I thank milady Cibelle and Techsan for their patience, proof reading, editing skills and of course encouragement. An earlier version of this story is posted elsewhere under an alternative by-line "The Wanderer"
The first time I ever saw Rocky, I think was just after I had turned seventeen.
At the end of the road we lived in, there was an old house with an even older blacksmith's workshop in the front of the garden facing the through road, that was at that time known as the By Pass locally, because it ... well by passed the centre of our town. The old house was known as 'The Forge', but it had been many years since anybody had actually worked in the blacksmith shop. Or "The Smithy" as the decrepit old sign said.
Old Mr Walker, who'd lived there ever since I could remember, had passed away that Christmas time and for quite a few months afterwards the old house lay deserted.
Then, one Saturday morning I think it was, the whole street was woken up at an unearthly hour by the roar of a powerful motorcycle. I looked out of my bedroom window to see who had disturbed the tranquillity and saw that the offending machine was parked outside of the Forge House. Someone dressed all in leathers was sitting astride the motorcycle, apparently studying the old house intently.
I was fascinated. We didn't live in the part of town where you expected to see "ton-up boys" as my dad called them or "filthy rockers" as my elder sister always referred to them, very often. Slowly the guy removed his crash helmet and then got off of the motorcycle. Then he went over to the house and let himself in with a key. It was obvious he was meant to be there.
I hurriedly got dressed and dashed downstairs, to tell the family that someone was in the Forge house. I needn't have hurried. When I arrived in our lounge, it was immediately apparent that they had all heard the motorcycle arrive. Actually, my dad was already on the telephone to a neighbour, saying things like, "We don't want that type living around here."
My mother informed me that the word had gone around, that Mr Walker had left the house and workshop to his grandson, who was reputed to be a member of one of the local motorcycle gangs. From the look of him I'd got, I would have said, that was most probably true.
Over the next couple of weeks skips (dumpsters) appeared in the garden of the forge, it was obvious that the house was being cleared out. There were one or two motorcycles outside of the place most of the time, but I didn't actually see anyone working, as that must have been done whilst I was at college. Only on the weekends did I see anyone around and everyone I did see were always dressed in leather gear.
The local rumour mill got to work and word went around that the house was being converted into a clubhouse for the gang. Very quickly a protest committee was formed and petitions got up. But nothing really happened. I did hear some vague threats to burn the place down, but I'm sure that was all hot air.
I think the greatest achievement of that committee was to complain about the noise of the motorcycles coming and going, either early in the morning or late at night. And even then I think they had trouble finding a couple of people with the guts to actually go over there and complain. From what I heard, the delegation that eventually went to the Smithy, were completely taken aback by the politeness of their reception. After that day, the motorcycles didn't come down the road at weird hours anymore; they apparently went around the long way, along the town by-pass instead.
It was funny really, although dad made it plain he didn't like the ton-up boys being there; he did say that when they were riding their bikes along our road, they were driving with a lot more care than some of the motorists did, who regularly used our road as a rat-run short cut to get to the by-pass.
Actually, one morning I was walking down to the bus stop on my way to college, when I saw Rocky and his friend stop a car that they must have considered was going too fast. As I passed near, I heard Rocky telling the driver to drive more carefully as there were young children living in the street who were usually walking to school at that time of day. Then I heard Rocky say, "You knock one of those little tykes down and I'll break your effing neck."
I don't think I ever saw that car use our road again. Not surprising really; Rocky, who really wasn't all that tall, had the appearance of being very muscular.
As the months passed, work started on the outside of the house and then on the old Smithy building itself. One weekend all of the overgrown flowerbeds in the garden were dug up and new turf laid to replace it. At dinner that evening, my dad suggested that was so they could park all the motorbikes on the grass. But mother surprised us all.
"No, I don't think so, dear. Stuart isn't much for gardening; he just wants to run the lawn mower around once a week."
