Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A Ceremony of Innocence by Edmund Gubbins

The novel is set against the background of the Thatcher years in the UK. Some people are making a great deal of money, industries are closing putting workers out of a job and criticism of those out of work as work-shy is rampant. 

Two brothers are at home together on holiday much to the delight of their mother. It is the first time they have been at home together for several years. Their father is a union convener in the local shipyard and while the brothers are at home, he leads the shipyard workers out on strike against the redundancies proposed by the  groups' central management. Though on the surface both brothers support their father, underneath the surface there simmers the stew of disagreement. Mark, the older brother is home fresh from travelling the sea as a ships officer and refuses to compromise his upwardly mobile life for the sake of family harmony. He lives for the moment and grabs any opportunity for happiness. Jim is freshly graduated from university and supports his father passionately without question.
Can the brothers find a way to compromise their positions and fulfil  their mother's wish for a few happy weeks? Will their anger boil over into open conflict and a family break up?



As this extract shows, anger and resentment causes damaging rifts between the brothers much to the sadness of their mother. To Jim it is all about family loyalty, to Mark it is about living his life in his way not as his brother would dictate.

' Jim came home shortly before dinner, sourly greeted Mark and his Dad before going out to the kitchen to speak to his mother. His attitude left Mark in no doubt as to how he felt about what had happened the night before. The family sat down to dinner all together as Joan had imagined when she thought of them all being home at the same time but silence reigned around the table as all her men were lost in their own thoughts. They were content to let her chatter away about Monday's ceremony, about what she should wear and who would be there as honoured guests. Her conversation then turned to the dinner at the school, as she began speculating that it must have been a grand occasion and wondering whether their pictures would be in the paper. By her innocent monologue, she inadvertently hit upon a subject that rubbed the raw nerves of Jim's passion. Jim rushed down the path she had opened for him like sheep seeing the open gate, quick to grasp his chance and oblivious to his mothers needs for a quiet dinner with all her family round her.
" I hope his won't anyway, “ Jim said bitterly.
Joan frowned at Jim across the table.  " Now, now, “ she said quietly. " I don't want any remarks like that at my table. We are having dinner together as a family and hopefully we can get through our meal without harsh words."
" It's not that easy mum, " Jim continued his voice angry and aggressive. " Do you want to know who Mark took to the dance last night? " Jim pointed his finger dramatically at Mark, who sat frowning watching Jim closely.
" That girl Sue wasn’t it Mark? " Joan asked innocently as though she was not aware of any tension between Mark and Jim.
" Yes, “ Mark replied, he sounded defencive in anticipation of what Jim was about to say. God, thought Mark, is Jim going to use Sue to try to get Mum and Dad against me?
" Are you going to tell them her surname or am I? " Jim demanded his tone heavy with sarcasm, his eyes boring fanatically into Mark's.
" Susan Maunder, " Mark replied, shrugging his shoulders as though to show that it was of no importance to his parents.
" Susan Maunder, " Jim breathed the words as though they were a blasphemy. Turning dramatically to Charlie, he almost shouted in triumph.  "Doesn't that name ring a bell with you Dad? A son of yours, at this of all times, walking round in public with the managing director of the yards daughter. It is laughable or would be if it were not so serious. Think of what the papers could make of this! "
Charlie deliberately put down his knife and fork, looking across at Mark with a puzzled expression. "  Is it true? "  he asked Mark quietly.
" Yes it is true, " Mark replied equally quietly. " As you know I have been going out with Sue on and off since before I left school and, by chance, we met again the other day when I was in town."
" Why didn't you tell me? "  Charlie asked.
" I didn't make any secret of the fact that I had met Sue again, “ Mark replied evenly.
" But you never explicitly told me, “ Charlie countered.
" This is absurd, " Mark said. " Why should I tell you explicitly as you say? Do I have to come home at my age and say please Dad can I go out with Sue Maunder? Come off it Dad. You have been so tied up with the strike, you would not have noticed who I was going out with. "
" You could have had some thought for my feelings. " Charlie was obviously confused and at a loss for how to handle his sons but he doggedly persisted with his argument.
" Regard for your feelings! "  Jim exploded with anger. " He has no regard for your feelings or anybody else for that matter.  Do you know what I think?  Mark takes what he can from life and does not care who he hurts in the process."
