The Girls from See Saw Lane

BOOK: The Girls from See Saw Lane
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The Girls from See Saw Lane
Sandy Taylor

T
his book is dedicated
to the memory of my dear friend Carol Faithful, who was taken from us far too soon. Carol, I wish you could have read my book.

Prologue

Y
ou watch
your feet as they walk along the hospital corridor, your heels clicking on

the floor. Behind you, outside the heavy swing doors, is a sunny July day and Brighton is in full swing. It is bright and breezy, full of holidaymakers and people enjoying the sunshine. Children are playing on the beach, adults are sitting on deckchairs reading newspapers and eating ice cream, having a laugh. The vendors are doing great trade, selling coloured windmills and buckets and spades, candyfloss and paper boxes of cockles and whelks. Music sings out of the record shops and the cafes and the fairground at the end of the pier, and the dry, sharp sugar-smell of candyfloss mingles with the salt air of the sea and the pinching aroma of hot chip fat – even thinking of the smell makes your stomach clench with pleasure. 

Inside the hospital, it is always the same; it is always dark brown. It smells of disinfectant, floor-polish and of dying flowers and tears. Your heart sinks a little further every time you visit.

You don't have to think about where you are going anymore; you've been so many times that you somehow arrive at the ward doors without noticing how you got there. They were very strict about visiting times at the hospital but in the past week or so nobody has said anything to you when you arrived a little early.

The slender nurse with the beehive hair puts down her knitting and smiles at you as you turn into the ward. You call her Audrey Hepburn.

‘You're her friend, aren't you?'

You nod.

‘Wait here a minute, dear,' she says.

You stand still, looking down. If you look up you will see the faces of the people in the beds and you never know how to look at them. It seems wrong to smile, but what else is there? So you look down at the roses in your hands. They are yellow, with a pinkish stain at the edge of the petals.

You hold the flowers up so that you can catch their scent. It is sweet and warm and it reminds you of home and of your mum and dad. And you stay like that, holding the flowers up to your chest until the nurse returns.

She puts a hand on your arm.

‘She's not had a good day,' the nurse says gently. ‘She's very tired. Do you understand?'

You nod.

The nurse smiles at you. She leans forward and brushes the hair out of your eyes. 

‘You're being very brave,' she says. ‘She's lucky to have a friend like you.'

But the nurse doesn't know what you've done, how you betrayed her. She doesn't know
the truth.

Mary's Diary

This Book Belongs To Mary Pickles

46 See Saw Lane

Brighton

The World.

This is my secret diery. No one is alowed to look at it on payn of deth or wors.

Dear Diery

I am going to right in you evry day

or just somtimes.

I used to live in London

now I live in See Saw LAane. I like it in See Saw Lane.

from

Mary Pickles

Aged 8 and two weeks.

Chapter One
Brighton, 1963

M
ary Pickles
and I walked along the street with our arms linked, looking in the shop windows. The sun was shining, dazzling off the bonnets of the holidaymakers' cars, and Brighton was buzzing like it always is in the summer. We were walking fast, perfectly in step with each other and my heart felt fizzy with all the potential that a day off work could bring.  Every now and then Mary glanced towards me and smiled, and I smiled back at her, and I think we both felt the same; we were best friends and together we were invincible.

It was a Saturday, and me and Mary Pickles had managed to get the same day off work. It was almost a miracle. Normally at least one of us, and usually both of us, had to work Saturdays, but our supervisor Sally was in a particularly good mood because she'd been talent-spotted in Marks and Spencer's and asked to go in for the Miss Brighton competition. Because of this, and because she liked us, Sally said we could both have that summer Saturday off.

So there we were, in Brighton, with nothing much to do except enjoy ourselves, walking up and down the high street, looking in the shop windows, watching the boys. Mary kept looking at her reflection in the glass and smiling at what she saw. Her dark hair was tied back into a ponytail with a yellow ribbon; she looked neat and pretty. We stopped outside Woolworths, which had the biggest window on the high street. This was where we both worked.

Usually I was on cosmetics and Mary was on sweets, because Sally said she was too small to be on cosmetics. Mary was more than a bit miffed about this, but I thought Sally had a point. Mary was so small; it would look like there was no one serving if she stood behind the racks of lipsticks and eye shadows on the cosmetics counter. I didn't tell Mary that, because she was very sensitive about her height. She was even more sensitive about her height than I was about my weight and that's saying something.

That Saturday, we could see that Woollies was packed with shoppers, women with shopping bags holding the hands of little children and men buying paint and newspapers. Mary pulled faces at the back of Mr Rankworthy, who managed the DIY section, but the moment he came towards the window, she smiled and waved and you could see his heart melt.

