed drops and they smelt really horrible.
Then old Mrs Mullins had caught us and sent us back to the classroom before reporting us to Sister Eucarious, the big fat nun who was our headmistress, who had then thought it serious enough to tell our parents and who, if I remember properly, laughed about it and said some things that I can’t remember about nuns not having a sense of humour.
We were nearly six at the time. Do six year olds know that they shouldn’t be kissing. When all we see is our parents doing just that every day.
Now, years later, we still had our youthful exuberance for each other and we both had a job.
And more importantly we still kiss each other hundreds of times a day, with no one to report us!
I was a bus driver, Angela was my conductor and the manager of our garage always made sure that we were on the same shift together.
So we sat, with our thoughts in front of the fire, filling our cups with the wine until well after midnight when we suddenly realised that we were both just a little bit tipsy and had started to giggle like six year olds again.
Then I tickled her which made her turn on me, pulling my shirt up and trying to tickle my silly spot as she called it, just under my left arm. More silly horseplay and before we knew it we were both naked on the floor.
Angela is pretty sure that it was that night that she had fallen for Martin.
A few weeks later and it was all confirmed. We were going to have a baby.
I remember thinking at the time. I can’t be a dad.
Real dads are just dads, not me.
Dads are just dads. They’ve always been just dads, I can’t be a dad.
Being a dad would mean that I would have a son or daughter.
But I had never even owned a pushbike, or had a pet cat. So how could I be a dad.
I can clearly remember having these thoughts right up until Martin was about a month old and then suddenly realising that I was his dad. That this tiny bundle really was my son and that I was responsible for everything that happened to him.
I was a dad. Really.
On the night that realisation had finally dawned on me I can remember sitting in his room next to his cot watching him sleep. I had been sitting there until about two o/clock in the morning, proudly soaking up the knowledge that this living, breathing bundle of flesh, with such tiny hands and fingers really was my son.
As he slept his little nose kept twitching and he kept putting his tiny tongue out and licking his lips as though there was something on them.
He kept moving those tiny fingers and I imagined that he must have been dreaming about fighting a dragon or something.
Strange the way a dad’s mind works. Mum would probably imagine that he was doing something far more refined.
Then he had woken up for his feed and Angela had come in to feed him and broken the spell.
But I never quite got over that night and the thoughts that had floated through my head.
The next two years seemed to fly past and then the news that I was to be a dad again.
This time I found it easier and was almost nonchalant about the whole thing.
That was Olivia, the second time. Then three years later and Mark came along.
Then the years just flew by and disappeared as if by magic.
One blink of an eye and now they’ve all gone.
Big boys and girls now.
Olivia is married to Tom and looks after my grand daughter Lucy.
Mark is into computers and works in New York and Martin is chasing his dream, which he will find one day as soon as he can get to the end of the rainbow that he keeps looking for.
All three have turned out to be adults to be proud of.
I looked at Angela’s ring, nestling in the centre of my palm. The diamond still twinkling at me after all those years stuck in the dark and dirt between those floorboards. Just like my memories. They may be old and buried, but they still have the effect of being as fresh as the day they happened.
I had saved hard to buy it for her. I remember putting every sixpence that I had in my pocket every day into a large whisky bottle.
After nearly a year we had poured all those small silver coins out into a washing up bowl and counted out twenty three pounds, fourteen shillings and sixpence.
The ring that she had set her heart on was only twenty two pounds and ten shillings. So that left us one pound, four and sixpence.
We went straight down to the jewellers and bought the ring which I was allowed to slip onto her finger while we were still in the shop.
Then went to the Italian restaurant next to the cinema, had two spaghetti Bolognese and then treated ourselves to two tickets at the pictures.
Royalty could not have had a better day than that.
And here it is, after all this time, still as fresh and sparkling as the day that I slipped it onto her third finger. I had felt so proud and grown up that day and Angela has given me every reason to keep that proud feeling about being near to her ever since.
Then the ring just disappeared. Angela was heartbroken for days and I had started saving all over again, but this time it was half crowns. Nowadays it would probably be five pound notes.
I was usually glad to offload these large heavy coins from my pocket and some days it was quite an effort to put them in the bottle, especially if there were two or three of them.
Seven and sixpence in one go was a lot of money to put aside, but I kept my promise and fourteen months later when we emptied the bottle again we counted out ninety three pounds seventeen and sixpence.
The new ring was the best that they had in the shop and the look on her face as I put it on her finger was worth a king’s ransom.
I felt what I thought was a slight trickle running down my face and stuck my tongue out.
The salty tear landed on my tongue.
This was not the first that I had tasted lately and no doubt would not be the last over the coming months whilst I got over the events that had led to this moment.
