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This Time Next Year, We'll Be Playing The Palladium

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Solly cheered as loud as everyone else when news of the Japs's surrender had come through. It was relief as much as anything. It had been alright while the Concert Party were still in Deolali because, in India, MacIntosh was more of a danger than the Japs, and all Atlas wanted to do was shake some sense into Gloria, he'd have put Gloria down soon enough.

It was different once the Concert Party had been posted up the jungle, Burma of all places. Solly'd been worried since Gloria sent him the letter saying that old Shut Up had had his way. That was all it said, anything else would have been blue-pencilled out, or would have got Solly sent to jail.

There’d been letters since, but he wasn't going to be satisfied though until he had proof that Gloria was safely back in Blighty, because there was a long enough delay between Gloria writing the last letter and it reaching Solly that anything could have happened.

Solly wasn't overly disturbed by the time it was taking for Gloria to get back to Britain, he knew what Army bureaucracy was like, it was how they'd managed to stay so long in Deolali. He started to worry when it was far past even army delay time. So he checked the list of missing and fallen, which the MOD said was complete, and there was no sign of a Bombardier Beaumont on any of them.

So Gloria was alive, and that made him happier than he thought he could be.

Then again, it meant Gloria had got back in one piece and hadn't come to him. Solly told himself he'd been a fool to get his hopes up. Gloria had had his own career before the war, and he'd probably just gone straight back into it. Fair's fair and anything to make a living, never trust things said in wartime and so on. Solly just hoped that Gloria was alright. The Britain he was coming back to was not the one he left, and even Solly, who'd been back for some time already, was still getting used to the changes. He wanted to be around to help Gloria get used to the new England. And the ration books. After the army, rationing was a shock to the system. Solly got by, of course he did, but Gloria was a bit higher maintenance than he was.

He'd given up on the whole thing, not with any grace, but he'd thrown himself into his work, getting himself a decent run at the New Grand in Clapham and sorting out a couple of openings for the talents on his books. It had, all in all, been a successful month. The weather had been particularly grotty though, the sort of dull, continual London drizzle that he'd missed in Deolali and been sick of the minute he'd got home, and it hadn't got any better today. It was raining cats and dogs outside when he heard, "Solly, have you got a sofa I can kip on?"

Which was typical Gloria.

The whole story came out after Solly had let Gloria in and got him dried off. Gloria's home had been bombed while he'd been away on service, his mother was fine but she’d had to move out, along with Gloria’s things.

"You could have come over. I would have put you up."

"I would have done, but I had to see which of my dresses had survived and sort out my clothes."
Solly could have done with Atlas being there to shake Gloria, ‘cause goodness knew he wanted to but he’d never lay a finger on Gloria like that. He settled for saying, "you're hopeless, you know."

They put their heads together to give Gloria something to do, there being less of a demand for female impersonators now they were somewhere that had actual women. Certainly no-one's after Gloria's more sophisticated kind of glamour, it's just not the fashionable thing, and Solly's got no contacts in Soho, or none that are hiring anyway. In the end, until he can come up with something better, Solly ships Gloria out to the variety circuit somewhere unspeakable up North.

All Solly gets for his trouble is a weekly phone call from Gloria telling him all about how horrible the variety booker on this part of the circuit is. Now Solly knows Charlie, and knows he's not a monster so Solly soothes Gloria as best he can and tells him he's just got to make it through to January, and makes sure to give Charlie tips on how to keep Gloria sweet.

While Gloria's up there, they start to plan a double act, with Solly as the straight man and Gloria as the star. After Gloria gets back to London, they get their break, a chance to use it when the compère at the local music hall is taken ill. And it takes off, slowly, because everything in show business that's worth doing is slow.

Off-stage, things don't go quite so smoothly. It's a mixture of things. Bills need to be paid, and there's only ever just enough money. The rest of it's just life. There's enough people that hear his name is Solomons and decide to make something of it, and they don't even have to hear Gloria's name.

If there's both of them there, Solly's got a bit of patter worked out, it makes most people laugh and they're less likely to hit you while they're laughing at you. On his own, he’s less likely to be lippy, but he can handle himself, if it comes to that. Gloria can take more punches than it looks like he can and has to sometimes. Sometimes someone else says something to sort it out. The best time was in the Lion, when some idiot tried to start something, and the barman told it to leave it out, ‘cause he’d been stationed out India way and gone through Deolali, so he’d seen them out there while Mickie Evans, the idiot in question, had been tucked up safe in Hackney. Which stopped Evans right enough. Gloria, because he couldn’t help himself, had asked the barman what he thought of the show. The barman was honest and said it’d been an absolute shower, and Gloria’s only response was to plonk himself dramatically on a barstool saying, “everyone’s a critic”.