Mary had that effect on people.

Mr Rankworthy came outside, and lit a cigarette.

‘What are you doing here on your day off?' he asked, looking at Mary's chest. She was wearing a tight, short-sleeved top that made her look amazing. ‘Haven't you got anywhere better to be of a Saturday? No boyfriend?'

He talked to Mary as if I wasn't there. That was the effect
I
had on people.

Mary smiled. ‘Why do you want to know about my boyfriend, Jeffrey?' she asked. She licked her lips and made her eyes wide and Mr Rankworthy tugged at the collar of his overalls.

‘Come on,' I said, tugging at her arm. I didn't like Mr Rankworthy. I didn't like the way his face went red and sweaty when he looked at Mary. And anyway, it seemed daft to spend our one proper day off in the whole week standing outside the place where we worked!

Not that I was ungrateful or anything.

Woolworths was one of the best places to work in Brighton, everyone knew that. There were plenty of summer jobs going in the town in the amusement arcades and the sweet shops and the beach kiosks, which was fine for the holiday season, but most of those places closed down during the winter months. Woolworths was one of the few shops that was busy all year round, the pay was good, the uniform wasn't bad, and a lively, mostly young team of staff worked there. The shop was almost always full of young people too, coming in to browse and to chat. Mary and I had been at Woolworths since we left school and although we complained about having to spend most of our days there, the truth was I loved it. It was like being in a youth club and being paid for it.

I loved it, but Woolworths was never enough for Mary. Her heart was in Paris.

As we walked away from the shop that day, Mary sighed theatrically.

‘Oh well,' she said. ‘At least I won't have to put up with Mr Rankworthy for much longer.'

‘Why not?' I asked. ‘Is he leaving?'

‘No,' Mary laughed, ‘he'll be there until he's ancient. No, I'm the one who'll be leaving, off to L'Institut d'Art.'

She beamed at me like this was good news and I said: ‘Oh yeah.'

Mary put her hands on her hips. ‘Oh, Dottie,' she said, ‘couldn't you just try to be a bit more enthusiastic?'

‘I could try,' I said, but I knew I wouldn't succeed because Mary going away was not something I felt the slightest bit enthusiastic about.

Mary had a plan. She'd had the same plan since school. She wanted to be an artist. She wanted to travel the world and paint. The first step of this plan was going to art school in Paris. It was a special school, only the best young artists could go there, the ones who were serious about their work. Mary wanted to go to Paris and live there for three years while she studied at the Institute. I couldn't understand why she'd want to leave Brighton. It wasn't as if there wasn't enough things to paint right where we were, and it had a good art school. But no, Mary's heart was in Paris.

We turned the corner into one of the side roads and headed towards the seafront. Music was playing in the amusement arcades and the pavements were packed with people, most of them smiling, all of them in their summer clothes.

‘You have to come with me when I go,' Mary said. ‘We'd have the best time together! Imagine you and me sitting on the banks of the Seine or climbing to the top of the Eiffel Tower. Imagine living in Paris, Dottie, that beautiful city! It would turn the world into our oyster.'

‘I don't like oysters!'

‘Very funny.'

‘Anyway,' I said, ‘people like us don't go to places like that.'

‘What do you mean, people like
us
?'

‘Well,' I said, ‘people that live on council estates. People who work in Woolworths.'

Mary rolled her eyes. ‘I don't believe you sometimes.'

‘What?'

‘Where you
live
and where you
work
doesn't make you who you
are
. Growing up on a council estate didn't stop Paul McCartney, did it? I'm Mary Pickles and you're Dottie Perks and we're just as good as anyone else, and if we want to climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower we jolly well will.'

I didn't doubt for one second that Mary would climb the tower one day. Perhaps not me though. I didn't want to leave Brighton, I liked it there. I liked living on the estate and working in Woolworths. I wanted to be like my mum, get married one day, and have kids. I didn't want anything more than that.

Mary must have been reading my thoughts. ‘The world doesn't begin and end with Brighton, you know.'

‘I know. But I don't like the thought of going away. Maybe when I'm older. After I've been married and my children are grown up.'

Mary snorted. ‘You'll be too old to enjoy it then. I'm not getting married until I'm at least thirty and I definitely don't want kids.'

‘What, never?'

‘Never!'

‘Golly,' I said.

‘And you can't have any either.'

‘Can't I?'

‘Not till you're a lot older, because I can't be fabulous on my own, I need you with me.'

‘Okay,' I said.

‘Good,' Mary said. She squeezed my arm. ‘And one day I am going to be a world-famous artist and I'm going to stand at the top of the Eiffel Tower with the boy that I love.'

‘You'll have to find him first.'

