Life is a great big canvas, and you
should throw all the paint on it you can.’
Fergus Grant was elated as he came out of London’s Drury Lane Theatre, flying over the steps to the pavement in one single bound. He had just seen a performance of My Fair Lady with Rex Harrison as Henry Higgins and twenty-three-year-old Julie Andrews as Eliza Doolittle.
Fellow members of the equally ecstatic audience, leaving the theatre behind him applauded when his feet touched the ground. He laughed, turned for a few seconds, bowed to the assembled crowd then bounded off in the direction of Shaftesbury Avenue singing,
‘Just you wait, ‘enry ‘iggins, just you wait!’
Ripping off his black tie, he stuffed it into the pocket of his dinner jacket and danced rather than walked through the streets. His lean nineteen-year-old body bursting with energy. On the brink of his adult life, free to go anywhere he pleased, wherever the whim took him.
Tonight was on his way to Old Compton Road and the 2i’s Coffee Bar, the in-place for emerging British pop music culture. He needed to get a move on because after umpteen curtain calls at Drury Lane he was running late. So he broke into a run, trying to recall the lyrics of I’m an ordinary man. The tune was in his head but he the words were escaping him, but he remembered the last line.
‘Never let a woman in your life!’ He yelled at the top of his lungs.
‘Too bloody right mate!’ A man responded from the other side of the street. ‘Once you let ‘em in, you’ll never get rid of ‘em!’
The woman on his arm recoiled, snatching the flat cap off his head beating him with it and yelling,
‘I’ve been trying to get rid of you for years, you old battle cruiser! But you won’t go! Look at the state of you compared with that young dish over there.’
Fergus tipped his head back, laughing and carried on running. He was a handsome young man, his features a mix of masculine and feminine characteristics, which intrigued and attracted. He had a shock of golden-blond hair with a heavy quiff that flopped across his brow, through which he habitually ran his fingers to scrape it away from his avocado coloured eyes. Popular amongst his peers, his natural magnetism made it easy for him to make friends, and he was well known for his great sense of humour. Always immaculately dressed, he would turn heads wherever he went. He was often mistaken for a star of the silver screen, which amused him as he was unaware that he oozed charisma and charm.
He knew from an early age he was destined to take over the reins of running the family farm, Silkwoods, in Gloucestershire. He relished the challenge and even as a boy, he was always at his father’s side learning everything he could about mixed-crop livestock farming. He wasn’t fazed by the hard work it entailed. Seeing the land benefit from efficient crop rotation and the animals living off it thrive, was just reward.
His passion was playing polo, aspiring to a +5 goal handicap at the age of seventeen. He could become one of the UK’s finest players, but as much he loved the sport, he knew it was nothing more than an indulgent hobby.
During his last term at school, he looked forward to spending the summer farming and playing polo, but his father had other ideas and had found him a job in the city.
‘All young men should experience the city,’ Alistair delivered the words with upbeat certainty.
‘Find yourself a girl… or two, while you’re there. I’m not about to drop off my perch, just yet, so it’s a great opportunity for you to go and enjoy yourself in town for a while. Well, for the next five years or so.’
Fergus reluctantly agreed. He was very close to his father, who had bought him up on his own, with the help of a nanny, following the death of his mother when he was nine. He had grown up knowing he was truly loved, his father had always invested a great deal of his time in his young son. He always felt a need to please his father, but he had found the words, five years or so, a little galling. To him, the productive diversity that mixed-crop farming offered, plus the added attraction of polo ponies on the doorstep, far outweighed the potential moneymaking opportunities London was currently offering him.
Socially, however, London presented him with many eye-opening opportunities. There was the endless round of parties, especially during the season. And there were also the clubs, restaurants, including the Standard Pub in Piccadilly Circus, very different from his conventional upbringing in post-war Gloucestershire.
He arrived at the 2i’s Coffee Bar and squeezed his way through the crowd making his way downstairs to where the live music was happening. He had arranged to meet an old school friend, Charlie Lyons, and he was already half an hour late.
Charlie had rung Fergus at work to tell him he had a friend staying from Gloucestershire for a couple of days.
‘His name is Thomas Cahoon, and apparently, you’re neighbours… but he says your paths have never crossed.’
‘What an amazing coincidence! His family do indeed farm the land next to ours. I think I remember Dad saying he recently got married.’
‘Well, not that recently. I was one of the ushers at his wedding. He’s got two children now, would you believe? Two boys, one is three, and the other is eighteen months. I feel sorry for the poor sod. Between you and me, I couldn’t cope with having any snotty little brats at this stage of my life. Two children at twenty, it’s like he’s signed his life away. And, totally entre nous, I can’t see the attraction. Anna, his wife, is built like a brick shithouse.’
‘What? Charlie Lyons, I can’t believe that even you would say a thing like that! I’m sure she’s charming.’
‘Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I suppose. Apparently, she is an excellent polo player… she was bought up in India and has played since she could straddle a pony. So, maybe, that’s the attraction, because he plays as well.’
‘Not as good as you I don’t suppose but, yes, they both play. So another reason why I’m surprised you haven’t met. Anyway, as tomorrow is Friday, I thought I would take Thomas for a wild night out in the Big Smoke. You know, get him drunk, smoke a few cigars and, if we get lucky, pick up some girls and have the whole of Saturday and Sunday to recover from our hangovers. And, as you are the epitome of the bon vivant, I would like you to join us.’
Fergus had felt ambivalent about meeting Thomas. Despite being neighbours, they were unlikely to have anything in common, apart from exchanging anecdotes on the ingredients of silage; until he found out, they shared a passion, polo.
‘I’m actually booked to go to Drury Lane tomorrow night. You know I’m a sucker for musicals. But…’
‘Oh come on Fergie, you can meet us afterwards, the night will still be young, and I just want to make sure Thomas really lets his hair down before he goes back to changing his brats’ nappies and there is nobody better qualified than you to make sure he does.’
Now wedged on the narrow staircase at the 2i’s, unable to move up or down, Fergus wished he had left the theatre and headed straight for the nearest pub.
‘Charlie Lyons! Why do I ever listen to you!’ He bellowed, but the Skiffle band drowned out his voice. ‘Oh shit!’
He was stuck with his back pressed flat up against the wall. The atmosphere was stifling, the air polluted with the combined smell of stale sweat and perfume, as the constant stream of bodies wormed their way up and down the stairs. The back of another man was pushed up against his face and the fetid air replaced by Old Spice
‘If I could turn around and introduce myself, I would. But I’m stuck. You must be Fergus Grant? I’m Thomas Cahoon. I lost Charlie over an hour ago. I think if we both push at the same time, we can shoulder our way out of here. I’ve never felt so close to suffocation in my life, and I could murder a drink.’