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Donna’s Men

by Michael E. Lloyd

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Book III: At Home With Robert

Chapter 6: A Life of Ease

part 1 of 2

I wrote two or three letters to Peter during his first few months in Singapore. But I never mentioned Jane.

I got very little back in reply (and nothing about Jane either), so once again I gave up trying, and we reverted to the usual exchange of Christmas cards. At least he faithfully carried on sending those, always one to me and one to Mum and Dad, and always with a brief update. We shared those meagre snippets of news when I visited them on Christmas Day every year. That was the only way I knew what he was getting up to, until he finally returned for Mum’s funeral more than twenty years later.

The recession and high unemployment of the early eighties had a small effect on Dad’s income — they stopped most overtime at his factory for a long while — but that really didn’t matter. In fact it made him realise he’d only been doing overtime out of pure habit for many years, and from then on he just did a regular week’s work until his retirement.

But Charlie and I were still getting along fine with our “private customer” business. And I still did the same old things in my own spare time, especially my annual biking holidays with the good old boys. I was visiting Mum and Dad about once a month now — I felt they really needed some extra company as they were getting older and spending more and more time at home, and there was no-one else around to do it.

Dad finally retired in 1984 at the age of sixty-five. And he and Mum surprised us all by taking a special celebration holiday in Torquay! Good on him for making that happen, of course! Then he turned his hand to gardening, jobs around the house, the occasional bit of repair work for a neighbour, watching TV, and reading the paper, while Mum stayed busy doing nothing.

Meanwhile, Peter finally tired of the Far East in 1986, and “went west” to Atlantic City. Unfortunately he was right in the middle of that move when dear old Arthur died, so he didn’t return for his Grandpa’s funeral. We just got one short letter from America, sending his condolences and his new address. Sally in particular was very disappointed with that.

In ’87, Walter and Amy took a short, cheap Mediterranean cruise, using their small inheritance from his father. That money ran out at the same time as their travel lust, and they simply went back to the normal daily round. Nothing much then happened to change that pattern for the next fifteen years.

In late 1988 it was Charlie’s turn to retire, and we had another little family party in Wood Green. I opened a bottle of real Champagne in his honour, and I then declared the business officially renamed “R. Kerr, Electrician (previously A. Kerr & Son)” — to everyone’s general amusement and satisfaction! And within a few days I’d hired a promising seventeen year-old with the distinctive name of John as my new, cheap electrician’s mate. Over the years to come he proved to have been a very sound choice indeed.

* * *

Two years later, we got a postcard from Peter to say he’d moved on to Las Vegas. He didn’t tell us much about his latest techniques or successes, but we all assumed he was still on the up, if he could afford to take that place in his stride! I imagined he would find just as many easy marks there as he had in Europe, and probably all with a lot more cash to fritter away! He confirmed my suspicions in his later Christmas cards. So we wrote back and wished him well, as usual, and everything here settled firmly back into place. Business was still solid for me and John, while Amy and Walter were happy with their ever more retiring lives.

A year after that, Peter bought his first cell phone, but Mum and Dad still had no number of their own to give him! I called him once, but the cost turned out to be huge, and I never did that again!

In September 1993, at the age of forty-five, I went on my very last touring holiday with just two of my trusty old mates. My circle of friends had been steadily evolving, and now most of them were rather older than me, and they certainly weren’t bikers! It was time for a change of gear. From the following summer onwards, I converted to walking holidays. I would either ride to them in convoy with my new pals, or preferably relax in the back seat of one of their cars!

* * *

Three years later, Peter went south for the rest of the millennium, and set up base in Cape Town. I think he really came to enjoy its climate, and the pickings seem to have been equally rich there.

Soon after that I began to get involved in simple conservation activities at the weekends — country footpath maintenance and that sort of thing. It proved necessary to buy myself a mobile phone to join properly into that operation. And as one of my early tests of it, I called Peter in South Africa on his latest number. But he had little interest in chatting, so I decided I wouldn’t waste any more money doing that. I would reserve its use for very special situations ...

One of those came up in 1999. My dear old uncle and lifetime partner Charlie died suddenly at the age of seventy-eight. Barbara and Sally were heartbroken, and Dad was very, very sad. I called Peter to give him the news, and he sent a Barbara a suitable card. Period. And this time he didn’t have the excuse of being in global transit ...

‘Robert, I’m really sorry about Charlie’s death.’

‘Thank you, Donna.’

‘And as for Peter ...’

‘Well, I once heard someone say “Don’t judge others” and I think that’s actually a very old saying ...’

‘Yes, it is. It takes me back the days when I used to read the works of Gide and many other great thinkers and writers.’

