1956- Brixton, London.
Ian Chesterton walked through the doors of a quaint and traditional pub. He had been visiting his girlfriend Joy when he’d stopped off for a drink at her local before catching the tube home later that evening. He had only just ordered a pint and was drinking the refreshing beverage when a man sat down beside him and ordered the same.
“It aint half hot out this evening,” the voice said as he looked briefly at Ian who was already well away with drinking his pint. “So who am I talking to, sir?”
“Me? Ian Chesterton,” Ian replied and then turned his body to face the stranger. “Drowning your sorrows too? Who do I have the pleasure of talking to?”
“Oh, it’s Wilfred...Wilf Mott, and yes, you could say that. My fiancée is planning our wedding, there’s all these people there having a right palaver with all the cake, and flowers, heck, it’s only a wedding, not the Jubilee.”
Ian laughed. “You’re lucky; I can’t get my girlfriend to even consider marrying me.”
Wilf thanked the barman for his drink, took a big gulp, and then looked Ian up and down, “What handsome fella like you? Don’t seem right.”
Ian smiled. “I think she’s looking for a way out if I’m perfectly honest.”
“Nah, it’ll be alright, these things normally are,” Wilf replied. “You ask her; she’ll say yes, I’m sure of it.”
A few weeks later.
Ian straightened his tie and entered a rather grand pub in Chiswick. As he went inside, he was attacked by a flock of balloons and a trail of party streamers that seemed to become entangled around him. As he entered and began to climb the stairs to the function room above the bar, he could hear the raucousness of the party going on inside, and he smiled as two attractive women walked in beside him, dressed in floral print dresses.
“Ladies,” he said, nodding to them in a manner of politeness and opening the door for them and then following them inside.
He looked around the crowded room to see if he knew anyone, to see if he could spot the happy couple in merriment. There were banners plastered on every wall with various ways of saying: ‘Congratulations Mr. and Mrs. Mott’. Ian forced a smile, feeling happy for his friend, but also a pang of jealousy that everyone he knew seemed to be settling down and he wasn’t. He tried to remain chipper when he saw Wilf approaching him with a big red fez perched on the top of his head.
“Ian Chesterton, glad you could make it!” Wilf exclaimed, grabbing Ian’s hand and shaking it firmly. “Didn’t think you were gonna come.”
“Wouldn’t miss it. Hope the wedding went well,” Ian said. “Can I buy you and the bride a drink?”
Wilf laughed. “I would be honoured sir,” he said as he pulled him to the bar and began signalling to the barman to pour them both a much needed pint.
“So, where’s the girlfriend?” Wilf asked as he gulped down his drink and left the foam moustache on his top lip.
“Oh, we broke up,” Ian sighed. “We wanted different things.”
“Oh, yeah, what was that?”
“I wanted to marry her and she didn’t want me to.”
Wilf frowned, feeling a little awkward at the kind of conversation he was having at his own wedding reception. “No? How about that! That’s just rotten, Ian. Well, never mind, you will meet someone, look, if I can meet a nice lady like Eileen, then there’s hope for you too!”
He patted Ian hard on the back and placed the fez upon Ian’s glum head instead. Usually Ian would have taken it right off, but on this night, and in the mood he was in, well, he didn’t feel like doing much at all. He hoped a few hours of good cheer and good company from Wilf would loosen him up a bit and wash away the feeling of emptiness.
“Where’s Eileen?” Ian questioned as he looked around the crowded pub, trying to catch a glimpse of a woman in a white dress. He hadn’t seen the bride at all.
“Oh...she’s in the toilet, said I was giving her headache.”
Ian nodded and laughed as he drank the pint hastily. “Perhaps later then.”
“Don’t you worry, maybe a new type of woman for you, eh?” Wilf began. “You need someone who’s going to challenge you, someone with brains.”
“I feel like I’ve almost given up, Wilf.”
Wilf patted Ian on the shoulder and laughed loudly, signalling for the barman to get them another drink. “You’re still young, give over with that talk!”
“Perhaps I’ll just go in the services and avoid women all together.”
“What? Go after the men? That’s extreme, I mean, nothing against that kind of thing, mind, but, uh...isn’t it a little drastic?”
