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HAPPY HOLIDAYS FROM STEVIE CARROLL
Festive Nights at the Gateway Club
I’ve wanted to write about the Gateways Club since I first watched and then read It’s Not Unusual back in the late 1990s. Since I started writing the history of the Peveril family and their associates it became obvious that some of them at least would have been members following the Second World War, if not before and during. So here’s one tale. Smithy was real: I’ve based her cameo on the cameo role she had in The Killing of Sister George. Otherwise, the characters live (or lived) only in my head and on the page.
Many thanks to JL Merrow for beta-ing the first draft of my story.
Saturday 30th December 1962
“What’s going on over at the house?” Their quiet afternoon having been disturbed by the rumble of wheels and the shouts of workmen, Bridie set down her Vogue as her brother crossed to the window of their flat’s sitting room.
“Some sort of delivery, by the look of it.” Turning away from the window, Nicky bent down at the side of the artificial tree that had seen better years. The rather outmoded Nursery Rhyme lanterns glowed out from its tinsel-decked branches. Next year, they’d head out of town early in December, assuming Nicky could borrow a car, and buy a real tree.
The telephone shrilled. Nicky picked up the receiver, listened and then set it back down. “Edward wants us over there. Apparently you’re going to the Gateways tonight.”
“I am?” She didn’t recall making any such arrangement with anyone that Edward might know, but had no objection to going out dancing if a partner had been set up for her. Edward let them live rent-free above his garage, sold Nicky’s paintings to far richer customers than they could have found by themselves, and helped ease Bridie into work for employers who wouldn’t normally consider hiring someone of her complexion. She could do him this one favour in return: Nicky often squired potential female customers to art exhibitions and society parties. It was surprising, given the direction Edward’s own tastes ran, that he hadn’t asked Bridie to do the same before.
“Are you a member?” Bridie asked. Edward’s cousin Julia had linked arms with her the moment they had stepped out of the taxi, and showed no sign of letting go.
“I’ve never been here before,” Julia said, self-consciously tucking a strand of naturally straight, dark brown hair behind her ear, before pulling out a packet of cigarettes. “Will that be a problem?”
“I shouldn’t think so.” Bridie took a cigarette, and lit Julia’s before touching the lighter’s flame to her own. She had paid the fee for her first year’s membership of the Gateways as soon as she’d managed to scrape the money together, back when she and Nicky had still been living in a squat and making their way in the world through selling quickly executed portraits to tourists. That all felt like another life now, although their first meeting with Edward had happened only three years before. She pushed the green door open, and held it for Julia to step inside ahead of her.
A big crowd had arrived before them that night, spilling out of the bar-room and onto the bottom few steps of the stairs. A bunch of lone butches nudged each other and eyed Julia appraisingly, as Bridie led the way down. She shot them a look, and they parted to allow her through, the noise levels from beyond increasing as they moved out of the doorway.
“Most of them.” There’d be a few who’d just come to look, of course, and Bridie didn’t like to speculate about some of the famous songstresses and actresses she thought she’d glimpsed in the crowd on previous visits, but most of the regulars were just like her. More than she’d expected had turned out to be something other than white and English, making the club even more welcoming for someone like her.
“I never realised places like this existed.” Julia took a long draw on her cigarette.
“You swing both ways.” Bridie hadn’t met Lady Julia Peveril before that afternoon, but she’d heard all the gossip from Nicky after his trips to Derbyshire to capture both Julia and her family home on canvas. “And surely Edward’s told you about the places he goes to?”
“Women of my – women like me, we just know about each other. I never gave a thought to how other sorts of women found like-minded types.”
Bridie wondered if she should feel offended at Julia’s lack of regard for the ‘lower classes’, but somehow her naivety was charming, and not at all disdainful. Nothing like the manner of the girls she had been at school with, or most of the other photographic models she met through her work.
“I should get you a drink.” Bridie, in her tailored trouser suit, would naturally be expected to pay at the bar for Julia, in her fox-fur coat, silk blouse and knee-length skirt, no matter the disparity in their relative incomes. Did Julia have an income, though? Or had she left that behind with the husband she had evidently walked out on? Surely she couldn’t have had all those clothes delivered to Edward’s house and not given any thought to how she was going to feed and accommodate herself, once the novelty of her arrival wore off? Bridie and Nicky had arrived in London with nothing, but at least they’d had a plan from the start.
“Here, let me.” Julia delved into her clutch-bag and pulled out a five pound note.
Bridie took the money, and hurriedly stuffed it into her trouser pocket. “Have you got change in there as well? Go pick out some tunes on the juke-box and I’ll dance with you when they come on.”