My dad - well, all of us really - were completely taken aback that mother even knew that the guy's real name was Stuart. But mother went on to explain that Sylvia Richards who lives a couple of doors up the road, had a puncture in her car a few days previous. She had no idea what to do about it and had asked some of the neighbours for help. Unfortunately the only people who had been at home were other housewives, none of whom had any idea about how to go about changing the wheel.
A little group of them were standing by the car, discussing which garage to call out to change the wheel, when Stuart and his friend came over and changed it for Sylvia almost before anyone could say anything. Then they had refused the payment that Sylvia had offered them.
Mother said Stuart - as she took to calling him - was very polite, friendly and helpful. From that day on, mother would never stand for any nonsense being said about Rocky or his friends, who mother from that day forward referred to as "the boys". Mum and dad were to have a good few set-to's over that in the following few years.
My mother was the only person I know who called Rocky by his given name, Stuart. Just about everyone else came to know him as Rocky. Not that Rocky had much to say really; in the following months, I was to find out he was a man of very few words.
It was some weeks later that I came home late from college one Friday evening to find a police car parked outside our house. When I went inside, I could hear quite a few of our neighbours talking in our lounge. Some of their voices were raised; mainly I think those of my mother, Sylvia and a couple of the other stay-at-home mums.
When I enquired what was going on, I discovered that Rocky had sent letters to every house in the road informing every household of and inviting everyone to a house warming party he was holding on that Saturday evening. I've got to admit I have never heard as much rubbish talked, as I heard that night. It was going to be an orgy. There were going to be drugs there and even that, whilst everyone was at the party enjoying themselves, all their houses were going to be burgled.
It was when someone said that, that the policeman perked-up and said that not only had the local crime rate gone down, since the bikers had been about, but petty vandalism had decreased in the local area as well.
Someone said something about them not shitting on their own doorstep. But the policeman was quick to say that he didn't think the bikers had any connection with local burglaries or vandalism. He thought that just by being around the area, the boys had scared most of the more unsavoury characters out of the vicinity. Even the local school had reported that the trouble they'd been experiencing with suspected drug dealers hanging near their premises had ended.
Then another person pointed out that less traffic was using the road as a short cut lately and those that did appeared to be driving more carefully. I was pretty sure I knew the reason why that had happened. But they didn't want to listen to someone who they considered a child. Shortly after, that meeting broke up in complete disarray.
Rocky's housewarming party did go ahead on the Saturday night as planned. There were a lot of motorcycles and cars parked in the road that evening. But I don't think the party was any noisier than many of those some of our other neighbours had held in the past. Actually I think it was a lot quieter than some.
To father's disgust and annoyance, Mother, Sylvia and a couple of the other neighbours went over to the party, just for a little while. I think it was more to show the flag than anything else, they didn't expect to be very welcome guests of a lot of youngsters, as they put it. They came back saying everybody who had been there had been very pleasant to them and that the house had been really nicely modernised. I would have loved to have been allowed to go along as well that evening, but my father wouldn't hear of it.
Unfortunately for dad, Rocky's new interior décor in Forge House had given my mother some ideas for some changes she decided needed being made to our own house. Dad wasn't too pleased about that, as I think it was to cost him a good few thousand pounds over the following few months, before mother was completely satisfied with the result.
Things quietened down quite quickly after the party. My father's, and some of the other neighbours', fears about the Smithy or Forge house becoming a gang clubhouse proved completely false. Rocky lived there on his own, although there were very often some of his friends visiting.
About a month or so after the housewarming party, I was taking the dog for a walk one morning and, as I passed the old Smithy building, I could hear hammering coming from inside. There was also a strange smell in the air that I couldn't recognise. The Smithy door being open, I looked inside and saw Rocky stripped to the waist, working at the old forge that he had fired up. I didn't say anything and left before he saw me.
