I'm experimenting with a new narrative voice. I'd be interested in knowing what you think. This is an extract from Tom's Diary...
With Bert gone off to Newcastle upon Tyne, Des had another spare room at the King Willie.
From a distance, the King William Pub looks like a solid cube of York stone that had stood on the same spot since the dinosaurs used it as a scratch-pole. Get closer and you'll see the huge, tightly interlaced blocks of stone, window frames hewn from raw rock, and a slate, multi-sloped roof, prickling with fancy chimneys.
The car park is gravel, and leads to a one acre field in which you'll find either sheep or a car boot sale. Sometimes both.
Inside, the King Willie is all dark beams, old dark furniture and bar, and wildly patterned carpets.
There's only one working fireplace. All the other fireplaces have been blocked off. Des reckons there are some beauties behind the plaster in the bedrooms and one day he'll get round to restoring them all. One day.
The King Willie's spare room overlooks the dairy farm at the back through a large double window. It, the room, had been used as a general storage space, so Des donned an immaculate boiler-suit and gave it a good clear-out. He used Bert's old bedroom as the store instead. The newly cleared room didn't have an en suit but it was very spacious and on a good day you could see over the dairy farm and clear across the rolling green fields to the brown topped Cleveland Hills in the distance. Des painted 'B & B' in white on a black board and nailed it to the outside of the pub. It raised a few eyebrows, mine among them. We don't get a lot of passing trade through Kickingwall so we were a bit sceptical of the new venture's success. But Des wasn't daft and had another two signs made. Very similar to the one he nailed to his front wall but with a fancy arrow underneath pointing the way.
He put one near the busy A1 and one in the other direction at the last roundabout before Darlo. And that same Saturday, there was a customer.
You know in the old cowboy movies, when the stranger comes into town, and pushes open those little swing doors into the saloon, it goes quiet and everyone turns round and looks at him? It's a bit like that in The King Willie in Kickingwall. Whenever it happens, I can't help it, I have to snort into my beer and whistle tootie-tootie-tooo - whistle in my head, of course.
It was on a Saturday evening, Middlesbrough were playing at home on the big screen over the pool table at The King Willie. I was pretending to listen to Claire. We were back on by that time and not yet engaged. I was watching the football over her shoulder. Not as dangerous as you'd think. If Claire had a fault it was her need to share the latest book she'd read. She just loved to talk about the plot and characters and what have you. But the thing is: she knew she was being boring. She knew that describing what happens, in great detail, in a book to someone is far removed from discussing a book with someone. But she couldn't help herself. She'd finish a book, a Georgette Heyer or a Harold Robbins and want to tell it all to someone. And, most of the time, I was that someone. We had an unspoken understanding: she could stand and talk at me, let it all out, ask rhetorical questions etc. and I'd stand more or less facing her and nod and say, 'Uh hu,' or glance at the world going by or the TV or watch her lips and perfect teeth and tongue, and have very rude thoughts, and the understanding was that she wouldn't suddenly accuse me of not listening or ask me a question that needed answering. Sounds strange now I write it down but that's what we did. That's the way it was.
Anyway, I remember this Saturday because when the stranger walked in, everyone stopped talking and turned to look at the poor guy except Claire. She was so engrossed in telling me about a book - she had a hand lightly touching my chest, a habit of hers which made me love her even more - that she didn't notice and just kept talking into the silence. She must have heard her own lone voice coming back at her because she eventually stopped and turned to see who had just come in.
A middle-aged man in a grey suit carrying a fat briefcase stood in the door. Tootie-tootie-tooo.
I'd like to say there was a roll of thunder and a flash of lightning from the darkness behind him, but there wasn't. He just said, 'Good evening,' in a nice friendly manner and came up to the bar.
Behind the bar, Des, slick backed hair and dressed in his white shirt, fancy publican's waistcoat and razor creased black trousers said, 'What can I get you?'
'I saw the B and B sign outside,' said the stranger, 'and wondered if you had a spare room and how much.'
Des allowed himself a smug look at us and we eyebrow bobbed and nodded, yes, you were right, back at him. 'This way,' said Des, holding up the flap into the bar. 'I'll show you the room. It's got a lovely view and it's at the back of the pub so is nice and quiet. Will you be staying long?' The stranger followed Des through the bar, into the back and up the stairs. Half way up Des shouted down, 'Claire, would you mind?'
Clair called back, 'No problem, Des.' Claire sometimes looked after the bar when Des and Margaret were busy. Aunty Margaret, Mrs Pritchard, was away at a teacher's conference in Manchester, I remember.
After a while, Des and the new bloke appeared and it was obvious he'd taken the room. Turned out his name was Bruce Willis, same as the actor, and he sold some kind of chemical to farmers. He never used the word but I think it was fertilizer.
He drank vodka and tonic and was friendly enough, if a little dull. When he offered me and Claire a drink we made our excuses and went back to my place where I got to second base, got slapped, got forgiven and got to walk Claire home. That night, once again, I had testicles like blue pomegranates.
Back in The King Willie: Meg, Big Andy, Jean and Dr Bagshaw were playing dominoes. At two pence a go it was a serious business and Dr Bagshaw got the huff complaining that Andy wasn't playing properly.
Big Andy the butcher rumbled, 'If I'm not playing properly, how come I've got all your two pence pieces, like?'
'I don't know,' said Dr Bagshaw. He looked at his watch. 'Anyway, it's late. I'd better be off.' He pointed at Andy, 'Come and see me about that back of yours tomorrow. Alright?' That was very naughty of Dr Bagshaw because there was nothing wrong with Andy's back. Everyone in the village except little Jean knew that it was just a small deception Andy used to get out of various household chores.
Andy looked sheepish - a good trick for a bloke with a face like a Shire horse. 'All right,' he said.
Jean put a tender hand on her husband's arm. 'Are you suffering, darling?'
Andy patted her hand. 'I'm fine, pet. Really.'
'Goodnight all,' said Dr Bagshaw, and left.
After the 'goodnights' had died down Bruce Willis asked if he could sit in. 'I don't mind a game of dominos,' he said.
'Take a seat,' said Meg. So Bruce did. That's how Bruce met Meg. Poor Meg.