"Warmth, liveliness, honesty, compassion." —Sunday Times
A Kind of Lovingby Stan Barstow
Originally published in 1960, this popular novel about frustrated youth laid the groundwork for contemporary writers such as Tony Parsons and Nick Hornby. All about love, lust, and loneliness, the book introduces Vic Brown, a young working-class Yorkshireman. Vic is attracted to the beautiful but demanding Ingrid, and as their relationship grows and changes,
Originally published in 1960, this popular novel about frustrated youth laid the groundwork for contemporary writers such as Tony Parsons and Nick Hornby. All about love, lust, and loneliness, the book introduces Vic Brown, a young working-class Yorkshireman. Vic is attracted to the beautiful but demanding Ingrid, and as their relationship grows and changes, he comes to terms—the hard way—with adult life and what it really means to love. The influence of Barstow's novel has been lasting: the literary label "lad-lit" was first applied to this book, and over the years it has been adapted for radio, television, and the big screen.
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A Kind of Loving
By Stan Barstow
Parthian BooksCopyright © 1960 Stan Barstow
All rights reserved.
It really begins with the wedding – the Boxing Day Chris got married – because that was the day I decided to do something about Ingrid Rothwell besides gawp at her like a lovesick cow or something whenever she came in sight. I'd been doing this for about a month before Christmas, I remember. I don't know what started it. Does anybody know what starts these things, why a hint can be one among dozens about the place one day and somebody special the next? Or it seems that way. Well anyway, it was that way with me and I'd been at it for a month, or maybe six weeks, and I'd got to the stage where I knew I'd have to do something about it.
The wedding was about the only thing anybody had been talking about at home for the last six months – ever since Chris and David came right out into the open and bought the ring – and I really thought that after all the talk and planning it would have to be something out of the ordinary for it not to fall flat. But then I was a novice at this kind of thing. I'd never been involved in a wedding before and I have to admit it's what you might call an experience.
There's about five hundred people staying overnight before the day, to begin with, and on the morning they're getting ready in lumps all over the place. The house is like a lot of backstage dressing-rooms like you sometimes see in musical pictures and you wouldn't be surprised to see some young lad marching round knocking on all the doors and shouting, 'Five minutes, please,' like they do. I think I've never seen so many strange faces and the surprising thing is they're mostly relatives of mine. Or they're supposed to be. I wonder where on earth the Old Lady's dug them all up from and I don't think even she knows them all for sure. I know for a fact she realizes she's overdone it with the offers of accommodation. And as for the Old Man, he said last night that if he'd known he wouldn't be able to get up to bed for people kipping down on the stairs he'd have put a bell-tent up on the lawn.
He's lucky he could go to bed. I've spent the night on the front-room sofa and the last four or five hours hanging about trying to get into the bathroom. By the time I do manage to get in there I'm feeling a bit sour at having all these people barging about the place, and thinking about a couple of thousand more that live in the town and have to be transported to the church. Being in a bit of a flap I forget to shoot the bolt behind me and it doesn't improve my temper when the door flies open and young Dorothy and Angela catch me without pants. This amuses them no end and I wonder if I can't arrange to fall downstairs and break a leg and give them a real laugh. A couple of proper horrors, Dorothy and Angela, twins, belonging to Auntie Agnes, one of my mother's sisters. I know the Old Lady can't abide them and she only had Chris ask them to be bridesmaids because she didn't want to get across with Auntie Agnes who's one of them sensitive types who go through life looking for any offence left lying about for the taking. I've only had one glimpse of Chris as she nipped across the landing and from the tight little smile she gives me when I make a crack that's supposed to be cheerful I guess she won't be sorry when it's all over and she's with David on the 3.45 to the Great Metropolis. It's even affected the Old Man. I'm just about to go downstairs to get started when he calls me into the bedroom and I find him standing in his undervest and trousers in front of the wardrobe mirror.
'Here, Vic,' he says; 'come an' tell me what you think to these new trousers.'
I sit down on the edge of the bed and look him over. 'Very nice, Dad. They seem to hang all right. Can't really tell, o' course, without your jacket on.'
'I'll just pop it on.'
He does this and then takes another look in the glass. He begins to work his shoulders about as though the tailor's left a few pins in. 'Seems a bit on the slack side to me,' he says.
'Well that's the style now, Dad,' I tell him. 'You'll feel better when you've got your shirt and waistcoat on. And I can't wait while you do that,' I say, as he begins looking round for them.
He's a tall, spare sort of feller, the Old Man is, and really a suit hangs well on him when he lets it. This one's a dark blue, nearly navy, with a faint double stripe in grey. 'I think he's made a right good job of it.' I lean forward and finger the material. 'A nice bit o' cloth an' all.'
'Oh, aye,' the Old Man says in that self-satisfied way he has sometimes; 'you can't diddle me when it comes to pickin' cloth. I know a good length o' cloth when I see one ...' His voice tails off. He's not at all happy this morning. 'It's t'makin' up 'at worries me,' he says. 'I just don't feel right in it, somehow.'