I've got to say the sight of Rocky swinging that hammer, sweat pouring off his rippling muscles did something that I found completely unexpected to my libido. The picture of him working returned to me as I lay in bed that night. I think that was the first time I found myself lying in bed fantasying of anyone other than film stars or my favourite pop-idol.
The following day, when I took the dog for his walk, I went past the Smithy again. This time I stood and watched Rocky working for quite a while. After I'd been standing there for sometime, Rocky looked up at me, gave me a smile and said, "Good morning, young lady!" then returned to his work.
Over the next few weeks, Forge house developed, firstly, wrought iron gates and railings along the front perimeter. Then a couple of bench-type iron garden seats appeared on the front lawn, quickly followed by a table and chairs. Finally the decrepit old Smithy sign was taken down and replaced by a new one and the neighbourhood learnt that Rocky had been intending to reopen the old blacksmith's shop all along.
Its position on the corner by the main road was obviously the perfect location for passing traffic to see the samples of his work that Rocky placed outside, because very soon, it became apparent that Rocky was inundated with work. Lights could be seen burning in the Smithy windows very late most evenings.
It was surprising how quickly wrought iron gates and railings became a necessary fashion accessory for the houses in our road. It very soon developed into a classic "keep up with the Jones'" competition. And guess what? My father, who had been one of the loudest to shout about Rocky and his friends being there, had Rocky make our house the largest gates in the road. Not that dad ever bothered to close the things.
Every-time I passed the building I would stop to watch Rocky at work through the ever-open Smithy door. Often I would go there without the dog just to watch him work. I was truly fascinated by not only Rocky, but what he was doing. Often sparks would be flying as he hammered the red hot metal.
One day he called me inside and handed me a large hammer, then placing a red-hot strip of metal on the anvil, he told me to hit it. The hammer was heavy and although I swung it with all my strength I didn't make much impression on the metal.
"I'm not strong enough," I told him.
Rocky laughed and told me it wasn't how strong you were, it was getting the knack of holding and swinging the hammer properly as well as developing the accuracy of your blow.
After that day, I would go to the Smithy a couple of evenings a week and during the days most weekends and holidays, to watch Rocky working. I got to know most of his friends. Nearly all of them had motorbikes. They all had nicknames of one kind or another, some of them quite strange, but I was to find out they mostly related to their characters or jobs in someway or another.
There was Doc who apparently was a wonder at maintaining motorcycles and cars. Fish turned out to be a championship swimmer who swam for the country sometimes; I gathered he'd only just failed to make the Olympic team. Brief was a solicitor and House (god, he looked as big as a house!) was a builder. And then there was Prof, who seemed to be a fountain of knowledge; a little older than most of the others, he was to prove a great help to me with my college work.
I never did get to the bottom of Rocky's nickname though, or how he'd come by it. It wasn't as if he was into rock music. He seemed to be much more into American Country music than anything else, and that was the kind of music playing in the Smithy most of the time. As I told you, Rocky was a man of few words and for some reason I never got up the courage to ask him where his nickname came from.
I quickly became Pen or Penny to everyone; mainly because I nearly always had a notebook and pen in my hand. I liked to write poetry and short stories, so I was always jotting down ideas or thoughts that come into my head. Oh, my real name is Crystal, or Chris to most people. Where mum and dad came up with Crystal, I'll never know. I suppose they thought it was different and a good idea when I had been born.
Rocky obviously knew my name because one of his favourite jokes was to put on a song called "Crystal Chandeliers" when I arrived at the Smithy. But I don't think any of the others got the joke. Rocky wasn't the type to tell them; it was a kind of private joke between him and me.
It was such a shame that I didn't take a lot more heed to the words of that song at the time, not that Rocky or I knew what was going to happen in the future.
As time went on, Rocky taught me how to hold and swing a hammer properly. Not that I was ever very good at blacksmithing. He showed me how to tell when the metal was at the correct temperature. And after he'd helped me make all the separate parts, he showed me how to put an ornamental planter together, which I gave to my mother on her birthday.