Ian squirmed in his seat. “No, I mean get a job, go back to the RAF, not look for love, just do something to take my mind of things. I’m sorry, that’s so rude of me, this is your wedding- you don’t need me being all sour about romance.”
Wilf shook his head in disbelief. “That’s it, you need another drink, you’re not thinking clearly. Thank gawd I’m here to stop you doing something stupid. Later you will be dancing and there will be no protests, do you hear?”
Ian and Barbara sat in their regular cafe tucking into some lunch before getting back to the afternoon classes at Coal Hill School. It was always crowded at that time, and so the two of them had to rush away from the gates as soon as the lunch bell had sounded- just so they had a chance of getting a good table in the eatery. Ian was about to tuck into a bacon sandwich when he saw Wilf come through the doors and up to the counter.
“Wilf!” Ian called to him from the table. “Wilf!”
Wilf turned around at the sound of the familiar voice and smiled with glee when he saw who it was through the busy and noisy cafe. “If it isn’t Ian Chesterton! Great to see you. It’s been a couple of years since I last saw you. Fancy us being in the same cafe for lunch.”
“Too long, old friend. Would you like to join us?”
Wilf nodded, quickly gave his order to the waitress, and sat down beside Ian. He glanced at Barbara and grinned. “Wilf Mott, miss.”
“Barbara Wright, pleasure to meet you,” she replied and shook his hand.
Ian smiled and motioned at his colleague. “Barbara works with me at Coal Hill School. We’re just having a spot of lunch before the bell rings for the dreaded last part of the day. I’ve got year three.”
Wilf grimaced to show his sympathy and then smiled and nudged Ian. “Well, I’m glad to see god’s been smiling down on you, must be difficult, though, being a couple and working together too.”
Ian and Barbara glanced at one another in embarrassment. Why did everyone always think they were a couple?
“Uh...no...Barbara’s just a colleague, actually, Wilf, she occupies the classroom next to mine.”
“Oh,” Wilf said with disappointment, sensing a lot of chemistry between the teachers. “Oh, I am sorry, well, that’s good too. Friends and colleagues are where it’s at these days.”
“How’s Eileen?” Ian asked, changing the subject drastically from the subject of his and Barbara’s relationship status. Every time someone mentioned his relationship with Barbara in more than platonic terms, he felt a sudden wave of embarrassment sweep over him, and he had to touch his cheeks to make sure he wasn’t blushing.
“Oh, yeah, Eileen’s alright; she’s taking Sylvia to get some new school shoes.”
As the men talked a little about Eileen and Sylvia, Barbara nibbled on her cheese and pickle sandwich, always nibbling on her food when she felt nervous or in company she didn’t know that well. She’d picked up the habit as a child and she hadn’t seemed to break away from it. She was a confident woman most of the time, but sometimes she found herself unsure of what to say in social situations. She wondered if Wilf had noticed. She suspected he hadn’t as he was caught up in his re-acquaintance with Ian.
“So, Wilf,” she finally said, trying to take the attention away from her nervous eating habits and her uncertainty of what to bring to the conversation. “I think Ian mentioned you once, said you were both in national service at about the same time?”
“Yes, indeed, did our duty for Queen and country,” he replied as he bowed gracefully.
Ian laughed. “He was on land, I was in the air.”
“Never more has the expression ‘head in the clouds’ been more relevant to him.”
Ian laughed. “Well, our paths never actually crossed during the national service days. We met in a pub as it happens.”
Barbara chuckled. “Well, now, that does seem more likely. I’ve started to think Ian pays rent to the pub near the school, he’s in there so often.”
“We all are, love, we all are,” Wilf replied.
“Well, I hope you don’t leave your poor wife home every evening whilst you go for a drink?”
“Certainly not, Miss Wright, no, she comes with me. We all go, and Sylvia too, though she’s only on the orange juice, of course.”
“Family outing for the Motts?” Ian asked with a twinkle of amusement in his eye. For the remainder of the lunch break, the three of them had a long chat about their lives, Barbara even telling the men about her time at university. The lunch break was over much too soon.
