Sunday, 3 August 2008

Ages of Man IX : Back on the shelf

(Badly need Edward to develop some depth and elicit some sympathy from the readers. This is also the scene where the main idea in the book is first hinted at)

After the rehearsal, the orchestra had decamped en masse to the nearest pub, where they promptly overwhelmed the cook with a massive backlog of food orders. It was the kind of pub with numbered tables in a strictly regimented layout; the orchestra had fragmented into a series of small groups. Most groups had pushed their tables together (to the disapproving glares of the landlord), but Edward and George now found themselves at a small table some distance from the rest of the orchestra.

Edward was a Social Drinker. To him, this meant that he had the occasional drink when out with others "to keep them company". To everyone else, it meant that he quickly became drunk on booze that he wasn't used to, and trampled blindly into awkward conversations. He was attacking a pint of the local brewery's stronger ale with suicidal enthusiasm. George had once tried a sip of wine when he was ten and hadn't liked it. He hadn't touched a drop of alcohol since and was horrified at the mere thought of further experimentation. He was making the most of still being too young to drink legally in pubs; goodness knows what excuse he would be compelled to resort to after his birthday next month. He nursed a lime cordial as though it was served in the Holy Grail.

"You and Ellen seemed to be getting on well."
"Er, we've only really introduced ourselves. She seems very friendly."
"You sly old dog. I bet you have the pick of the girls at school!"
"No more than anyone else - it's a boys' school."
"In the holidays? Lots of nice local girls - they must be fighting over you!"
George paused; the conversation was getting painfully close to the nerve. "Not really, I don't tend to get out very much in the holidays. Mum needs a lot of help decorating and so on."
"Oh, so you're not a ladies' man?"
"I wish. Maybe after I start university?"
This derailed Edward somewhat. His own love-life was a complete non-starter, and he had it set out in his mind that youthful advice from a young stud like George would be just right to set him on the road to success. He was determined that the tour was the perfect time to 'score', and that he should get some guaranteed hints as soon as possible. Finding out that George was clearly even more clueless was something of a disappointment. Not being one to change his mind, he ploughed on ahead anyway.
"I was rather hoping for your help. It's been a long time now since Marjorie passed on. Since your father left home all those years ago it's just been the two of us in that big house, and without her I'm just rattling around on my own. I think it's about time I found someone else, someone I could settle down and enjoy my retirement with."
"Sounds like a wonderful idea. I know Mum & Dad would be delighted if you found someone else."
"I know it sounds silly, but I don't want to be one of those people you read about who die in their sleep, but no-one notices and their corpse lies in their bed for weeks on end before it gets found."
"That's a bit morbid! Surely you don't have to worry about that at your age?"
"I know, I know, but it scares me. I don't get a lot of visitors, so I do worry about it. I've never lived on my own before. It was nice at first, having all the freedom, but now it just seems like the house is a great big empty hole waiting to swallow me up." Edward had a singular ability to sound cheerful even when saying these things.
"Well a nice companion for you would do you a lot of good. I'm sure it's what she would have wanted" George was beginning to worry what was coming next.
"I agree. Trouble is, between you and me, Marjorie was, well, she was my sweetheart in the sixth form, and you got married young in those days. She was the only girlfriend I've ever had, so it's 45 years since I was last, well, in the market as it were."
"I'm sure it will all come flooding back to you. I expect it's like riding a bicycle - you never forget how."
"I wish." said Edward, who actually had forgotten how to ride a bicycle.
"Are there any single ladies in the orchestra?"
"Actually quite a few. I talked to Ted Coote, who sorted out all the hotel bookings, and there's a surprising number of potential targets. Quite a few girls around your age too."
The two of them exchanged a look, and in that moment they realised that they weren't so different. George looked away first, stifling a smile of newly-kindled optimism. Edward didn't get the hunting tips that he wanted, but at least he had a hunting partner of sorts. He felt better already.

There are times in cricket matches where a batting side is struggling to avoid a follow-on and the probable heavy defeat that follows. Two hapless tail-enders find themselves at the crease knowing that all their best batsmen have failed, and that they are facing 90mph deliveries whistling past their noses. It is only a matter of time before they have their stumps torn out, yet they soldier on, pluckily offering weak defensive prods at the incoming onslaught. Spectators of both teams tend to enjoy watching these gladiatorial passages of play, partly because they admire the bravery, but mostly out of schadenfreude. George and Edward were to womankind what these beleaguered tail-enders were to Brett Lee, but without the protective padding.

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