Journey To The Past
20:27. First class travel hasn’t made much of a difference. My legs still feel like rubber as I stumble off the carriage and on to the platform. For a split second I worry I’ve stepped in to quick sand. I will my legs to wake up and head toward the stations exit. My heart is racing so much I’m convinced it’s going to break through my chest and start flying around the station, ricocheting off the old stone walls and blue metal support beams. The stations had a decent revamp since I was here last. The hair on the back of my neck stands up. I feel warm, sweaty. It’s freezing here. I’m petrified – what else has changed?
Outside I take a deep breath. The air tastes funny. Fresh is probably the best word. The distinct absence of petrol fumes is replaced with a hint of salt. I sneeze. Have I been away so long I’m now allergic to sea air? I hit redial on my mobile, Lucy promptly answers. “I’m here!” I declare, trying not to let my nerves betray me. “Where are you?”
“I’m still at home” she replies, practically shouting over the screams in the background. What the hell did I agree to? “The kids are a pain the in arse tonight! Max should be there waiting for you!”
I swallow, hard. It’s worse than I thought.
“Silver BMW. See you in a bit!”
The phone goes dead. I stand there looking like a lost tourist.
“You look lost luv, you ok?” I try not to jump as I spot a not wholly unattractive woman. Mid thirties I’d say.
“Oh no I’m just waiting for someone.”
“You and me both!” I think she just winked at me. “So you fancy some fun tonight?”
She might as well have a big neon sign above a head flashing the words Whore For Hire. She’s hardly subtle. I’ve been in a few situations like this before, back in London and unsurprisingly Amsterdam. But this time I’m thrown. I feel like I’ve regressed fifteen years and I’ve barely set foot on home turf.
“Oi!” I hear a shout from the distance. I’m convinced it’s a police officer. “Dan! Over ’ere mate!” My legs head straight for the hand waving from the drivers side of the silver BMW. The driver gets out of the car. It takes me a good couple of seconds to recognise him. It’s actually a bit of a shock. You expect people to change with age, but this much? His once long black hair has been cropped really short, almost military style. He’s grown almost carpet size side-burns - as if the hair that receded at the front of his head decided it was time for a change of venue and grew somewhere else. It’s like Wolverine’s just really let himself go! I see the cars boot spring open. He stands at the back of the car, his hands seemingly wedged in his faded jeans pockets. He’s put weight on. There’s a distinct belly struggling to escape that black shirt. I think he’s shrunk a little too, height wise. He looks like he still weighs the same but the weight shifted from the vertical to the horizontal. He looks like a cloning experiment that got the measurements slightly wrong.
“Dude!” Max steps forward a little too eagerly. His hand thrusts out so quickly I’m half-expecting it to jab a knife in my gut. I guess I’ve been in a London a little too long! We shake hands. A wide, almost hyper-active smile washes across his face. “How was the journey? Luc told me you came down first class. You certainly know how to travel dontcha?!” He practically throws my barrel bag in the boot, wedging it next to a pair of dirty old trainers, two footballs and an old open toolkit. He slams the boot shut and races round to the car waving me to jump in the other side. It’s like we’re a couple of Hollywood action stars about to start a random and dramatic car chase.
The car has the distinct smell of wet dog and vomit. The various air-fresheners positioned in key points around the vehicle do nothing to ease the whiff. It just smells like a dog threw up in a pine tree. “Right then, lets get you to Castle de Miles!” I’m pushed back in to the retro black sports seats, my chest convinced we’re taking place in a shuttle launch. My overactive heart is considering making its exit past my spine.
“So you’re back in Bournemouth two minutes and you’re already on the pull I see!” Max quips as we drive past the Neon Signed Hooker. “Have to say not your best choice from what I’ve been reading.” I should probably say something. I don’t.
We loop round the back of the station and head in to Friday night in Bournemouth. Within a couple of minutes I start getting flashbacks to the more than occasional rampant night, especially at the end of a week. That’s why I’m surprised that we’re heading down Old Christchurch Road – the Party Animal Central of Bournemouth. I mean even Prince Harry got in to a fist fight down here. The entire street is heaving with revellers and party goers out for a good time. The security looks to have been beefed up on almost every single establishment down the road. Even Grecko’s, a simple kebab shop looks to have some form of bodyguard at the door.
“Knew I shouldn’t have come this way!” Max shouts over some anonymous hardcore dance beat as we crawl through the masses behind taxis and police cars. One taxi has pulled over so a passenger can throw up on the pavement. It’s not even nine o’clock! “How does it feel then? Being back?”
“Fuckin’ weird!” I reply, staring out the passenger window like a five year old on his first trip to a safari park. “It’s actually gotten worse. We weren’t that bad were we?”
“Of course we bloody were. We just didn’t take it on the streets, that’s all!”
We get to the bottom of the road and make a right at the roundabout up Dean Park Crescent. The hardcore dance beats suddenly makes way for an even more annoying sound; that bloody Crazy Frog - the one time ring-tone craze that proved beyond all shadows of doubt that the term “cool” is grossly over-used. Max excuses himself and clicks a button on the steering wheel. “Max Miles, I’m driving what is it?”