Ian stood in his garden on a beautiful summer’s day. The garden was filled with people, friends and family who had gathered to share a day with him. The flowers were full in bloom and were bursting with vibrancy and beauty. There was a table on the patio with several people sitting around it, tucking into various meat and salads on a colourful assortment of plastic plates and checked tablecloths. Ian stood with an apron on and was standing behind the barbeque with his cooking spatula in one hand and a bottle of beer in the other.
Barbara approached him and kissed him on the cheek. “Your apron says ‘kiss the chef’, I thought I’d better obey,” she said with a grin.
Ian laughed playfully. “Maybe I should wear one that says something a bit more...racy?”
Barbara shoved him in the ribs. “Ian! There’s children here!”
Ian let out a dirty laugh as he attempted to grab Barbara and pull her towards him. She laughed and pushed him away. “Get out of it,” she said with a giggle. “Or I’ll use the tongs on you!”
“Ian!” a voice said from the distance. Ian and Barbara looked up from their horseplay and smiled at the face of Wilf, who was approaching them with his wife. They all made their greetings and exchanged pleasantries, and then Wilf grabbed a burger bun and waved it in front of Ian impatiently.
“I am starving, pass us a burger.”
Ian scooped a burger into the bun and then waited as Wilf applied ketchup delicately to the meat. Wilf took a bite and then smiled through the mouthfuls. Finally, after swallowing a giant bite of burger, he turned to his friends to resume their discussion. “Haven’t seen you in too long. I was overjoyed when Eileen opened the invitation.”
“Well, I thought it’d be nice for you two to have a catch up. He keeps saying he wants to see you but he never gets around to organising it,” Barbara said.
Wilf nodded in agreement and took another bite of his hamburger. The tomato ketchup dripped out of the bun as he did so. No one bothered to tell him he had a dollop of sauce on his chin. Everyone had of course noticed, but there was no fun in mentioning everything.
“You two don’t know how relieved I was to find out you weren’t dead,” Wilf said with a mouthful. “When you went missing like that, I was shocked. I was even more shocked to find out that someone finally married, Ian. Glad it was you, sweetheart.”
Ian’s arm found Barbara’s back, and they sideways cuddled for a moment. “It’s been a hectic few years, that’s for sure.”
“So where were you again? Africa or something, was it?”
Barbara looked at Ian carefully; it was always hard to answer the questions and there’d been many since they’d arrived home that day in 1965. “Oh, well...we can’t really talk about it, it was kind of a witness protection thing, maybe one day we’ll be able to explain.”
Wilf nodded in interest. “Oh, right, that is rather secretive all that business. So how’s married life treating you two then?”
“It’s good, yes,” Ian began as he pointed at a little boy playing in the paddling pool. “We have a son now, John. He’s the one with the dark hair, splashing everybody.”
Wilf looked over at the boy. “Chip off the old block, he is, Ian. Shame I’ve missed so much.”
Ian smiled; he knew the feeling.
Ian helped Wilf with the luggage from the car and they carried it into the house, both struggling under the weight of the bags. Ian placed the load in the hallway and then called Barbara to join them. She came to greet Wilf and was still carrying a duster in her hands as she said hello. Her hair was underneath a head scarf to keep it tidy and she wasn’t at all ready for visitors.
“Hope you didn’t clean up on my account.” Wilf laughed.
Barbara smiled and put the duster away. She stared at the now middle-aged man standing in the hallway- the man she hadn’t seen in quite some years. “Where’s Eileen? Aren’t you going to bring her bags in?”
Wilf hesitated and shuffled uncomfortably on the spot. “Ah, well, she’s not my wife anymore, I’m afraid, we divorced two years ago.”
“What? You never said so when I invited you over. We sent you a joint Christmas card last year,” Ian said in confusion, a little bit peeved that Wilf hadn’t even mentioned such a major event in his life.
“Yeah, well, I was in one of those transition stages, didn’t want to harp on about it. No, the thing is we had enough of each other, you know how it is, no maliciousness, just a clean break. But I needed time to adjust, I suppose. Anyway, I didn’t travel alone today so all is alright.”
