Harry, Thelma and Harry
I suppose I should really go back to when I was a child to start telling my story. I think I must have been about five or six when my parents lashed out and brought a holiday caravan down on the south coast near Weymouth. From that time on every school holiday we travelled down there for the duration of the breaks.
Of course, my dad couldn't come with us to the caravan every time we went because he had his work commitments. So, for most of the year it was just my mother, my two sisters and me. After a couple of years my dad bought a bigger caravan and then a varied collection of friends and relatives were invited to join us for a break away from the city.
There were quite a few other families from all over the country who also had caravans on the site. So when mum took us down on her own and we didn't have dad with the car to go out in, my sisters and I would kick about the site and the local area. We were lucky to have a family car back in the fifties; not all that many families had cars back then and, unfortunately, my mother never could get her head around driving. Although she did manage to frighten the life out of a couple of driving instructors before she gave up on the idea.
There were always other kids on the site for me to play with. My sisters always considered they were above playing with little boys. The person who became my best friend whilst I was down there was Harry.
Harry was a year older than I was, but for some reason we hit it off together the first time we met. Harry sported a massive red birthmark all over the left-hand side of her face, and for some reason that I could never understand when I was that age, she was shunned by most of the other children because of it. The birthmark never seemed to bother me, and Harry being a real tomboy turned into a good friend too whilst I was down there.
As a matter of fact, if Harry's family didn't go down to Weymouth on any particular school holiday, I found the place very boring. Harry was an only child and we seemed more like brother and sister than just friends. My two elder sisters were a pair of stuck up little cows when they were young.
As life went on and we got older, climbing on the cliffs and throwing stones into the sea began to lose its interest for Harry and me. Over the years we had explored just about every nook and cranny within miles. We'd found where we could hide and watch the young couples making out. It was fun as ten-year-olds to try and understand what they were doing. But as we got older and wiser to the ways of the world, we began to feel uncomfortable when we sneaked up to watch them together. Nothing was ever said but we were such close friends that we seemed to sense what each other felt inside.
Harry and I were considered old enough by then to catch the bus into Weymouth on our own, where we explored the town and harbour. There were occasions when some ignorant people would make some comment about Harry's face and there were a couple of times when I got into fights with other kids over it. I knew it upset Harry when they made comments about her face.
It was probably when I was about twelve that Harry started wearing make-up to hide her birthmark. To be honest I thought it looked worse than the bloody birthmark, but I never said anything. Harry and I started going to the dance in the club on caravan site. Oh, we'd been there many times over the years. They had children's entertainment during the morning then as the day went on the dancing started for kids; younger kids in the afternoon and then for the older ones in the early evening and the adults later.
But Harry and I were dancing with the older kids now. The bouncers were old friends to Harry and me. If anyone ever said anything about Harry's birthmark, generally the bouncers were there before I had a chance to react. I think they watched me as they realised I wouldn't stand for anyone upsetting Harry.
It was the Easter of my fifteenth year that Harry vanished. My whole family travelled down to Weymouth on the Thursday before Good Friday. I went straight over to Harry's caravan only to find it was still closed up for the winter. Investigations at the site office informed me that the caravan had been sold. The rest of that break was the worst holiday I had ever had.
My mum and dad took me out every day. My dad told me later that he tried to find out what had happened to Harry and her family. It was years later that he told me that Harry's father had died of influenza during the winter. Her mother couldn't afford to keep up the caravan so she had sold it. Dad was hoping he would be able to find out Harry's address so that I could at least write to her. But he was unsuccessful.
Harry and I were friends at the Weymouth but for some reason it had never occurred to us to get each other's addresses and write. All I knew was that she lived near Bath somewhere.
After Harry was no longer there, Weymouth lost its interest for me. That summer I stayed home with my dad, when my mother and sisters went to Weymouth. Dad and I went down for his summer break from work. But the rest of summer I kicked about with my school friends.
The following year my mother decided that it was about time we joined in the latest boom; that was to go abroad for our summer holiday. I think my sisters, who were by that time dating boys, were beginning to put some pressure on her about being away from their current squeezes for so much of the year.
The caravan was sold and the clan set off for a couple of weeks in the sun. Small point, not by plane but by train; the journey taking twenty-four hours. I joined the family for their first couple of trips to Rimini in Italy. But by the time I was eighteen I wanted to get away with my mates. So I stopped joining them.
The pop festivals were becoming the thing by then and that's where the boys and I went whenever the opportunity presented itself. It was the sixties and boy did we have a good time of it for a few years. When I had finished college I tried a plethora of jobs without being able to settle in any of them.