They run into the old gang sometimes, the variety world is only small. Nobby tells him Atlas's has been playing down South somewhere and saw Parky in the audience. He managed to get a message through to him via the usher and got him backstage. So Atlas'd met the famous mother of Parky. According to Parky, old Shut Up is teaching physical education at the local grammar. It seems to suit everyone, the boys actually shut up when the Sergeant Major shouts at them so he's happy, and the boys get to be taught by a real live soldier, which keeps them happy. So long as no one finds out that in the last war, Shut Up mostly commanded a concert part, it'll all come up roses.

Solly's more surprised when they run into Graham, who'd managed to get himself a concert orchestra to play in.

They find him, several drinks to the good in the basement of the Cambridge, and managed to reattach him to his piano stool and his orchestra, in time for the orchestra's next performance, so he gave them tickets for the next show. It was a Thursday so they weren't working, and it made a nice change.

Of course Gloria was fussing about his suit, and Solly had to call in half a dozen favours to get their suits altered in time, but it was worth it in the end. The concert was amazing, and Solly could see why Graham used to get frustrated at the Concert Party's more limited repertoire.

The altered suits do their time in their work wardrobe, so the extra money Solly spent doesn't go to waste. Even with their double act going well, there's not all that much spare cash between food and rent and Gloria's clothes. Solly knew what he was getting into, so he doesn't complain, much. He'd seen the amount of clothes Gloria went through in Deolali. He'd had to supply him with materials. You try sourcing taffeta in India in the middle of a war, even with money supplied, in a way, by the Army.

Their double act starts getting booked, by people they don't know that well, who'd heard they were good and that the punters liked them. People started to go to shows just to see them, and they started moving up the bill.

Solly'd be lying if he said he didn't sometimes get jealous of the attention that Gloria got in their double act. Gloria was the star while Solly was the straight man, and everyone in showbiz wants to be a star, but there are worse ways of making a living - he's tried a few of them - and he's raking it in as their manager. He's putting most of the money to one side though, saving up to buy them a nice flat somewhere just outside of London. He knows Gloria misses his house, and Solly misses having a wardrobe to himself. The one bedroom flat, which even had the luxury of its own four-ring cooker, had been big enough for him, but it's not big enough for him, Gloria and Gloria's clothes.

When Gloria is being particularly impossible, which is most days without a matinee show, that's what Solly thinks about. A nice two-bedroom flat in Croydon or Basildon or Harlow. Two bedrooms wasn't an extravagance, because even if they never used the second one, Gloria's clothes could have it. And you could never be too careful. Their's wouldn't be the first lives ruined by a policeman short on arrests for the month, even if they were lucky enough not to need or want to go cottaging. You like to think that you'll be safe in your own home, but you never know. People don't ask, they just assume, and there's a sort of safety in that. They've survived dinner with Gloria's Mum, who was the kind of woman who knew more than she saw, and she saw everything, without questions, and dinner with Solly's sister who has managed to get their mother's look of perpetual resignation down pat so there were no questions there either. Except from his brother-in-law's mother, who wanted to know why he didn't bring Gloria round more often because it was obvious the poor boy needed feeding.

But that was in the future. Right now, they had a one bedroom flat over a tailor's shop in the East End of London, and it was chucking it down with rain outside, almost as bad as Deolali. It felt like it had been raining all summer. The rain and the thunderstorms hadn't taken the heat out of the day, and it still felt close and sticky. They'd both given up fighting it, and were wearing nothing but vest and shorts. Well, Gloria was wearing a pinny too, because he was cooking. And because he was ridiculous. Beautiful and ridiculous and Solly wouldn't want him any other way.

The cooking smelled like bangers and mash and tomatoes. It smelled delicious.

Solly sat there, light from the lamppost streaming in, watching as Gloria hummed to himself as he's cooking. It's not a bad life he's got here, and it can only get better. He can't help himself as he gets up and picks Gloria up to spin him round in the air.

"Here, let go, you great ape! The sausages will burn!"

Solly does put Gloria down, with a kiss on his cheek for his pains. It doesn't stop him from leaning over and wrapping his arms round Gloria's waist as he finished cooking tea. He holds him, and kisses him, just occasionally, and generally gets in the way. "Just think about it, Gloria, you and me, we're unstoppable. This time next year, we'll be playing the Palladium."