Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Esther

The wind couldn’t decide which way it was going that day, neither could she. Esther had only just got herself the way she liked (the way the boys liked) when she stepped out through the door, and a gust of Sheeba desert sand blew in her eyes.

“Ma eyes, Mama, they’re stinging. They’re hurtin’ so bad.”

And then she flapped her hands like she was taking off. She felt it made her look lady-like.

But Mama wasn’t listening, her ears were tuned into some preacher telling the good folks of Wyoming County that they were all going to Hell, one way or another. And every time the preacher stopped to inhale, Esther’s Mama would let out a little ‘Praise Be’ – then she’d get on with making her nails look real pretty (the way the men folks liked).

It was one of those days in town when the wind finally settled on blowing from the East, sending the sand right into folks, doors, porches and lives. When that wind blew it only meant one thing, trouble was brewing for someone, somewhere in town.

I know what you’re thinking, this writer is a bit short on common sense, but I tell you from the bottom of my heart – when that wind blows, strange things happen to the good folks of Fort Brighton.

One autumn, back in those days when you could count on another person keeping to his word, the wind blew for three days without stopping. It tore at the woodwork, scraped the windows, and kept everyone inside. Wasn’t that the week that Esther’s uncle decided to shoot himself right in the head. Except that the sand jammed his pistol and he got so mad, that when the storm had died down, they had to take him off to a secure place just outside Richmond.

Esther was disappointed about the wind, since today was the day she had decided to strut up and down the sidewalk in order to attract a husband. It was her way of getting out from under her Mama’s roof. Her Mama had more time for Jesus, than she had for Esther (at least that’s what she told anyone who’d listen).  

Esther pressed her nose to the window asking the wind god to tone it down a little, so that she could go outside and start her new life - but the wind god wasn’t listening. Still, it didn’t stop her looking and wishing (something all the kids did in town).

It was just after Esther’s Mama had said that she was going to lay a while in her room and could Esther listen to the words of the pastor – praise be - and tell her on her awakening about any important points he had made.

Esther was used to all this and making up terrible lies. She’d tell her Mama that the pastor had told folks to give their children a dime to keep them on the Lord’s road. So Esther’s Mama would give her a dime, just as the pastor had apparently said.

When the wind had died a little it was possible for Esther to see up the street as far as the livery building. That was when she saw the big, big car. Man, it was pretty and white. Wind or no wind, Esther decided that the car looked like money and with money came a possible husband. The radio pastor was telling the good folks that God was an angry God, but Esther couldn’t care less as she slammed the door behind her. Hard enough, so that it would waken her Mama.

Her eyes were streaming with tears by the time she got to the car but she still strutted and preened her way all the way up the sidewalk.

“Whatcha doing?” She asked the man (in a way that she knew men liked).

“Well howdee little lady,” he said, as he took his hat off. “I’m getting this good man here to fix my tire. It got hit by a rock out there in that unkindly desert of yours.”

Esther bent over the car hood pulling up her dress (the way she knew men liked).

“Well ain’t you the pretty one,” said the man.

When her eyes stopped hurting, she saw that he was probably old (over twenty five, for sure) but still, he was well dressed and definitely had money (praise be).  

Yea, he would take her to as far as the next town if that was what she was looking for. She giggled (just like her Mama did to the man who came for the rent when she had no money). She flapped her sand-stinging eyes at him and she was sure he was taking it all in. No wedding ring (could have taken it off – a lot of these travel business folks did) – so what if he was, she’d get what she could out of him and then move on.

As they headed out of town, the sand and wind just seemed to keep on blowing but Esther didn’t care, she was free from Mama. The man’s automobile had a big Bakelite radio, ‘well, I do declare’ – she had uttered on seeing it, because she’d heard it in a movie once.

The only station he could get on the radio was the one with the pastor, who was telling folks that Hell was a lot closer than you might think.


Esther didn’t notice the man smile to himself in the mirror when he thought of what he was going to do that night, and where he was going to hide the body. 


bobby stevenson 2014

You Ask Me Why


Tonight I saw a solar storm,
Which brought the heavens to its knees,
And seared the eyes and hearts of those who watched.
I tasted nectar and ambrosia.
And sat with kings and gods,
And talked of words with Shakespeare.

Tonight I flew with Orville Wright,
And gasped,
As air beneath us passed.
Then ran across the Milky Way,
And shouted at the stars.