Smithy, the American who had been taking on more and more responsibility for running the club over the past three years, moved across to take over from her junior, and then raised an eyebrow as Bridie handed over the note. She poured two gins – and then another after Bridie drank her first in one gulp – without comment, and handed over the change. “New girlfriend?”
“Out of my league”
“Out of your league?” Smithy gestured, inviting comparison between Bridie’s expensive suit and her own football shirt and faded jeans. “You, with your glamorous modelling career?”
“Maybe.” She should see that Julia got the five pounds back later. Money was tight at the moment, but she could always have a word with Edward. He never seemed to lack ready cash.
“Go and talk to her. See what she has to say about the subject.”
Bridie picked up the glasses. “You might be right. It’s been a while since I had someone.” She had Nicky for companionship and to shield her when the world got too much, but one day he’d find a woman to stay with, one that would eclipse all his casual flings. She needed to prepare herself for that eventuality.
“Good luck with her then.” Smithy turned to serve her next customer.
They stayed at the club until Smithy requested firmly that the very last stragglers go home. They still had a whole day to get through before the chimes of Big Ben welcomed in 1962, and yet Bridie felt as if she and Julia had already danced into the New Year together. It reminded her of a song from that show Edward had dragged them to the previous year. She too could have danced all night.
Julia had wanted to dance to almost every record that came out of the jukebox’s speaker, whether she had heard the band or artiste before or not. She had been equally enthusiastic about Elvis, Bill Haley and His Comets, and the Beach Boys, as she’d been about Bridie’s beloved Patsy Cline, Ella Fitzgerald, and The Shirelles. They’d danced the Twist together, as well as pressing up against each other for slower numbers and, when they’d stopped to get their breath, they’d talked. Bridie felt as if she’d talked more in the few hours since meeting Julia than she usually managed in a week, but something about the woman set her at ease.
Julia was nothing like the debs Bridie knew through her work, and a million miles away from most of the pampered society women that sat for Nicky. They’d kissed, on Julia’s instigation, and there’d been none of the hesitancy on either side that usually came with first couplings between near-strangers. Tonight they would go back to the Mews House together: Bridie wouldn’t presume to an invitation to the main house. After that, what came next, all depended on what Julia wanted from her new life in London.
“Will you come to Trafalgar Square with me tomorrow?” Julia asked, as they stepped through the green door and back into the real world. She must be glad of her fur coat now, the chill, dry air was freezing the sweat on their cheeks already.
Bridie shivered inside her suit jacket, wishing she’d thought to borrow an overcoat from one of the men before at the start of the evening. “Tomorrow?” She slid her arm from around Julia’s waist. The street was almost empty, but Bridie favoured caution at all times.
“Well, tonight, I suppose. That’s why I came to London in the first place: to see the New Year in with the crowds at Trafalgar Square. Of course, if there’s somewhere you’d rather be, I could come with you. Or not.” Julia sounded anxious, as if she’d once been used to getting her own way, but then found out that the world didn’t always work like that.
“If that’s where you want to go, then I won’t stop you.” She’d wanted to spend the New Year with Nicky, but not if Edward was planning to drag them all to some society party. At least if Julia had plans of her own, then together they might stand more chance of persuading the men to either join them or go elsewhere without them.
“And you’ll come with me?” Julia seemed to need a lot of reassurance, but perhaps she was just stumbling her way into something that was more new for her than Bridie had assumed.
“I thought I just said… Of course I will.” Bridie raised her hand, as she spotted a taxi. Miraculously it pulled over for them. She opened the door for Julia, before telling the driver, “Penrith Gardens, please.”
It was too much to hope that someone like Julia would stay with someone like her forever, but perhaps they could share a few months before the lure of respectability grew too strong for Julia to resist. Then again, the world was changing. Maybe not as quickly as any of her circle would like, but if a girl adopted from the back-streets of Haiti could go to Roedean, and then become a fashion model, then maybe that same girl could one day live fully openly with another woman.
Born in Sheffield, England’s Steel City, and raised in a village on the boundary of the White and Dark Peaks, Stevie Carroll was nourished by a diet of drama and science fiction from the BBC and ITV, and a diverse range of books, most notably Diane Wynne-Jones and The Women’s Press, from the only library in the valley.
Now based in Hampshire, Stevie somehow manages to combine thoughts of science fiction, fantasy and historical mysteries with a day-job writing for the pharmaceuticals industry and far too many voluntary posts working with young people, with animals and in local politics. Stevie’s short story, ‘The Monitors’, was longlisted by the 2010 Tiptree Awards jury, and Stevie’s first solo collection A Series of Ordinary Adventures was published in May 2012. The Peveril family histories so far consist of the short story above, a novel set mainly in 1976, to be finalised and submitted to editors in the New Year, and a novella set mostly in 1963, which is also in need of a home.
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