Ian and Barbara exchanged glances, and then stared at Wilf and at the door. There was no one there! Ian was starting to think the divorce had taken its toll on his old friend causing some forgetfulness.
“Who?” Barbara asked, glancing around trying to see who he was talking about.
“She’s in the car, I’ll go get her.”
Wilf let out a grin and dashed outside, and Barbara turned to Ian in disbelief. “Don’t tell me he’s bought a new flame with him, that would be very awkward.”
“Well, we can’t kick him out, can we? We invited him.”
Wilf returned a moment later, lightly dragging a reluctant little girl into the house who didn’t seem very eager to be there. The girl had long ginger hair tied up in a long plait down her back and she wore tight leggings, a long blue top, and trainers that looked too big for her little body.
“This is Donna, my granddaughter. ‘Little General’ might be more appropriate, though, the way she goes on.”
Donna folded her arms and made no attempt to say hello, her eyes downcast and uninterested in the adults.
“Donna, don’t be rude. This is Ian and Barbara, old friends of mine. Ian came to me and your nan’s wedding. Say hello.”
“Alright,” she said simply and then rubbed her stomach. “Got anything to eat? Gramps hasn’t fed me this whole trip.”
Barbara hesitated, not sure what she was supposed to do, having expected a middle aged woman and not a young girl to entertain. She kindly showed Donna and Wilf into the kitchen. “Of course we must have something, but I’m not sure there’ll be anything you’d like to eat Donna. If we’d known you were coming we’d have stocked up on some sweets or cakes for you.”
“Anything is alright. Mum doesn’t let me eat anything nice so whatever you’ve got, I’ll take.”
“Please?” Wilf prompted.
“Please,” Donna repeated.
Ian and Barbara exchanged glances.
Wilf, Ian, and Barbara had spent the entire afternoon sharing stories about how their lives had transformed over the years, with tales of children, marriages, and career changes. Ian and Wilf had started drinking the beer already, and Donna was sitting in the conservatory drinking a strawberry milkshake and listening to her walkman, ignoring having to hear her grandfather’s stories over and over again.
“I’ve missed this banter,” Wilf said joyfully, trying to stop the surge of giggles. “Donna’s the only thing that keeps me young these days, keeps me well on my toes, that one.”
“She’s quite a character. You two should come and visit more often,” Ian said. “We’d like to see more of you and your family.”
“And you can meet John properly,” Barbara added. “He’d love to see you.”
Ian was about to speak when the kitchen door swung open and suddenly two people- one a young man and the other a young woman slightly older than him- were standing in the doorway dressed in rather peculiar looking clothes and talking amongst themselves. They stopped their conversation when they saw the full house of people.
“Speak of the devil,” Ian said.
“Sorry, we didn’t know you had company,” the young man said, apologising to them all.
Wilf looked him up and down and clapped in happiness at the sight. He glanced curiously at the boy’s leather jacket, ripped jeans and earring. “You’re not...you’re not little Johnny Chesterton?”
Johnny laughed. “Yeah, it's Mr. Mott, isn’t it? I remember you!”
Wilf shook his head at John’s rather peculiar taste in fashion and laughed to himself. “The last time I saw you, you were running about in your mother’s high heels, now look at you- not changed much!”
John looked at his girlfriend and blushed. She started to laugh beside him as Wilf continued to embarrass him with tales of his childhood and all the little things he did when he was a boy.
“Sounds like John, alright,” the girl said revealing a strong Australian accent as she spoke. “He’s a right poser.”
“Ah an Aussie girlfriend, eh?” Wilf said, shaking hands with the girl. “I went down under once during my national service, very hot, lots of spiders there.”
Tegan laughed and humoured him as he started telling her facts about her own country. Barbara offered an apologetic shrug at her but no one attempted to stop him from recalling his old stories, especially since he told them with so much passion. John smiled and placed his arms around the girl proudly. “Wilf, this is Tegan, my girlfriend.”
As the introductions continued, Barbara motioned for her son and Tegan to take a seat at the kitchen table to join them. They all had a lot of catching up to do.
Ian and Barbara rushed into the hospital corridor. When they arrived in the ward, Wilf was sitting up in the hospital bed reading a book. When he saw his old friends approach him, he let out a big smile and put down his book and took off his reading glasses.
