It was two years after the war, but I was still too young to join the army. The sometimes fighting its members got into didn’t appeal to me, no, it was the adventure. The adventure of going overseas and playing with things that definitely wouldn’t be allowed in my ordinary existence. I wanted to shoot big guns and drive tanks and ignore stop signs on roadways because I could. Who’d stop me? Yes, crazy. These are the things that go through a teenager’s head. However, I’m ahead of myself.
There is a saying. “I am firm. You are stubborn. He is a pig-headed fool.” In this case; I am adventurous, my friend is an unthinking irresponsible idiot. Well, in this case, he was.
We had decided to go ‘up the smoke’ to see and hear Louis Armstrong in some London venue and as cars in those times were few and far between, we tended to use trains to take us to far destinations. Forty miles, in this case, was a far destination.
Britain may have started the modern-day industrial revolution, but then it ‘rested on its laurels.’ The train that we took for our ‘long’ distant excursion was of that primitive variety that had required ‘Noah’s Ark’ redundant workers to build for the British railroad system. The carriage as a conveyance medium was separate from all other carriages, namely, no connecting corridor. Possibly it was designed for lovers as there could be no intrusion from onlookers between stations. In this case, the particular train was in ‘Express’ mode, meaning it didn’t stop at intervening stations and exceeded the speed of twenty-five miles per hour.
Boredom is the enemy of youth. My ‘idiot’ friend was capable of becoming more easily bored than most. The idea of sitting down and relaxing for more than thirty seconds was not in his lexicon of teenage pursuits. He started to sigh. We were the only two in the carriage and he started to walk around in this confined space.
“Look,” he said, looking up to the carriage ceiling. “It says that pulling this ‘communication cord’ inappropriately, will get us,” - us, mind you, not him - “a five-pound fine. But if I pulled it and poked the chain back in the tube, they would not know it was us.” There was that word again, us, not him.
I reasoned with him that these carriages had come from the distant past and during that time it was obvious the authorities had met up before with, I didn’t say idiots to his face, but ameliorated my remark to just, people, with his kind of curiosity. Even as I said it I knew all was lost. I had experienced one of his sudden impulses once before in one of those pivoting seats on a Ferris Wheel.
Of course, he waited until we had reached the highest point of elevation before he decided to test my ability to confront heights in a very flimsy transporting mode. Now, in my defence, I was a few months older than him and of course wiser. In those days, immediately after the war, we were rather more blase about safety, I mean we had carried on dodging the bombs coming down to make sure we, or I should say they, could get to the pub as it opened. To return to the Ferris Wheel seating arrangement. OSH, or its equivalent safety authority of nowadays would have been horrified at the only retaining measure to ensure the ‘thrill-seekers’ didn’t fall out was a single bar with a hook, no I’m wrong, not a hook, but a piece of straight metal that pushed loosely in a hole. This restraint wouldn’t secure a baby in a pram at almost zero feet from the ground. The wheel had stopped at the topmost position to allow a customer to get on or off and friend Ken got impatient. He stood up and started to rock it too and fro. As you possibly can understand these primitive ‘fun’ conveyances are made to swing through the whole 360-degree arc, but more particularly to stay level for the supposedly joyful occupants. No, if it was made to go 360 degrees, then he seemed determined to demonstrate that.
Mothers in my young days tended to have a mantra of “Make sure you have clean underpants on when you go out to special events. If she had had a closer understanding of my companion of that time she would have implored me to also have taken additional undergarments.
He swung that pitiful embarrassment of a safe seating arrangement and got close to a 180-degree arc that only my pleadings and a stupendous clenching of my buttocks saved me from further humiliations, such as death. The tears on my cheeks were later explained by me as high-altitude raindrops.
Five pounds in the forties was a fortune to my young mind. In fact, so rare was a five-pound note that some shop-keepers insisted the tenderer of it signed his name on it before he or she would accept it. The note wasn’t the nice compact one that we less and less possess these days, it resembled a white A4 sheet of paper with indistinct markings on it. Anyway, I just knew my earnings for the next few weeks of work were accounted for. My protestations didn’t even deflect his gaze from that chain, like a lavatory one, needed pulling.
Even as my friend pulled it, I wondered if it was connected to the brakes of the train, or merely a signal to tell the driver that action was needed. The train slowed and my friend decided it was time to panic. As it was down now to a fast walking pace, he swung open the solitary carriage door to the elements and pushed me out. I fell onto a steep grassy bank and rolled down it. I became aware that Ken had joined me as he was screaming in apparent agony.
I discovered he had a broken leg. Even in his pain, he still called to me to help him escape from the soon to be pursuing railway people. It must have been the thought of paying out his two-pound and fifty shillings share of the fine that motivated him to escape, rather than going immediately to a hospital. Of course, Muggins here helped him in this crazy course of action.
I half-lifted, half-dragged my idiotic friend to a form of ‘safety’ in a wood nearby and waited to hear if we were still being pursued, we weren’t. After concluding that we were safe from being chased he started to moan with the pain. At last, the lessons I had learned in the Boy Scouts came to the fore. I found a branch of a tree to serve as a splint and insisted it was HIS shirt that was torn into strips to bind it securely to his leg. Now we needed help from strangers as we were far from home and I said I would see who I could find it.
There, as I emerged from the wood, was a band of gypsies in their colourful caravans or whatever, and my request for assistance led to a couple of men agreeing to help.
My friend was of a very swarthy complexion, in fact, he looked very much like the people that were now attending him. This actually is quite strange as his own family tended to look much more like the anaemic variety that us English people seem to aspire to. Because of the inhibited nature of most of us of that time period, the circumstances of his conception, to my knowledge had not been inquired into. However, Gypsy bands were common in the Southern parts of our country. No doubt some of its virile members would no doubt have seemed attractive to a young wife whose husband was in the army and only returned home during sporadic leaves. The upshot of my friend’s willing incarceration was that he caught the eye of a very nubile young gypsy woman who claimed him for her own.
I was able to report back to his family that he was in safe hands and it appeared that they thought they could relax their constant vigilance now he was no longer occupying their home. They asked me to give him their best wishes but not to hurry home as they had heard it could take a year or so to recover from a broken bone.
I found my friend hobbling around the encampment regaling his new family with stories of his exploits. He had brass rings hanging from his ears and he looked as if he had truly arrived home. He was married, gypsy style, and as his wife carried around in her belt a very large knife, I expect him to remain with his eye firmly fixed upon her and definitely not wandering.
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Hey, great job!
What do you know, I was already here! :)
I loved this story! It was intriguing from beginning to end. I loved how descriptive and entertaining it was! Any chance you could stop by and give me feedback on my story, "Come Quietly" and like it if you enjoyed it? If so, thanks so much! If not, it's all good. Anyway, I look forward to reading more of your stories. Good luck!
Thanks, Zea. By the way, the Ferris Wheel incident actually happened.