I first walked through the door to the Bankes Arms in readiness for my interview as the new seasonal barmaid at some irredeemable point in the early non-descript seventies. From thereon in the whole of life became slightly vague and surreal. There was a jolly lady behind the bar whom I took to be the landlady. She wasn’t: she was scary Kim Mullins who didn’t hang around much after I arrived. That early in the summer she’d had enough. Pete Salisbury was in the office counting money. As ever. An interview took place. I remember nothing of it but, with no experience whatsoever, I got the job based on the length of my skirt. Short with matching knickers as I recall. Later, he was heard to say of me, ‘she seems very nice but she has a terrible accent’. He could talk – nothing in the way of patois but a well-recited turn of phrase:’ Family well? Boat in the bay?’ That mantra passed for new-found happiness.
Later that day, Peggy appeared – she hadn’t been well. There’d been a cheese and wine do the previous evening. Not much cheese but a fair amount of shocking Corrida wine. A small man, left over from the night before, fell through the door in a state of disrepair. He was very amusing to one down from the Wiltshire sticks where funny folk aren’t readily in evidence. Well, not funny ha, ha. Funny peculiar certainly. Unbeknownst to me, his small children were parked in a vehicle outside waiting for crisps and coke where they remained for most of that summer. He was called Brian Loveless. Brian commiserated with Peggy, shared headaches and tinnitus-like symptoms, and everyone treated me as though I’d always been there and had better get on with it. In two hours I gained all the necessary skills: how to present a pint of bitter; who needed a barley wine; how to make a gin and dry; how to make a gin and It (for Dick Snelgrove); how to present an excuse for a ‘ploughmans’ – pickle or onions but never both. How to develop an ‘August smile’ in all months. I was hooked. Henceforth, I was always there, in spirit if not in body.
Some time after, I learned the Salisburys had a son: David. He was away at school. Initially, along the coast at Barton, then at All Hallows. Now and then, David would come home. Sometimes, his dad would collect him. Mostly, they’d send Dick and I felt a bit sorry about that. Dick would be allocated special responsibility for the son and heir. However, when home, Dave was a bloody nuisance. Just when you thought you’d finally landed in the grown-up world, Dave would appear to trip you up or somehow ruin the latest outfit with a speedy kick up the arse for no good reason. And just as suddenly, Dave grew up. There wasn’t that much difference in age between us so the years fell away and he became one of us.
We had a connection of sorts. I think it was because I was close to Peter and Peggy. And because I used to kick him back. And because we shared a love of music even though he frequently told me I was stuck in a time warp. Years later, in the forgettable eighties, he and I went to see the Pogues together. Possibly, we were even more drunk than they were. I count that as one of life’s achievements.
One day, when Peter and Peggy had left for heavenly heights, Dave invited me and my small children to stay at the Bankes for a rare treat with the proviso that he would pass the afternoon alone watching the rugby. The smallest being managed to successfully trap a daisy up her nose. I have no idea how we got to Studland in the first place but, devoid of transport, we had to persuade Dave to leave the rugby and take us to Swanage Hospital to have the daisy surgically removed. I’d like to say he did this in good spirit. He didn’t. He was cross. But not for long.
I mourn him. He was a funny man. I don’t believe that, as a child, he had the best family life one could want but he made a better one for himself with Hilary and their children. I haven’t seen him for years but I spoke with him and every time those missing years fell away. I can’t remember a time when we didn’t talk about music and compared notes. Or spoke of our children. He was so proud and sometimes surprised of what he’d produced. And never was there a conversation in which he failed to mention his beloved Studland. He comprised a unilateral diaspora: a man happy with what life had allotted but always longing for the Dorset coastline.
Dave sent me an email: ‘phone me’. I replied: ‘I’m in France. What’s up?’ ‘Derek’s dead’, came the reply.
I went to Studland today to put some flowers on Derek’s grave. Two years since our hero had the audacity to leave without warning. We had the concurrent two years notice of Dave’s impending departure but it still makes no sense. He was terribly confused by what was happening to him. And angry. Good for you Dave: be bloody angry.
There’s no evidence of longevity in the graveyard of Studland Church. There’s only a very short historical tour of one’s life. There they all are, the men we once thought already old as they propped up the bar of the Bankes Arms. And all the young men who have no business being amongst them. I used to have this romantic vision of the Studland men – strong, healthy men of the country and countryside. We were cheated.