That planter was to cause a real ruckus at home. Dad made a comment about how much it must have cost me; Rocky's stuff wasn't cheep. But then I let on that it didn't cost me anything, as I'd made it myself. My father was pretty fast on the uptake and, quickly putting two and two together, he suddenly realised that I'd been spending a lot of time in the Smithy with Rocky. And then he went completely bananas.
My dad told me I shouldn't go anywhere near Forge house, the Smithy, or Rocky and his friends. Dad went on and on about them all being drug taking criminals, who would most likely rape (actually dad said "take advantage of" but his tone said "rape") a young girl like me at the drop of a hat.
My mother wasn't going to stand for dad saying that about Rocky and jumped into the argument on my side, by saying that Stuart and his friends were nice boys who wouldn't do anything like that. Yes, she said, they dressed in leather jackets and rode motorcycles, but they were always courteous and even the police officer who had been at that meeting they'd had over the housewarming party had said that they were no trouble. She actually went on to say she'd often seen the police in the Smithy drinking coffee with Stuart and his friends.
Mum and dad didn't know that a couple of the local policemen had motorcycles themselves, and if you could call it a gang, then they could certainly have been called members.
The argument about me mixing with Rocky and his friends went on most of the evening, with my mother and myself on one side and my dad and sister on the other. To be honest, it put the complete kibosh on mum's birthday celebrations. But by the end of the evening, I'd told my dad that I was eighteen and old enough to choose my own friends. If I chose to be friendly with Rocky and the rest of them, I would be and there was nothing he could do about it.
My father didn't like the idea at all, and my sister said I'd probably finish up an unmarried mother or something.
But I'd like to make it plain to everybody who reads this that I'd never had any of Rocky's friends say or do anything that could remotely be construed as a sexual advance to me at any time I'd been there. Yes, there were odd occasions when the boys did make veiled comments about each other's girlfriends and I'd overheard them say things like one of them had scored with some girl the night before. I'm not retarded; I knew what scored meant. But they never said anything like that when they knew I could hear them
I continued to spend a lot of time in the Smithy, much to my father's disgust. Not only did I find watching Rocky at work fascinating, but it was relaxing being over there as well. I'd sit in the armchair Rocky had put in the Smithy, I think just for me to sit on and jot my little stories in my book. Rocky didn't really say much to me except thanks when I made him a cup of coffee now and again.
That summer I left college and got a really boring job, working as a clerk come receptionist, come everybody's dogs-body in the office of a factory near my home. I hated that job as I had very little to do, but the filing or sitting out in reception on my own for most of the day. It did however give me lots of time to play with my poetry and writing. But the atmosphere was really depressing and not conducive to inspired writing; not that I ever thought I was any good at writing anyway. It was just my hobby.
Although he always seemed to be working and he said very little, Rocky was nice company to be with. I enjoyed the time I spent in the Smithy much more than my days at work. After I'd gotten to know him quite well, I asked Rocky a couple of times if he'd give me a ride on the back of his motorcycle, but he turned me down flat. Obviously my father had said something to him, because Rocky would just say, "Your father wouldn't like that!"
After I'd asked Rocky a good few times to give me a ride on his bike and he'd refused, I tried some of the other guys. I really wanted to know what doing the ton felt like; they talked about it all the time. In the end, Prof said he'd take me out on his bike; I could wind Prof around my little finger when I tried really hard.
So the next Sunday morning, I was waiting in the Smithy for Prof to arrive when one of the other guys, Poke (don't ask) turned up with his girlfriend, Janice. I saw Rocky call Janice over and talk to her quietly for a couple of minutes. Then Janice came over to where I was sitting.
"Yeah, Rocky's right, we're about the same size. Come with me, Penny!" Janice led me into Rocky's house where, to my utter amazement, she started to take off her boots and leather trousers.
