Can I Kiss Her Yet is the story of my wedding to Roo, and the story of what happened afterwards. This free sample can be downloaded straight to your Kindle from Amazon here – otherwise, keep reading for the first three chapters!

 

 

 

 

 

CAN I KISS HER YET?

by Tony James Slater

This edition published 2015 by Various Things (ADT)

Copyright © Tony James Slater 2015

Tony James Slater has asserted his right to be identified as the author of this Work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

All rights reserved. This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, or licensed in any way except when specifically permitted in writing by the publishers. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights.

www.TonyJamesSlater.com

For Dennis Slater, 1927–2011

The Story So Far…

Well then. Where to begin?

How about an introduction?

Hi there! My name is Tony James Slater.

And I’m an idiot.

It’s okay though – I’ve accepted it.

Sometimes people hear me introduce myself like this, and they say things like, “No, of course you’re not!”

And then I do something particularly stupid – like trying to lever an electrical plug out of its socket with a fork – and they say, “Ah! Okay. I stand corrected.”

It’s wonderfully liberating, being an idiot, whilst at the same time being oddly restrictive. For example, no-one will employ me anymore; probably because they’ve read my previous books, and they realise that their insurance isn’t up to it.

Over the last ten years or so I’ve been travelling the world in search of adventure. I’d like to think I’ve been fairly successful, but that would be a lie.

What really happened was adventure snuck up on me while I was looking the other way, put a bag over my head, and spent the next ten years kicking me around the place like a punctured football.

Adventure can, on occasion, be a bit of a bastard.

But it wasn’t all bad. I met the girl of my dreams… as well as being shot at, bitten by a crocodile, clawed by a jaguar, attacked by monkeys, dangled by a water buffalo, drugged, robbed, embarrassed on national TV…

And let’s not count sinking a yacht, snowboarding off a cliff, getting chased by horny kangaroos and being washed off the side of Australia’s national monument. Honestly, I was starting to think there wasn’t much left the world could throw at me.

Not really.

I was wrong, of course.

But then, I usually am.

It kind of goes with the territory, being an idiot.

So for those of you who don’t really know me yet, let me do a recap.

I trained as an actor, and spent several years chasing the dream of international fame and fortune. Then I made an unfortunate discovery: I loved acting, but, sadly, I was crap at it.

In a panicked reaction I set out to travel the world – hoping not so much as to find myself, but to lose him. I donned my rucksack, kissed my dog goodbye, and set out to explore this incredible planet.

I got as far as France.

Turns out, I’m crap at that, too.

But you know what? I had a great time. So much so that my next trip was to Ecuador, where I volunteered in an animal refuge – and got bitten. A lot. Even though I spent most of my time bleeding from a bewildering variety of injuries, I loved almost every minute of it.

And that was when I knew for sure that this was what I wanted to do.

Travel the world. Seek adventure in strange places. Have fun.

And, ideally, try to bleed a little less.

I’m still working on that last one.

So, what else would you like to know? Physically, I’m the same size as most people. I’m taller in boots, or when I’ve recently been electrocuted. I am extremely clumsy, and yet I have no fear – it has been pointed out to me that this is perhaps not the best combination of attributes. My eye-colour is hazel. My hair colour is dark brown. My hair style is: other. Personality-wise, I’ve never grown up; people say that about men all the time, but I still play with Lego. Cooking anything more complex than beans on toast brings me out in a cold sweat, so when my fiancé is away I live almost exclusively on corn flakes. And I have the world’s worst sense of humour – unless you count my Dad. He knows more than twenty bad jokes just about eggs, and he cracks them without warning.

More than anything, I am someone who loves to try. I’m always looking for new experiences, am willing to push the boundaries of comfort, taste and common sense in the hope that somewhere, amidst all the limitless possibilities of this world, I will finally achieve my ultimate goal; I will be cool.

It hasn’t happened yet.

Luckily, as my adventures progressed from Ecuador to Thailand to Australia, I met a girl who liked me just the way I was.

Well, mostly.

She wanted me to shower and shave more often, and to stop doing such stupid things. I figured that two out of three wasn’t bad, and evidently she agreed; when I proposed to her, near her home in Perth, Australia, she said yes.

And with that little piece of happiness, I do believe we are up to date! I might have glossed over a few bits and pieces – like my stint in the army, my brief career as a professional diver and the time I walked almost a thousand miles just to get to McDonald’s – but nothing important.

So! The scene is set. The curtain is lifting. Shall we begin?

Okay then.

Enter, stage left: an idiot.

Homeward Bound

Long haul flights.

You’d think I’d get used to them. But there’s something so physically debilitating, so torturous, about sitting cramped in one position for twenty-four hours straight, that I always arrive feeling like I’ve been run over by a train.