I was by then the proud owner of a 1959 model Hillman Minx. My private nooky wagon. One day when my employer said something I didn't like - I'm buggered if I can remember what - I told him to stick his job — that I couldn't stand anyway — up his arse and walked out.
I hadn't driven far when stopping at a set of traffic lights, I felt a hard bump as someone ran into the back of the Hillman. I climbed out to be confronted by a truck driver who apologised profusely. I can't remember how the conversation went but it finished up with me following him back to his yard which was nearby, were his boss promised to foot the bill for a new rear bumper and have it fitted.
The following day I took the car down to the transport yard to have the new bumper fitted and I sat and waited in the reception office while it was being done. You know strange things can happen in your life. When some bloke stuck his head in the door and said come with me, like a lamb I followed him.
Exactly why I never asked him why he wanted me to climb into the driver's seat of a lorry, I've never been able to figure out. I sat there like a dummy as he pointed out all the controls and explained the gearbox layout. Then when he said right out the gate and turn left, I just started the engine did what he told me to. I drove the truck for about thirty minutes before we got back to the yard.
As I parked the truck, he said to me, "You'll do. If you were to ask me, I'd say you're a natural."
Then he got out and started walking back toward the office.
I followed him and as we went through the door, the boss who I had met the previous day came out of an inner office and said to the guy, "Mitch, I thought I asked you to take that guy on a driving appraisal?"
"I did. He'll do fine!"
"How'd you manage that when he's still sitting in my bloody office?"
Well, I was unemployed, so the upshot was, I got the job and the other guy didn't. The following Monday I was on the road as a truck driver. I've got to say that I enjoyed myself. Now, for the first few months I didn't have the faintest idea what I was doing. But I found that I had a brilliant sense of direction. Back in those days drivers looked after each other, and there are many of them who I have to thank for teaching me how to load trucks properly and how to rope and sheet it down.
It seemed being out on the road suited my temperament; it was the first job that had I really enjoyed and settled down in. I soon found that there were a few companies who were asking my boss to send me when they hired a truck. I gathered he liked that, as it proved to him that I was doing a good job and keeping his customers happy.
At Marshal's, one of the places that I regularly picked up loads from, there was a girl working in the dispatch office by the name of Thelma. Thelma was a doll in every sense of the word. She dressed to tease the guys and lapped it up as they ran around her. Her short skirts and tight blouses showed off her gorgeous figure. And her high heels showed off her legs to perfection.
I figured Thelma was a tease the first time I went to Marshal's. Now I'm no slouch around women but I'm not the kind of bloody fool whose tongue hangs out at the sight of a nice pair of legs or a tasty bum. I let the dumb arses chase after Thelma and I was strictly business in my dealings with her. Which was every time I called there, as she looked after dispatch.
As time went on I found that I was going to Marshal's more often until it appeared I was working for them almost exclusively along with a couple other of our drivers. I must admit I enjoyed working for them; it was like one big happy family there. That's more than you could say for most companies. I/we had full run of the place whilst waiting for our load/s and access to the canteen at will. Old man Marshal prided himself on knowing every member of his two hundred odd strong work force by name. Before too long he knew my name and that of the other two drivers from our firm who regularly worked for him.
It was early December, I pulled into our yard one Friday night to fill up my diesel tank and collect my wages. When I got into the office, Mr Wilkins, my boss came out and asked, "Right, boy, what are your plans for tomorrow then?"
It was nothing he hadn't asked me before, normally the precursor to him asking me to do a driving job on the Saturday.
"Nothing special. What've you got on then, Boss? I replied.
"Have you got a decent suit, boy? We're going to Marshal's Christmas do. He invites us every year and if we don't all turn up, the old bugger will get upset."
"Fine by me, boss. I can scrub up quite well when I need to, you know."
"Right. I'll meet you here at the yard at six-thirty. George and Jack are driving up together, but I'll have plenty of room in my car for you; you can ride with the wife and me."
I was a little curious as to why George and Jack were not going to travel with the boss and his wife as well, because his bloody great Jag could easily carry five. But I said nothing.
The following afternoon, I was feeling like I was dressed up like a turkey; since I'd been on the road, I hadn't had reason to wear any of my suits. I climbed into my boss's car for the ride to Marshal's factory where the "do" was going to be held in that massive canteen.
Mr Wilson insisted I called him "Bill" for the evening. But I knew that on Monday it would be back to "Boss" again. He introduced me to his charming wife and I wondered how the old bugger caught such a babe. I figured the answer was probably money, but we'll forget that, as it is unimportant to my story.