“Hi Max its Michelle, you ok to talk?” The voice sounds sweet but panicked. The car slows and pulls over to the side. A taxi burns past with what looks like two crazed orang-utans fighting on the back seat.
“Sorry I have to take this!” Max picks up his mobile phone from the dashboard and starts talking, almost business like. I look past him in to the shadows to the right of the car. Horseshoe Common. That’s an area that holds some memories I can tell you!
“But you know I’ve got someone here!” Max protests. “Yes the DJ guy. Yes, the one who I went to University with. Yes the one who shagged the page three model. Yes he is a complete dick!”
I look at him as if trying to remind him I’m sat right next to him.
“Look I’m already late. Okay, okay, I’ll be there in five minutes, but this has better be quick!” He slams the phone down. “Dude I’m sorry, we gotta make a pit stop. Something needs sorting out at the office. It won’t take long I’m sure.”
“No probs. Be good to see where you work if nothing else.”
* * *
In all the time that I knew Max I never thought he’d conform like this. We park up outside a plush office block half-way down Richmond Hill – the Bournemouth equivalent of London’s City district. Glass exterior, marble entrance, catchy, well designed sign for Com-raid. It’s actually a well known communications company, oddly enough a rival to Suzy’s father’s old business. I had no idea Max worked for such a company.
“Could you do us a favour and stay with the car?” Max already has one foot out the door, clearly eager to do what ever he needs to as quickly as possible. “I won’t be long, I promise!”
He runs towards the main entrance leaving me to baby-sit his stinky BMW. At least he left the keys in the ignition so I can wind the window down. I send a quick message to Emma saying I got here safely and wishing her a good weekend, not forgetting to mention that if anything happens next week she must ring me. I’m tempted to take a leaf out of Max’s book and have a sudden work-based emergency. I play around with the car radio. All the local channels seem to be about two years behind anything in London. Bournemouth’s caught up – the gap used to be at least ten years. The car park is quite secluded and dark. There are a few teenagers in the distance stumbling down the hill like a bunch of drunk zombies. An old lady going the in opposite direction pushing an old supermarket trolley. It’s like being in an episode of the Twilight Zone.
In ten minutes I go through the car radio’s frequencies five times, trying to find a radio station that maybe I missed time before. I take a peak at a stack of CD’s in the glove compartment – Oasis, Stone Roses, James Blunt? It’s like a really bad Spot The Odd One Out game. I delete some unwanted text messages from the mobile. Look at some old photos. There’s one of a girls naked frontage. I zoom in. The small mole below the left breast gives it away. It’s like Suzy is stalking me. I think about deleting it, but it’s a bloody good picture. I get a message from Emma saying everything is fine and telling me to relax, she’s not predicting any problems. God-damn!
“Okay job done!” The driver’s door swings open and Max jumps back in. “Sorry, it took a little longer than I thought!” He’s out of breath, almost panting. His face is red.
“Everything okay in there? You look a little.....flushed!”
“Yeah just the fuckin’ lift’s stopped working a week ago. Serves me right for getting promoted to the top floor I guess!”
We race out of the car park and back up Richmond Hill. We head over Wessex Way at the Richmond Hill Roundabout and continue down Wimbourne Road. The houses are nicer than I remember. Eventually we turn right on to Cavendish Road. I feel the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention again. If we kept going straight for another minute we’d end up back at my old family house. I start to panic. How weird would it be if Max and Lucy live in the same street? Scratch that – the same bloody house. I think about flinging the passenger door open and rolling out Lethal Weapon style, but a left turn on to Cavendish Place calms me a little.
Oddly Max’s house is a little reminiscent of Dad’s old place. They’ve even managed to get some tall iron gates at the entrance to the drive way. It’s a big place, must be at least five bedrooms. He’s truly an upper-middle-class business man.
“What do ya think?” Max asks, rightfully, with pride.
“When you said Castle de Miles earlier you weren’t bloody lying were ya?!”
We gather my bags out of the stinky boot and crunch over the gravel to the front door. Lucy is stood there with her youngest in her arms, still crying its eyes out. “Took you bloody long enough didn’t it?”
Max pecks his wife on the cheek. “Sorry would’ve been here sooner if stud-muffin’ here wasn’t hitting on hookers at the train station!”
“Don’t you go bringing your sick London ways in to my house you dirty sod!” Lucy waves her finger at me, mocking and smiling. She looks good, really good actually. She’s in her in-house attire of sweat pants and a t-shirt, but you can tell she’s looked after herself. It makes me wonder where Max went wrong;
Walking through the hallway you can see it’s a nice home, a nice family. I don’t know why but I feel.....surprised. She pecks me on the cheek, almost squeezing out her kid, who immediately voices his disapproval. “Oh sorry, Dan this is Noel. Noel this is your Uncle Dan”
“Well hello Noel!” I offer my finger out to the two year old as a sign of friendship but he just screams and turns away like it’s a stick of dynamite!
“Where’s the other one?” Max asks throwing his shoes in the corner.
“I think he’s still hiding under the table. Come on in Dan.”