This story is copyrighted by Sam Lelliott, all rights reserved. Distribution, including but not limited to: posting on internet sites, newsgroups, or message boards, or in book form (either as a whole or part of a compilation), or on CD, DVD or any other electronic media, is expressly prohibited without the author's written consent.
Albert Harris lived in his small bedsit in an old Victorian building in Sackville road Hove close to the 49 bus stop. He had lived in the smallish room for five years now, ever since his wife had died. Any money he had saved went to her funeral. He wasn't exactly lonely as he had friends he played cribbage with down at his local pub. He also knew most of the people in the bedsit house, although there were a few he'd prefer not to know, young druggies that caused a lot of problems in the house with shouting and screaming at night and drug dealers calling at all hours. The police did nothing, just interested that a large bunch of druggies were all under one roof and not spread around.
Last week Albert had received a letter from one of his grandsons. He loved to hear from young Edward. He told of playing rugby and Aussie rules soccer for his school, news of the rest of the family, Tommy, his dad, Albert's son and of course his mother. Albert had fallen out with his son 30 years ago and they had hardly spoken since. It was over a trivial thing. His son Toby had wanted to marry his girlfriend in a registry office and both he and his wife had become angry about it. Toby did as he wanted and as soon as he was able he took his bride off to Australia. There he became a bus driver and worked his way up to general manager of the company. He lived in a better part of Perth, Western Australia on the Swan River. He had two sons, one of whom was Edward, the other Tommy a year younger who wrote to his granddad as well but not as often. Edward was 16 on July 12th. Albert never forgot it and sent a card and present every year to both boys. Tommy strangely enough had his birthday on the 20th July just 8 days after his brother.
Today the weather was cold and ate into Albert's old bones as he was off to the post box to post his letter to his grandson. He passed Tom, a friend and said. "Bloody cold again Tom, I'll be glad when that north wind turns south westerly again"
"That maybe." said Tom, "If it turns though it will piss down with rain instead, at least the sun is shining."
"Yes, fair do's Tom better dry and cold that wet and soggy. You on yer way to the pub mate?"
"I am Albert, too miserable indoors with her indoors moaning all the time that I am in the way, been the same since I retired. Three pints of the finest and I go deaf." To which he chortled at his regular humour quote.
"Hang on a second and I'll join you. I'm just posting a letter to young Edward."
"Right, ok Albert, how is the boy doing, all right?"
"He seems to be Tom. I wish I could get to see the boys. Got loads of pictures and letters from 'em but never met them in the flesh. Don't suppose I ever will now. Getting old and I'm always skint."
"You're not old Albert, blimey you can give me ten years, yer only 66, ten years younger than me."
"Ha, I just feel older sometimes Tom. All that bending at work has taken its toll with my body"
"Poor old bugger." said Tom. "You'll have me crying in a bit, Come on let's get to the pub. I could spit sawdust."
At the pub they were greeted by the regulars and many asked Albert how the boys were, some especially about Edward. Their asking saddened him a little but he let it ride and some of them settled down to a game of dominoes.
Back home Albert made a sandwich and fell asleep in his armchair and dreamed of his days with his wife, happy days before she died. He woke up later and it was dark out so he put on the light. "Bloody winter." He mumbled to himself, and Christmas around the corner. He had to think about what to get the boys this year. He had broken his little savings last year to get them the books they had asked for. 'The Royals' in two volumes it seemed both boys were doing a project on the Royal Family and the two volumes covered their history with words and pictures. Then there had been the postage. God, he thought he'd bought Royal Mail. His mind went back to this year. What to get them? He had thought of lots of things they would like but all too expensive for his pocket. 'Only 6 weeks to go to Christmas,' he thought to himself, Christ, 6 weeks, where on earth could he get the money from. The loan club was about to pay out on Friday, that would be £100 and would be useful. He suddenly had a brainwave. His mate Phil was flogging pocket radios for £15 each. That would only cost £30 and with postage he could get away with about £50 all in with postage. Later that night he went to the pub and saw Phil and he gave Albert two of the radios and he could pay him on Friday when the loan club payed out. To celebrate he had two pints of beer, one for each radio. Later that night he boxed and wrapped the radios ready to post on Saturday morning.
Friday morning came round and Albert had arranged to meet Tom at the pub at 11am. "Not too early," Tom had said. "Got to have a nagging off the wife first otherwise I feel guilty about going out." Albert had laughed at that but having met Tom's wife he had to agree.
Albert and Tom stayed until 2-30 and Albert invited Tom back for coffee, which he accepted. They got to Albert's door and it was open.
"Funny Tom, I could have sworn I locked it when I went out."
They went into the room and they saw it, everything was strewn everywhere.
"Oh Jesus Albert, you've been done over mate."
Albert wasn't too fussed about someone breaking in. He had little of value to steal except... He looked around. The parcel was gone with the two radios. He burst into tears. Tom held him while Albert told him what had been stolen. Tom put the kettle on and tidied up the small room and made some tea for them both.
"Oh Tom, I have to pay Phil for the radios tonight, now they've gone I have nothing to send the boys for Christmas. What can I do?"
Tom was at a loss, but told Albert the boys would understand. Albert was extremely upset. Despite all the difficulties he had always been able to send the boys something.
So it was with a heavy heart that he turned up at the pub that night to collect his payout from the loan club. He went up to the table and collected his envelope with the money in it as he was turning to leave the secretary of the club said.
"Hang on Albert, there's a bonus this year," and handed him a package. Tom thanked him and thought, 'Eggs I expect,' and went to the bar and got a pint, went over to Phil and paid him for the radios.
