Secret - 'Everybody's Got To Die Sometime'

October 1962

The World hangs on the precipice of annihilation. Russian weapons on discovered on Cuban soil. The world holds it's breath as the United States squares up to Russia. It seems we are only seconds away from destruction.

Meanwhile in North Yorkshire, Tom and his Dad are facing life without Toms mother. Meanwhile the new early warning buildings are rising up from the moors above their home. Do they provide security or threat ? Threats seem to be both near and far and dark days roll across Tom's world. His world has been turned inside out leaving him a short step from disaster.

As Tom's Dad says "Everyones got to die sometime".

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15. Birthday

York

22nd October 1962

“If you look at that watch one more time, I swear the face will wear off.” Joyce said as we sat on the train heading towards York.

“OK”

“You do realise that every time you look at it you have this ridiculous smile on your face, don’t you?”

I looked up at her.

“What look?”

She shook her head laughing.

“I just like it.” I replied.

She shook her head again and turned to look out of the window. I looked across the compartment and saw dad had his head buried in his notebook, occasionally writing items in with his pencil, his slide rule on the vacant seat beside him. He’d been like this all day so far. I knew he was under enormous pressure to get the systems up and running as soon as possible. I was just grateful he had offered to spend the day with me. Occasionally he’d gasp and scribble something out and look perplexed as if he’d made an error. At others he’d smile, obviously when something checked out right and look up.

I sat back and rested my head on the dusty seat. The Whitby to Scarborough trains were always the worst, we’d change in Scarborough to go to York. That would be on better trains with a buffet car I hoped. The only good thing about this route was the amazing views over the sea.

Today was my birthday. I was eighteen now, still not old enough to vote but able to buy a drink in a pub. Still it was a milestone of sorts, although getting a drink in pubs around us was quite possible as landlords would serve us at the backdoor as long as we didn’t become stupid. I was officially ‘grown up’ although I felt far from it.

Birthdays weren’t the same though. It had always been Mum’s thing. She’d planned everything meticulously, weeks in advance to make sure they went well. Last year my birthday had been forgotten in the aftermath of her death. To be honest I didn’t want to celebrate anything at that time. I remember almost throwing back Joyce’s present in a fit of rage, unable to see that she was being kind and wanting life to carry on.

This year I hadn’t expected much, if I was honest. I wasn’t sure Dad would even remember the date, so stuck in the deadline. However, when I’d gone down this morning he’d made breakfast, well slightly singed but it’s the thought that counts. On the table was a few envelopes and a small box.

“Happy birthday Tom,” Dad had said, “come on get your breakfast and we can get off for the train. Oh, and open your cards.”

I’d opened them. There was a card from Auntie Maureen and Uncle Keith, along with a ten-shilling postal order, a card from the Oltwaites and another from some obscure relative of my mothers who lived in Australia. Then there was dad’s card. That brought tears to my eyes. He’d written  

“Happy Birthday Tom,

Love Dad xxx

Your mum would be so proud of you”

I could feel myself welling up and daren’t look up at him. Instead I picked up the box and shook it.

“What’s this?” I asked still not able to look up.

“Open it.”

I pulled back the brown paper to find a blue leatherette box underneath with the name of a jewellers from Whitby on the lid. Opening it I saw that it contained a gold watch. It looked amazing. There was even a date display. I was mesmerised by the second hand which ticked away each second. The strap was black leather. It exuded quality.

“Like it?”

I nodded. It was far better than the Timex watch I’d had when I was eleven. This was a proper grown up watch.

“Your mum picked that out before she … Well she said at the time it was the sort of thing you should have for your eighteenth.”

Now the tears did come.

I hugged dad who was stood next to me now.

“Thanks” I said through he tears.

“Look after it,” he said. I think he was choking as well.

“I’ll never harm it,” I said.

He’d gone to get ready then, although I suspect that was just an excuse, so he could shed a tear. Dad wasn’t one to show his emotions that much.