Maybe it’s the free booze. I mean, I can’t resist anything for free – from someone’s abandoned French fries to samples of perfume and lipstick.

I looked and smelled divine when I boarded the plane.

But somewhere between the getting on and the getting off, things tend to go a bit pear-shaped. Within the weird, messed-up time stream that is a day-long international flight, there’s time to go through the whole process of getting drunk, feeling like shit, being violently ill, sleeping it off and waking up hung-over – at least three times in quick succession.

I know, because I’ve done it.

I’ve spent hours in the toilet, trying to figure out the most comfortable way of being sick in a confined space – because you can’t just adopt the familiar position, kneeling in front of the loo, clutching the rim of the bowl and hurling your stomach contents straight down the pan. NO! You can’t – because there isn’t room for your ass. You either have to develop a far more intimate relationship with the toilet than you’re used to – which isn’t great when you consider how many hairy, sweaty bum cheeks have sat straining on it in since take-off – or you learn how to project your vomit accurately whilst standing up. In turbulence.

It’s an art I wouldn’t say I’ve mastered, but one that (unfortunately) I’ve had plenty of practice at.

Not this time.

Without my girlfriend Roo here to look after me, I determined to stay mostly sober; okay, a bit sober. Alright, so I determined not to get completely hammered. Or, not too quickly, anyway.

Free booze!

My anxious mood wasn’t helping to bolster my resolve.

Plus, alcohol cost a fortune in Australia. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been drunk. And Roo will never know…

Strictly speaking, she was my fiancé now. Booking separate flights to England seemed like a strange way to celebrate an engagement, but I was coming home at top speed due to a family crisis. Roo would be following in a few short weeks, when the cost of flights had halved. Predictably we were both broke, which wouldn’t have been such an issue except we were supposed to be getting married this year.

I’d have to put a bit of thought into that at some point.

But first, I had an ailing grandfather to attend to.

And a long-haul flight to survive.

I ordered one of those miniature bottles of white wine, and flipped through the in-flight magazine. This alerted me to two problems that can arise when flying with an Asian airline:

1. The food was Asian.

2. The entertainment was Asian.

Now I don’t want to sound racist, but as an English-speaking Westerner this did sort of limit my options.

Fully one-third of the movies on offer were in the ‘Asian Film’ category.

Another third were dubbed ‘Hong Kong Cinema’, which to my uncultured senses seemed remarkably similar. The rest of the options slanted heavily towards drama, with an international – nay, Oriental, flavour – just what you need when you want to avoid drinking heavily. No action. No sci-fi. No ass-kicking (at least, not in English).

Maybe they changed the rules after I re-enacted key scenes from The Matrix Reloaded on the flight back from New Zealand. Or maybe whoever chooses movies for Cathay Pacific has really, really lousy taste.

Faced with such delightful options as ‘My Week With Marilyn’, ‘The Ides of March’, ‘The Help’, and ‘War Horse’ – titles just dripping with promise of scantily-clad female assassins, pithy dialogue and CG explosions – I gave in. The inner geek took over and I watched a whole season of future-tech TV shows narrated by Stephen Hawking.

Whilst drinking.

And then came the food.

I love plane food. I had six scheduled meals across two interconnecting flights, and each meal came with two options. And, presumably because this was an Asian carrier, one of those options was always seafood.

To which I can only say: UGH!?

Who the hell eats seafood on a plane? If you’re looking for a way to increase the chance of being sick, go right ahead. But seafood – especially for breakfast – just doesn’t do it for me.

Sitting right at the back of the plane I could hear the orders being taken all the way down from the toilets. “Chicken, please.” “Chicken.” “I’ll have… ah… the chicken.”

Sure enough, by the time the stewardess got to me, the chicken was all gone. It was either seafood pie with mushy peas, or the vegetarian option. Which was probably the mushy peas minus the pie.

“I’ll have the chicken,” I told the stewardess again.

“Ah, sorry, no have chicken,”

“Please. You have to find some chicken.”

“Ah, I can look, in the back?”

“Yes please! I can’t eat seafood. Find chicken!”

Thank God she did, rushing back a few minutes later waving a tray. “One left, I find!”

The chicken was delicious, and was enough to tide me over until the next meal: prawns, in… I dunno, whatever the hell you eat prawns in – seawater probably – or beef. Straight away I heard the panicked calls start for beef…

I often wonder about this sort of thing. You’re running a jet full of 500 passengers. Do you pack 250 chicken and 250 squid medley? Really? Or do you think, ‘Hm, more people seemed to opt for the chicken and rice, rather than the fish tentacles in slime. In fact, this has been the case on every flight for the last ten years. Maybe this time I’ll take more chicken and less octopus…’

Obviously, that thought process has never taken place.

Dinner was a spicy seafood soup. I ate a biscuit.

