Dianne Bown-Wilson – Benny and Doll's Nice Day Out
The staff at the Bentley showroom were more than a tad bemused by their latest customers.
Although they didn’t know it yet, the couple that crept in, arm-in-arm, bent like question marks, were Benny Cunningham, aged 88, and his darling wife, Dorothy - Doll, 92. They looked unbearably frail.
Young Andy on the front desk, still quite new to the job, swore inwardly but felt obliged to offer them a seat. Only a couple of hours until closing on the last day of the month and he was desperate for a sale. And look who he was stuck with – he wouldn’t make his bonus from this pair.
Surprisingly, they got straight to the point. The car they wanted, Benny announced, was “that one over there” but in navy blue with cream leather upholstery. “Plus all the extras,” he enunciated slowly in a whispery croak.
There was only one exception, “No sat-nav.” And one stipulation: “When it’s ready we’d like it delivered to our door.”
“And will you be trading in?” Andy asked, fighting to mask both sarcasm and exasperation.
“No,” said Benny. “Outright cash purchase. And, naturally, we’d like a test drive.”
Andy forced a tight smile, “Excuse me a moment.” This was getting ridiculous; time to check with Rod, the manager, out the back.
“Do you think they’re legit?” he whispered.
Rod shrugged, “Doubt it, but you can never be completely sure.” Certainly with Benny’s three-piece suit and well-trimmed moustache and Doll’s high heels and perfectly upswept silver hair, they presented a picture of decaying grandeur, albeit in a style fashionable many decades before. On the other hand, their accents were more pub landlord than public school. Who knew?
“Do you do much motoring?” Andy enquired later, having finally managed to shoehorn them into a car. It had been an excruciating process; thank God they hadn’t asked to actually drive the thing.
“Not so much these days,” Doll said, having adjusted her hearing aid to make out his words. These young people did so mumble. “But we used to do a lot. Rallying, touring, all over the world: Africa, India, Australia… Oh, we did have fun, didn’t we Benny?”
Benny smiled fondly. “Yes, my dear, we certainly did. And we will again; plenty more fun to be had.”
Andy sighed inwardly. They were barking mad, completely delusional - the likelihood of this going anywhere was absolutely nil.
But he was quickly to be proved wrong. The car evidently met with the couple’s approval and once back in the showroom it only took a phone call to confirm that they could, indeed, meet all the purchase criteria. Suddenly - and ridiculously easily compared to many such transactions - the deal was done!
“I hope you’ll be very happy with your car,” Andy said when the paperwork was complete. He felt completely disconcerted, as if he’d just found out he’d won the lottery without purchasing a ticket.
“Oh, I’m sure we will be,” said Benny. “It’s our seventieth wedding anniversary soon; we’re buying ourselves this as a little treat.”
“Fantastic,” murmured Andy weakly as he ushered them out to a waiting taxi, “Happy driving…”
When he went back into the showroom, finally closing the doors for the day, he found the others in stitches although no-one had a definitive explanation. “Maybe they have a chauffeur,” Ron suggested. “Can’t see them driving themselves – at least I hope not!”
“Better put the body shop on full alert just in case,” Simon sniggered, and they all started laughing again.
The day of the car delivery Benny and Doll got up early and packed a picnic lunch. However, by late morning when the doorbell finally rang they were exhausted with anticipation.
“Anything you need to know before I leave?” the delivery man enquired.
“No,” whispered Benny. “There’s not much we don’t know about cars.”
The man shrugged, disbelieving, but decided to accept his word.
In the event, they were so tired that they ate their picnic at the kitchen table then spent the afternoon napping so it was early evening before they sat in their new vehicle.
“Beautiful isn’t it, Benny?” said Doll.
“Nothing too good for you, princess,” he replied, stroking the pristine dashboard and inhaling the smell of leather. It was a gem.
“So where shall we go tomorrow then? Seaside? Town? What do you think?”
“Wherever you like,” Benny replied, squeezing Doll’s hand. “The world’s our oyster now.”
And it was. After a lifetime as a bookie, Benny had recently retired, a wealthy man. He’d sold up reluctantly, masking the pain of losing his raison d’etre with organising an immediate move to the country. With most of their old neighbours and friends long gone and their surviving son, Maurice, a successful businessman in Australia, there was no reason not to. They could please themselves now.
These days Benny and Doll go out driving nearly every day. That is, Benny inches the Bentley round from its garage at the back of their huge Georgian house to the old carriage turning circle at the front from where the vista stretches right down to the sea.
There, for hour after hour, they sit in the stationary vehicle re-living past journeys, recalling the route, the scenery, the people they met, for their memory for long-ago events is still as strong as sunlight.
“Bit different from the old East End, isn’t it?” Doll often says and invariably, Benny chuckles.
Every fortnight, one of them – for they take it in turns - chooses a postcard from the collection amassed through their lifetime of travelling, and pens a few lines to Maurice.
“Dear Son, We hope this finds you well. Nothing much to report here, as all is good with us. The weather isn’t too bad. We’ve had another nice day out in the car.”
Back at the Bentley showroom Andy thinks about mystery shoppers and assumes he passed the test. After hours of wondering, he can find no other explanation.