Joyce had arrived shortly after, breezing into the house like fresh air. She wore a flowery pattern dress. I didn’t know anything about fashion, but I knew that she looked good in what she was wearing. In fact, she was stunning. Smiling as usual in that easy way she had, she’d make you smile back on reflex, brightening your day. She thrust a card into my hand and stood grinning.

“Happy Birthday oldie”

“Thanks,” I said smiling and proceeded to open it.

“Happy Birthday Tom

Love Joyce xxx

Ps present to come!!!!!!”

We’d headed to the station then and caught the train to Whitby before changing to Scarborough. Lily hadn’t shown up, so I guess her parents didn’t want her to come with us.

At Scarborough we changed trains yet again, after a short wait and were now heading towards York. The sun was disappearing and as we got further inland a greyness fell over the fields we passed. Before long a fine drizzle was caressing the windows with a fine mist. However, as we entered the outskirts of York it cleared although still stayed grey. It wasn’t going to affect my mood though, I was very happy.

We pulled into the station and Dad gathered his notebook and slide rule up, putting them in his pockets, before we alighted the train and entered York. For someone who’s used to the quiet and tranquillity of a small village, York can be terrifying at times. There are so many cars and people rushing here and there, no one stopping to chat to each other as if insulated from the world inside their own private bubbles. In Goathland and even Whitby, people stopped and talked to each other all the time. Mum used to say that with all the talking, going to the shop took five times as long as it should. Yet she’d be the first to stop and chat to everyone. I didn’t like crowds and again wondered how I’d cope with living in Hull. Although it was a campus university, there was far more people there than I was used to.

York is an ancient city. The romans had been here and pretty much anyone who was anyone since had been here. The medieval walls surrounded the central area whose skyline was dominated by the huge Minster. As I looked up at it I shuddered remembering as a little kid walking up a winding stone spiral staircase for what seemed like miles before emerging onto the roof of the main tower. The view was amazing but then I’d looked down and gone dizzy, it was so high.

“Fancy going up there again?” Joyce asked.

I shook my head. She’d remembered the incident as well. As I recall she’d poked fun at me all day after that. Maybe I was selfish, but I didn’t want my birthday to be remembered for that reason.

She laughed flicking her hair back.

“So where do you want to go?” Dad asked turning around to face us.

“Book shop,” I said.

“Yeah, I can guess that’s where you’d want to go.,” he said smiling, “look here’s a couple of pounds to spend on books. You two don’t me wandering with you. I’ll go to the library and meet you outside Ramsden’s café at about one?”

As much as I wanted to spend the day with my dad I knew he’d be bored wandering around. I guess that’s why he’d brought his notebook with him.”

“Ok, we’ll see you then. Don’t forget,” I said. He’d get lost in his work and not realise the time.

He waved as he headed off towards the library leaving Joyce and I stood there.

“Come on then,” she said, “and we’re not spending hours in that dusty book shop. I want to have a look around Woolworths and see if they have any new records.”

I smiled. The prospect of spending a few hours with Joyce was good, even to put up with her wandering around shops. In Whitby she usually left me in the bookshop. With two whole pounds to spend on books, I’d be able to get at least ten paperbacks. It was more than I’d ever had before to spend on books. Usually I’d scrape enough together to buy one very month or so, but this was like being in heaven. Maybe I could replace that old Hobbit paperback with a hardback. The prospect delighted me.

There’s a wonderful smell when you enter a bookshop. That aroma of new book that for me is one of the best sensations you can have. Some people call it musty, to me it’s the most exciting smell there can possibly be. It sets all my senses on edge, waiting to be excited by what I’ll find on the tall dark shelves. A treasure trove of material that will transform the way I feel and think. Tomes that may change my whole perception on life, all hidden behind thin covers waiting to be discovered by me.

Whilst Joyce enjoyed reading and books, they didn’t quite hold the cache with her that it did me. After about ten minutes browsing in a section she came over to me.

“Look I have to get something, I’ll be back soon.” She said before exiting.