"Well, don't just stand there, Penny, get those jeans off. If you're going on a motorcycle, Rocky wants you to be wearing the right protective gear, so I'm lending you mine for this morning. Those jeans won't do you any good if things go pear-shaped."
"But Prof's a careful rider. He told me he's never had an accident!" I said.
"Accident or not, Prof and all the rest of us all wear our leathers whenever we're on the bikes. It's far better to be safe than sorry. Now try these for size." Janice said holding her leather trousers out to me.
Well, they fit fine, and so did Janice's boots, but the weight of the heavy leather jacket took me by surprise. Once I had Janice's helmet on, I don't think anyone would ever know that it was me on that bike behind Prof.
Prof took me down the bypass and then out into the country a ways. On a particularly quiet section of the bypass, Prof opened the bike right up. He told me on the radio that we were doing over "a ton" for a little while, but then the traffic started to thicken up so he slowed down to what seemed to be a very slow speed. Although later Prof told me that we were still doing sixty to seventy miles an hour.
Rocky was standing outside the Smithy as we came into sight of it, but he'd returned inside by the time we got there. It was years later that I realised that he was concerned for my safety that day, although I think he trusted Prof on the motorbike as much as he trusted anyone. It really didn't cross my mind that Rocky was concerned for my well-being.
That was to be my first and last ride on a motorcycle for a good many years. All mention of me getting on a motorcycle after that were met with sideways glances in Rocky's general direction, before they were politely refused. It could be that I can be very dense sometimes, but I didn't pick up on what those glances actually meant or were intended to tell me.
Time went on, and I discovered much to my amazement that Rocky was only three years older than I was. He must have only been twenty when he'd inherited Forge house. For some reason I'd always thought he was much older, about twenty-eight or nine.
I'd spent so much time in the Smithy by then that I was selling things for Rocky when he was busy, normally with other customers. Actually he had started paying me commission as soon as I made my first sale. Not much, only 5%, but at Rocky's prices that wasn't to be sneezed at.
One Sunday I think it was, I'd been outside with a time waster, a guy who wanted to know the in and outs of just about everything on display and the prices, but never bought anything. When I went back inside the Smithy, Rocky was sitting in my chair. Well, it was his chair really but I normally sat there. Oh, you know what I mean.
Anyway Rocky was reading my notebook. I think I was embarrassed; I don't normally like people to see what I write. Obviously aware of my presence and, I think, of my discomfort at him reading my story, Rocky ignored me for some time until he'd finished it.
"Bloody hell, girl," he said to me as he started to quickly flick through the other pages glancing at some of my other stuff. "What are you wasting your time in that office for? This is one hell of a good children's story. Are they all like this?"
"Well, they are all aimed at children. But I'm not so sure if they are any good though," I replied to him, feeling really embarrassed.
"Now you listen to Rocky, girl. This is good stuff; you should send it to an agent pronto."
"Don't be silly, Rocky. I'm not an author."
"Lord give me strength," Rocky muttered looking up at the ceiling. Then he said, still flicking through some of the other stories I'd written, "Listen to uncle Rocky. Penny, this is good stuff. Just as good, if not better, than most of the stories I used to read as a kid. You get these typed up and sent to an agent; I think you'd be pleasantly surprised."
I hmm'd and haw'd for a while, but then Prof came into the Smithy, and Rocky immediately shoved the notebook under his nose. Much to my surprise, Prof was even more enthusiastic about my stories than Rocky had been. Between them they began to make me think I could be a reasonable children's author.
The next evening when I got to the Smithy I discovered that my chair had been moved, to make way for a table with a computer sitting on it.
"Well, don't just stand there, Penny," Rocky said as I stared at the set-up in amazement. There was no way I could have afforded to buy a machine like that. "Get typing, girl!" Rocky knew I used a computer at work and that I'd be able to find my way around it.