As half the world’s oceans rolled by beneath me, I started thinking about what the coming year would have in store for me. There were several small tasks I had to accomplish whilst back in the motherland – the best part of which was actually visiting my mother. And my father. And my sister. And a mixed bag of friends and relatives, most of whom I’d had no contact with since leaving for Thailand nearly four years earlier.

After that, my ‘To Do’ list contained the following (in no particular order):

Organise a wedding.

Get married.

Help my sister get married.

Publish my book.

Choose a career.

Map out the rest of my life.

Emigrate to Australia.

That was about it for now; as I said, only a few jobs.

It’s surprising how nervous I was, thinking about it.

But every now and then, life throws you these little curve-balls, and you suddenly end up flying halfway around the world on a moment’s notice, to do something you really don’t want to do.

I never dared say it aloud – admitting a fear being tantamount to making it truth – but I had a horrible feeling that I wasn’t flying home for a wedding.

I was flying home for a funeral.

The House That Gramp Built

When I got home, I found the story wasn’t quite as grim as I’d feared.

The long version is, my eighty-three-year-old Granddad had driven into Scarborough to pay his road tax, only to discover that the post office he normally used had closed down. Wandering around the town centre looking for another one, he’d become hot and tired. Eventually, after asking everywhere he could think of, he’d decided to give up for the day. Only, he couldn’t find his car! He’d checked the usual parking places, and then expanded the search to the surrounding streets. He just couldn’t remember if he’d found a spot easily or if he’d had to take more drastic measures. Walking around in circles for several hours in the hot sun, he’d become disorientated and dehydrated. Eventually, despairing, having reached the point of mental and physical exhaustion, he was picked up by a taxi driver and driven home.

It was early evening by this point. He’d got back to the house, and made it as far as the kitchen before he collapsed. He’d had the presence of mind to call my parents in Somerset, telling them (in typical Yorkshire fashion) that he “felt a bit funny”. Upon hearing which, my parents shit bricks, called an ambulance, and Gramp was rushed into hospital with multiple organ failure.

He survived. Barely.

His liver and kidneys had shut down, but were coaxed back to life by the ER doctors. My parents arrived the next morning, having driven the length of the country overnight to be at his bedside. En route they’d called me, which is why I was currently on a plane to England; thankfully, by the time I arrived on the scene the immediate danger had passed.

The short version is that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

It was advanced, and degenerating rapidly.

So Granddad might not have long after all.

He was facing a fairly difficult recovery from the ordeal his body had been through, and now we had to consider his safety – from himself more than anything, as his mind began to lose its grip on his surroundings. He couldn’t be left alone anymore – not at the opposite end of England, at any rate. He’d always been fiercely independent, even after my Nan passed away fifteen years previously. He had his life in Scarborough, his house, his friends and his beloved bowling club.

Unfortunately, our job was to plan for his future, and that meant boxing up everything that could be boxed, and importing Granddad lock, stock and barrel, to a new life in Somerset.

It was going to be an epic mission, sifting through a lifetime of possessions and reducing the contents of a large three-bedroomed house to what would fit in the small flat we’d seen for sale at the end of our road.

“I won’t miss the stairs,” he joked, making light of the situation.

And no wonder he wouldn’t miss them – the doctors considered it a miracle he was walking at all. “His right knee has crumbled to powder,” one told us, “we couldn’t even replace it, there’s nothing left to attach to!”

It was with heavy hearts all round that we set to, packing up the house in Scarborough and half a century of accumulated belongings. Every nook and cranny of the house was filled with paraphernalia, collections of old tins, toys, coins, stamps, musical instruments, craft supplies, model railways, gadgets and memorabilia.

He’d been there almost his entire adult life, buying this house before it had been built. He’d stood with his wife Grace and my Dad, then aged four, in the field that was to become his back garden, and said, “I’ll take it.”

Over fifty years he’d seen it all – his first car, the invention of television; my sister Gill and I had been seriously jealous of his computer when he got it, as the cassette-player was attached. When Amstrad came out with a purpose-built word processor, Gramp had bought one to help my Nan keep the family accounts. I’d spent endless hours slaving over that thing, tucked away in a corner of the back bedroom trying to get my homework essays done before we left. Of course, they were completely unreadable by any machine other than the one they were written on – for starters, the discs were twice as thick, with a metal protector that flicked closed over the delicate bits with the force of a guillotine. Anything I typed had to be printed out on the chattering dot-matrix, often as the rest of my family sat in the car waiting to drive home. But it was much better than writing it all out by hand – we didn’t own a computer capable of word processing (or a printer) for almost a decade afterwards.

I had more memories of that house than I could count.

