In which The Author loses another friend
A long, long time ago, I was working in Dillons Bookstore in Cardiff. I hadn’t been there very long, so we’re talking about the early to mid-nineties. Then, as now, Aberdare Park hosted the National Motorcycle Races. At the time, it was only a one-day extraganza, held on a Saturday in July. (Now it runs for the full weekend, and by an odd turn of events, that weekend has only just passed.)
Anyway, on the particular weekend in question, I’d worked the Saturday and arrived back in Aberdare at about 7 p.m. I thought (as usual) that I deserved a pint for facing customers all day. With that idea in mind I headed to the Carpenters Arms.
The races had finished, and as the pub was popular with bikers, a fair number of visitors had descended on the place, joining the regulars for beer and smokes. Which is where the nonsense set in.
While I was being served, a small, very pretty girl a few years younger than me came to stand next to me. We knew each other to say ‘hello’, but that was about it. She started talking to me all the same. Initially she took a liking to my collar and asked if she could try it on for a few minutes. It would have been rude to refuse, so I fastened it around her neck while she held her hair out of the way. She checked her reflection in the mirror behind the bar, and we both agreed it suited her admirably. While we were chatting, she explained why she’d latched onto me without any warning.
A guy had come onto her earlier in the session. He’d somehow convinced himself that he was going to get his leg over her at some point. She’d tried fending him off, and eventually decided to tell him that her boyfriend was on his way to the pub. It transpired that I’d walked in at the decisive moment. So I had to pretend to be her boyfriend for a while – or at least until the Pain in the Arse had given it up as a bad job. That was cool with me. We held hands, kissed a couple of times, and went to sit together in a corner. Pain in the Arse watched us, but didn’t say or do anything. We both assumed that he’d taken the hint and carried on chatting.
Her name was Amanda B., and she was bright and funny. She (like several other girls I’ve met) loved the fact that I worked in a bookshop. I didn’t have illusions that we were doing anything other than fabricating a convenient cover story for her. Even so, when I drank up and told her I was going to join the rest of the Saturday gang in the Cambrian, she asked if she could tag along.
I bought Amanda a drink when we got there, and we sat with my friends: Liz and Nigel, Dean and Carole, Neil and Cath, Benji, and some others who’d been to the Carpenters and moved on before I got there. She fitted in nicely, and we all had a good chat and a laugh as usual. Towards 10.30 we all decided to move on again.
The Morning Star (now closed) used to have a lock-in on Saturday nights. If we were there early enough, there was a decent chance of a nice long session behind closed doors. I invited Amanda to join us, and she accepted. So, I was with a cute young girl who had approached me on a pretext and now seemed to be genuinely good company. And, needless to say, it all went horribly wrong.
On the way through town I realised that I needed to visit the cashpoint. The nearest one was at the Halifax, just along the main street from the Carpenters. The others had cut through the alleyway, heading straight for the Morning Star, so Amanda and I were on our own. We hadn’t gone more than a few yards from the Carpenters when the Pain in the Arse hurtled out of the door. He shouted, ‘Get your fucking hands off my girlfriend!’ and sprinted towards me. He caught me completely by surprise. I tried to sidestep him, slipped, and ended up on the deck. He put the boot in a couple of times before Gary, the Carpenters’ bouncer, came to my aid.
The Pain in the Arse had legged it as soon as Gary intervened, and Amanda had disappeared as well. I flagged down a passing police van and, with blood pouring from my nose, we set off in search of either (or both) of them. After drawing a blank, I persuaded the police to drop me off at the bottom of the park (far enough from town to be out of harm’s way) and headed home from there.
On Monday, of course, I had to face Twenty Questions in work. Lisa was particularly sceptical of my story – that I’d slipped getting out of the bath and hit my face on the wall. After a morning of fielding her questions (and Jane’s, which were almost as intense), I crumbled during our lunch hour.
‘Right,’ I said finally. ‘You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth!’ The girls braced themselves for my revelation. ‘I was fighting over a girl! Are you happy now?’
And they pissed themselves laughing. The idea of my fighting over a girl was hilarious in the extreme, apparently. Why had I even bothered?
A few months later, on the way home, I bumped into Amanda in Trecynon. It was dark, and (see Metamorphoses
) she’d changed her appearance, but she stopped me to apologise for what had happened.
‘He wasn’t my boyfriend at all,’ she said, rather unnecessarily. ‘I wish we’d gone to the Star together.’
So did I. Still, that’s the way life pans out in Aberdare.
I don’t think I’ve seen her at all since. Maybe we’ve crossed paths and said ‘hello’, but to all intents and purposes she’d vanished again – this time, for years on end.
I only relate this story today because I heard this afternoon that Amanda has passed away. I don’t know the circumstances. My mate just said it was ‘a long illness.’ Once again I’m saddened by losing a friend decades too soon. It seems to be the way Aberdare is headed. After my old pal Stuart Cable passed away, a friend of mine remarked that ‘the town is going to be missing an entire elderly generation.’ The older I get, the more I think that she was right.