Tonight, I fought my enemy,
At the battle of the Somme,
And wept where comrades fell
Somewhere beyond the poppy fields.

Tonight I sat with Einstein,
And over tea,
We talked of time and space,
Then he smiled and laughed with me.

Tonight I tasted life and cried
And swept the universe entire,
Which sat inside my head
And you ask me why
I write.


bobby stevenson 2014

Monday, 28 April 2014

The Best Of All Summers

Some things remain with you forever.

When I was ten years old, my father took me on a trip in an old battered car and caravan, and although I didn’t know it at the time, my father was dying. He was only forty years of age and he was dying of a brain tumour. 

What can I tell you about me back then? That I was the only son of parents who never got around to marrying? That I lived with my two sisters and a cat and that despite not having any money, we lived in a house packed to the roof with love.

Maybe that’s as good as it gets in anyone’s life. 

My father was the gentlest of hearts and the kindest of men, and I’m not just saying that because he’s gone. I’m saying it because it was true. It was his strength and his weakness. My mother watched so many people taking advantage of his goodness, that in the end she put herself in the way of anyone trying to use him. This made her seem hard but she was willing to put up with that, because that was what our family was always about – love.

My parents had decided that when school was closed for the summer, Mum and the girls would go to London for a few days to see a show, while me and Dad would go north taking his old car hooked up to Granddad’s caravan. I knew Dad was probably hoping this would be a chance for us to talk, as he was always working and I was always in my bedroom being misunderstood. Even at ten years of age I had no real idea how to enjoy myself.

On that summer, that glorious summer, school finished and my life began. Dad drove Mum and the girls to the railway station and I sat on the front steps waiting, bag ready and caravan packed.
I’ll always remember the ‘toot-toot-toot’ of my Dad on the car horn as he returned from the station, letting everyone in the street know that the boys were off on holiday. All those unused days were spread before us, waiting.

If I’d thought that it was going to be a particularly difficult time sitting in the car with my Dad, I was wrong. I had imagined him and me struggling to talk to each other and stumbling over words. I guess I’ve always made assumptions about things. I’ve worried and assumed – I suppose that’s what should be written on my headstone. There I go again.

As we drove towards the coast, I felt ashamed of myself. Here was a man who knew all about my writings and about the books I’d read. He would steal himself into my room after he came home late from work, too late to wish me goodnight but long enough to kiss me on the forehead and absorb from the room who and what I was. There was I knowing very little about him, except he was my father and he was rarely home.
I don’t recall when he stopped the car but I do remember it getting dark. I had been telling him all about the characters in some Dickens novel when I must have fallen asleep in his arms. When I awoke, it was morning and the sun was fighting the condensation on the window. Dad had placed me in the back seat and covered me with his jacket. 

The car was freezing and as I sat up, I shivered. I wiped away mist from the side window and saw, that despite the sun, the sky and the sea were a cold blue, broken up by the foamy edges of the waves.  We had parked at the edge of a cliff and Dad was sitting, staring - that was all he was doing - just staring. When I felt brave enough, I ventured outside to join him. I’ll always remember his face that day, the wind had slapped his cheeks into a Santa Claus red and his eyes were watering, stung by the sea. You could almost imagine that he had been crying, and I wonder now, from all those years away, if he had been. 

He told me to sit next to him and he put his arm around me, “You, and me, son are going on an adventure”.
Now don’t get me wrong, I liked the sound of ‘adventure’ and I loved my father and felt safe with him but there was always a part of me that wanted to return to the protection of my bedroom, pull up my arms into my sleeves and wait on the next hurtful thing. Yeah, you’re right, I was one weird kid.

As we came over the hill I could see it: Blackpool Tower. I had never seen anything so tall in all my life and was so excited that I forgot about my misgivings. The place was alive with people who were swept up with enjoying life and buzzing with laughter. There were donkey rides by the sea, the odd uncle with a handkerchief on his head to keep the sun away and people breaking their teeth on sticks of rocks, slurping ice cream and getting pieces of candy floss stuck to their noses. 

Dad and I went down on to the beach and ate our fish and chips from a newspaper. I think it was the best fish and chips I ever tasted.
“That’s better.” said Dad.
“What?”
“You’re smiling, you’ve got a nice smile, you know. You should use it more often.”
“Oh Dad.”
“I’m just saying.”
And do you know what? I felt that I didn’t want to be anywhere else. Just me and my Dad on the beach at Blackpool. 

