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U3A Writing: The Luck Of The Draw

Vera Sanderson gives an engaging and memorable account of meeting the love of her life.

The train lurched to a halt and he awoke with a start. It had stopped on a high viaduct just short of the station of yet another grimy industrial town.

For a moment he did not realise just where he was, his senses bewildered by the depth of his sleep. He had been dreaming that he was still at home and was walking to school along the shore. The golden sands were bathed with morning sun and reflected the pristine whiteness of the houses along the bay. He could feel the soft comfort of his school shirt and socks and hear the seagulls shrieking their harsh symphony as they swooped and dived for food amongst the shoals. The noise of the ticket collector yelling “'Huddersfield next stop, stay put for Manchester and Liverpool. Half an hour's delay.”

He sat on his case in the crowded corridor. The khaki collar of his battledress chaffing the soft, smooth skin of his neck, and contrasting sharply with the feel of his cotton shirt and flannels of his 'dream time' at home. Every inch of him longed to turn back, but the 'Empress of Scotland' was already waiting in Liverpool Docks and he would be bound for Malaya on the morning tide.

The train was packed with troops and girls in uniform, and , as they eased their way down the corridor, one or two of the girls smiled and blushed at this Viking of a man. He was well over six feet tall, lithe and slim. His skin was taut and suntanned to a pleasant bronze which accentuated the soft waves of his rich brown hair and the wonderful straight guard of his gleaming teeth, but it was his eyes that held the promise – intense with darkness and inborn arrogance – a 'lady killer' if ever there was one!

At the moment they were dull with disinterest as he gazed down at the town below. “God! what a dump! From Hull, Hell, and Halifax, and yes, most certainly, Huddersfield, dear Lord preserve us!” How could anyone live there – even for the stacks of money the industry created. Just look at those black stone houses and the permanent haze of smoke and chemical fumes gushing out from dozens of tall chimneys. The noise of the bellowing factories. The hooters howling the hours of starting and finishing work. The swarms of navy clad ants oozing homewards released from machines and chained gates to booze another night into forgetfulness. He could almost taste the pungent odour of 'Dixol' and hot oil fumes lingering on their clothes and hands long after work had ceased.

He remembered the invasion of his beautiful home town each summer, the cacophony of loud voices tempered by the noise of machinery. Well fed bodies, fat with food and money. “Be nice to the visitors” - Indeed! - How he hated them for disrupting his life, but their money was useful and had a beauty all of its own – like the gleaming Rolls Royce in the showroom below. “Where there's muck there's money” - that's what they said – but what a price to pay to live.

The train suddenly lurched forward then slid along the platform and came to a halt at the mobile tea trolley. It was emptying now so he claimed a seat with his greatcoat and pushed his case on the rack above, he groped in his pocket for the carefully packed meal and smiled as he found his mother's note on how to wash his underwear – time enough to read that later. Now for a 'cuppa', sixpence would be enough.

He leapt down and eased his way through the crush. “milk and sugar luv?” the tea lady winked and grinned and pushed a cup of hot, milky tea into his hand. “Return the cup please.” But before the rest of the queue could recover he was already winkling his way along the platform and back to the train. Just past the ticket office some sort of commotion had broken out. The most angry piercing female voice he had ever heard was giving the ticket collector hell. “Let me through at once or I shall miss my train to Leeds. You know damn well I have a ticket, you watched me buy it!”

She came galloping out through the entrance on wild colts legs, hair fixed on the Leeds train nervously exhaling puffs of steam across the gap of rails that barred her way. Suddenly she dived sideways making for the underpass leading to her desired platform. Missing her turn, her foot slipped and she smashed into him. The long awaited 'cuppa' shot into the air drenching her beautiful tweed suit and shattering in shards on the solid stone paving.

“You stupid idiot” her pale, large eyes blazed and she spat words out like flames from a frying pan. “Why don't you look where you're going, you clot?”

“Me? Well that's rich! Get some strong specs on those 'Bette Davis' eyes.”

She stopped short in her tracks. How dare he? No man had ever spoken to her like this. She looked up angrily. He was grinning like a Cheshire cat, but his eyes! For a whole second the world stood still and receded into a mist around those dark, contemptuous eyes. Who needed one and ninepenny worth of celluloid Stewart Grainger when the real thing was standing so close?

A whistle blew. He leapt sideways onto the train, saluted mockingly and was gone. When she looked at the other platform, so had the Leeds train.

She made her way thoughtfully down the underpass and into the waiting room to powder her nose. This was going to be such a wonderful night. Her boyfriend would be waiting on Leeds city station with the ring to celebrate their engagement. He was a lovely man, so handsome in his air force uniform , much older than her, of course, plump and comfortable, well heeled in civvy street and educated, he spoke several languages and liked the good life. She would probably always have everything a girl could crave.