As soon as we arrived at Marshal's, George and Jack, along with their respective wives joined us and I realised why they hadn't travelled with us. I did wonder why I hadn't been told I could take a guest, not that I had anyone particular in mind. But if wives were invited surely girlfriends would be as well. I put it down to an oversight by Bill Wilkins.
Mr and Mrs Wilkins sat at the top table with old man Marshal, his wife and all his directors and, I supposed, the bosses of some of the other firms that contracted to him. The five of us wandered around the tables looking for our allocated seats. It was with a little consternation that we found the seat with Jack, George and their wives names on, but we couldn't find mine nearby.
I was wandering around for some time and just beginning to suspect that I had been forgotten. I'll be honest, if I couldn't find my seat I was intending to slip outside and hide until after the meal. But suddenly Thelma tapped me on the shoulder and led me to my seat, which was alongside hers.
Come on, I'm not as daft as I look. Thelma was sitting in the seat that my escort would have sat in had I been told I could bring one. And that of course meant that I was sitting in the seat where her escort should have been sitting, somehow I got the feeling I'd been set up.
Old man Marshal was doing the rounds whilst we waited for everyone to get themselves sorted out and seated. When he came up to me, after thanking me for coming and all the good work I'd put in on his behalf, he said, "Well, my boy, our lovely Thelma here didn't have an escort for this evening. I hope you don't mind looking after her for me?"
I assured him I would but I couldn't help wondering just why the lovely Thelma hadn't been able to find a date. The meal that evening was served by outside caterers, as all the canteen staff had been invited. There were some of them at our table and I watched as they scrutinised everything the caterers did and served up. I doubt that any meal has ever been so closely inspected.
The meal was followed by interminable speeches. The tables were moved to the side and a group started playing. The music was strictly middle of the road designed to appeal to all the staff, whose ages varied between sixteen and sixty.
Thelma and I danced together, but a couple of guys came up and asked her to dance as well. By about ten-thirty I'd had maybe a little more of the free booze than I should have. Whilst dancing to a slow number with Thelma that I was finding a little arousing, I asked her how come she hadn't been able to find a date for the evening. Thelma giggled, I think she had drunk more than she should have as well.
"Don't be silly. I could have found plenty of guys who would have loved to come, but I wanted to spend the evening with you."
"Do you really want to know?"
"I wouldn't ask if I didn't?"
"Well, because you intrigue me."
"Ooh, I Intrigue you, do I? And why is that?"
"Well, you know. You're different." I must have given Thelma a questioning look. "Come on, you know what I mean. You don't chase after me like the other guys do. I'm wondering why. Don't you find me attractive or are you, er um into men or something?"
"Thelma, no, I'm definitely not a bloody poof. And I do think you are a very attractive young woman..."
"Oh, you've got a steady girlfriend then, have you?"
"No, as a matter of fact, I haven't, at the moment."
"Then how come you've never asked me to go out with you? I've never said anything to offend you, have I?"
"Quite the opposite, Thelma. You are a nice young lady as I said. But you're what: eighteen -- nineteen?"
"Nineteen." Thelma replied.
"I'm twenty-four and I'm on the road five days a week and quite often away a few nights at a time. I'm looking for a steady relationship. Now please don't take this personally or as a criticism of you. I'm looking for a girl I can come back on Friday nights and who is prepared to put up with doing very little more than go down to the pub for a drink. A girl who isn't going to be out with other blokes when I'm away for a couple of nights.
"If you were looking for an odd date with me, you've had that this evening. But I don't really think you want to settle down yet. You like it too much when guys chase after you."
"Oh, is that it?
"Yes, I'm afraid so. You're not upset are you?"
"A little disappointed maybe. But can I at least get you under the mistletoe tonight?"
"Sure thing, girl, it would be my pleasure."
I got the feeling that Thelma was trying to prove something after that. Somehow every time we danced, we finished up under that bloody mistletoe. At about one in the morning George came over and told me that Mr Wilkins was ready to leave.
I gave Thelma a kiss goodnight as she walked out to the car with me. As the car pulled out of the car park I looked back to see another guy walk up and put his arm around her.
The following week I was on a different contract so I didn't go to Marshals. The week after that they shut down for the Christmas holidays. The boss conned me into doing a special job on the day after Boxing Day. It involved me spending the New-Year holiday up in Aberdeen.
They had only just started hunting for oil in the north sea back then and I had to take some research gear that was supposedly urgently needed up there. The weather was terrible and I spent nearly two weeks sitting on the harbour side waiting for the bleeding ship to come in so that I could get the gear unloaded.
Mind I had a great time in the pubs up there. There is no place in the world better to spend New Year's Eve in than Scotland. Even if it is blowing a gale, pissing down with rain and bloody freezing.