“It’s my fault.” he said, sadly.
“What is, Dad?”
“The fact that you never smile, me and your Mum left you sitting too long in that room of yours.”
“I like my room.”
“No one likes their room.”

Dad parked the caravan down some quiet side street and told me to get washed and ready as he took a walk into town. When he returned, his breath smelt of beer and his clothes of cigarettes.
“You’ll never guess what I’ve got in my pocket? Two tickets to see Arthur Askey at the Grand”
What a night that was, everyone laughing and singing along with The Bee Song. I looked over at my Dad and he was laughing so hard the tears were rolling down his face. God, I miss him.

We had ice cream topped with raspberry sauce on the way back and I never once thought about my misgivings, not once. 

The next morning after a cup of tea and a bacon roll, we left Blackpool still singing the Bee Song, just me and my Dad. 

I can’t remember who saw the old lady first. My Dad had stopped the car because I needed to pee again and I was hiding in the bushes. The woman was sitting on a bench and at first we thought she was just sleeping, but her head had rolled forwards and she was moaning. Dad put his ear close to listen to her breathing.
“This isn’t good. We’ll need to get her to hospital.”

I sat with her in the back seat of the car while she rested her head on my lap. She reminded me of my Gran, I almost said “We won’t be long now Gran” when she moaned really loudly. The nurse brought Dad and me drinks as we sat in the corridor waiting on news. It almost felt like it was my Gran.

“Are you family?”
Dad explained to the doctor that we had found her sitting by the side of the road.
“There was nothing we could do, I’m afraid. I’m sorry your trip was in vain. She passed away five minutes ago.” 

Dad got a bit annoyed but he kept it to himself until we were outside the hospital. I thought maybe he was sad about the old lady dying, but really he was a bit angry.

“Don’t you ever believe that what we did was in vain, son. Never think that. That poor lady would have died alone on that bench if we hadn’t stopped. As it is, you kept her company and there were people with her when she went. So it wasn’t in vain. Nothing is in vain. Always, always remember that. Everything matters”
I guess that’s the kind of thing that happens to a person when they come out of their room.

As Dad drove south, I had the feeling that he just wanted to keep driving but as soon as it started to get dark, we stopped. Thinking back, I guess he couldn’t see too well in the dying light, something to do with his tumour.We set the caravan down in a field that overlooked Liverpool. What a city. Looking over the way the setting sun painted the building tops, a crimson yellow. We were going into town tomorrow and Dad said he had a surprise. 

I don’t think I have ever been to a happier city than Liverpool that day. People were going to and fro but always laughing and joking. Some were singing, others whistling. I loved every minute of it; every blooming minute of it. 

“I’ve got a pal and he owes me a favour”, said Dad. I felt ashamed that I hadn’t even known that my father had any friends or who they were.
“He works at a club down Matthew Street. He says if we arrive early enough, he’ll get us in and you can hide under my coat.”
I almost had misgivings again, almost wishing I was back in my safe, warm, bedroom - almost. 

We did what Dad said and he put me under his coat and the doorman, his pal, waved us past all the people waiting to get in.
“We’ll need to keep you under cover young ‘un” said Bert, Dad’s pal, as he led me to a small room by the stairs where he gave me lemonade.
“We’ll come and get you when the band is ready” said my Dad. “I’m going to have a talk with Bert. You’ll be okay here?”
I would be. 

I had just finished my drink when there was a knock at the door, followed by it opening.
“Hey Paul, look what I’ve found, the Cavern has little people living under the stairs. What are you doing here, son?”
I told him I was waiting on the band and that my Dad was coming to get me.
“And what band would that be son?”
I shrugged and the man seemed to find that funny. His pal, Paul came over to have a look at me.
“You’re right John, that is one of the little people. You’ve got to be lucky to see them” and then he rubbed my head.
John said it was his band that was playing and I said I was sorry. He said not as sorry as he was and asked did I want to come to their dressing room?  Although on second thoughts, John said, there was probably more room under the stairs. 