Then time stood still. I immersed myself in browsing the shelves, finding authors I’d never heard of before. I’m not one to pick a book up and get it straight away. I have to be sure the book is for me. Titles and covers don’t sway me too much, I need to read bits and then sometimes I realise I’ve been reading it for half an hour. I’m not the sort of person you want to let loose in a book shop if you’re short of time.

“Miss me?” a voice said behind me. Joyce was back, “gosh have you still chosen the books? I’ve been gone over an hour. I thought you’d be waiting for me.”

“That long? Got a few but I might save some of the money, so I can get some later.”

“Come on then, get what you want, I want to stop at Woolies before we meet your dad.”

“Thought you’d have gone there.”

“No had something I needed to get.”

I paid for the books I’d chosen, and we headed out of the shop. Turning down the street Joyce linked her arm through mine and we wandered towards Woolworths chatting away. Almost the perfect day so far. Turning the corner, we walked slap into Lily and her parents.

“Oh, you’re here,” Lily said, “I thought I’d never find you. We missed you at the train station and I didn’t know where you’d be going, we don’t know where the shops you’d go in were. We’ve been wandering around for ages looking. I’d nearly given up hope that I’d ever find you. Oh and happy birthday, I’ve got this for you.”

She thrust a parcel in front of me still in the paper bag she’d bought it in, although I didn’t mind.

“Do you like it?” she asked anxiously, “I wasn’t sure, you’d like it. Mum said you were too old to read that one, but it’s my absolute favourite book and I’d know you’d like it. Please say it’s ok.”

“Darling, please give him time to at least open it.”

I pulled the book out of the bag, The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe stared back at me. One of my favourite books as well. I had a well read, dog eared copy on my shelf that my dad had first read to me when I was very little.

“It’s wonderful, thank you Lily,” I replied genuinely grateful.

“Are you sure?” she asked again, “I can take it back and get you something else, can’t we Mum?”

“No, I do like it. I love Narnia”

“Oh, me too, I always imagine I’m Lucy and want to find my way into Narnia. Do you think it exists? Can we get there? Is Aslan really a lion?”

“Lily stop talking so much” her father said, putting his hand on her shoulder. I saw her freeze pulling away slightly. The expression on her face changed from smiling to a look of fear. She cowered under his touch, much like she’d done with me in Whitby. Something had happened in the past or she feared her adoptive father. I could see his hand was tight on her shoulder, like he was applying a vice like grip. I could see pain now in her eyes.

“Bernard!” Lily’s mum said suddenly shooting him a glance.

At that he relaxed the grip on her and patted her shoulder instead. Lily moved away from him towards us.

“Is your father here?” Lily’s Dad asked.

“We’re meeting him for lunch in an hour at Ramsdens. He’s busy at the moment.” I answered shortly annoyed at how he’d held Lily.

“Where is he now? I wanted to ask him if it’s OK for Lily to stay with you and go back with you?”

“I don’t know,” I lied, not wanting to tell him where he was out of spite.

“Ah well we’ll meet him in an hour and ask,” he said.

“I’m sure it’ll be OK”

“Ah my dear boy, that is your father to say.”

‘Dear boy’ I could feel my anger rising again.

“Lily can come with you and I’ll meet your father at Ramsdens, did you say?”

I nodded, not sure I’d be able to be civil to him if I spoke. Joyce sensing my discomfort, maybe, answered for us.

“We’d love for Lily to be with us for the day, she’ll wonderful to have around,” Joyce said.

“Then we’ll leave her in your capable hands and see you again in an hour,”

With that they wandered off leaving the three of us as if nothing had happened.

“I hate that man…” Lily said with venom.

“Are you OK?” I asked surprised by the starkness of her voice. There was always warmth in her voice, brightness that made you smile. This was a different person, warmth extinguished from the voice.

“Yes, I am now” she almost spat out. Then she was suddenly smiling again.

“Where are we going now?”

“Come on then, lets go off to Woolies, the pick and mix is on me” I said.