'But he's one of the best tailors in Cressley, Dad. I wouldn't have recommended him otherwise.' I get up off the bed. 'Look, there's nowt wrong with my suit, is there?'
He eyes me over through the glass and says nothing. 'He charges t'best prices, any road,' he says. 'He fair made me sweat when he told me how much. I've never paid more na ten or eleven pound for a suit afore.'
'That'll be a suit when you've forgotten how much you paid for it,' I tell him. 'And that's looking a long time ahead.' I'm a bit fed-up with this conversation because we've had most of it out before.
'Happen so.' The Old Feller takes his jacket off again. 'All t'same, I wish I'd gone to Liversidge's like I allus have afore.'
'Aagh! Mass production. They cut suits with a bacon slicer there.' It's no use trying to do anything for the Old Man; you might just as well let him to his own sweet way. He still thinks in terms of wages at three pound ten a week and suits fifty bob apiece off the peg.
'Anyway,' I say, 'I'll have to be off.' And then just as I'm turning round to go out I catch sight of these brown shoes under a chair.
'You're not thinkin' o' wearing them today, are you?'
'Eh?' he says. 'What?'
'Your brown shoes,'
'Why not? They're me best.'
'Look,' I say, mustering my patience, 'you don't wear brown shoes with a blue suit. You've heard Stanley Holloway, haven't you?'
'That war a funeral,' he says.
'Well it applies to weddings an' all. You'll have our Chris curling up with shame. Remember there'll be a lot of eyes on you while you're up at the front.'
'They'll never notice me for our Christine.'
'Some of these folk here today make a point of noticing everything,' I tell him. 'Not that three parts of 'em know any better anyway.'
'Oh, damnation,' he says, getting his rag out at last, 'Is'll be glad when it's all over. I don't seem to be able to get owt right some road.'
'You won't be told.'
'Well I can't wear old shoes wi' a new suit,' he says, getting stubborn now.
'An' you can't wear them brown 'uns. I'll ask me mother what she thinks when I go down.'
This is the ace. The Old Man lifts his hand up. 'Ho'd on a minute. There's no need to bring your mother into this: I'm havin' enough trouble as it is.'
Just then I hear the Old Lady shouting from the bottom of the stairs. 'Victor! Are y'there, Victor? The taxi's waiting. Hurry yourself up or you'll have us all late.'
'She'll be bringing herself into it if I don't get a move on.' I start to go out again. 'Now just remember – no brown shoes.' And I go out and leave the Old Man standing there staring into the glass with a baffled look on his face.
'Come on, Victor, come on,' the Old Lady says. She's standing at the bottom of the stairs like a battleship at anchor, big and solid, with her hair, greying fast it is now, newly trimmed and set. 'You know we've no time to spare.'
I know we haven't because I've planned the calls. 'I was just fixing me dad up.'
'Oh, your dad,' she says, rolling her eyes. 'A fat lot o' use he is on a day like this.' I stop in front of the hallstand to run my comb through my hair. 'You'll do, you'll do,' the Old Lady says. 'It's not you 'at's gettin' married.'
'One of 'em will one o' these fine days.'
'She'll have to be up early.'
'There's plenty willin' to do that to get a presentable young chap with a steady job an' no bad habits.'
I cock a wary eye at her. Is she after marrying me off next? The wedding bug must have bitten deeper than I thought. I chuck her under the chin. 'What do you know about my bad habits?'
'Oh, go on with you,' she says. 'Get off an' get your job done.'
I pull my jacket down and straighten my tie. 'Well I'm ready. Where's our Jim?'
'He's in the front room. He's been ready a good half-hour.'
A good mark for the scholar! I go through into the front room to find him. It's bedlam in there. Somebody's switched the wireless on and it's playing a record request programme at full blast. Standing in the doorway I feel like shouting, 'Would anybody like the wireless turning up a bit?' There they are, milling about, pulling at their clothes and messing about with make-up as they jockey for position in front of the glass. Somebody's knocked an ashtray on to the floor and the last of the three plaster geese flying across the wallpaper is doing a nose-dive into the carpet. Over in one corner, curled up as peaceful as if he's by himself in the middle of a field, there's young Jim, with his nose in a book, as per.
I reach past somebody and touch his knee. 'C'mon, Einstein.'
He gets up, thin, fifteen years old and too tall for his age, and marks the place in his book and follows me out. He's ushering at the church. You wouldn't think he's noticed anything unusual going on and when we get out on the front step and look at this big Rolls with white ribbons and white seat covers, he says, 'Just like a wedding, isn't it?' and I have to laugh.
Well I'm glad to be out of that lot and I take a butcher's at my list. 'Auntie Miriam first.' I give the driver the address and Jim and I get into the taxi. Jim opens his book and retires again; but I can't afford to; I've got a lot to do before eleven and I hope Geoff Lister, my cousin, who's looking after the other taxi, keeps his end going as well. I check the list for the umpteenth time, wondering if we can get them all there on time. It's a tight list and I'm proud of that because I'm saving David's money by having one less car than they thought. But it makes no allowance for lost time, so I'm hoping everybody's ready and waiting.