"Thanks Albert, I hear you got done over today."
"Yes Phil, bastards stole the two radios I had packed up for the boys."
"Oh hell Albert, I wish I could let you off the payment but I have bills to pay as well matey."
"Don't worry Phil, a debt is a debt and has to be paid."
With that Albert took his package over to Tom's table and sat down. He held up the package and said.
"Eggs I expect Tom, still, they will come in handy."
"I guess they will Albert me old mate, let me get you another pint, on me this time and no arguments."
"Cheers Tom, that's really nice of you, I take back what I told your missus about you last week."
"Now that's better Albert, nice to see you're humour coming back."
The two friends had another couple of pints and decided to call it a day and go home to bed.
Albert found the landlord had fixed the door and there was an envelope on the table with £20 and a note to apologise for the problems caused.
'One thing about this landlord,' thought Albert, 'he is very fair.'
Albert then thought, 'I had better take those eggs out of the packet'. He opened the wrapping but there were no eggs. Instead, neatly wrapped were two portable pocket radios. He saw the note. 'With love from all at The Queen Victoria,' this time Albert really cried. He had no idea that he was that well liked among his peers. He decided to go to bed and pack the radios to post in the morning.
He woke early Saturday morning, made a cup of tea and put some toast and some beans on and then had breakfast. He wrapped up the radios into a parcel again and then sat back to listen to the nine o'clock news on the radio. The weather forecast was for cold yet again, just above freezing. 'Not again.' He thought. He didn't hear it at first, a knock at the door. 'Who the flaming heck is knocking so early.' He turned the radio down and went to the door. He opened it and a young man stood there.
"Hello granddad. It's me Edward."
Albert's flab was absolutely ghasted when he recognised the boy.
"Edward. What on earth are you doing here son? Oh grief, come in, come in."
Edward stepped into the small room and looked around. It broke his heart to see his granddad living this way.
He spoke out in his Assie accent. "Granddad is this all the space you have to live in, I never knew?"
Albert didn't answer straight away as he drank in his favourite grandson's looks and features. When he did answer he said. "This does for me son, the Queen never comes to tea." That joke made Edward laugh.
"So why are you here Edward, have you run away or something?"
"No Granddad, I have come to take you home."
"I am home son, this is where I live."
"No granddad. To take you home to Australia to live with us in Perth."
Albert looked in astonishment. I can't leave here Edward; I have no money for fares or anything."
"I know that granddad, let me explain.
Mum, I and Tommy have spoken for a long time with dad for you to come out to Australia. Now, I know you two had fallen out many years ago and we told him how wrong he had been. At long last he realised how much he really missed you and has sent me to make sure you come back with me. He is sorry for being such an idiot and begs you to come back with me."
Albert looked around and said. "What about all my stuff Edward?"
"Granddad, what you have here would fit into a carrier bag but I have a case for you at the hotel in Brighton. I also have the tickets and visa ready for travel on Monday morning at 11am. I might be only 16 but I have travelled far and wide already."
Albert thought but not too long and then said. "Yes Edward. I shall go but tonight we have to do something first."
"No problem Granddad. I will pick you up in a taxi at 7 o'clock sharp, now I have to go and phone home. See you later."
Albert gave the boy a hug before he went and said. "Yes, I will see you later Edward."
The boy left and Albert ran around like a headless chicken until he finally sat down and laughed. At last he was going to see his son and daughter in law and the boys.
The day passed slowly and dead on 7pm there was a knock at the door. He opened it and four voiced shouted "Surprise." Standing in the door way was Edward and Tommy with his son and daughter in law. Edward spoke first. "Sorry granddad I fibbed."
Albert nearly collapsed as his son picked him up and hugged him saying. "Forgive me dad please, I was such a fool, I sent Edward along to see you first. We have been here a week finding out about you among your friends at the Queen Victoria. They all promised not to say anything until we saw you."
The next half an hour was a blur as everyone got to know everyone. Finally they were all off to the Queen Victoria. As Albert and the family went through the doors the pub erupted. All of Albert's friends were there to see him and wish him well. There was an old style band playing old songs, everyone singing along. Finally the evening came to an end and the band played The Maori farewell with the English words 'We'll meet again'. It took Albert and the family half an hour to get to the taxi with everyone wanting to say goodbye, but instead of taking Albert home the family took him to their hotel for the night. They all said goodnight and within five minutes of hitting the sheets Albert was fast asleep. For the first time in years he slept soundly and didn't even get up in the night for the call of nature. It was 10am when Tommy came to collect him to go for breakfast where once again the family were gathered. They all kissed and cuddled and sat down to eat. Albert was totally stuffed afterwards hardly able to move. Tommy and Edward then took him back to his bedsit in Sackville Road with a suitcase to get all of his belongings together. Mostly it was photos and keepsakes and of course one special package. . Monday morning at 9 o'clock the family were at Heathrow and ready to go. At 10-15 their flight was called and Tommy and Edward helped their grandfather to the departure point. Albert looked back and said quietly to his wife. "Goodbye April, I love you." And with that went onto the Aeroplane and away.
Australia on Christmas day is mostly bathed in sunshine. On the patio of a house on the banks of the Swan River sat a family round a table full of food. The older man of the five stood up and proposed a toast. He lifted his glass and said, "To family and loved ones." The rest of the family rose as one and said, "To family and loved ones."
Later that afternoon as Albert snoozed happily in an armchair in the sun two happy boys listened to music on their new pocket radios.
Albert died in Perth Western Australia in January 2001, aged 93. By then he had 6 great grandchildren who loved him dearly.