Banging gravy!

This is a story based on several real incidents and real people, combining small snippets of a story with others to makes something complete. I have disguised the characters, except for Frank who was actually my dad, Donald (middle name Frank) and the barman who I have given a different name. I wrote it for one of my writing groups to fulfil the task of using the word ‘banging‘ in a story. I also wrote it to make small stories into something more – each on its own would be slight, but by making two different characters into a single man, I hope I’ve made a better narrative. I hope above all I give an idea of the sort of man my dad was – and my mum, because there was not one lonely person offered kindness and hospitality, in real life there were two. (In actual fact, there were many other people welcomed into our family home!) The photo I have used is of my granddad and the club he belonged to was nothing like the one I’ve described!

Banging gravy!

Cyril was a popular man in Easthope Golf Club in the 1970’s, but no-one liked him very much. The Club at that time was still stuck in a pre-war mode with the gentleman’s bar, the stud bar, the lounge and the dining room to which ladies were permitted if they were members or as guests – but only on certain days. There was a ladies sitting room upstairs but it was only accessible by the ladies entrance which was at the back of the Club, between the kitchen door and the delivery door,

Cyril and his wife Irene had both been members since they were teenagers in the 1940’s and belonged to a “set”. The “set” were all, moneyed, drinkers, county, old school, and were the sons and daughters of the previous set who had played between the wars. They weren’t all horrible people, but they definitely had an assumption of superiority. Many prospective members were black-balled merely for being in trade, or deemed ‘common’ – and this was in 1967 when Frank and his family had moved to Easthope. On his application form Frank wrote that he had moved from Cambridge, and the Easthope Golf Club committee was impressed by that, and the fact that he was a scientific analyst… ‘A Cambridge scientist!’ the committee said as they discussed his application.

Frank enjoyed golf and was a good player, and became popular – although he would privately say that he didn’t count many of the other members as friends, although there were some decent, good chaps among them. He got on well enough with them and it was a good course and he enjoyed it. A couple of new members not from Easthope joined, and the three of them began to meet most evenings for a drink. They would observe Cyril and his friends, the drunkenness, the fallings out as wives would flirt with others’ husbands, the rivalries, the affairs, and marriage break-ups, divorces and new marriages.

Cyril was always in the middle of the crowd, you could hear him from wherever you were, florid, hearty, loud. ‘Hello old boy!’ “Good evening there, sport!‘ ‘You in the chair, matey? Mine’s a double!’ You could always hear Irene from the ladies sitting room, her laugh would etch glass, someone said. There would be gossip about them – just as there was about the others in “the set”, Geoffrey Barrington and his wife Joan, old man Ditchling and his second, or third wife, both called Betty, Gerard Goff and his lady friend, Doc Cassidy… there was a certain amount of mixing and matching, indeed mixed foursomes began to take on a completely different meaning, one of Frank’s friends drily observed!

∗∗∗

It was a dreadful evening, the rain coming down in buckets, but Frank dropped into the club. He thought at first it was closed as it seemed to be in darkness as he drew up to park by the pro’s cabin. There was a flicker of light from inside, and on going in he found that yes, it was open. He saw from the doorway of the gentleman’s bar that Erik, the Polish steward, was leisurely polishing glasses and having a sort of conversation with Cyril who was very drunk… not unusual…

Frank almost turned and left, but he’d made the effort to come and the Bass was always on form in the golf club, Erik kept it very well… maybe he’d just have a couple of pints and share the usual comradely argument with Erik about whether the Polish 2nd Corps or the British 2nd Parachute Regiment had won the Battle for Monte Casino – a battle where both men had fought on different parts of the mountain.

Cyril had his back to him as Frank approached the bar and Erik looked up, pleased to see him and raised Frank’s pewter tankard – a pint of Bass, sir? 

“Hello Francis, old man,” Cyril said, trying to rouse himself, trying to sound his usual blustering, hearty self.

Frank had been christened just that, Frank; Francis was an annoying nick-name some of the members adopted. He never showed his irritation however, he kept his peace and bided his time.