So I went with John and Paul and met the other two, George and Pete. They were all fooling around and didn’t seem to be in anyway nervous. John asked me what I wanted to do “That is, when you stop being one of the little people.”
I told him I wanted to be a writer and he said that was probably the best job in the world next to being in a band, especially his band, and he went into his jacket and gave me his pen. 

“If anyone asks, tell them John Lennon gave it to you.” 

That night I watched John, Paul, George and Pete play the most wonderful music I had ever heard or will ever hear. I didn’t know it then, but a few weeks later Ringo replaced Pete. I never got to meet him. 

My Dad died, just after Christmas, that year.

He left me with the best present that I have ever received in my life. He took me out of my room and locked the door so I couldn’t go back in. So what if I got hurt? That was the price you paid for being out there, that was the price we all paid, and the other thing he gave me was the belief that nothing is ever in vain, nothing. 

On the thirtieth anniversary of John Lennon’s death, I flew to New York and walked through Central Park and climbed the hill to Strawberry Fields. There was a little boy about ten and his Dad listening to the music of Lennon and I took out the pen and I handed it to them:

“John Lennon gave me this.”

Everything matters.



bobby stevenson 2014

That Old Steam Train Has Left The Station (for D).

That old steam train has left the station for the very last time,
I didn’t even know you were going but I know it’ll be somewhere nice,
May be the sands of Morar or the pier at Mallaig.

That old steam train has left the station with only the driver onboard,
The one who looks like Robert Newton from Treasure Island,
As you toot your whistle, you’ll be filling in another crossword,
I betcha!

That old steam train has left the station for the very last time today,
And we were all the better for having been passengers on it,
Thanks for the ride pal, rest well.



bobby :-)

Sunday, 27 April 2014

The Man Who Never Was

For Loved Ones Lost In The Fog. x


Perhaps I brought all this on myself by staying away from the others, by hiding in my room and dealing with my own struggles rather than being a part of everyone and everything else. 

Maybe this is a punishment or perhaps it was justified karma?

The process started just like it did when I began to lose my hair. I had looked in the mirror one day and there was a freckle on my head that I had not remembered seeing before. It wasn’t that it had suddenly presented itself but that the hair had begun to fall away and expose it. It said ‘things are changing’ but I also remember walking away from the mirror and telling myself I would leave that thought for another time. Yet delay doesn’t keep change at bay, you should know that by now. We should all know that by now.   

It was snowing the first time I noticed, really noticed that is. I thought that the reflected light from the outside had somehow diluted my skin and that the usual healthy glow was there to be rediscovered in a warmer light. But alas it wasn’t - the paleness was me. 

I sneaked into her room and stole some of the powder that she kept on her bed-side table. It shimmered a rusty brown colour that made my face look as if I were whole again. I was me, once more, and apart from the odd comment about how well I was looking, no one noticed nor cared. 

By the second week, my pallor had grown fainter still, so I searched the room for that lotion that gave the glow of a healthy sun tan. This, I spread over all my body, my hands, my feet and my head. Whenever I left the house people would stare at me, and rightly so, it was the cold depth of winter and I looked orange. Better they stare at my orange-ness than what I had become. 

There was no sense to any of this but denial does not stop the illness nor does it ward off the disease. This thing wasn’t just happening to me, it had become me. I was defined by it and would soon be known by it. 

By the end of the second week I lifted my hand to stop the sun blinding me and it had little effect. 

By the middle of week three, I could no longer deny its existence, I was ill and it showed. Friends tried not to stare at it but in the end couldn’t help themselves. As I walked towards some colleagues I heard them mention ‘tracing paper boy’ and I knew immediately they meant me. I had become a joke. If not me, what would have I made of the situation? Would I have wanted to work with a freak? Would I have been his confidant? Or rejected him? 

Three days later and I could no longer see my hands, two days after that my arms went the same way. My family tried to make life continue as if everything was normal but I could see the sadness in my brother’s eyes as he watched me disappear. 

By the start of week five people would only know me by my shadows. 

You cannot see me anymore as I am not there, but once in a while you may catch a movement from the corner of your eye. 

That is me. Think of me.


bobby stevenson 2014 
www.alzheimers.org.uk/

When It's Time For You To Go


When it’s time for you to go,
Don’t turn and wave,
Instead,
Consider this,
If there should be a blessed place,
Beyond,
A land of half-forgotten ghosts,
Then I will follow you and
We shall meet once more,
But if this other Eden,
Should prove unformed,
Remember this,
One day, I too will rest amongst
The longest sleep,
And you,
Alone, no more.



bobby stevenson 2014


Approval from the main man :-)


Twitter
Very touching x
Direct message sent by Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) to you (@BobbyStevenson) on Jan 09, 8:45 PM.
stephenfry
Stephen Fry

The Empire Cafe, Soho, London.



