'Wing Walkers'

Mandy’s small stepbrother, aka ‘The Rocket’, charged through the crowd, a determined young missile. She followed quickly, saying a polite ‘excuse me’ to all the people he had barged through to get to the front. On the ornamental lake of Scarborough’s Peasholm Park, a wartime naval battle was being replayed by model ships and aircraft, as it was every year. An amiable holiday crowd had gathered to watch it, on a Saturday in July of  the long, hot summer of 1976. Sparks, bangs and smoke soon sputtered up from the models, replicating gunfire. It took Mandy straight back to her own early years.

“Is that what it was really like, Grandad?” she had used to ask when, from being about the same age as Ben was now, she had been brought to see the seasonal summer show.

“I don’t know, pet. I was too scared to look,” her grandad had always laughingly replied.

Mandy knew these days that this wasn’t true, although Grandad himself was no longer here to ask. There was a medal on a ribbon in a box, which her mother cherished in a desk drawer. It was as hard today for Mandy to think of  her puffingly stout, joking grandad as really having been in the navy during the war as it had been for her to believe it back then. The award for bravery, and the photograph of a youth in uniform, seemed to belong to a different person altogether from the grandad she had known.  She looked around for Ben’s brightly striped tank top, always a help in finding him amongst any crowd. Spotting him right at the forefront, she saw that he had already, as usual, found another little boy to pal up with, watching the exciting display together. She let them enjoy it, keeping an eye on them.

“Nice to be that age, isn’t it?” asked a young man’s voice, his looks, when she turned, suggesting the other boy was his. “Yours, is he, the lively one?” he asked.

“No – my baby brother, actually. Well – stepbrother.”

“Ah. I did think you looked to be a very young mum,” he remarked.

“Well, I’m not one,” she said shortly, embarrassed by the suggestion that she was.

Then she felt awkward, and as if she’d been a bit rude.

“That’s my lad with him,” said the young man, still smiling, so perhaps she hadn’t been. “I’m on my own with him today. Are you two…?”

“Yes, I’ve brought him for the day.”

“Me too. I like to get out when it’s my turn to have him.”

She smiled back, both of them simultaneously realising it would be easier to entertain two children together than one alone. The young father had a North East lilt to his accent, which reminded her of the granddad she had just been thinking of, and this made her feel instinctively that she would like him.

“It’s the Red Arrows next,” Mandy volunteered. “And then the Wing Walkers.”

“Sounds as if you’re an old hand at this place,” said the young dad, looking pleased that he had struck up a conversation with her. “Mind if we tag along with both of you to that?”

“Not at all,” agreed Mandy warmly. “Once Ben’s found a friend he’ll happily play all day. If they’ll let him.”

“That’s nice,” said the man, looking a bit wistful. “Mine’s the shy sort. Often gets left out. I’m Steve, by the way. He’s Anthony.”

“I’m Mandy. And that’s Ben there, of course. Come on, then. It’s always an ice-cream next.”

“I’m up for that,” grinned Steve.

He waved down at his little boy to attract his attention.  Mandy noticed he didn’t look round at her own calls until Ben did and then, seeing his dad waving at him, came running up too as the cheers of the crowd and applause died down, the Battle of Peasholm being over  again for this weekend. Anthony had large, swimming eyes behind round glasses and a constant smile in answer to whatever was said. This did not matter a jot to Ben, who only required a compliant playmate to tow along and chatter at.

“He had measles as a tot – left him with bad eyes and bad ears,” explained Steve, gently drawing his child’s attention to the ice-cream van and pointing out his choices on the picture menu. “They say he’s a bit behind, like, as well, but I don’t believe it. Which one do you want, Anthony?” he asked, as the children studied the pictures on the van and on the poster board.

Anthony wanted a whipped cone with sprinkles and raspberry sauce on it. It was the biggest picture on the van. Ben immediately wanted the same, so they all chose that to avoid any arguments or changes of mind that somebody else’s was better, when the boys realised that the real ice creams were nothing like that size.

“Ben hasn’t had anything, an illness, I mean, but he just never stops,” said Mandy. “Mum’s worn out. He’s big for his age too and we have to watch him. He lamps you one if he gets frustrated. He’s hard work to keep busy so he doesn’t go into some monster meltdown. He’s happy if he’s got someone to play with, but sometimes he’s a bit much for them. He talks all the time too, but he doesn’t always make a lot of sense,” she laughed.

“Who does?” Steve laughed back. “Two odd sorts making a match, then,” he added fondly, smiling at both boys. “They’ll do well enough for a bit. We’ll keep a look out.”

“So long as there’s plenty to see, it should be fine,” answered Mandy.