‘So there we are, then.’

‘Yes. You’re quite right, of course. We should not judge.’

* * *

Peter actually made his next big move in 2000, setting up operations in Macau. He never mentioned it specifically, but I got a vague impression from a couple of his Christmas cards that he was now working loosely with somebody else. But whatever the situation, his prosperity still appeared to be steadily increasing.

Three years later I finally moved again myself. I’d been in that second Northgate Hill flat for nearly thirty years, and I was getting fed up with the stairs! So I found some ground-floor rooms in a nearby house with a small garden, and negotiated a rent reduction in exchange for keeping that garden neat and tidy at the weekends.

Soon after that Mum began to decline. I don’t think she had any particular disease; it was just old age — she was eighty-six that year. And seven months later she passed away in her sleep.

‘Oh, Robert, I’m so sorry ...’

‘Please don’t be unhappy for me, Donna. It was a long time ago ...’

Peter was well aware that she’d been ill, of course, and we were all sorry he hadn’t paid her at least a short visit as she worsened. Even so, nobody expected him to come back to England to sit and wait for her to die. So he never saw her again. But when I phoned him with the news, I was very glad to hear him say, without any need for persuasion, that he would travel straight home for the funeral. And as it happened, he already had a new move of his own in mind, so he quickly advanced those plans, and when he left Macau three days later, he left there for good.

Meanwhile, I made all the necessary arrangements, as usual.

* * *

The funeral was a very sombre affair, of course. And despite Peter’s erudition, and his urbanity, and his love of his mother — in his childhood days, at least — he could not bring himself to say a single word during the church service. So, with a small and emotional contribution from Walter, I did all of that as well.

‘Everybody’s different, Robert. I know exactly how Peter felt.’

‘Oh, absolutely, Donna. I didn’t make any bad judgments about him either. I actually just felt very sorry for him — he seemed to be holding all his emotions deep inside, and not allowing any outlet for his grief.’

‘Yes. I know all about that too.’

At the modest little “wake” back at Dad’s house afterwards, Peter was still very quiet. A few of our remaining relatives and family friends asked him interested questions about his exciting life in foreign climes, but he seemed to have no energy or will to give them proper, interesting answers in return. I felt quite sorry for them — they all seemed very disappointed with his lacklustre mood — but again, I felt even sorrier for him.

Later that evening, when all the guests had left, and Dad had gone tearfully up to bed, and Peter and I were sharing a half-bottle of whiskey in the living room in which we had spent so many other evenings, so many decades before, he suddenly perked up again and told me his new, immediate plan. He had abandoned his earlier idea of moving from Macau direct to the Bahamas. Instead, he was going to test the waters of the new London gambling scene, almost thirty years on!

* * *

A few weeks later, I rode back up to Orlesbury to sort out some of Mum’s things. Dad had told me he didn’t have the heart to do it himself.

I discovered Peter’s typewritten diary amongst some of her most treasured private possessions. She must have found it with all the other stuff he left behind when he moved to London in 1974. And then she must have hidden it away without telling anybody — because Dad has never, ever mentioned it, and I assume he’s completely unaware of its existence. I made the decision there and then not to show it to him. And I later decided never to tell Peter I knew about it either. Sleeping dogs, and all that ...

‘Robert, it’s probably very impertinent of me, but I really would like to pursue that with you for a moment ...’

‘Of course, Donna. Fire away ...’

‘Well — I completely understand why you didn’t show the diary to your father. There are lots of reasons why that would have been quite inappropriate, especially at that particular time. But not telling Peter you’d discovered it? Surely that was unforgivable?’

‘Oh, I completely disagree! What good would it have done? I’ll tell you — none whatsoever! And what harm might it have done? Huge amounts, to every aspect of our relationship! No, Donna, there is a time to speak, and a time to remain silent. This was one of the latter.’

‘But Robert, I’d be quite happy to accept that position if you’d not actually read Peter’s diary. Or even if you’d read it and then effectively “forgotten” it. But you’ve gone a lot further than that, haven’t you? You’ve told me things from it, and you’ve actually let me read it for myself. Surely that’s in conflict with your decision to keep your knowledge of it secret from Peter ...?’

‘My goodness, Donna, your mind does work in complex and convoluted ways! But I suppose that’s the benefit of a classical education. Yes, perhaps now that I have shown you his diary, Peter does indeed deserve to know of our awareness of it ...’

‘And so ...?’

‘And so, maybe he will soon be told. Now, may I proceed?’

‘Of course, Robert. This is still expressly your story!’

Proceed to part 2 ...

Copyright © 2010 by Michael E. Lloyd

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