As a haven for the unloved, the eccentric and the lost,  the Empire Cafe was perfectly situated in a little corner of Soho. It also prided itself as a home for those on their way up and a passing place for those on the way down. 

It had been known over the years by several different names, some of which you most definitely would have read about, but its charm was in the fact that it had served coffee, and later tea, from the same premises for over three hundred years. There is a signature carved into the wood that suggests Benjamin Franklin had happily visited the place and it is known that Samuel Pepys mentioned the Cafe in his diaries.

If you’ve ever been to London and drifted around that part of town then I know you must have passed it. Perhaps you drank in it and were unaware of where you were. Perhaps you hadn't see the Cafe because you were looking up at some other building or maybe you had just been checking your appearance in the reflection of the Cafe’s window; but the place is there, I promise you.

One sunny afternoon, just after I returned home from a bad war in North Africa, I walked through its doors and never really left. I sometimes feel the place had been waiting on me. 

It was run by Mister Chestnut and he was never referred to as Andrew Chestnut, or even Andy. He was just Mister Chestnut, plain and simple, and when he and his Father both ran the place, then he was simply known as Junior. 

In the mid 1700s, it was rumoured that the Hellfire Club met in secret at the coffee shop and that one night it was lost on the turn of a card. One of Mister Chestnut’s ancestors was asked to hold on to the property until the rightful owner came to claim it. He never did, and there was talk that the owner had been killed in a duel. So through this one act of God, the Chestnuts became part of the Soho establishment. 

I was taken on in 1946 as chief dishwasher and toilet cleaner and I loved it, every grimy second of it. Those who used the place were a who’s who of all the movers and shakers of their day. In the late evening, when we closed up shop and over a hot cup of Java, my employer would tell me stories of the past, those he had witnessed and those he had been told about by his Father and his Grandfather; all the wonderfulness that had been passed down through the family.

Regardless of claims by other establishments and by other people, Grandfather Chestnut swore that he had watched Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels spend most of their days in the corner table furthest from the door, writing the Communist Manifesto.
“Always with the one coffee between them” his Grandfather had told him, “one coffee for the whole day”, he added, then he would let out an eruption of a laugh. 

Mister Chestnut told me of  the “saddest man who ever walked through those doors”.
“Must have been February, yes it was, it was February..”
“What year?” I asked him.
“Let me think. 1895, as sure as eggs is eggs, ‘cause it was just after my fourteenth birthday. In he came, all broken. He sat down over there and I asked him if he wanted something to drink. ’Hemlock, dear boy, hemlock' . I asked my Father for hemlock and he clipped me around the ear. ’Don’t be so bleeding stupid’ said my Father, ‘You must have misheard him.’ So I walked back towards the table when I spotted that he was sitting with a young man, older than me but younger than him and get this, they were  holding hands. The young man read from a card that the older man has passed to him ’For Oscar Wilde, posing somdomite – Good God Oscar, my father can’t even spell. The ignorant beast.’

“I only saw the older man once again when he came in a few weeks later. He had aged so much in that short time, and as he sat down all the rest of the people in the cafe got up and left. Apparently he went to prison  not long afterwards."

 "But there was a more curious one than that” said Mister Chestnut, “just let me put on another pot of coffee as I think you may need it.”
When the coffee had been brewed and we were both sitting comfortably once more, the storyteller continued. 

“He was a little man, spoke with a German accent. Now I know what you are thinking young man, you are saying to yourself that the description would fit many people. And you would be correct to make that assumption, except I remember him for something he said. He shouted at me that I was to bring him a coffee and that is what I did. As I approached the table I could hear him laughing, so I smiled back at him. A happy customer is a returning customer and I was just about to tell him to recommend us to all his friends when I saw what he was so happy about, on a newspaper sitting on his table were the headlines ‘Over fifteen hundred sank to death with giant White Star steamer Titanic’. “Bloody rich Jews” he said, “best place for them”

“To say I was shocked, disgusted even, that a man like this could say such evil things about other human beings. I was about to ask him to leave when a second man came in, his brother Alois, I had seen him in the cafe before. If I remember correctly, he and his brother Adolf had lived in Liverpool for a while to avoid conscription to the Austrian Army.”
“Not Adolf Hitler?”I asked.
“The very same.” Came his reply. 