“Don’t stop reading on our account,” Barbara said as she and Ian took seats beside the bed.
Wilf shook her off. “You have my full attention. I’m happy you came to visit me, how did you know I was here?”
“We got a phone call from Sylvia telling us,” Ian said sadly. “Wilf, we’re so sorry this has happened to you.”
“Now we’ll have none of that, yes, I had a minor cardiac event...but I’m alive, aren’t I? So I want no pity.”
Barbara took his hand. “We’re so very glad you’re ok, Wilf, we were awfully worried.”
Wilf picked up the grapes from the table by the bed and ate one. He then offered them the bag. “Here, help yourself. Donna has bought me so many of the damned things I think I’m going to turn into one.”
Ian and Barbara laughed, and Ian began eating the grapes like he hadn’t eaten in years. Barbara was trying to ignore her husband as he spat out the pips in a rather uncivilised manner.
“Anyway,” Wilf said. “How have you been, Barbara, love? Did you get my card? I wanted to drive up and see you after your operation but I was working overseas at the time.”
Ian touched Barbara’s knee gently. “She was rather ill, it was a hard time.” He couldn’t finish the sentence as his voice began to quiver. Barbara rubbed his hand tenderly.
“I’m alright now, we got through it, didn’t we?”
Ian smiled at her. “She’s a brave one, this one.”
“Like I said, I was meaning to see you both, but then things just sort of...”
“Oh, don’t apologise, Wilf,” Barbara said ,squeezing his hand. “Life gets in the way, we’ve all been busy. It doesn’t matter when we see each other just as long as we do.”
“You’re right ,of course.”
“So, how’s Sylvia and Donna?” Ian asked, tucking into more of the grapes.
“Sylvia and Geoff popped by about an hour ago. She gave me a nice lecture about food groups and what I should and shouldn’t be eating, as she does, bless her. Donna’s been smashing, a really good girl. She makes it in to see me every day this week even though she’s temping in one of those busy London offices.”
“Sounds like she’s doing well for herself,” Barbara told him.
“Well...she’s doing it for a bit, getting some money behind her I suppose. She’s got no intention of doing what her mother says, she’s already out in some flat with a man called Dean, gawd knows how long that arrangement will last.”
“Well, it’s best to let them figure it all out when they’re young,” Ian said. “I mean, look at what we were like back in the day.”
“And look at us now!” Wilf said. “Enough to put you off your tea!”
Wilf carried the hot mugs of tea over to Ian and Barbara who were sitting, huddled together under a blanket all cosy and warm in the winter chill. They were all sitting peacefully in Wilf’s allotment next to the beautiful telescope that he cherished dearly. Wilf made himself comfortable in his chair and then looked through the eye lens. He sighed with sadness. Ian and Barbara noticed straight away.
“What I wouldn’t give to get out there. See those stars and touch them.”
Ian and Barbara glanced at one another, feeling bad as though they unfairly shared a secret between them, and were hiding something important from him.
“Seems a bit too dangerous if you ask me,” Ian let out as he smirked at Barbara cheekily. She frowned, not too sure it was right to joke when he seemed so melancholy.
“Dangerous, but plausible. I mean we know about all them aliens now, don’t we? They’re up there plotting something. Wouldn’t it be great to be up there too, trying to sort it all out? Well I suppose Donna can do all that now she...”
“What do you mean, Wilf? What do you mean Donna can?” Barbara asked.
“Oh,” Wilf said, back-tracking on his answer and shuffling awkwardly in his chair. “I just mean she’s the one with the adventure now. Travelling she is, with some doctor. Seeing things I could only dream of.”
“Maybe one day you’ll get your wish,” Ian told him. “It’s not impossible, believe me.”
“Well, I’ll bear that in mind, until then, telescope it is. I can’t quite touch the stars but at least I can see how beautiful they are from here.”
Barbara rested her head against Ian’s shoulder and whispered into his ear. “Do you think if we ever told him about our past he’d believe it?”
Ian paused, smiled, and thought for a moment. “Wilf, there’s something we need to tell you.”
