Because we still live in old times, there is something of the modern about double decker buses and the chimes of the church clocks.
Neath Thurland Street bridge, with endless cigarettes and watch glances, Jack Tuttle also known as John. Ex Navy and boxing booth denizen, wilted red carnation stuffed in lapel, heavy pin stripes stroking the tops of black patent leather shoes. Trilby. Tommy Trinder minus the laughs.
The pealing of the city clocks. Six o’clock, twilight and time, for most, for home.
Jack Tuttle tips forward his hat, his face sinking deeper into the twilight of brim shadow. Illuminated for a few seconds by the flame from a match. Which is when she spies him, Nan Taylor, from the other side of the canal. A nip over the bridge to join him there.
The rattle of a trolley bus.
This Nan Taylor is the fancy of Jack Tuttle’s eager eye. He watches her from afar, at work, where she is the daughter of the foreman. With whom he has what they would later call an uneasy relationship. On account, really, of this foreman/father believing (erroneously, as it happens) Jack to be much the same type of character as he himself is: an eye for the ladies, something of a rogue, a bit of a dandy, a tendency to violence. Judge not forsoever lest thou be judged oneself or whatever.
They huddled together neath the arc of Thurland Bridge where he lighted two cigarettes at the same time. Like, of course, Paul Henreid in Now Voyager. But with a little cough and Nan’s cigarette not quite burning properly. But still.
And still, at last, the sound of the evening air. Rattles, footsteps and tired voices easing off towards the distance. Peripheral irritants, along with low bass rumbles, long a source of dismay to Jack’s sensitive ears. It is, an otologist once told him, the result of ear canals that rise up instead of down, that stretch far too long.
From the neath of Thurland Bridge and stepping on to the still cobbled street towards Rope Hill. A view of the city centre, lit by streetlamps and trolleybus trails. She did that thing he likes, feeding her arm through his as he kept his hands inside his pockets, fag hanging from mouth. Chatting all the way as the smoke stung his eyes and he struggled slightly, without letting on, to breathe and smoke at the same time.
The Blue Bell. Glazed brick work, green. And blue. The landlord greeting Jack by name. Fag still in mouth as those were the days.
There it is all warm and colourful, neath this blanket of smoke and knees pressed hard against small circular tables. Safe. You would happily spend four hours perched on a small circular stool, your back arching out like the arch of Thurland Bridge. Edges of velvet and bends of brass, picture frames stuffed with black and white photographs of canals and barges and barrel-chested men standing next to beer barrels. A big picture of a trolleybus, the number 40 to Wilford Road, right in front of Griffin and Spalding.
And it’s true what they say. Everything was better then.