Smiling we wandered off down the street, Lily skipping between us.

“I’ve just got to pop in here for a minute, “Joyce said when we got level with a jewellers, “you two carry on, I’ll catch you up. Oh, and look after her Tom.”

I wondered where she’d gone in there for but was pulled away from the thought by Lily.

“You do like the book don’t you Tom?”

“Yes, it’s one of my favourites of all time. I needed a new copy as the one I have is old but this one is special, because you bought it me.”

She smiled and skipped along.

Joyce joined us whilst we were choosing what sweets we wanted.

“Have you got it?” Lily asked Joyce.

“Shhhh” Joyce replied.

“Got what?” I enquired.

“Cold, what else do you think she mean. Sometimes Hukin…” Joyce laughed.

 We spend a god half hour eating the sweets whilst browsing through the record collection. I wasn’t tempted to buy the Beatles single or any of the others Joyce kept thrusting in my face. Lily was shrieking with laughter so much I thought at one point we’d be thrown out of the shop.

We eventually emerged into the watery sunlight and wandered along the road with the girls singing Locomotion. The mood was contagious and soon I was joining in. Passers-by gave us a wide berth, a couple of older women tutting loudly as we passed. It was fun though and made us laugh even more. We arrived at the café with about five minutes to spare. Ramsden’s was a tradition in York for us. We’d always end up here in the shadow of the Minster to eat before going home. It was a simple place, but their ‘meat and tatty pie’ was a legend. You could see the huge pies they cut from through the windows, steam rising when they pierced the lid and revealed all the goodness inside. I swear I could smell it through the windows. My stomach growled loudly as if demanding food which made Lily laugh even more.

Dad as usual was late, quarter of an hour passed and still no sign. I could see Lily’s parents stood further up the street, but they hadn’t come down towards us yet. Then I saw Dad rushing around the corner at the far end of the street. Walking fast and glancing at his watch as he went, his notebook in his hand. He didn’t seem to see Lily’s parents. As he passed them, he raised his hand towards us in greeting. I waved back. I saw Lily’s dad point at Dad. The next minute seemed to happen so fast, yet when I looked back at it, time slowed in my mind.

A man with a flat cap pulled down tight over his head set off following dad along the road. We watched as he picked up speed and sent dad flying to the floor with a barge to his back. Dad flailed his arms yet couldn’t keep upright on the cobbled roadway. He fell to the ground with a yell, landing heavily on his shoulder. His notepad and slide rule skated across the shiny cobbles.

The man who’d knocked Dad over stopped and at first I thought he was going to help Dad up. He reached down and picked up notebook. I saw dad reach towards him to stop him. The man just pushed him back down.

“Stop”

I shouted when I realised what had happened, but it was too late. Grasping the notebook in his hands the man looked all ways before heading off down a nearby snicket before we could do anything. We just stood there stunned at what had happened. Around us people carried on as though nothing had happened.

“Are you OK?” I asked Dad.

He stood up shakily, brushing himself down and feeling his shoulder.

“I’ll be OK, that blithering idiot, he took my notebook… All my notes… Did you see who it was? Where did they go?”

“Sorry Dad, he went down there,” I said pointing towards the snicket.

“He’ll not be found then. All that work …”

“Was it important?” I asked.

“Well I have most of it at work, but it was useful to carry around and work on ideas.”

“It’s weird he took that,” I said, “almost as if he knew what it was.”

“Yes, I guess so. Do you think he followed us?”

We all looked around suddenly aware that someone knew where we were at that precise moment. It was a spooky feeling thinking that unknown to us someone had been stalking us. A chill went down my spine as I thought about the implications. It scared me that someone had been watching over us from a distance. Were they watching our house?

“No, just probably thought that it might be valuable,” Dad replied unconvincingly.

“Are you OK Mr Hukin?” Lily piped up.

“Oh, hi Lily, yes I’m OK, a little bruised but I’ll be OK. You managed to join us, did you?”

