Somewhere to review books I'm reading without giving away any spoilers!
Homeward Bound features 79-year-old grandfather George, who didn’t quite make it as a rock star in the ‘60s. He’s expected to be in retirement but in truth he’s not ready to close the lid on his dreams and will do anything for a last chance. When he finds himself on a tour of retirement homes instead of a cream tea at the seaside his family has promised, it seems his story might prematurely be over.
He finds the answer by inviting Tara, his 18-year-old granddaughter, to share his house, along with his memories and vast collection of records. She is an aspiring musician as well, although her idea of music is not George’s. What unfolds are clashes and unlikely parallels between the generations – neither knows nor cares how to use a dishwasher – as they both chase their ambitions.
Here is an extract to whet your appetite! It is from Chapter 4 – George, who is sitting in a chair in his record room with his dog, Hunter, reflects on how he met his wife, Evelyn (who has recently died).
Even before Tara had left the room, George had closed his eyes and started rocking in his chair. His peace was momentarily disturbed by something warm nuzzling his hand. “Why are you in here, Hunter? You know you’re not allowed.” He looked down to see a pair of obedient brown doe eyes staring back at him.“ Oh, alright. If that apology for a boyfriend of Tara’s can barge in here, I won’t keep you out.” George patted his lap and Hunter jumped up, curling himself round before settling. “It’s just you and me now, old boy.” George laid his arms across the dog’s warm body. It was strangely comforting. “You miss her too, don’t you?” As he gently rocked the chair, his thoughts drifted back to the first time he met Evelyn. Evelyn Little she was then. He remembered so clearly the speech her father had given at the wedding.
“It’s all my fault we’ve got George as a son-in-law,” he’d said, barely looking at the sheaf of notes he’d prepared for the biggest event in their family’s life. “It was my dad’s shop and his before that and they’d hardly changed a thing over the years. I wanted to bring us into the sixties. I’d seen electric signs in other shops and wanted one for us. Evelyn’s mum wasn’t keen, said it’d be a waste of money. I laughed at her and bought it all the same and it brought us at least one customer. Our new son-in-law, George. Who’s laughing now?” The Reception gave him a rousing round of applause.
George could still see the neon glow of ‘Little’s Grocery, Big Reputation’ that had enticed him into a shop he’d previously passed without noticing. It’d been a Thursday evening and he was on his way from his office to a rehearsal. And there was Evelyn, emptying broken biscuits into a jar, head down, her face hidden behind long mousy hair. And she was singing to herself, quietly, under her breath.
George knew the tune well. ‘I Almost Lost My Mind’. A rhythm and blues song from the American South, he’d not heard it since his National Service. How did this young girl know it – let alone sing with such feeling?
“Can I have half a pound of sugar, please?” He waved a ten- shilling note. “And can I ask how you know Ivory Joe Hunter?”
The young girl stopped what she was doing and produced a bag of sugar from beneath the counter.
“Who’s Ivory Joe Hunter?”
“It’s his song you’re singing.”
From the tiny window to her face behind her hair, George could see her blush.
“Dad doesn’t like me singing. I didn’t think anyone would hear.”
“It’s an R&B standard. How do you know it?”
“Pat Boone. He’s the most.”
George’s heart sank. He’d always hated Pat Boone as a crooner from the fifties who took the rhythm and blues out of R&B. But now she tossed her head back, he could see she had an earnest, welcoming face.
“Isn’t he a bit too old for you?”
“I guess. I like Bryan Hyland and Bobby Vee better. And Cliff of course.”
“Of course.” He didn’t mean it.
“Do you like them too?” She stared intently at him before allowing her hair to fall back over her face.
“Cliff Richard’s rock’n’roll’s OK. Bobby Vee’s a bit too soft for me. More Fats Domino, Howlin’ Wolf, Chuck Berry, Elvis.” He looked for signs of approval or recognition. When there were none, he changed tack. “What about the Beatles? Everyone likes them.”
She shrugged. “They’re OK.”
He took a deep breath. “I’ve got my own group. The Beat Boys. If you like e Beatles, you’ll love us. I reckon they copied us.” Again, he looked for a reaction. Again, there was none, at least as far as he could tell. “We’re playing tomorrow night at the British Legion Hall. Wanna come?”
Being this forward was right out of character. He was more at home hiding behind his music, confident with his piano and guitar, not with people. Certainly not one-to-one. It was how he had stayed single all these years. But this girl wasn’t a threat like most other girls he fancied.
“We’ll even do ‘I Almost Lost My Mind’ for you.” He saw her glance towards the bacon slicer where her father was tormenting a leg of streaky. He followed the look and knew at once the outcome of his moment of courage.
“I’d better not. My dad wouldn’t approve.”
He might have asked her to check, or even steeled himself to ask her dad himself. But what would it show? at she was just letting him down gently. He was timid enough without needing confirmation that he couldn’t even get a date with a girl who wouldn’t turn the head of anyone else.
“Some other time, then.” He handed over the ten-shilling note, picked up the sugar and accepted the change without making further eye contact. Not that there was any risk of that, her face having retreated fully behind the curtain of hair.
For a few months he didn’t go back to the shop, but was eventually driven in by an empty larder and a wet evening. To his surprise, the same girl looked quite different, more con dent, her hair styled, wearing make-up. And she remembered him.
“Hello again. Haven’t seen you in here for a while.”
“No, been busy.”
“What can I do for you?”
“A quarter of Cheddar, please.”
“Coming up.” She placed a block of cheese on a slab and estimated a quarter of a pound, slicing it off with a cheese wire. “I’m Evelyn, by the way. How’s the group?”
“We’re still performing. Hope to get a record deal soon. And I’m George.”
“Like George Harrison?”
“He’s lead guitar. I’m bass. And piano.”
She smiled. George fell in love. She continued weighing cheese. “Anything else?”
George studied her fingers as she caressed greaseproof paper around his Cheddar. “No, I think that’ll be all.” He determined to offer no sign of how he felt, nor risk being let down.
“You were right about the Beatles,” she said as she smoothed the edges of the packet, making neat hospital corners. “That Ringo’s fab. Even bought the LP.”
Richard Smith is a writer and storyteller for sponsored films and commercials, with subjects as varied as caring for the elderly, teenage pregnancies, communities in the Niger delta, anti- drug campaigns and fighting organised crime. Their aim has been to make a positive difference, but, worryingly, two commercials he worked on featured in a British Library exhibition, ‘Propaganda’.
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