“Happy birthday, Granddad!” said a voice as Ian stood in front of a crowded room of his family and friends. He put his arm around the teenager and kissed her on the head. “Thank you Emily, darling.”
“Happy eightieth, Dad, you don’t look a day over seventy!” John said as he held the birthday cake in his hands. “Time for you to cut the cake.”
“I’ll do it,” Barbara offered. “Ian’s hand’s been bothering him. I blame all the work at the allotment.”
“Yes, alright, Barbara, don’t fuss.”
Barbara smiled and kissed him on the top of the head. “Do you want me to cut it or not, darling?”
“Yes, yes, you do it and then when you turn eighty, I can do the honours for you.”
Barbara started cutting the cake into slices and then handed a slice each to Wilf and Donna who were seated beside them with party hats on their heads.
“No, ta,” Donna let out. “I’m on a low carb diet. Shaun thinks it’s a waste of time but I think it’s time I had a waist,” she laughed loudly.
“Well, I think you look fabulous, Donna,” Barbara told her. “It’s good to see you looking so well.”
“How do you mean?”
“Oh,” Barbara stuttered. “I mean...uh...your grandfather mentioned you’d not been quite yourself.”
“Oh, I had this memory thing,” she started. “A few days of feeling like I was missing something, like there were things that happened...and then...oh, I dunno, I feel better now anyway. New house, lots of money, we’re doing great. I’m happier now that Gramps is well taken care of in his own luxury flat.”
“It’s bigger than my first house,” Wilf chipped in. “Cost a fortune, good job she won that lottery.”
Ian pulled Wilf aside in private leaving Barbara and Donna in a heated discussion about a television drama they’d both seen. “How is Donna really? It can’t be easy to forget all those times with the Doctor.”
“She’s coping. She doesn’t know there’s anything to cope with really. Main thing is she’s happy and healthy, eh?”
“And this lottery ticket? That was a bit of luck.”
Wilf laughed. “Not really, that was the Doctor’s doing. A bit of a guilty conscience I’d say.”
Ian paused. “Funny, he never gave us any compensation for kidnapping us and getting us home two years late.”
“Well, he’s a strange one, that one.”
Ian stood in black, solemn and downcast. He stood in the cemetery and looked at one of the headstones. Tears dropped onto his cheeks.
“I’m...sorry, Barbara,” he said through sobs. “It should have been me first.”
There was silence. A chill in the air startled Ian and he shivered uncontrollably. He knew it was time for him to leave, to get back home, and get warm by the fire, but it felt wrong without Barbara. There was now a seat with no one to sit in it, no face to look at, no beautiful smile, and no one to tell him to stop throwing his socks on the floor.
“I don’t want to go home,” he let out. “Not yet.”
“Ian?” a man’s voice said from beside him. It was Wilf and he was standing with his arm ready to place on Ian’s shoulder.
“It’s getting late, Ian; you can’t stop out here on your own.”
“I’m not on my own, I’m with my wife.”
Wilf patted him on the shoulder in friendship. “Of course, of course. Well, let’s sit here for a while, eh? Have a bit of a talk.”
“About what?” Ian said with a slight angry sting in his voice. “The future? What I’ll do tomorrow, or next week, or next year? Barbara isn’t here, there is no future.”
“Now, I’ll have none of that and neither would she. Silly beggar, she’ll be scowling at you right about now with that talk.”
Ian laughed. “She would.”
“Come on let’s get you a pint, just like old times. There’s a nice little pub down that way, wanna try it?”
Ian shrugged and then agreed to leave. “Ok. Will you give me a minute?”
Wilf nodded and slowly left Ian alone to say goodbye.
“I’m going now,” Ian said, patting the top of Barbara’s headstone gently. “I’m just having a quick pint with Wilf. I promise I won’t be back too late.”
Ian took a deep breath, wiped away the last of his stray tears, and then left.
Ian and Wilf walked slowly away from the dark and grey of the despairing graveyard, Wilf’s arm draped around his friend’s shoulder in comfort and friendship.
“Old timers, eh?” Wilf said with a reassuring smile. “I’ve always got your back Ian, friends to the end.”