The move from London had to be got out of the way and sorted out to allow us to move to our new house in the small country village of Timsbury, just outside Bath.
We had planned the move for over two years now. Ever since we had finally convinced Martin that he would manage better on his own.
Now it was our turn to be together at long last. Time to re-discover each other all over again.
This was to be our time.
It was whilst we were visiting friends a couple of years ago who lived on the outskirts of the village that we had just by a stroke of luck seen this small cottage for sale.
An old lady had lived in it all of her life and it had belonged her parents before that.
I remember walking through the front door that first time. The musty smell and dingy gloom.
She had been dead for over a year, but some complication with her will, or lack of one, had delayed the solicitors being able to put it on the market.
It was like walking into a museum. We pulled the curtains back and just stood looking at the curios that hadn’t been taken away.
Gas lamps still fixed to the walls.
We looked for a light switch and then remembered the estate agent had mentioned that she had never had electricity installed.
But there was something about the feel of that small cottage as we stood in the middle of that dark shadowy front room, squinting to peer into the secret corners.
Trying to imagine some of the many memories that must be soaked into the fading wallpaper.
How many hopes, dreams and aspirations had been thought of in front of that old stone fireplace.
And how many had been realised.
As we stood, our arms around each other, more I think for solidarity against the gloom and damp, Angela actually spoke out loud and asked the old lady for her blessing and permission for us to move into her home.
She must have been satisfied with the answer, because there and then she made her decision. Turning to me she said that the old lady had told her that she would love for us to move in. That she would like us to live with her for the rest of our lives with the memory of the old lady to help us.
That was two years ago.
We went straight down to the estate agents in Radstock and gave them our cheque for the deposit before we had time to think about it and change our minds.
I still had a couple of years left before I retired and so we spent as much time as we could manage travelling up and down the M4 almost every weekend decorating and trying very hard to install some of the twentieth century into the old lady’s cottage, but without losing any of it's original charm.
After all that’s what made us fall in love with it at first sight.
Five weeks ago I had retired. After thirty five years on the buses. I had ended up as regional manager and having worked at most of the west London garages at some time or other over those years, some bright spark had had the idea to arrange a surprise farewell party.
He had found just about all of the mates that I had worked with over the years and organised the use of one of the depots for the event.
The day before I was to officially retire I had a phone call from the manager of the depot who asked me if I was free to pop in and say goodbye.
Having worked with the guy for over twenty years I could hardly refuse.
I turned up at five o/clock as arranged thinking that it was a bit strange not to see the garage doors open and buses trundling in and out.
Someone had obviously been on the lookout, because as I opened the small door set into the main door into the garage, loud music blared out.
The whole area was filled with familiar smiling faces and all with a glass in their hands.
Angela, who I thought was safely at home preparing tea stood at the front with Martin, Mark, Olivia and baby Sophie.
I must have looked really stupid, as I stood there for what seemed like an age, with my mouth wide open.
And then the party had really picked up. For the rest of the evening thirty five years of my life came flooding back.
So many happy memories, so many lovely friends, all saying goodbye. I was really going to miss each and every one of them so much.
The chairman of the board had presented Angela and I with a beautiful grandfather clock. Just the right thing for our new home.
The next few days passed in a blur.
We had arranged to move the week after I retired.
No point in hanging on any longer than need be and we both wanted so much to get away from the hustle and bustle of town life, to settle down by ourselves in our quiet country retreat.
I can see her now.
She will be in the kitchen trying to work out how the new cooker works.
She will have spent her first few days meeting with the new neighbours, stocking up the larder.
She said that the old lady had asked her not to remove it as we had planned.
We were going to turn it into the laundry room, but Angela suddenly decided that she would rather leave it as it was.
I looked down at her ring again. Still shimmering in the soft light coming through the bedroom window. I couldn’t wait to see the look in her eyes as she looked at it for the first time in thirty years.
But how was I going to get it to her as a surprise.
You see. Ghosts don’t have pockets.
Sadly, I died two weeks after my retirement and never got round to finishing our move.
Angela had me buried in the churchyard at the end of the cottage garden next to the old lady and had to finish off the move to our new home all on her own.
She said she wanted me where she could see me and keep me company, and she does.
Every day she drops by for a chat with me and the old lady.
The old lady chats to me quite a lot now as well. She says that we have a lot in common. Which I suppose could be true as we’re both lying only six feet away from each other.
Angela manages really well now that she’s on her own, but then she always did.
She is such a lovely lady and that was what made me want to see our old place just one more time.
I hope it brings as much love and luck to it's next owners lives.
I shall really miss the good times that we spent here together.
So many happy memories.