Well, over the next couple of weeks, I typed some of my stories and poems into the computer and printed them out. Prof came up with a long list of agents and publishers for me to send them to. Actually, Prof spent a lot of time proofreading for me and correcting my mistakes.
He also took some of my stories away with him and tried them out on the pupils at his school. Yes, to my complete amazement, Prof turned out to be a schoolteacher. Some motorbike gang my dad had been so afraid of. Schoolteachers, policemen: it just goes to show that you can't tell a book by its cover. Or the guy by the clothes he wears either.
All too many times my stories came back rejected and I was beginning to loose heart. But the boys, all of them and their girlfriends, were reading my children's stories by then, kept my spirits up. Eventually a magazine publisher took two of my stories and I got my first royalty cheque.
It was month or so later, that a literary agent turned up at my house one day whilst I was at work and spoke to Mother. Mother was taken completely by surprise when Sally Parks knocked on the door, because I hadn't told anyone at home that I was trying to get my word published. My sister had always made fun of my writing; I think that's why I'd become shy of letting people read them in the first place. I'd had no intention of letting anybody at home know that I was trying to get published, just in case I failed. My sister would have loved that.
The agent came back that same evening after I'd got home from work. She wanted me to sign a contract with her as my sole literary representative. My Mum and Dad - after getting over their surprise that anyone thought their youngest daughter could produce anything of literary merit - were encouraging me to sign the contract straight away, but I wanted Rocky's opinion. My dad got really annoyed with me when I ran over to show the contract to Rocky.
You might think it strange that I'd value Rocky's input more than my parents', but it was Rocky who'd encouraged me and set me on the path that I was now intending to take. No one in my family had ever taken very much interest in my writing in the past. My sister had always been the golden girl in our house. Plus, Rocky had advised me to let his friend Brief, have a look-over any contract before I committed myself to signing anything.
Rocky quickly called Brief on the telephone and he came over to my parents' house straight away. Mum, Dad and Sally Parks the agent were completely taken aback, when a very smart and efficient looking Martin Pringle entered the house and announced himself, as my legal representative.
After a lot of negotiating over the next couple of days, Brief got Sally Parks to make some significant changes to the contract. A whole lot of which, I didn't understand at all. But Brief told me the changes gave me an out of the contract if I wanted it in the future, and laid down exactly how big (or little) a percentage of my (hopefully massive) literary earnings that Sally Parks could get her hands on. I know I was pleased that I'd taken Rocky's advice and got Brief in on those negotiations.
Dad was worried about how much Brief was going to charge for his work. But Brief looked at me and pointing to his cheek said, "For Rocky's girl, a kiss right here will suffice for now. But I do expect you to retain me as your permanent legal representative when you're rich and famous!"
He got two kisses and a promise that he'd be the only solicitor I would ever hire in the future. Martin Pringle and Partners are still my legal representatives to this day. Unfortunately I had been too excited about the contract that day to have taken enough notice of the exact words that Brief had used.
Sally after reading through a lot of my stories wanted me to turn one of the longer ones into a children's novel. She was making hints that I could really be going somewhere. I had no illusions on that score, but I thought Sally must know what she was talking about, so I agreed to do so.
Actually doing as Sally had asked would take a lot of time and there, Rocky came to my aid yet again. He offered me a part-time job doing - or rather making sense of - his paperwork. Rocky was one for just stuffing everything into a draw and letting Taxman (another of his friends) sort it all out at the end of the financial year.
I jumped at his offer and quit my job at the factory immediately. So after that, in the mornings or for as long as it took, I did Rocky's paperwork and in the afternoons I wrote. And I sold some of Rocky's work when required; I was still using his computer to write my stories.
It took me three months before I was happy with my book. I sent the final version to Sally; a little over a week later she called and told me a publisher had accepted it. I think she must have been showing them the proofs. Then there was a four-month wait until it was published. I have no idea whether that was a long or short time to wait before the book hit the shops, but it seemed like an absolute age to me.