The taxi turns round in the street and moves off. The wedding's under way.
It's snowed twice heavy in the fortnight before Christmas and it's still lying about in like little grimy mountain ranges on either side of the road where it curves down the hill. It looks as if there's more to come as well because the sky's like a thick grey blanket hanging behind the chimneys and rooftops with a reddish flush over the bottom half where the sun's doing its best to break through. Cressley Town Silver Band's pitched in the forecourt of the Prince of Wales on the corner and I get the sound of 'Hark! the Herald Angels Sing', as we slow down for the turn coming louder as I wind the window down and give them a shout.
'Oi! Call at number thirty-seven. There's ten bob in it today.'
The conductor lifts his hand to show he's heard me and the band carry on playing in the cold. I know the Old Man'll be glad to have them call this morning because he'd be out with them but for the wedding and he says it's the first Boxing Day play-out he's missed in more than twenty years.
I begin to think about things – the wedding and all that – as the taxi bats down through town and young Jim goes on reading in his corner. I reckon you can take all of us – me, my mother and father, Chris, young Jim, and probably David as well – and the only one enjoying it is the Old Lady. She's having the time of her life; you can tell this by the way she's fussing about snapping everybody's heads off. She's been waiting years for this day. Chris is twenty-seven now and I think there have been times when the Old Lady was scared she was being left on the shelf, just another schoolmarm with nothing to look forward to but retiring on pension and maybe living with somebody else in the same fix. But I never saw any reason for worrying; I knew all along Chris would get married. I didn't see how she could miss, what with her looks and personality; because even if she is my own sister and I do say it myself, she's one of the grandest girls any bloke could hope to meet. As I saw it, it was only a matter of time before the right chap came along and snapped her up. But the Old Lady isn't a big believer in right chaps; all she thinks of is position and income and character; and the duller and plainer they come the more character she seems to think they bring with them. Good- looking blokes are all very well on the pictures or television, but you keep your eye on them in real life because you can't expect them to be any better than they should be with all the temptations that must come their way.
That's the way the Old Lady thinks – or thought – and it's probably why she didn't fall over herself to welcome David at first, because he's good-looking and talks with a cut-glass accent and comes from the south. And she knew nothing about him except he was Senior English master at the Grammar School. That was a point in his favour, though, because the Old Lady thinks that schoolteachers were first in the queue when brains and general strength of character were handed out. She should have seen some of them from where I was sitting not so long ago and she might have modified her ideas a bit. Anyway, it bothered her because she couldn't chew the fat about David's background. (His mother was a so-and-so – y'know, they kept that draper's shop in Whiteley Street – and his father was a somebody else. He had a sister that ran away with a feller from Wigan and left three kids for the husband to bring up.) All that kind of stuff; it's the breath of life to the Old Lady, and she had to pacify herself by worming as much as she could out of Chris. Such things as David was taken prisoner in North Africa when he was only eighteen, his mother and dad were killed in the London blitz, and his girl friend got tired of waiting and writing letters and went and married somebody else. She'd never have got a hard-luck story like that out of David himself but she got it out of Chris bit by bit; and then she went and turned right round and couldn't do enough for him. She mothered him till I'm surprised he's lasted till the wedding. But that's the Old Lady all over: hard as nails on top and soft as a brush underneath.
Anyway, we make the first call and pick up Auntie Miriam and Uncle Horace, who aren't very important and won't have to mind being first and having to hang about at the church half the morning. I drop Jim off with them and give him his orders.
'Now get your nose out of that book and watch what you're doing. You show the bride's guests to the left and the groom's to the right. Okay?'
'It's all so complicated,' Jim says. 'You should have put somebody more intelligent on the job.'
'You're all we could spare, so watch what you're doing or it's a clip on the ear.'
'Bribery will get you nowhere,' Jim says, and I have to laugh because he's a real wag at times.
'All right, have it your own way.' I whip the book out of his hand. 'But I'll take this and then mebbe you'll keep your mind on the job.'
'Here, what am I supposed to do between times?' he says.
'Look at the gravestones. See'f there's anybody you know stopping there.'
I look at the title of the book as I get in with the driver – Philosophy from Plato to the Present Day – and pop it in the compartment under the dashboard. There's times when young Jim unnerves me, he's got so many brains. I wonder how I come to have a brother like him, or a sister like Chris, for that matter. And looking at it that way, it's me who's the odd man out.
At a quarter to eleven prompt, like I planned, we leave the church for the last trip – home for Chris and the Old Man. All without a hitch, I'm thinking, pleased with myself. Everybody there for time and all going nicely, thanks. On the way we pass the Old Lady doing her impersonation of Lady Docker, with the two brats, Dotty and Mangy, making hideous faces through the back window.
Excerpted from A Kind of Loving by Stan Barstow. Copyright © 1960 Stan Barstow. Excerpted by permission of Parthian Books.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Stan Barstow is the author of a dozen books, including Ask Me Tomorrow, his autobiography In My Own Good Time, The Right True End, and The Watchers on the Shore; three books of short stories; and various scripts for TV, radio, and theater.
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