Mind you the novelty was beginning to wear off by the time the ship I was waiting for finally turned up. Apparently it had been hiding from the storm in a port further along the coast. No one had thought of getting a message to me to meet them there. Yeah, well, I was just a humble truck driver; who gave toss about me?
When I got back down south I took a couple of days off in lieu of being away over the New Year. I'm not saying the boss liked the idea but he knew my reputation for telling bosses what to do with their job if I got upset and there were plenty of driving jobs around back then, if you knew what you were doing.
On the Wednesday I was parked on Marshal's loading bay first thing in the morning. I walked into the dispatch office and got the shock of my life. Sitting in Thelma's chair was a woman I hardly recognised wearing a baggy jumper, slacks and her hair was tied back in a ponytail. When she saw me she jumped out of her chair and ran over to me.
Before I had a chance to say anything her arms were around my neck and her tongue was trying to locate my tonsils.
"Jesus Christ, girl, what are you trying to do, suffocate me?" I asked when she finally came up for air.
"I missed you. Now tell me do I pass inspection now?"
"Look, Thelma, I don't know what to say."
"Tell me do I still look like I'm a little tart who wants to run around with a different bloke each night?"
"I never said that you did."
"Maybe you didn't, but you implied it. Now tell me do I pass muster as your girl now?"
"Well, of course you do. You always have, but..."
"Good, so I'll be waiting for you to pick me up on Friday night. Here's my address and here's your delivery notes for the rest of the week. Oh, I've swung things so you'll be able to finish early Friday. Now you better get to it, as you've got a lot on for today and tomorrow."
Okay, what the hell could I do or say that wasn't gong to upset the girl. So like a lamb to the slaughter I kissed her and went back out to the loading bays to load my truck.
Friday evening I arrived at her house to pick her up at about seven o'clock. She came out of the house carrying an overnight bag.
"Um, what's the bag for Thelma?" I asked nervously.
"Well, I thought you wanted to go to your local pub. It's got to be thirty-five miles away from here at least. I thought if you wanted I could maybe stay over at your place; that would save you driving backwards and forwards picking me up and dropping me off all weekend."
So Thelma stayed over at my parents house that weekend. No, not in my bed but my sisters' - they were both married and gone by then. Thelma slept in their old room.
The following weekend I stayed at her parent's house and we visited pubs around where she lived. Her parents were very nice; I got on really well with her father and her younger brother. I'm not sure how keen her mother was to start with but she came around in the end.
Yeah, you've guessed it Thelma had me wound around her little finger from that first weekend. From that date she never wore anything you could call provocative at work or any other time, that I knew about except when she was out with me, that is. Then blow me if she didn't dress herself up like a million dollars.
I quickly discovered that Thelma wasn't a virgin. Well, I was never under the impression she was actually. However I found out that she couldn't use the birth control pill; she reacted badly to it apparently. So we didn't have sex very often and we always used protection.
Three months later we were engaged and before I knew it we had put down a deposit on a tatty old house almost exactly half way between our parents two homes. We spent all our spare time for the next year practically rebuilding the place. Well, at least we brought it into the twentieth century.
Once the house was finished, the logical next step was to get married. So that's what we did. The reception, of course, was held in Marshall's canteen with the canteen staff doing the catering. Old man Marshal was there and he came up and told me how pleased he was to see us together. Exactly how much he was involved in Thelma's plan to capture me I never have been sure of. Perhaps Thelma just used him, as I was to find out she used so many people.
Life for the next few years was sweet. Thelma fell pregnant quite quickly after we were married. Hey, well, we used condoms on most occasions, but we were just married and sometimes things got a little hectic, you know what it's like.
Having had one child, Tracy, we decided to have our second child, Helen, as soon as we could. Two, we decided was going to be enough for us and Thelma arranged a permanent solution to the birth control problem. Well, she had had some problems when she was carrying Helen and the doctors were quite worried. They had her in hospital early and kept a close eye on her.
Whilst Thelma was still carrying Tracy, I got a call one day from old man Marshal. The upshot of it was that his transport manager was retiring. With Thelma on maternity leave, he was, to put it bluntly in Shit Street. He had already spoken to Bill Wilkins and he asked me whether I would take over as his transport manager, at least until Thelma returned to work.
It would be handy for me as I would be close at hand when Thelma gave birth and I wouldn't be chasing off all over the country whilst Thelma was nursing.
So somewhat reluctantly I agreed. The only problem was that when Thelma and I decided to go for the second child my position with Marshal's became permanent.
The work wasn't hard; it just called for knowledge of vehicles, and a good idea of how to plan routes the trucks should take. After a while I found I quite enjoyed it. Not as much as being on the road, but the money was better and there was no overtime to do.
