out at the Rendezvous, it evidently didn't involve staying at home. Nor did I have a mobile number for him. In fact, I rather doubted he possessed a mobile. Even a land-line was touch and go. I'd not noticed a phone in the house. It would be entirely like him to be technologically incommunicado.
I found myself walking back into town along Ditchling Road, past the Open Market. Remembering Derek's account in his introduction to The Plastic Men of his grandfather's route to work, I cut through to London Road along Oxford Street. The vast, soaring flank of St. Bartholomew's Church was dead ahead. I began trying to imagine the area in the old man's day. Trams, gas lamps and as many horse-drawn vehicles as petrol-driven. All the men in hats, all the women in skirts. It wasn't so very different. Not really.
Standing outside St. Bart's, though, I realized that wasn't true. Where had all the houses gone? Where were the rows upon rows of 'artisans' dwellings'? Vanished. Swept away. Erased. Such is the reach of municipal dictate. But its reach isn't limitless. It can't alter the past. It can only rewrite the present. And pay lip service to the future.
Suddenly, I remembered Syd Porteous. "Anything I can do for you while you're here anything at all just say the word." And for him I did have a mobile number. Why not tap his allegedly compendious local knowledge? Why not indeed? I tugged the beer mat with his number on it out of my coat pocket and gave him a call.
"Hole in one. That sounds like .. . hold on, hold on, let the grey matter work its magic .. . Toby Flood, the errant actor."
"But are you right, Toby? That's the question. My contacts in the usheretting community tell me you let down the punters last night. I've got a ticket for tonight, you know. Should I be asking for my money back?"
"No, no. I'll be on tonight."
"Great news. And I'm more than appreciative of this personal reassurance. Nice one, Toby."
"That's not.. . the only reason I rang."
"You said ... if there was anything you could do for me .. ."
"Any assistance, small or large, a pleasure and a privilege. You know that."
"I wondered if we could .. . meet up again. Run over a few things."
"Absolutely-dootly. When did you have in mind?"
"As soon as possible. This lunchtime, perhaps?"
"Fine by me. The Cricketers again?"
"Okey-do key Noon suit you?"
"Well, I.. ."
"Grrreat." Whether Syd was genuinely trying to impersonate Tony the Tiger of Frosties fame I wasn't sure, but it certainly sounded like it. "See you there and then."
I had just over an hour to concoct a cover story for the questions I planned to run past Syd. I went into the church in search not so much of inspiration as of a quiet place to think and found myself in a vast and curiously empty space more like a Byzantine ruin than an Anglican church. Father Wagner had cleverly supplied the parishioners with as complete a contrast to their domestic circumstances as could be imagined. I wondered if little Derek had come here of a Sunday with his parents and grandparents. I wondered if he'd gazed up at the distant roof and dreamt of touching the sky. I decided then to abandon the cover story before I'd invented it. I decided to ply Syd with an approximation of the truth.
His Tuesday lunchtime gear was the same as his Sunday evening kit, but he'd swapped wine for beer and put one in for me as well. "Unless," he said with a wink, 'you go Methodist on play days."
"Beer is fine," I responded, just about catching his drift.
We retired to a fireside table with two pints of Harvey's. "It's a real bonus seeing you again so soon, Toby," he said after a swallow of best bitter. I winced more than somewhat at "Toby, realizing that I really hadn't misheard on the phone, but knew I'd have to go with it. "To what do I owe it?"