" What do you mean? " Mark was fighting to keep his temper under control, to keep his voice calm and to keep the atmosphere around the table low key.
" Just that you could steer clear of Sue Maunder while there is trouble at the yard. Anyway, I can not see what you see or find attractive in that stuck up little bitch. "  Jim was bitter, wanting to hit out at somebody to relieve his conscience over the trouble he had caused his father. By trying to genuinely raise the issue of Sue, he was trying to push the odium of being disloyal onto Mark. Deep down he knew it was untrue but in his heightened sense of anger, he did believe that Mark had deliberately gone out of his way to flaunt his friendship with Sue before Jim and his friends the night before.
" You didn't say that when she came here before going to the States when I was on leave, " Mark said evenly. Turning to Charlie, he went on. " Dad I am not being disloyal. Sue is my friend, as you know. God you never said anything when she came her before. Though I have a lot of sympathy to your cause, my going out with Sue has nothing to do with your dispute. We don't work in the yard and have nothing to do with shipbuilding. She has only recently returned to the UK and it is only by chance that she is living with her parents. Lets face it, we are both well off enough to buy a place of our own but we choose to live at home because we both like living with our parents. You have to face the fact that I like Sue and there is nothing sinister in our relationship."
" All right son, I hear what you are saying," Charlie smiled at Mark. " All I can ask is that you stop seeing her while this trouble lasts so that the media cannot get to me through you. When it is all over you must bring her around here again. I must admit from what I remember, I liked her when she visited us before."
" No, “ Mark replied emphatically.  " She is a part of my life at the moment and I will not stop seeing her as you put it. I only have a few weeks more leave and then I have to go back to sea and I will not be able to see her for at least four months. I cannot bend my life to your instructions. This dispute has nothing to do with me and Sue."
Charlie regarded Mark for a moment, then shrugged his shoulders, picked up his knife and fork and continued with his meal as though the subject was closed. Joan looked from her son to her husband, a worried expression on her face but she chose to remain silent as she also continued her meal. As she ate, she recalled Sue so pretty in a summer dress, sitting at this table, so young and so bubbly, slowly relaxing as time went by until she appeared to belong. I remember thinking, as mothers do, what a lovely wife she would make for Mark.
Her thoughts were interrupted by a snort of anger from Jim. " Is that all you are going to say to Mark? " Jim snarled at Charlie. " Christ he is knocking off the bosses daughter, flaunting his association with her in front of our faces and all you can politely ask him is to be careful! "
Mark felt his grip on his temper slipping. " Watch it! "  he shot back at Jim.
" Watch it! " Jim shouted angrily causing Joan to wince inwardly. " God you have got as nerve. I would not mind if she was the only girl you have been screwing since you came home on leave.  What about Clare?  What about Jane waiting down there in Weymouth having given up her virginity to the alter of your ego?  Do they mean nothing? I bet Sue doesn't even know they exist! "
Mark deliberately pushed back his chair and stood up. Joan winced as she thought her son was about to walk out of the room but Mark planted his palms firmly on the table and lent forward until his face was thrust at Jim. He said, slowly and carefully with his very hard eyes boring into Jim's, ignoring his parents, isolating the two brothers. " One more word out of you, Jim and I will come round this table and shove your teeth down your throat. "

Jim recoiled back into his chair, aware in that instant that his brother of whom he had always thought was soft, was quite capable of carrying out his threat without another thought. Indeed, so confident did Mark appear of being able to carry out the threat, Jim knew that he had done this kind of thing before. God, Jim thought as he warily stared at Mark, I don't really know you at all. I thought you were so mild that any threat and you would try to calm things by talking. It is obvious that in the mysterious world in which he works, actions speak much louder than words. When did he change?  He has always appeared so shy and correct with women when we have been together when I was younger.  Now I find he beds anybody he can get his hands on. Not only that but he has the strength to threaten anybody who does not agree with him. This is not like at the university where harsh words during a discussion are soon forgotten. He has changed and I no longer know what he is thinking. Jim shook his head to clear his mind, smiled weakly at Mark but did not reply. Mark smiled cruelly back, resumed his seat and continued eating.'

This novel contains some explicit sex scenes.
Available from Amazon as a paperback and kindle and www.smashwords.com as an ebook.