Mister Chestnut kept me on for most of ’46 and ’47 washing and cleaning until one day he took me into his office. I had been there for two years and this was my first visit to the inner sanctum. It smelt of liquorice and tobacco and looked as if it was decorated for a fortune teller rather than a cafe manager. 

“I want to promote you, my boy. Enrique is old and leaving at the end of the month and I will need a waiter. Of course it will mean more money for you and also the Olympics will be here soon. I will need a much younger man to deal with all our visitors and friends."


So that was that, I had a few more shillings in my pockets and no more cleaning of the toilets. I handed over my brushes to the new boy, donned my waiter’s apron and started whistling.


He was correct, was Mister Chestnut, the year of the Olympics was the busiest I could remember.We worked every day from sunrise to almost sunrise the following day. Naps had to be taken, when and where we could find the time. There was a little store room out the back where I managed to take forty winks now and again. 

I remember one night I had just splashed water on my face to waken me up when this very distinguished gentleman entered with a young blond girl in tow. The two of them asked for the quietest table, which was always the one at the back next to the toilets. Now I tell you this dear friends, I will go to my grave believing that it was the Queen’s husband whom I served that night and the blond woman was not his wife. This is not the place to tell such a story since he is not able to defend himself but I promise you - if it was not Philip Mountbatten, the Duke of Edinburgh then I will eat my hat. I looked over at Mister Chestnut and I know he recognised the man because he put his finger to his lips to warn me to say nothing.

On Christmas Eve 1950 I asked Maria, the most beautiful girl who worked in the restaurant next door, to marry me. She accepted and we got married in the New Year holding the reception at the Empire Cafe. We invited all the regulars. It was a night I shall never forget.

One day in 1951, Mister Chestnut took me into his office for only the second time and told me that it was all mine. “The time has come - you have a family to consider” he said “I will be seventy this year and enough is enough.” There was no son to pass his business on to, "God's will", he would say. So he considered me the nearest thing he had to a son and the Cafe was to be my inheritance. He slapped the keys in the palm of my hand, put on his big overcoat and never crossed the threshold again. 

My neighbours were actors, jazz musicians and more recently Chinese. After Limehouse had been bombed in the war, the Chinese had begun to move into Gerard Street and the areas surrounding it. This brought with them, the Chinese gangsters - as if there weren’t enough British ones in Soho. 

Talking of gangsters, the first time I saw one of the Kray brothers he was sitting having a coffee, minding his own business when the coppers  rushed in and dragged him out of my cafe. He had apparently deserted from national service in the army for the fourth time.

What I also remember about the Fifties was the music. Now there are some who will tell you that the birth of British Rock and Roll started in the 2I’s coffee bar in Old Compton Street, but I say it was at the Empire Cafe. On Saturday nights we would have Tommy Steele, Wee Willie Harris, Cliff Richard and Hank Marvin. The Cafe was always crowded at weekends, so much so that some of those that couldn’t get in, moved to the 2I’s, which was a bigger venue. Perhaps that is why they claim to be the birthplace but I know the truth, we were first.


As for the gangs, the Krays had always stayed up east and the Richardsons to the south of the river. One night the Kray twins came in and took a table from a couple who were already sitting at it. The boyfriend got up to challenge them and Reggie Kray slapped the boy and threw him and his girlfriend through the door. I was about to say something  when Ronnie Kray told me that if I knew what was good for me, I would get them coffees and leave them alone. 
I learned that night, if you wanted to stay in business in Soho then you had to see nothing and say even less.

Luckily my wife, Maria, didn’t see any of this as she was now at home looking after our two sons, James and Robert. I have a photo on the Cafe wall of  James with Bobby Moore when he and his wife came to the Cafe just before he flew to Mexico for the World Cup. 

As the Sixties turned into the Seventies, Robert began to take on more of the responsibility for running the cafe. James had decided to work in computers and had joined an IT company over in Putney. He and his wife moved into a flat in Chelsea and very rarely ventured into the West End.