Ice creams happily being licked from round the sides of cones and dripping down small, sticky faces in the sunshine, they made their way down from Peasholm Park to the promenade. The Red Arrows arrived in a sonic boom of sound, roaring in with comet tails of differently coloured smoke – chasing, rising in formation, and looping the loop. Ben clapped his hands and shrieked and chattered at Anthony, who made little bird like cries of his own and clapped too, carried away with it all by the other boy. Then the Wing Walkers arrived on the biplanes, performing acrobatics in the air above the water to further gasps from the crowd.

“I save a donkey ride for after this,” said Mandy. “Otherwise it all comes crashing down when the show’s over.”

“My treat,” agreed Steve. “You’ve looked after the two of us very well indeed!”

They looked like parents with two children of their own, walking alongside the jingling harnesses and bristly manes of ‘Sparky’ and ‘Dylan’. The proudly grinning boys rode along between them, fat little legs pushed out by broad donkey backs, one listening and one babbling away. Mandy and Steve looked at one another and he said, almost shyly,

“Not done too badly, have we? For two odd sorts together.”

Mandy smiled back, because she knew he jokingly meant the two of them as well as the boys.

“I don’t think there’s anything odd about any of us!” she declared. “It’s everybody else!”

Steve laughed at that and suggested,

“Maybe we’d all better stick together for some fish and chips, then, before it’s time to go and get that coach home?”

“I’d like that,” said Mandy. “Ours is just a bus ride back, though.”

“Where is home?”

“Rillington. A little village with nothing much for him to do. How about you?”

“Middlesborough. Big town but with nothing as nice as this to do. I have him weekends.”

“I bring him here weekends. When I can.”

“Could we fix up to meet here next week, do you think?” asked Steve. “You can tell us what’s on over our fish and chips.”

“I think it’s a great idea. The boys would love it too.”

Steve smiled broadly.

“Great! Tell me, Mandy, did you have your cards read today?” he asked, as they passed by Gypsy Jean’s striped booth on the front.

“No!” she laughed.

“Oh, good! You won’t be feeling let down that you haven’t met a tall, dark, handsome stranger today, then.”

Mandy laughed again, and they all set off together to go and buy fish and chips to eat on a bench. People strolling behind them saw what looked like a family together on an outing – a much shorter than average fair young man with a tall wife, a seaside postcard plump girl with a pile of dark curls, who was very much on the larger side of life. With them were two little boys of about five, who sometimes held hands and sometimes ran and jumped, squealing with delight in one another’s company. Those passing by smiled at them, because they all looked so happy together, and this was what stood out about them the most.

After fish and chips and a sit to look out at the sea, they enjoyed a splashing paddle in the shallows, the boys jumping the edges of the waves over warmed sand. Then it was finally time to say goodbye. Going home on the bus with Ben, Mandy felt as if they had all been Wing Walkers today too, walking on air and quite transported into another world, she and Steve, and Ben and Anthony.  She squeezed Ben’s hand, listening to his excited talk as he pointed out of the window at everything going by. She was already looking forward to next weekend and seeing Steve and Anthony again. They had mentioned, over their fish and chips, going the whole hog and buying tickets for the show on the pier, and why not, Mandy smiled to herself, thinking her own thoughts as Ben chattered on.

“Hello, you two,” her mum smiled as they came in, seaside tired and with glowing, sunburnt faces. “Had a good day?”

“It was lovely, Mum,” Mandy said. “Just like when Grandad used to take me.”

“Aww. It must have been a good day then, pet,” her mother said, pouring tea from a pot and putting a plate of sandwiches down on the table. “Get yourselves round that. Dad and I have had ours. There’s a nice bit of ham there.”

Mandy smiled at her mother, because this was a little family in joke. Whenever he was asked what he would like to eat later, after a pretend think Grandad would say,

“I fancy a nice bit of ham for my tea” and that’s what they always did have, when he and Mandy had come back from their own day trips to the Scarborough seaside when she was a child.

“Thanks, Mum. That’s just what I fancy,” Mandy replied as expected, and they both laughed together. “Ben found a little friend today, Mum,” Mandy told her. “And they played all afternoon.”

“Now, that is nice,” said her mother approvingly.

Mandy would keep news of her own friend, Steve, until she saw whether they did indeed meet up again as planned, but somehow, she had no doubt at all that they would do.

“I’ll take Ben to the seaside next weekend too, Mum,” she offered.

“Thanks, lovey. That will be a help,” her mother smiled back. “There’s no sign of this weather breaking any time soon, so it’s good to make the most of it all.”

Mandy very happily agreed that it certainly was the best thing to do.




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