‘I will,' she said, smiling.

Chapter Two

A
fter we'd walked
up and down the high street a few times, Mary and I went and sat on the railings by the seafront and watched the light bouncing off the waves that came rolling in, rattling the pebbles on the beach. Behind us, buses trundled by. We talked about the people at work. We were both pretty impressed about Sally being in the beauty show, which was about the biggest thing that ever happened in our part of the world. Even if she didn't win, she'd still get her picture in the
Argus
and she'd meet Ken Dodd, who was going to be one of the judges. Girls who did well in the Miss Brighton competition were like superstars to the rest of us. 

‘Ken Dodd! Can you believe it?' said Mary. She was trying to hold the hem of her skirt down with her hands but the breeze kept picking it up and riffling its edges like a fan. I was wearing pale pink pedal pushers and regretting it because they were a bit tight at the seams and they were making my thighs look even bigger than they already were.

‘If she wins she'll go on to the Miss Sussex contest,' I said, hitching at my waistband to make a bit more room. ‘Then Miss England, then Miss United Kingdom and then Miss Europe and then Miss World. Imagine! We'll know somebody famous.'

‘Shhh…' Mary hissed pulling an exaggerated face. ‘Behind you.'

I peered at Mary over the top of my sunglasses.

‘Boys!' she whispered.

I looked over my shoulder and sure enough a small gang of boys were coming along the seafront, all jostling their elbows and smoking and talking too loudly, like boys do.

Mary and I immediately crossed our legs and adopted bored-to-death expressions. I chewed my gum very obviously and she examined her fingernails. We could actually feel the boys looking us up and down as they went past.

‘Morning, darlin'!' one of them said to Mary.

‘I'm not your darling,' said Mary.

‘You don't know what you're missing, love,' said the boy.

‘Ignore him,' I said, but I may as well have saved my breath.

‘What would that be, then?' said Mary, smiling sweetly. ‘Your scintillating conversation or the tidemark round your neck?'

‘Leave her,' said one of the boys, ‘she only looks about ten.' The rest of them started laughing.

Mary jumped off the railings.

I stepped down as elegantly as I could, which wasn't very, and took hold of Mary's elbow.

‘Come on, Mary, they're only boys, they're not worth it,' I said haughtily. ‘Let's go to the record shop.'

‘Yes, let's. We might meet some
men
there.'

We linked arms and walked back into town, heading for the ‘In-A-Spin' Record Shop. We went there whenever we had day off together. I didn't like going on my own. It was much more fun when Mary was there. The young people went there to look at one another as much as to look at the records. There was a very hip boy who worked behind the counter. He wore winkle-pickers and sweaters and he was very slouchy. He always looked bored, except when he was talking to other young men about the latest musical trends, and then he got quite chatty and animated. He gave the impression of knowing absolutely everything there was to know, about all the latest bands. There was always a cigarette burning in the ashtray on the counter and he always seemed to have a cup of coffee on the go. 

The shop walls were covered in posters and the records were all stacked in racks, the Top Twenty singles at the front of the shop, and the LPs arranged by artist. We never had enough money for LPs, but we liked buying singles.

Me and Mary were totally in love with a Liverpool band called The Beatles and I had a huge crush on one of the lads, Paul McCartney. Mary was crazy about John Lennon. My sister Rita had given me a poster of The Beatles that I stuck behind my bed. Rita preferred The Dave Clark Five.

Mary picked up a single,
From Me to You.
She danced over to me, holding it up in front of her for me to see.

‘I'm going to listen to this!' she announced. ‘How about you?'

I grinned. ‘
Please, Please Me
,' I told her.

‘Okay,' said Mary. ‘We can swap when we've finished listening to them.'

We told the boy behind the counter which records we wanted to listen to and went into adjoining booths. The booths were made of glass, so we could still see each other.

We put on the headphones and I was soon being carried away by Paul. Even though there were three other boys in the band, I could still pick out Paul's voice. He had the dreamiest voice in the whole world, and if I closed my eyes I could imagine that he was singing just to me. I loved him so much. I would have done anything for Paul McCartney, anything at all.

When I opened my eyes again, Mary seemed to be having some sort of fit in the next-door booth. She was waving her arms about and jumping up and down and she was all bright-eyed and red in the face. She must be really enjoying the record. I waved back at her and carried on listening to Paul. Next thing I knew Mary was banging on the glass and waving urgently.

‘What?' I mouthed. She mouthed something back but I couldn't understand what she was saying, so I took off my headphones and put my head into her booth.

‘What?' 

‘Look there! In the shop!' she squeaked, bouncing up and down on the soles of her feet.

