I first saw them sometime in the eighties. Early eighties. I’d not had the job long and the place was always full, but she stood out. She wasn’t too young, perhaps, but she was very pretty. She was laughing fit to burst, doubled over, with her mates. Fine evening. The manager had the double doors wedged open and the warm air off the sea brought the salt and the noise in with it. I don’t think it was a hen do – I think they were just mates, maybe from work or something. They were probably plastered, though it wasn’t that late in the day. They were all done up nice, make-up, big hair. She was the only one with a hat on, though, wedged on over all that hairspray. They all had fish and chips, salt and vinegar, buttered bread – no kebabs back then – and piled back out. She was the last to go, just turning to wave, ‘See ya!’ back at me. She didn’t see him, swaggering in by himself, skinhead, tight jeans, big boots, broad but boyish. Huge grin. Pork pie hat. Unable to do anything else, he elbowed into her. Not seeing him, she staggered, cracked her head on the door frame. He caught her, steered her to a chair, apologised. It was too late. Neither could look away. I served a few more customers. ‘Oi! My good man! Turn the radio up, will you?’ It was the lad, dancing outside for her, laughing, asking her to join him, while Blondie sang ‘Call Me’ to them both.
The next year, they were back. Not quite the same date, maybe, but pretty near, cold outside, and the sky getting darker. The illuminations were already lit and the trams were rattling up and down the front. They’d come to say hello. Nice of them. She was wearing her kiss me quick hat and had a jeweled ring on her finger that she showed me. The lad just grinned and shrugged. He was still in his pork pie hat and boots. Fish and chips twice. They couldn’t take their eyes off each other. At the end of the meal, he asked again if I’d open the doors and turn the radio up for them: ‘Prince Charming’ this time. He escorted her out onto the prom and they danced together under the lights.
That was how it was for a few years. In they’d come, laughing and love-struck. Just saying hello. Fish and chips twice and a dance on the prom, sometimes catching the evening sun, sometimes with the illuminations on. Him in his hat and boots and her dressed like Toyah or Carol Decker or Kate Bush, occasionally with her kiss-me-quick hat on and, as the decade drew to a close, another gold band on her finger. ‘Oi, my friend!’ he would shout. ‘Oi, mister!’ or, ‘Hey, fella. Turn the radio up, will ya?’ Together they’d dance. ‘Come On Eileen’, ‘Into the Groove’ and ‘Don’t Leave Me This Way’. Maybe they didn’t manage every year of the nineties, but every so often, they’d show up, him getting a little broader, her getting a little more elegant. ‘All right, fella?’ he’d say. ‘Just thought we’d say hello.’ Robbie sang ‘Millennium’, The Spice Girls, ‘Viva Forever’ and Madonna, ‘Vogue’, the last great track of the nineties.
In 2000, they were back, they said hello. The radio got turned up. I can’t remember what it was. But – like that first time – only he danced. She sat and – with eyes for no one else – watched him dance for her, serious and committed. She clapped and whooped when he’d finished, and he took a bow before gently escorting her out. She didn’t dance again after that. She sat and watched him battle through the music for the next few years as the songs became less memorable and her strength faded.
This year is my last year. People don’t want fish and chips any more. They’d rather have a burger. Or a kebab. It’s the last day of the season when I see him, a bit of grey in his stubble. He’s on his own. ‘Alright, mate?’ he says. ‘Fish and chips, please.’
‘Are you – ?’
He nods and shrugs. At the end of the meal, he turns and asks: ‘Hey, my good man, would you mind turning the radio off?’
‘Yeah. I’ve brought some music of my own if you don’t mind? Better than this shit.’ He starts to take out a mini-cd player and a set of speakers. In just a few seconds, he’s outside on the front with the double doors wedged open, dancing, with his eyes shut, giving it everything he’s got. He’s still a mover. The trams rattle up the front. The illuminations light up for the last time. Blondie shouts ‘Call Me’ to the prom.