At that moment I saw Lily’s mother and father approaching. Dad turned to look where we were looking.

“Reginald” Lilys dad said.

“Bernard” Dad said coolly.

“I hope that you’re OK, old chap,”

Dad nodded. I could feel tension between them crackling, or maybe it was my imagination.

“Lily told us that you asked her to join you for today. Unfortunately, we missed you at the station but thought we’d motor down in the car on the off chance we’d bump into you. Would it be OK if Lily accompanies you? We’ll pick her up from the station at Goathland if that’s OK?”

“Yes, that’s fine, Tom and Joyce enjoy having Lily around.” Dad said still with a cool manner.

“I was very sorry to hear about Florence… Terrible the way life can be taken so suddenly… and unexpectedly isn’t it?”

Dad remained silent and just looked at Lilys dad.

“Well anyway old boy, we’ll leave you to it. What time does your train get in?”

“Half past six,” Dad replied.

“Eighteen thirty, you never could get your head around military procedure, could you Reg?”

“I’m a civilian now.”

“You never really understood what was really important did you?”

“Family and loyalty are more important to me.”

“Didn’t help Florence, did it?”

It wasn’t my imagination now, I could see dad getting angry. A vein in his forehead was stood out and I could see his hands clenching. Dad wasn’t a violent or angry person as a rule, unless his family was affected. I thought for a minute he might hit Lily’s dad. I put my hand on his arm.

“All sorts of things can happen unexpectedly if we don’t follow certain … rules,” Lily’s dad continued, “tragic loss of life can happen at any time.”

“Dad,” I said.

“Should we go and have dinner now,” Dad said turning away from Lily’s dad and mum towards us.

“Maybe Lily would be better coming with us now? After all you’re injured” Lily’s mum asked.

I felt Lily’s hand reach for mine. I looked at her and saw her shake her head at me as if to say she didn’t want to go with them.

“That’s OK, I’d like Lily to help me celebrate my birthday. You’re Ok aren’t you dad?” I said.

“Yes, Lily is never any problem”

“But…” Lily’s mum started before she was cut back by her husband raising his hand.

“It’ll be OK Petunia, we’ll pick her up at the station as we agreed. I’m sure Reginald will look after her.”

With that he turned and started back down the street leaving his wife to hastily follow in his wake.

“Good riddance” I heard Dad say under his breath.

“Thanks,” Lily said, “I’d rather spend the day with you than them.”

Opening the door of the café was like walking into a sauna, if I knew what a sauna was really like. The heat and steam hit you. It was only then I realised how chilly it had been outside. The little streets and alleyways didn’t allow much direct sunlight and although it wasn’t icy, the heat from the café made it appear so.

With the steam came the smell, meaty gravy, a smell of bacon which invaded the nostrils with its intensity. My stomach involuntarily rumbled again with anticipation. We found a table towards the back of the café and sat down. Along one wall was a long counter resplendent with a huge chrome tea urn at the end. A huge tin tray of pie was stood on a hotplate by the window waiting to be served. A vat, which I knew contained mushy peas sat next to it.

“Pie and peas all round?” Dad asked, “tea or would you prefer orange squash Lily?”

We all nodded, and Dad went to the counter to get served. The café did other things, like breakfast and fish and chips, but most people were here for the pies. Ramsdens was famous throughout York for them. They were made at the back of the café. I’m not sure how many they actually made but the one on the counter when empty was always replaced with a fresh one, no matter what the time of day.

Dad brought the drinks back; three huge steaming mugs of tea and a glass of orange squash complete with a straw. The tea looked as though it was strong enough to stand a spoon in but was just what we wanted.

A few minutes later the café owner, a huge mountain of a man, wandered over with the first two plates of food. A cigarette wedged between his lips. In all the time we’d been coming to this café, I don’t think I’d ever seen him without it there. He appeared to be able to talk without removing it. Occasionally ash would drop down his smock and he’d brush it away with one of his huge hands.