I looked at where she was pointing, and standing at the counter was a skinny boy. He seemed much taller than last time we'd seen him. I suppose he was good-looking, that is if you like boys with long necks and tight trousers. He kept flicking back his hair and gazing at everyone in a slightly superior way. Yes, it was Elton Briggs, the boy whom Mary had always adored when we were at school, and standing next to him was Ralph Bennett. My heart gave a little flip and I could feel my face going red. Mary was now out of the booth, brushing down her skirt and tossing her ponytail. I grabbed my bag and followed her. She hung onto my arm and whispered: ‘Doesn't he look amazing?'

But I wasn't looking at Elton. I was looking at Ralph.

‘Go over and say hello,' said Mary, giving me a little push.

‘
You
go over and say hello,' I said.

‘Don't be mean,' said Mary. ‘You know what Elton means to me!'

‘Meant,'
I said. ‘The last time you saw him he had his tongue halfway down Beverly Johnson's throat.'

‘It wasn't our time then, but it is now, Dottie, I just know it is.'

Sometimes I thought Mary would have done quite well on the stage. She sounded like some kind of film star, all desperate and tragic.

‘Please, Dottie,' she wheedled and her little face looked all screwed up and sad, so I did what I always did when Mary was sad: I gave in.

‘Okay,' I said. ‘But what's the betting they won't even remember us?'

‘Thanks,' said Mary, miraculously cheering up and immediately fishing in her bag for her compact so she could check her face.

I went up to the counter and stood next to Elton. I looked at the hairs on the back of his neck and cleared my throat. He completely ignored me.

‘Have you got
Telstar
by The Tornados?' he asked the boy behind the counter.

‘Now that,' said the hip boy taking a swig of his coffee, ‘is a very good choice. They recorded that track in their agent's front room,' and Elton got all puffed up with importance like it was
him
that had recorded
Telstar
in
his
front room. 

‘Hello,' I said.

Elton turned slowly and frowned at me as if I'd just crawled out from under a log. I smiled at him hopefully. He was wearing aftershave that made him smell like a car smells, of leather and petrol. He looked me up and down very slowly but didn't speak.

‘Hello Dottie,' said Ralph, smiling around Elton.

I smiled gratefully at Ralph. He smiled back at me. I smiled some more. Elton made a bit of a sneery face and I remembered what I was supposed to be doing.

‘I'm with Mary,' I said. ‘Mary Pickles.' I glanced over my shoulder. Mary was hiding behind one of the record racks out of Elton's sight. She had crossed the first two fingers on each hand and was holding them up to me, nodding her head in encouragement.

‘You two were always together at school,' said Ralph. His voice was soft and

deep, more like a man than the boy I remembered.

‘So were you two,' I said.

‘Blast from the past,' said Ralph, smiling.

‘Yeah,' I said, smiling back. We couldn't stop smiling at one another.

Elton rolled his eyes, turned away and started to flick through the bargain records in the rack by the counter. He didn't seem in the least bit interested in the conversation. Ralph might have changed but Elton was exactly the same; arrogant and kind of pompous.

Mary must have given up on me. She came over to stand by us. She squeezed in between me and Elton and gazed up at him like a lovesick puppy. He didn't take a blind bit of notice of her; he just continued looking through the records.

I didn't know what else to say and I was beginning to feel a bit stupid just standing there.

‘Aren't you going to get a record?' Elton asked Ralph.

‘In a minute,' Ralph answered. There was a red rash creeping up from the collar of his shirt and making its way up his neck. Suddenly he blurted out: ‘Fancy a coffee?'

‘There's a good cafe opposite the Palace Pier,' said Mary. She was speaking very fast and in a very high voice, and her smile was nearly splitting her face. ‘It's called
Dells
. They've got a jukebox and a football table.'

‘And they do really good coffees,' I said. I needed a drink. My mouth felt like the bottom of a baby's pram, all fluff and biscuits.

‘Great,' said Ralph. He glanced at Elton, who was still ignoring us. ‘Why don't we meet you there in about twenty minutes? That all right with you, Elton?'

Elton looked at me and Mary as if he'd only just noticed us. ‘Don't mind,' he said, in a bored sort of voice.

Beside me I could sense Mary nearly fainting with excitement.

‘That's settled then,' said Ralph. ‘See you in twenty minutes.'

Me and Mary paid for our records and the hip boy put them in paper bags and passed them back to us, and all the time I was really conscious of Ralph watching, and it was strange, because it was only old Ralph Bennett. It wasn't like he was somebody new and yet, in a strange sort of way, it
was.
I was quite relieved when Mary and I went out of the shop and headed to the cafe.

BOOK: The Girls from See Saw Lane
13.61Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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