Grand Hotel, Scarborough – “She once was a true love of mine”
After my warm welcome chez Stuart and Rachel I headed north to Scarborough feeling much brighter. I even murdered Are you Going to Scarborough Fair as I drove. I like to sing and drive, and I like to improvise silly songs of my own… as you’ll see if you read on.
Made a bit of a balls of the parking issue – I remembered side streets where free parking was on offer but didn’t remember their being so far away from the sea front! So I walked the mile or so to town, where I thought I’d treat myself to a bacon butty and a cup of coffee somewhere.
On the steep way down towards the Grand Hotel I encountered a lady who seemed to be struggling with her shopping. It’s not so easy these days to be gentlemanly, it can be misconstrued as patronising or sexist (as once happened to me in WHSmiths when I held the door open for a woman… then wished I’d let it go in her face) but intuition told me this would be appropriate and not unwelcome. So I offered to help with her bags.
The reaction took me quite by surprise. No she didn’t call me patronising or sexist, she thanked me profusely and burst into tears. Seeing she was distressed, I guided her to a seat where she sunk down with her hands over her face. This would be where Trevor Howard would proffer Celia Johnson a kerchief, but I only had a clump of kitchen roll in my pocket and couldn’t guarantee it hadn’t been used. I apologised for this but she wouldn’t hear of it, I’d been kind enough already to help.
“I haven’t done anything,” I protested.
“Yes you have,” she countered, “the very fact that you offered.”
As she rummaged in her bag for a tissue she began to shake with laughter, saying she was such a fool for crying, what must I think?
I make three admissions; 1) the mercenary in me felt this might be a story, 2) the suspicious in me thought she might be mad, and 3) how could I not have noticed till now that she was extremely attractive?
She had long, blonde, curly hair and pale complexion, a pert little nose and blue eyes. She was tall and slim, and the tight maxi-dress she wore showed off her neat, elegant figure. Over the dress she wore a trendy denim jacket and she sported matching beaded necklace and earrings. It’s always the ears that get me and I loved the way she looped her hair back so I could get a glimpse (by the way, I’m not saying she did this deliberately, but wish I could!)
I said I didn’t think anything bad of her for crying, and added that I wouldn’t pry but I’m a good listener if she needed to get something off her chest… which she did, with only the slightest hint of a Geordie accent:
Ann was born in Newcastle and lived with her parents till aged 21 when she married Andrew, whom she’d met at college. They were happily married and over the next twenty years they build up a waste-recycling business, he as director and she as company secretary. The demands of business were harsh, especially as they produced six kids (which astonished me) along the way. With the financial rewards for all the toil they enjoyed family holidays abroad, a luxury home in Dalton and a villa in Spain. She had everything. They had everything.
Three months ago she was about to celebrate her 50th and a big family party was organised; outside caterers, marquee, flowers, the works; no expense spared for the 100 guests. It was going to be the happiest day of her life, but it was also going to be the day that Andrew told her he had someone else.
At first Ann thought he was kidding – “But who the fuck would joke about something like that?” Then came the shock, the anger, the heartbreak, the massive row, the horrible questions: Who? How long? Did he love her? Did she love him? With the answer to these last two being “yes”, Ann knew (or at least would know in time) it was no use fighting, not for him, not for her and certainly not for the kids’ sakes, they deserved better. The fallout would obviously be huge (both emotionally and materially) but for that day, Ann found the courage and the strength and the dignity to gain control:
“I remember saying ‘You’ve done this to me, you’ve broken my heart and you’ve ruined my big day. You don’t get to ruin everyone else’s. We’re having this fucking party Andrew, and you’re going to be the host and fucking well look like you’re enjoying it!'”
I only hope I’ve done justice to Ann’s tale, I mean obviously I wasn’t taking notes. Frankly the scale of her heartbreak is massive and these words or any might not cut it. I was a little embarrassed that she’d told me, a complete stranger, then touched when she apologised for doing so. But I shrugged off her apology and repeated that I’m a good listener and I hope it helped to get it said. I was sorry for her plight and wanted to say that Andrew’s an utter prick, but didn’t. Instead I asked what now?
“Meeting an old friend for lunch,” she said, “and a good old chat.”
“I guess it’ll be one of those all-men-are-bastards chats?” I laughed.
She laughed too, and it made her face beautiful. “I’ve bought her some presents and I’m going to give them to her. I’m spending as much of the bastard’s money as I can.”
She apologised for swearing, saying she doesn’t much. I said she should do it more often, it helps. Not everybody likes swearing, but I do. Some people have complained about swear words on my blog, I said, but I don’t give a shit. Sometimes when I’m angry at people or the world I drive along and make up angry or stupid songs. She asked what I sing and I very reluctantly told her that this one’s to the tune of These Are a Few of My Favourite Things:
“Arseholes and bastards and fuckwits and wankers
Dickheads and tossers and bent merchant bankers,
Tossers and fuckers and shit-heads and turds,
These are a few of my favourite words.”
She laughed and said she loved it, and I said I’d teach her the words. We chatted for maybe forty-five minutes, an hour tops, and I filled her in on my journeys. She said the idea was cool and she sometimes thinks about just getting into her car and driving… I knew what she meant but said she’d be OK, she’s got her kids (who incidentally all agree that Andrew is a prick and his girlfriend is a tart) and she’s still got her parents. Plus she’s got 100 friends.
“101,” she said, and I’ll never forget it. But then it was time for her to go. I didn’t want to let her go but of course I must; what kind of deluded idiot was I to think this was going to end any other way? So I rose to help her gather her “retail therapy” and bid her goodbye and good luck, and she gave me a kiss on the cheek and thanked me for being such a kind man.
“One day you’ll be rewarded,” she said, “Don’t let the arseholes and bastards and fuckwits and tossers get you down.”
“Wankers,” I corrected.
I was going in the same direction as her, down the hill for my bacon butty, but felt reluctant to walk with her; I had to let her go. So I hung back on the seat and rolled a cigarette. When I finally ventured onto the prom I hoped to glimpse her again, with her friend, but I didn’t.
Many years ago we played a story on Coronation Street which was pitched as a “Brief Encounter” for Sally Webster. I was in charge of that story and for research I watched the video, though I’d obviously seen it before a dozen times. And loved it. In the end of course, Sally Webster slept with her amour, because the soap gods say no subtlety! The audience wants a shag and we shall deliver a shag. Well personally I think we should be irreverent to the gods.
But anyway there was my real-life Brief Encounter. I was Trevor Howard, Ann was Celia Johnson – for me at any rate a 60 minute romance. With no exchange of numbers and no shag of course. A shag would’ve made it 62, but I shouldn’t sully the memory.