Time of life

George toasted himself with orange juice.

“Happy Birthday.”

He derived a huge amount of childish pleasure in picking out two of his favourite mini cereal boxes from the selection pack. He took a mouthful of the sugary coated flakes and picked up the top envelope from the pile that had grown over the past week.

He’d ordered the envelopes from least interesting to most interesting. In the top layer were the ones with local postmarks or ones that had been hand delivered. These would contain cards from people who he saw fairly often.

The next section was from friends further afield. He was hoping for snippets of news tucked in with the birthday greetings. The final envelop on the bottom of the pile was the one he was most looking forward to.

He’d had it a week and had been resisting the urge to open it. Even if he hadn’t recognised the handwriting he would have known who it was from by the Australian stamps. Deborah, Steve and the kids were the only people he knew in the whole of the southern hemisphere.

As expected the card contained several folded sheets of A4 paper covered with copies of photographs. He would add them to his album. When Deborah next came home she would probably bring original photos already framed and ready to go on his wall.

There was a second smaller envelop enclosed by the first. He wondered if the kids were now old enough to send their own personalised birthday messages.

It wasn’t from the grandchildren. It was a ticket for the cinema. He thought it was a strange present until he noticed the address. The cinema was a small independent one, just down the road in Sherborne. He didn’t even know there was a cinema there.

The ticket was for a show on Friday night. It was just the one ticket, which saved him the hassle of choosing which friend to take.

*

George dressed up for the occasion. It seemed appropriate. He also bought some of his favourite chocolates from the supermarket. Cinemas always charged an exorbitant amount. He was having none of that. The suit pockets provided ample hiding places for his contraband.

He recognised the street, although it must have been twenty years since he last went down it. Each step brought his memories closer and when he saw the cinema himself he laughed out loud.

“You clever girl, Deborah. You clever, clever girl.”

The outside of the building hadn’t changed much. It still resembled a shack. Inside was very different.

The kiosk was new, as were the carpet and the art deco lamps. The kiosk was serving coffee, tea and hot chocolate, and they were all at reasonable prices. If he had known he’d not have had one at home. There was also popcorn and he couldn’t resist.

“Have you got your ticket?”

George opened his hand to show it.

“Great. Here you go.”

George offered some money but was waved away.

“It’s all included in your ticket. A drink in the interval as well.”

“Cheers,” said George.

The auditorium filled the space that had once been a community hall where George had spent so many hours, most of them happy and some of them scary. He took his seat and gazed up past the new fittings to the roof. It had been covered with insulation, but he was sure it was the same roof. He clearly remembered the storm of 1987. He’d had to sling ropes over and tie them down like they do in hurricane territory. It had worked. The roof was still on.

The lights dimmed and the screen lit up to show some unusual local adverts, including one from a butcher who reared his sheep within half a mile of the cinema. George knew the butcher and could vouch for the quality of the lamb.

Suddenly the screen died and the whole cinema was plunged into darkness. George waited for a moment before using the torch on his phone to find his way down the aisle and through a small door next to the stage.

He went along a corridor and pulled at another door. It was locked.

“Excuse me sir, what are you doing here? Please can you wait in your seat until we restore the power.”

“Have you got a key for this door?”

“Umm…”

The man held a large bunch of keys in his hand.

“That’s the one. Now if you unlock this door we can get the power back on and enjoy the show.”

The man unlocked the door. George led him down some stairs.

“The fuse box is here. Let’s hope that’s all it is. Here goes.”

George flipped the fuse switch. The room remained in darkness.

“Try the light.”

The man toggled the switch and the light came on.

“That’s marvellous.”

“And it looks like it’s staying on. Probably just a bit of moisture somewhere. You should be right as rain now.”

“Thank you. Are you the caretaker?”

“Goodness no. But I used to look after the place. This was a scout hut until about twenty years ago. I was here four nights a week and you know the scout motto – be prepared. As scout master I certainly needed to be. I could probably show you dozens of things round the place that I’ve fixed over the years.”

“Well I’m just glad you were here.”

George returned to the auditorium and sat remembering rather than watching. He’d been scout master for fifteen years. He’d loved it. Even more so when the scouting movement became fully mixed, just in time for Deborah to join. She was either a natural scout, or he’d influenced her.

In the interval George received his hot chocolate and many congratulations. It seemed that everyone knew he’d restored the power.

The manager came to personally thank him and invited him to watch the second half from the box on the first floor.

The box seats were large and comfortable with a great view into the auditorium. George couldn’t quite remember what was here in his day. He thought there had been some kind of balcony but it had been shabby storage rather than chic seating.

The lights dimmed and the screen lit up to the accompaniment of a small ripple of applause.

Another round of applause greeted the end of the film and startled George. He hadn’t seen any of it. George realised he must have fallen asleep and dreamt. He’d been watching something entirely different. From the box he’d been looking down at a scout group full of life and activity. Deborah had been there, taking a lead as usual. They’d been practising for their Cinematography badge. That was a much harder badge in the days before mobile phones.

The door to the box was stuck. He pulled it again but it was too tight. He knocked and then waited while gazing down at the emptying auditorium. He’d enjoyed the dream.

The door was pushed open from the outside.

“Sorry. It’s a little stiff.”

“More than a little.”

George ran his fingers up the side of the door.

“I’ve a block plane at home. Could sort that out in no time. What time is someone here tomorrow?”

George returned the next day and met the team of volunteers. Income from the films just about covered the cost of upkeep, but wouldn’t have stretched to paying staff.

It wasn’t long before George had a long list of little jobs that needed attending to and his own workshop and tool store in the basement. He still thought of it as the hut and once again was going there four times a week.

Although he enjoyed making the repairs what he loved most was when no one had booked the box. He’d then sit in the comfortable chair, close his eyes and drift off to sleep. It always worked. One minute there might be spies on screen fighting to save the world, the next there would be a group of scouts practising their bow-line and other knots.

People noticing George might think he was just a tired old man having a snooze, whereas actually he was back to being a forty year old and having the time of his life.

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