“How’s tricks old boy, how’s the lovely Clare? You don’t know how lucky you are with a treasure like that! Wonderful woman, wonderful! You’re a lucky dog, Francis!”

Frank agreed that indeed he was, and he and Erik exchanged knowing glances – it was clear that once again Cyril and Irene had fallen out… Frank would have a swift couple then leave Cyril to Erik.

The evening turned out differently from what he expected. Erik had to go to the cellar to change a barrel, and Cyril drifted into telling Frank his life story. He wasn’t sorry for himself, it was just one of those nights when a friendly face seemed to unlock the floodgates, and Frank heard things about Cyril that probably many of his closest friends didn’t know. And now, once again Irene had left him – partly his fault for the fling he’d had with Doc Cassidy’s wife, partly because she imagined the golf pro at another club, twenty years her junior  really wanted her to marry him. Cyril felt isolated and alone, and the weight of an unhappy childhood oppressed him.

It was a longer evening than Frank had envisaged, and in the end, he left his car at the club and walked home. He never told anyone about the confidences Cyril had shared, and he noticed he was no longer called Francis. Cyril always called him Frank and now others did too. He never expected a repeat of that night, but on Christmas Eve he nipped down to the golf club to meet his couple of friends to wish them the compliments of the season for tomorrow, before helping Clare in the role of Father Christmas and filling stockings.

The bar would shut at ten as it was a Sunday and there were only half a dozen or so members sitting at a round table, among them Cyril.

“I must buy you a drink, Frank old man, long overdue!” Cyril exclaimed getting up and waving at Erik. The drink was bought, and Frank drew up a chair and joined the general conversation about the festivities onn the following day. Everyone was looking forward to the family occasion in whatever way they were celebrating. One older member and his wife were going to a local hotel for a champagne reception followed by the traditional Christmas luncheon, and after pudding, a visit from Santa.

“Popular sort of a place,” Cyril remarked to Frank. “I tried to book a table. Fully booked, they said. No room for a little ‘un? I asked. Not even Tiny Tim came the stern reply!”

“So where are you spending the day?”

“At mon repos, old boy, a bottle of claret, beans on toast and a nice scotch! Perfect if you ask me old chap!”

It seemed that Cyril’s grown-up children and their families were spending the day with Irene who was no longer with the golf pro. Cyril was not not invited, even though he rang to wish her Merry Christmas through gritted teeth. Cyril’s brother was in Paris, his sister in Scotland.

In the spirit of the season, Frank asked Cyril if perhaps he would like to join him and his family, Clare and the children would love to see him… which Frank actually doubted very much. Cyril blustered and said, no, no, he couldn’t possibly, it was a very fine gourmet tin of beans which awaited him, but with a suspicious dampness in his eyes, he eventually accepted.

***

Clare was not really surprised that a lonely guest would be joining them; over the years both she and Frank had invited various people home, not particularly friends, just people needing company. Their daughters, when told about their guest after breakfast, insisted on finding a couple of presents for him which they wrapped and put under the tree – a box of Maltesers and a handkerchief set.

Cyril arrived and was charming and friendly, and touched by the gifts. He enjoyed the lunch which was accompanied by a couple of bottles of very fine Château Neuf du Pape. He ate as if he hadn’t been fed for a while, but it was more likely the joy of eating in company. Clare had been afraid he might become the boisterous drunk she had seen at the club, but no, he was moderate in everything. He asked Clare if she minded if he used his dessert spoon to finish his gravy. Frank had made the gravy, she told him, and  passed him the gravy boat to finish off – which made the girls laugh!

“Banging gravy, matey!” he exclaimed as he emptied the dish, “Banging gravy!” which made the girls laugh ever more.

He didn’t outstay his welcome and a taxi arrived to pick him up. Frank walked him to the gate. Cyril wrung his hand and clapped him on the shoulder, seeming unable to find the words to express his thanks.

“Banging gravy, matey,” was all he managed to say, his eyes moist. “Best Christmas ever, Frank, banging gravy mate!”

 

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