In 1976 I became a grandfather for the very first time and Maria suggested that I took more of a back seat in the business. We stayed in Dulwich for a while but I still insisted on visiting the Cafe three or four times a week.
In 1980 we moved to Deal by the sea; it was  Maria’s idea and was probably helped by Robert who may have felt that I was interfering too much in his business.



There are so many stories about the Empire Cafe that I want to tell you. Ones concerning prime ministers and princesses, rich men and poor women,  writers and painters, musicians and kings. All of them true and all of them from the Empire Cafe. 

I will, one day, I promise.
  
I am well into my eighties now and the Cafe is run by Robert's own daughters and sons. It’s been years since I last laid eyes on the place, but if you happen to be passing then why don’t you pop in for a coffee and ask them for a story? 
Tell them I sent you.



bobby stevenson 2014

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Stand Up To Cancer


No one will stand by your grave and weep
Nor will they talk of long lost friends
No one will raise a drink nor wish you well
For all the years you spent near by
You were not asked nor were you wanted here

Be sure you have not won the war
This battle has only just begun
We will not rest, nor disappear
Until the day a child asks
“Please tell me, what was cancer?” 



for friends


bobby stevenson 2014

Zoot And Sandy And Happiness

As always, Sandy the elephant and Zoot the dog were the best of pals in the whole wide world and were sitting by the river.

“You think them birds are going somewhere?” Asked Zoot to his pal.

“Why do you ask, young Zoot?” Replied Sandy in a fatherly kinda way.

“Oh, just wonderin’. Can’t help but wonder about life sometimes, that’s all.”

“You sickenin’ for somethin’?” Asked a concerned Sandy.

“Not that I know, I just wondered if those birds were lookin’ for happiness. You know they ain’t happy where they are, so maybe they fly on to somewhere else. Maybe happiness is a place.”

“Hold on one minute there, Buddy. What makes the birds happy might not make you happy. I mean, you’re a dog. Would eating seeds and berries and sitting on tree branches mean happiness to you?”

Zoot thought about it for a while.

“Why, I guess you’re right Sandy, ain’t nothin’ there that would make me happy. But maybe where there are trees and berries they’d be things to make a dog happy,too?”

“I ain’t sayin’ you’re right and I ain’t sayin’ you’re wrong. I’m just sayin’ to think about it different. Now we’re happy here sittin’ by the river and talkin’ 
about this and that and everythin’ else. Well ain’t we?”

“I guess,” said Zoot.

“All we got, is ourselves and the sea, and they ain’t chargin’ for that yet.”

“What about money ‘though, Sandy. Don’t that make folks happy?”

“Might do, for a short time,” said Sandy. “But then, if you’re only happy when you got money, you’re gonna have to keep getting’ money, to make you feel 
you’re happy. Kinda like a drug or smokin’ or stuff.”

“So money don’t make ya happy,Sandy?”

“That ain’t what I’m sayin’, bud. I’m sayin’ if you need it to make you happy then you’re never going to be truly happy.”

Zoot thought about all this for a time, then said: “What about the birds. Don’t they travel somewhere else to be happy.”

“I can’t really talk for the birds, Zoot, but if goin’ somewhere else is gonna make you happy, you really need to have been happy before you started out.”

“I don’t understand,” said Zoot.

“You might travel to another place, and ‘cause it’s new or different…”
“…or both,” added Zoot.

“Or both, you might be convinced that you’re happy ‘cause it’s not where you came from. But give it long enough and the way you’re feelin’ will sink back into your thoughts, ‘cause the new place it ain’t so new anymore…”

“..or different,” added Zoot again.

“..or different.”

“So what you’re sayin’ is, if I ain’t happy here, I ain’t gonna be happy anywhere.”

“That’s about it. ‘Cause I got you and you got me and we both got the sea, and all that makes me happy.”

“And me.”

“And you, Zoot. So be happy here and now and you’ll always be happy.”

“How do I do that Sandy?”

“Just count your blessings, Zoot. Some folks would give everythin’ just to have what you have, but when you have it every day, you sometimes take things for granted. You forget how lucky you really are.”

“Tell you what, Sandy, I’m gonna walk home and count up my blessings all the way.”

“You do that, Zoot and I’ll see ya tomorrow, same place.”

“See ya tomorrow.”


Then Zoot started countin’ all the way home



bobby stevenson 2014