Like the delight of my first shower – another luxury item that Granddad had managed to acquire several years before us. We pestered Dad after that, Gill and I, and were rewarded with one of those rubber hose thingummies that could be stuck onto the hot and cold bath taps. Not quite the same as Gramp’s stylish electric shower, with its pull-cord on the ceiling that turned the water piping hot. He’d installed the thing himself of course, just as he’d demolished the wall between the toilet and the washroom to create a big family-sized bathroom. Having been an electrician for much of his life there wasn’t much he couldn’t fix, and like most of his generation he was very resourceful. He’d bought the house long before he’d dreamed of owning a car, so Dad had been pressed into service as a teenager, helping him pour the concrete slab for a new garage. Between them the pair had built greenhouses and sheds, fences and patios, along with most of the furniture in the house.

He’d even installed central heating, shortly after it became fashionable.

For me, the house had been a refuge. I used to liken it to Rivendell in The Lord of the Rings (my favourite book as a child). It was a place of rest and recovery, where I was surrounded by love and generosity and happiness; a place of free-flowing and delicious food and drink, of fun and games where I could do anything I wanted. And more than anything, it was a place of safety from the world outside.

I mentioned in a previous book that I suffered quite badly with bullying at school, so I won’t go into it here. Suffice to say that, whilst my immediate family kept me sane and alive on a day-to-day basis, a trip to Scarborough was like finding a paradise oasis amidst the parched desert of real life.

The thought of never coming here again was bringing me to tears every few minutes. The house had existed virtually unchanged my entire life; every ornament I wrapped triggered memories, some dating back to when I’d first set eyes on whatever it was. A cuckoo clock that had chimed the hour – and the half hour, and the quarter hour – every single day until I’d had to spend the night on the sofa. The bloody thing had woken me up so many times I’d thrown a knife at it. The clock still bore the scar, and it hadn’t chimed since – for which I was both eternally grateful, and a little bit embarrassed. What can I say? When I was fourteen, I was still convinced I could be a ninja when I grew up.

To be honest, I still am.

If I was having a tough time letting go, then poor old Granddad must really be struggling. He didn’t show it though, sitting there at the dining table, presiding over the packing process with the same cheekiness he used when presiding over a game of Scrabble.

“Are we keeping this?” Mum would say, holding up an object of indeterminate origin.

“No, course not,” Gramp replied, “that thing’s long past being useful. It’s nearly as old as you!”

De-dum tssh.

The whole time he made only one request; that we keep the contents of his glass cabinet, his most precious and treasured ornaments, exactly the same in the new house as it was here. Mum took to this task with deadly earnest, sketching out the cabinet shelf by shelf, marking the positions of every item and preparing numbered sticky labels for all of them. At which point Gill noticed what she was doing, and said, “Why don’t you just take a photo?”

I was secretly amazed at how well Gramp was taking this move. He had the stoicism of a generation that had survived the Second World War, and the practicality of outlook that went with it. He’d endured bombs and rationing, being part of the Army of Occupation in Germany, and in more recent times had seen the loss of Grace, his wife of almost fifty years. This latest blow, his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s Disease and the loss, to a large degree, of his independence, was one he seemed to be taking in his stride. Certainly, he was coping better than I was, at least in front of us. He’d always been quite a private man though, and I had no idea what was really going through his head as he lay alone in bed at night.

To my mind, there were two ways of looking at it: as the beginning of a closer relationship, where we could visit him every day – or as the end of an era.

On the one hand, he’d be gaining regular company and the chance to play a much more direct role in the life of his family. He’d be free from the burden of worry that comes with living alone, particularly as an elderly person, and would even be able to expand his horizons, accompanying us on everything from shopping trips to holidays. On the other hand, he was losing far more than just a house; more than the dust-laden piles of memories stacked like photo albums in every corner of the place. There was a good chance that, after leaving, he’d never see Scarborough again – or any of the friends he left there.

There was a sad counterpoint to this argument, however. By surviving to eighty-three Granddad had inadvertently outlasted most of the people he knew.

At one point he’d been going to a funeral every other week.

“There’s not many of us left now,” he often said when discussing his bowling club, “and I could go at any minute!”

We took him round to say goodbye to his next-door neighbour, a spritely old lady Gill and I have always known as Aunty Pat. She’s a marvel: ninety-four years old and sharp as a Stanley knife, she still sends a letter to my family every Christmas. The last one was five pages long, front and back, and she has better handwriting than I do.

Aunty Pat would be the only real reason for taking Gramp back to Scarborough at some point in the future – she’d miss him terribly, she said, and we knew she’d be there waiting for us if we returned.

Much to the chagrin of her sixty-year-old stepson, who technically owns her house, but isn’t allowed to touch it while she’s still living there.

I’m fairly sure she’ll outlive him.

Hell, at this rate she’ll probably outlive me!

 

 

 

End of Sample!

 

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