In a way I was glad I could spend the time with our two little angels. I was quite sure they were going to become a pair of man-eaters like their mother when they grew up. I must admit I saw some worrying times ahead but figured I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.
So, life carried on as I suppose it does for most couples with young children. I genuinely thought I had made it in life. Good job, nice house, loving wife and a wonderful couple of daughters. But things can go pear shaped just when you're not expecting them to.
If I want to put a time stamp on it, I'd say my earliest clue that something was not as it should be was when Tracy had just turned six. I was driving to work one morning and I noticed the car behind me. Okay, you say the roads are public so you should expect to have a car behind you sometimes. But did you noticed that what I said was "the car behind me".
Now remember I'd been a truck driver for a few years. When you're driving trucks all day long and if you're any good at your job, you keep a very good eye on what's going on around you. It could be, if you're carrying a valuable cargo, that car behind you could be loaded with some little toe-rags who would like to relieve you of the job of actually delivering it. Or it could be one of the other big headaches for a driver with a tight schedule to keep to; the unmarked police patrol car.
So if you know what you're doing you keep tabs on the cars behind. All drivers should do that anyway; what I'm talking about is the car and its occupants. Oh, you can spot them a mile away if you've got your head screwed on right, trust me.
No, the car I'd spotted behind me was staying just there. When we hit a junction, if he got left behind, he was overtaking anything and everything until he was back on my tail. He definitely wasn't a copper — they drive far better than this Pratt did — but it was obvious he was following me.
That evening when I left work another car picked up my tail. A different car with a lady behind the wheel this time, but she stayed with me all the way home. Next morning the guy was there again and in the evening the woman followed me to the pub. Thursday nights I have a drink — just one since I'm driving — and a game of snooker with some of my staff.
We hadn't been in the pub long when I noticed her come in, followed shortly after by the guy. They went to the bar separately and brought their own drinks. Then things got what I can only term as farcical. Look, I'm playing snooker with one of the boys and this tart is sitting at the bar showing off as much of her anatomy as she can get away with and staring at me so hard I could feel eyes drilling holes in my back.
A couple of times during my game the woman's eyes met mine and when they did, she smiled at me. The only thing I couldn't work out was who and why was someone trying to set me up. But there was no chance I was going to bite. I'm not sure what kind of an idiot they took me for, but I had no intention of playing the game they intended.
The why question I thought I had the answer for. Old man Marshal was a very family oriented character and placed a high value on the family, Christ, he ran his company like it was one big family. Now, I was an outsider who had been invited into the firm after I had married one of Marshal's favourite employees. I had rapidly become a favourite of his as well and the word around the firm was that I was going places at Marshal's
I figured someone had gotten jealous or thought that in the long term I was a rival to them in the promotion stakes. Whoever it was I assumed was trying to entice me into doing something that would ultimately destroy my marriage and most likely change old man Marshal's opinion of me.
Having finished my drink I bought another so as to hide my true intentions. Then having taken a swig from it, set off to the gents from where I slipped out the back door without anyone noticing. I would have liked to have turned the tables on the two of them, but not having the slightest idea of who was trying to set me up I didn't know whom I could trust. So I just drove myself home. I did wonder how long they waited for me to return from the gents.
The following morning the guy was there again but this time I lost him pretty easily. As I drove out of Marshal's yard that evening the woman fell in behind me immediately. I took her on a little mystery tour that finished up in a small factory estate I knew quite well from driving the trucks; it ended in a cul-de-sac.
Having parked my car I made my way between the buildings where the woman couldn't see me and crept around until I was behind her car. Then she suddenly found me standing by her car door. She realised immediately that I was on to her and taking me completely by surprise took off in the car backwards at high speed. She did a skid turn that would have put Rockford to shame and within moments she was gone.
Cursing myself for letting her get away, I went back to my car and drove home. To be honest for a while I thought that was the end of the episode. They didn't appear to follow me anymore. I figured that once I was aware of them, they had given up.
But two weeks later there was a different woman sitting are the bar in the pub when I arrived on the Thursday night. As I purchased my drink from the barman, she made some comment. To be honest at first I didn't connect her with the other two. It was only after she joined me at the jukebox as I was picking out a couple of tunes that the penny dropped.
"Piss off, lady, and tell your friends I'm not as dumb as I look," I said to her. "And you can tell that Pratt with the Granada if I even see him again I'll kick his fucking head in."
The woman was completely caught off guard; she looked quite shocked and left the pub almost immediately. Oh, I had noticed the Ford Granada in the car park when I arrived, but not its driver.