Afternoon Tea at Betty’s and the missing girl…..

BALIThe Belmont Room, hushed, thick carpets, a piano playing in one corner of the vast room where waitresses in white caps and aprons smiled and served the champagne and cakes impeccably. It was how I imagined life was like before the wars, (for some people) elegant, sophisticated, the clink of china cups in saucers, Jasmine Tea sipped, tiny cakes consumed in two bites. It was a gift from my son Graham and his wife Sarah, who accompanied me, what an absolute treat! It was like being in a time capsule, concealed from the real life outside which hurtled along in a festival of sprungsteel-jumping lads, a marching youth band, a living statue of a purple man on a purple bike his coat flowing behind him frozen still in mid-air. Trumpets and drums and a man playing classic Beethoven on his piano not far from the Cathedral.

It was York Races. It was busy. I arrived in York earlier by train. The crowds were dressed in their best, fascinators wobbling, skirts tight and short, the girls and women tottered on spiky high heels. The men lounged near the bar self conscious in smart suits, tanned, sleek hair, arms draped around their women. Wedding parties, hen parties, wandered in and out of the station in large laughing yelling groups, swigging wine from the bottle, dancing, embracing, it was one huge celebration.

My train home was delayed, an incident at Newcastle. We were informed later that someone was on the line. Further delays, I changed platforms, about six traffic Police charged down the platform, a girl had climbed onto the track, I watched as she later walked ashen-faced between two grim policemen.  Excitement as a steam train pulled in puffing clouds of smoke, pulling the old carriages bursting with passengers. A portly man with glasses, wearing cut off trousers and pushing a shopping trolley stopped in front of me, I heard tinny music from the tiny earpieces which were slung round his neck. His mobile phone rang, ‘Hello?’ pause ‘Er, at Devon.’ another pause, he looks around, ‘Yes 148.’ pause ‘Thank you.’ He put his phone away and walked on, muttering to himself. At a deserted Retford station where I had an hour’s wait for my train, a young policewoman asked if I’d been there long (I immediately felt guilty, as if I’d been attracting unwanted attention by hanging around), she then asked if I’d seen a little girl in a white nightdress who was missing. No, I’m sorry, I said, picturing the little girl somewhere in the dark, frightened, her parents frantic, agonised. Yes, I said, if I see anything I will report it.

I thought of that little girl later at home, as I sipped a glass of wine. Later still, I recalled the taste of macaroon and cream.

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