The Good Old Days
“Betty here is our oldest resident, aren’t you Betty love?” says Barry the nurse steering an eager-eyed young woman with a sensible coat and ridiculous shoes across the common room towards her.
Oh Lord, thinks Betty. Here we go. She plasters on a faltering smile, wonders if she should let her hands shake or if that would be putting it on too much.
“This is Alexandra, Betty,” says Barry. “She’s a reporter from the nationals. Come to talk about the good old days.”
Ever since this whole Brexit thing, all anyone wants to talk about is how it used to be. Will the good old days be making a comeback? Jesus, she hopes not. Perhaps she should tell this one the truth. Unvarnished as it were.
“Hello Mrs. Hill,” says the reporter, speaking slowly like Betty was 5 and not 85.
Over the next few minutes, they dance the familiar dance. Betty talks about how she used to visit this place from the city and had such good memories that when it was time to retire, there was nowhere else she wanted to go. Partly true, at least. She certainly has memories. Look at you, golden girl, she wants to say. I was like you. More beautiful. Smarter. I’d have kicked your head in back then. Kicked your head in and run off with your fella. Or your girl, all the same to me.
“So what is your favourite memory, Mrs. Hill?” Asks the girl.
Betty gazes into the distance for a while, allowing a slight smile to cross her mouth. When she answers, she lets a slight waver edge into her voice. The reporter is lapping it up. “I danced with Dickie Scott once,” she says. “He was a lovely lad. I thought he was going to make it as big as Elvis but it never happened. Sad really.”
Though Dickie had certainly been big enough for her.
“It was in the Starlight Lounge. Where that Aldi is now. He was playing there for the summer season. Dickie Scott and the Tearaways.”
“Ah,” says the girl. “Such simple times!”
Yeah, thinks Betty. So simple. Dickie was a real bad boy, not like your TV and internet stars with their perfect hair and designer tattoos. The reason Dickie didn’t make it was a ten year stretch in Strangeways for killing a kid in a fight. Though he was already past it then, she supposes. The drink and drugs had already taken their payment.
But that night, that night all that was still in the future. That night was magical. A clear, summer evening, warm enough to go for a walk in the dunes. They’d met this little French cutie fresh from the boat at Dover. Looked so sweet and innocent, but the three of them got loaded and shared each other till it got too cold and they had to get dressed again. That was why she loved the seaside. Anything goes. Usual rules never applied here. Even back then, it mattered less what colour you were, what language you spoke or who you chose to go to bed with. Not like the rest of the country.
“And do you think Brexit will see a return to the good old days?” asks the reporter.
Suddenly Betty feels every one of her 85 years. So damn tired. Look at you, she wants to shout. With your clear eyes and pert breasts and perfect teeth You think us oldies are a different species, here in our old people’s zoo. You’ll be my age in a heartbeat. One minute you’re shagging a bad boy in the back of a camper van and before you know it you’re pissing your pants because you can’t make it to the toilet in time. And have you looked round town recently? Have you seen what it’s really like out there? It’s a town of the dead. A town of zombies. Memorial benches outnumber the people. The people who won’t even sit on the damn things. They’re gravestones, not benches. Motorised wheelchairs outnumber cars. The nearly dead outnumber the newly born five to one. Ten to one. Everyone who lives here is either too young or too old to escape. The good old days, which weren’t all that good anyway, are long dead. Same as this whole damned town.
Betty takes a deep breath. She smiles again. “I really don’t know, dear,” she says. “And I’ll be dead before too long, so it makes fuck all difference to me”.