The plates were piled high with steaming hot food. Slaps of white waxy potato with great cubes of meat mixed in. The pastry brown and crispy on the top but white and deliciously soggy on the bottom from the steam in the pan. A splodge of lurid green mushy peas brought colour to the plate, all covered with a veil of brown gravy.

“What’s this?” Lily asked tentatively forking the mush of peas.

“Mushy peas,” Joyce said, “try them, they’re really good.”

She looked at me and I nodded. I watched her tentatively place the food in her mouth with a slight grimace, as if she was expected it to taste horrible, luckily it turned to a smile.

“See I told you,” Joyce said.

We ate quietly. The taste was divine. Apart from fish and chips on the front at Whitby, it was quite possibly my favourite meal. Mum’s version was as nice and a once a week meal that I had missed for the last year. It brought back the inevitable memories of mum. It was there all the time in the background, but right now I felt it severely. I felt guilty enjoying the meal, enjoying the day when Mum was no longer here. She’d be sat there gently scolding Dad and I for eating too fast, reminding us what we still had left to do before the train came. I could feel my eyes welling up and I stopped eating, just looking down onto my plate, not wanting the others to see the tears forming.

“You know what she would say” Dad said.

I looked up at him. His eyes were watery as well. I guess the meal had brought back those same memories for us. Even though you know the person isn’t going to come back to you, you still think that they will. Each day you must fight the disappointment mum wasn’t waiting downstairs with breakfast or asking how your day had gone when you got home from school.

“Don’t eat so quickly or you’ll get tummy ache” we both said at the same time.

We both laughed breaking the sadness.

“She wouldn’t want you to be sad and neither do I,” Dad said. “eat up and we might even have time for some treacle sponge.”

I ate up along with a helping of treacle sponge and gorgeous yellow custard. Lily tried her best to finish the pudding but failed towards the end. Joyce, being Joyce, didn’t have a pudding. She was the only one with any energy left after the food.

We wandered off down the streets towards the town centre. Dad’s plan had been to leave us after the meal and go and buy a new notebook and some other stuff before the train went back, but after the incident in the street before he wasn’t happy to leave us on our own.

“Where do you want to go?” Dad said asked us.

“Can we go and walk on the walls?” Lily asked.

“I’m too flooped,” I groaned clutching my belly.

“Oh, it’ll be good to walk it off. Otherwise we could go around the shops…” Joyce said poking me in the side.

“Let’s go on the wall,” I said starting off in the direction of the walls.

Joyce smiled. She always knew how to push my buttons.

It was pleasant walking on the walls. A little cool at time, they were mostly empty and was a relief to get away from the crowds on the street. The sky was a cloak of grey with the occasional patch of blue that allowed shafts of light to shine on the parts of the city below. At one point its ray played over the minster, just like it was god up there lighting his place from above.

I wandered along with Dad watching Lily skipping along next to Joyce ahead.

“She’s a good one that Joyce,” Dad said, “a good head on her shoulders, just like your mum. Don’t let her slip through your fingers.”

“Dad,” I sighed embarrassingly. The last thing I wanted was a ‘talk’ from my dad.

“I’m just saying,” he said, “still wanting to go to Hull next September?”

“Yes” I said hesitantly.

“A problem?”

“Well, it’s just that I’ll have to leave you alone…”

Dad sighed and shook his head and stopped. And leant against the wall.

“Tom, it’s OK. University is probably the best experience that you can have. I’m not going to stand in your way. It might not be the right thing for you, but it might be. If it’s not right for you then we’ll talk then.”

How did he know exactly what I was thinking? I guess we were close since mum went.

Mum…

The thought of her brought tears to my eyes.

“Your mum would be so proud of you,” he said for the second time that day.

I couldn’t help it anymore but reached out to hug him letting the tears flow. He left me a while patting my back.

“Come on son, let’s catch Joyce and Lily up. They’ll be wondering what’s up. Don’t want Joyce to think you’re a baby, not good to let your future wife see you in this state.”

“DAD…”

“It’s OK, just jesting with you.”

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