For Henry’s fourth birthday, Father booked us a week in a Blackpool boarding house. Although October was late for a coastal holiday, we could catch the famous illuminations, with six miles of coloured tableaux comprised of electric light. Father was unusually jolly, laughing on the rides at the Pleasure Beach and rolling up his trousers to paddle in the sea. None of us wanted to come home again. The boy was in tears as he clambered into the car.
I brought back two souvenirs: one to hold in my hands, the other in my heart. A photographer snapped us on the promenade and, when we viewed the prints at his studio the next day, Father bought two copies, despite the tower sprouting from Henry’s head. He didn’t say as much, but I imagined he wanted me to have an amusing memento of our threesome when I eventually left The Willows.
My second souvenir went by the name Reginald Morgan. I wouldn’t have met him if I hadn’t paired up with a girl from the guesthouse. Iris, paid companion to a crotchety aunt in an antique bath chair, was more constrained than I, but more adept at escaping her shackles. Even without the romantic element she enabled, I’d have been delighted to make the connection. She made me realise how much I had missed having a friend.
When I mentioned I liked dancing, Iris suggested a trip to the Tower Ballroom. She didn’t have to take the gentleman’s part for long. We’d barely stepped onto the floor when I felt a tap on my back.
As a dancer, Reginald was Walter’s equal, and his superior in teeth and hair. And in the music of his accent: a lilting Welsh where Walter’s Cumbrian scraped the ears like a truculent violin.
I didn’t get to confer with Iris until we caught the tram to South Shore. Fortunately she was as pleased with her partner as I was with Reginald. Twice we left Father playing cards with the aunt and, armed with buckets and spades, took Henry to the beach. The boy didn’t grumble when two fine fellows chanced to picnic beside us; not when they feigned more interest in him than in us girls.
We also wheedled another two evenings at the ballroom, Reginald’s appeal mounting with every dance. I’d planned to let him kiss me on our last night. Fondle my breast, although only through my blouse.
Then Father announced, over high tea of tripe and onions, he was also coming. “You’d enjoy that, wouldn’t you, Henry. Your sister gliding across the dance floor. The ornate ceiling. The band.”
“It’s awfully late for him. He’ll be cranky on the drive home.”
“He’ll sleep on the backseat, won’t you, son?” Mr Windsor actually winked. “It’s not a proper holiday until you bend the rules.”
I found myself smirking as the landlady set down a plate of bread and butter. Seaview Lodge was girded with rules.
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