Okay, let’s get this straight. You’re never going to rob a bank without it scaring people, and if you have any modicum of decency, you’re never going to feel right about that. The minute I walked into the Eastern Counties branch on a quiet market square on a rainy Thursday afternoon, wearing a mask bearing the image of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, and I said, “Nobody needs to be worried if you do as I say,” I knew that of course they’d be worried. Frankly in their position I’d have been scared stiff and a cowering whining wreck and quite possibly have visited the bathroom without visiting the bathroom. If you see what I mean. I kept my voice low because I thought a low voice carried more authority. And it was more intimidating. That’s what folk always say. But at the same time I hoped it might be less frightening. These things get complicated.
Now this is where, if you believe the books and the movies, someone thinks half-regretfully that it was almost too easy. There was no such thing as too easy, so far as I was concerned. If I could have done it by remote control, I would. Come to think of it, in these online banking days, of course, such things can be done by remote control! But though I enjoy my crafters’ group on the internet and I even booked a hotel room on it last year (though I couldn’t bring myself to write a bad review as I’m sure they did their best!). But any kind of financial crime would have been utterly beyond me. I did it the good (though good isn’t the right word) old-fashioned way.
And within a few minutes, I was leaving the bank, with everyone in it mercifully intact and without so much as a scratch, though I don’t delude myself they won’t have nightmares, and with my old leather handbag inside a Bag for Life sturdy plastic bag stuffed full of wads of pound notes.
You get odd thoughts after doing something like that. I couldn’t help thinking that the Camilla Raider headlines weren’t really fair to the real Duchess of Cornwall, much maligned in my opinion anyway, even though I don’t suppose for one minute even the most careless tabloid or local newspaper reader had any notion that she was really involved in it. It wasn’t even that good a likeness, although it was a photograph. Curious, that. I burned the mask, grateful that I still had an open fire even though the plastic melting made an awful smell, made me feel quite sick. Johnny asked, “What’s that smell?” and I assured him it was nothing to worry about. I supposed somebody might have remembered me buying it, and I couldn’t do anything about that, but it was over two years ago and was originally meant for some kind of grown-up (or old dears!) Halloween party at the lunch club, but nothing ever came of it. Yes, if you hang on to something long enough it might quite possibly come in handy, no matter what those people say who think Thou Shalt not Have Any Clutter is the 11th commandment. Oh, and though I don’t delude myself I was the first bank robber who thought “What on earth would the grandchildren say?” it wasn’t the most common concern in such circumstances. For what it proves, Sasha would be scandalised, Mark would just pretend it hadn’t happened, Lizzie would be convinced that embarrassment was an incurable ailment and – at least I tell myself this – Petra would say “Good on you, Gran!”
I bought a second hand car from a small ad in the paper, cash in hand. A condescending so and so he was, too, with his “Oh, it will be a splendid runaround for a lady in her maturer years!” To be frank I don’t think either he or I knew if it was a good deal or a bad one, but at least I didn’t pretend I did. It had been two years since I had driven, but I had renewed my license when I turned 70, like you’re supposed to, and I told myself it was like swimming, you never forgot, and after all, I’d only supposed to have given it up for a couple of weeks until I got a new car and Johnny was feeling better. Public transport in our area was pretty good and with my Pensioner’s Pass I got it for nothing.
But this isn’t the kind of think you can do on National Express coaches, or at least not now, and that’s why the two of us are driving down the motorway in the little blue Skoda which does seem to be pretty reliable. At least until now. I’m quite proud that I don’t seem to have lost my driving skills, and though I’m being careful, I’ve not turned into the kind of driver who leads people to say senior citizens shouldn’t be on the road. I’ve bought us some new clothes, nothing posh, reasonable quality and neutral colours, though I couldn’t resist that scarf with the Willow Pattern on it. Johnny looks smart in his new dark blue trousers and a warm grey woollen sweater. “This is the one I wore last time we went to The Hotel isn’t it, old girl?” he asked. He has taken to calling me Old Girl instead of Patricia, and though I quite like it as a term of endearment, I don’t like the probably reason why. He also just says The Hotel instead of Cliffcrest Hotel. And of course he didn’t have that sweater last time we went there. But men never do remember when they got their clothes, do they?
Except …… Johnny is the sort of man who always did. There’s no point to dwelling on that.
We didn’t go to Cliffcrest Hotel on the Yorkshire coast every year for our holiday. Sometimes we went abroad, sometimes to another seaside town, sometimes to a cottage in the country. But it’s always been the hotel we kept going back to. The hotel where we knew we would be fine, not like that place I booked online where there was soap scum in the shower and they never heated any of the plates, but I suppose they did their best.
Johnny always used to drive us to our holiday destinations. I don’t know why. He was never one of those men who was sarcastic about women drivers, it was just a tradition. Sometimes if it was a long journey I took the wheel for a while, but he always was at it when we reached our destination.
He won’t be this time, of course. He accepted himself that he wasn’t fit to drive anymore, so I was spared the heartbreaking job of telling him, but of course it was just as heartbreaking.
But he can still enjoy things. He can still recognise places and faces – well, at least sometimes – and still watch the waves crashing on the shore and still sing along to his favourite tunes when they play them in the bandstand. They still have the bandstand in town, ten minutes walk from the Cliffcrest Hotel. I checked.
Time is running out, though. The changes are coming more quickly. Sometimes he knows it, and sometimes he doesn’t, and I don’t know which is worst. A couple of weeks ago he took me in his arms and looked at me, and his eyes were properly focused, and he said something I’d better not think about too much, or my eyes will mist up and I’ll turn into one of those dangerous older drivers, “Pat, both of us know this isn’t getting any better and both of us know a time will come when I can’t say this and may even say – things that are horrible, things I can’t bear to think about, but I’ve seen it happen with other people. So remember that I love you more than life itself no matter what I say and do later on.”
Oh dear God, how I hate this illness, how I hate and loathe and abominate this cowardly, cruel, thief in the night that steals a person away while they are still alive!
Concentrate on the road. It will soon be the right turn-off, and then only half an hour, less probably, until we’re in Spurnhaven, and before we’re at the Cliffcrest hotel. We’re staying for two weeks, this time, what Johnny always calls a proper holiday, and I’ve booked us the best room, the one at the front with a sea view and a couple of comfortable armchairs.
My only fear is that they might catch up on me here. It’s gone out of the papers, even the local ones, but you never know. If they catch up on me later, frankly, I just don’t care. Not even if I go to prison though I don’t believe those stories about it being like a holiday camp.
Because Jonny will soon be in a prison far worse and serving a sentence far more harrowing than any a court could impose on me.
Please, let him have this proper holiday at the Cliffcrest Hotel! That’s all I ask. That was the only reason I ever robbed the bank!