The next morning, the day we were to go to Caister, dawned bright and sunny. There had been rain in the night and the cobbles were all wet and greasy and kind of dazzling to look at as I stood in the shop doorway with me mornin' cuppa, staring out at the council flats opposite.
I had a real heavy heart.
It was going to be a bad week.
And, even as I stood there, it got worse.
My wife's sister's eldest girl, Sharon, came runnin' up.
"Eee, Uncle Joe!" she cried. "I've got a message. Me Mam feels terrible this mornin'. Reckons it's gallopin' flu. She won't be able to look after the shop for you and Auntie. She sez she's real sorry!"
I was stunned. Went numb. Surely... nay... this couldn't mean...
My Missus 'ad appeared on the step beside me. "Oh no, poor Florrie! All right, our Sharon, tell yer Mam not to worry and I'll pop round later," she said.
"OK, Auntie!" and Sharon was gone.
"Right, Joe, you're all ready, so you'll 'ave to go alone," said the Missus.
"Alone?" I croaked out.
"Well, you and Auntie Doreen," said the Missus. "Probably for the best, Florrie not lookin' after the shop. You know 'ow this decimal money gets her in a tizzy!"
I felt faint. There was a buzzin' in me ears.
"Eee, lass, me an' Auntie Doreen!!!" I said.
"Now, Joe, be a man!" said the Missus firmly. "You've been booked by this camp... it's a real chance for yer, so stiffen yer lip!"
Just then Mrs Tillotson arrived for her Mint Imperials. "You're off today then, Joe," she said. "Eee, rather you than me, lad! Audiences can cut up real rough if they don't like an act. I remember once at Cleethorpes, I went to the Rendezvous with our Myrna and..."
The Missus cut in, hasty like: "All right, Mrs Tillotson! I'm sure our Joe'll be fine." She turned to me. "Get your stuff together, love."
I wandered out to the back yard to say farewell to me pigeons.
Petula looked at me soulfully, head on one side. She was me favourite back then. The night before I got her, I 'ad a dream about Petula Clarke singing Down Town outside our local Woolworth's. It 'ad been a real striking dream, and that's how Petula got 'er name.
I'm sure she understood every word I said.
I felt like skriking at the thought of a week with Auntie Doreen. Yet the Missus 'ad said "be a man"! Why were only women allowed to cry? My mate Bert 'ad things to say back then about 'ow Women's Lib wasn't about liberation at all. No, 'e reckoned we blokes 'ad always 'ad a bad deal. And, as I stood there with Petula, Lulu, Dusty, Engelbert and Ringo I thought 'e 'ad a point.
"See yer in a week, my lovelies," I said.
Was that a tear glinting in Petula's eye?
My peace was shattered by Auntie Doreen's foghorn voice as she appeared at the back door: "Come on, lad, I've humped me suitcase over. We'll need to be startin' off. It's a long trip. Pity it couldn't 'ave been Blackpool. But at least we won't run into anyone we know at this place in... where were it? Caster?"
"Caister," I sighed.
"That's it. It'll be better coz we won't 'ave the embarrassment of friends and neighbours lookin' on when you fall flat on yer face up on that stage," Auntie continued. "Yer better half tells me she's stoppin' 'ere. Funny that. I thought she'd want to be with yer. Thought it'd be a second honeymoon for yer. The first weren't up to much by all accounts."
"Florrie's poorly," I said.
"Is she?" Auntie looked surprised. "Well, I saw 'er comin' out of the Washer Rama just now, natterin' 'er 'ead off to Mavis Thorpe - seemed full of beans!"
I stepped back, a bit on the stunned side. Could it be the Missus had been lyin' to me to get out of goin' on the Caister holiday? She'd never lied to me before, not as far as I knew. Was Florie's gallopin' flu a put-up job?
Petula looked at me sympathetically.
More soon. Dinner's ready.