SkemNews are pleased to announce that we will be publishing a selection of articles written by the Skelmersdale Writers’ Group. All rights remain with the Skelmersdale Writers’ Group.
Elvis Will Never Return by Carol Fenlon
He was an old rocker, real fifties’ Ted. You could tell just by looking at him – drainpipe jeans turned up at the bottom, dark blue beetlecrushers and a dyed black quiff on top of a face that belonged in the pensioners’ queue at the post office on a Monday morning.
You know how it is in a strange town where you know no one. You look for the right kind of pub, the tacky places where people might talk to you, places where no one cares who you are and Blackpool has plenty of those. It was my last night there, my work finished, a new shopfitting contract to start in Manchester on Monday. I’d be heading back to Liverpool for the weekend and I was looking forward to seeing Delphine.
She would have hated the Palace but its old-fashioned camaraderie attracted me as soon as I walked in the door. In one corner a group of washed up old actors were holding court, grotesquely drunk and flaunting themselves. Young lads were playing pool at the far end of the lounge and it was only when I stepped up to the bar that I noticed him propped in the angle between the side of the bar and the wall with a pint in front of him, looking like he’d stepped off the set of Jailhouse Rock and had been withering away inside his outfit ever since.
He was the only bloke in the place on his own so it made sense to be polite while I waited to be served.
“Quiet night?” I flashed a friendly smile. He ignored me and when I looked into his face he seemed to look right through me, staring into his memories or perhaps into an empty future.
‘Suit yourself’ I thought and took myself and my beer over to an empty table, picking up the newspaper someone had left behind.
I sat there for a couple of hours, watching the locals coming in and out and you know that old guy never moved, except to take an occasional sip from his glass. He just stood there, one foot on the brass rail, one elbow on the bar, staring straight in front of him. In my mind I’d already christened him ‘Elvis’ but he had the look of a lizard, the way it sits motionless on a branch, waiting for a tasty morsel to pop by. I went back to my digs at ten and called Delphine. The next morning I was away and never gave the old chap another thought.
But I got a couple more jobs in Blackpool that autumn and I called into the Palace a few times while I was there. He was there every time, same clothes, same stance, same spot at the bar. It started to give me the creeps, as if I was walking into a parallel world that stayed there unchanging each time I left it, until the next time I returned.
One night in November I was there, getting ready to finish up my pint and get off, when a group of lads came in, hustling at the bar. Well, I say lads, they were nearer my age, early thirties. I only looked up because of their rowdy voices and because I noticed with surprise that they were calling over to ‘Elvis’ and he was answering them.
“All right there Les, how’s your record collection?”
“Great, great,” he nodded vigorously, more movement than I’d ever seen from him before. His face even cracked in a ghastly grin.
“I’m looking for a particular album, vinyl y’know, maybe you got it?” The speaker had a shaven head and a Manchester United sweatshirt.
“Yeah, yeah, I got them all.”
“It’s called ‘Greatest tits’ by that old group, what they called, the Four Degrees.” Smothered chuckles all round. “You got that one Les?”
“Yeah, I got that one, I got it, I got them all.”
Another one dug his mate in the ribs. “What about that one by the Rolling Bones, ‘Drowned Bugger?”
“Oh yeah, got that too.”
I realized that what I’d taken for taciturnity, rudeness, was maybe just wariness, or being in a different world to most of us and I squirmed as the teasing went on. I wanted to stop them but it was none of my business. He obviously knew them and their ribbing was gentle, they meant him no real harm. Even the barman sniggered, joining in the entertainment.
It was not until the following spring that I was back in Blackpool and my digs were fairly near to the Palace so I gravitated there the first night of my stay. It was like a slap in the face when I walked in the bar and ‘Elvis’ wasn’t there. I got my pint, thought maybe he’d gone to another pub, gone on holiday even but in my heart I knew blokes like him didn’t go on holidays and I had this sense of foreboding that overshadowed my expectation of an evening spent pleasantly supping a couple of beers in a relaxed atmosphere. I couldn’t stop feeling uneasy, yet why should I worry? I didn’t even know the guy. Still when I got up to order another pint I asked the barman.
“Where’s the old bloke? The Elvis lookalike?”
“Les?” He pointed to a tiny brass plaque screwed in the angle between the wall and the side of the bar. “He died. Found dead in his flat. Been there best part of a week. Only found him when we sent the police round after he didn’t come in for a few days. He’d been coming in here for twenty five years.”
I looked at the little plaque, so small I hadn’t noticed it before. LESLIE TIMMS 1950 -2009 A GOOD CUSTOMER. Fifty nine? I’d taken him for around seventy. So he could never have been a real ted, although he would have fitted into the mods and rockers era. And now he had a name, not rocker, not Elvis – Leslie Timms, just like anybody else. I didn’t sleep much that night thinking of him dead in the midst of his record collection – his only family a pub landlord and a handful of its regulars.
I didn’t go back to the Palace that trip and after that I didn’t get any more work in Blackpool. I was working on a long term contract in South Liverpool and one job led to another, which was good for me as it meant I got to see a lot more of Delphine, and a year or so later we got engaged. We were going on a real holiday to Ibiza in the summer but I booked a couple of days in Blackpool for us for Valentine’s Day; nice hotel, champagne, chocolates, roses – the works.
On the Friday night we were going clubbing but first, I told her, there was something I wanted to show her. I knew she would hate the pub but I wanted her to see the plaque, wanted to tell her about Les Timms. We’d drunk the complimentary champagne as soon as we’d arrived at the hotel and we’d had a bottle of wine over dinner so we were both already a bit pissed when we went out but even so, I wasn’t mistaken. When we got to the corner where the Palace should be, there was only a wire fence and a great heap of rubble inside it.
“Come on Daz, it’s bloody freezing.” Delphine pulled up the collar of her fake fur coat.
I stared through the fence as she tried to pull me away. I tried to explain about Les Timms but she wasn’t really listening. I looked at the thousands of bricks and wondered if the brass plaque was buried somewhere among them.
“I wonder what they’ll build there now,” Delphine said as we walked away.