She had dressed with more than casual care for the occasion. The war was still raging and clothes were tightly rationed but Granddad had left some fine cloth in the most marvellous shade of lilac blue and her uncle was a fine tailor. The suit looked really good teamed with the French grey accessories. There would be a dinner for two at the Queens, followed by a box at the theatre and the undivided attention of her distinguished man, and yet... the wheels of the train chattered their way to Leeds. They repeated “Bette Davis eyes.” She strove to put his dark, intense eyes out of her mind and focus on the next few precious hours...

*

The Manchester train struggled its way through the Stanedge tunnel. Ahead lay the moors, gaunt and primeval in the failing autumn light. “ That stupid woman!” Tea stains all down his tunic. He'd have to get it cleaned before Malone spotted him, but how? They were embarking in on the morning tide. He'd be glad to get back to Malaya, it was a good substitute for home – sun, scenery and girls, a bit browner than he was used to, but lush never the less. it would be bliss when peace came. The Colonel had promised him a place on his staff if the Indian army contract was renewed.

One fly in the ointment, R.S.M. Malone. This guy was the blight of his life, why didn't he ship off back to Bradford where he belonged preferably on the wrong end of a Jap bullet! He remembered the battalion raffle for home leave, by a hundred to one chance he had drawn it. Of course Malone said it was a 'fiddle' and insisted that it be included in the Brigade draw. Well Lady Luck had smiled on him again and the luck of the draw was his! In six weeks he was home and into the arms of Doreen. What a leave! Pretty petite Doreen. A farmers daughter with her own little crop of combined harvesters for hire. Either way looked good. C'est la guerre – he didn't care. He'd settle anywhere, anywhere that is, except one of those terrible 'industrial towns'. He walked along the Liverpool Dock, ahead lay the 'Empress of Scotland', the sea, and Malaya.

*

The 'Nebraska' slowly edged her way into the Liverpool docks, it had left Liverpool on that misty September day. In the Bay of Biscay a huge storm had blown them off course and he was one of the few eating kippers at breakfast. The rough seas did not worry him, he was born and bred to the the tides. What worried him was the vacuum of the future. The Colonel had retired and had not been able to renew the contract with the Indian army. This left him surplus to requirements and he had been shipped home. His life and job in his home town was gone with the war. Even Brian his close chum had left and settled in, of all places – Huddersfield! Perhaps he should break his journey for a few days and look him up...

*

She was sat in her aunt's kitchen drinking tea and staring moodily at the late summer flowers. “Why don't we go for a night out?” her cousin coaxed. “You've been on your own long enough and you never go out except to work. The past is gone and you should be picking up the pieces.” “No, I don't want to, I can't be bothered I like going out with Pop.” “More fool you, I've got a blind date with two smashing blokes, are you coming or not?” “Perhaps just this once.” She said “But I've nothing to wear.” “What about your lilac blue suit, you always look smart in that?” “That old thing, it must be five years old, all right I'll go.”

She dressed nervously and turned back up the stairs to drench herself in 'Evening in Paris'. “Come on, hurry” her cousin shouted as they dashed for a bus into town. They were very, very late... He didn't really want to go on this 'blind date' but Brian was persuasive and promised him first choice. “What are they like?” he demanded “I'm not wasting my time on tatty tarts, I'd sooner read a good book. I don't know what I'm doing in this darned town – anyhow I'm going home tomorrow.” “Ho! Come on, you always get the luck of the draw”...

*

He supposed that he had better put on his 'good' suit. The old demob jacket looked a bit tatty.

They drifted down and sat in the cocktail bar with a couple of G and T's and puffing smoke in ever increasing circles. It wasn't exactly the 'Raffles Hotel' but it would do. He had grown used to a life of luxury overseas and coming down to earth was painful.


“Give those birds another few minutes and I'm going” he thought - then they appeared, stilettos galloping across the floor, the legs looked familiar. Then it dawned slowly across the years, the station, the tea, the 'Bette Davis' eyes...

“I'll have the long skinny one with the Palamino hair.” Brian fancied the little redhead anyway.

*

She woke up the next morning and suddenly the sun was shining and the world had washed its face during the long night. The milkman was clattering about below with his churn and filling the jug in the pantry window. It was late, she must have a cuppa and go to work. She reached in the pantry for the jug, the window was open and there rolled up in a newspaper was the biggest bunch of roses she had ever seen. The note read:

7 P.M. sharp tonight

For better, For worse, Forever for you...

'A'


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