I opened the door to the hotel room; there was a two-foot wide corridor and on the right a bathroom the size of a Leyland Mini, though perhaps not as generously proportioned. At the other end of the room, which was about 3 paces away, there was a bay window through which I could see a bit of the North Sea and some beach. Languishing in front of this was my single bed, despite the surface area being roughly the size of my 18-month niece it came up to my nipples. I applied a small amount of pressure to the mattress to ascertain what it would offer in terms of comfort and wasn’t remotely surprised when it felt like a five quid tit-job.
I turned on my heels and went down to reception demanding some sort of an upgrade. The slack-jawed centaur behind the counter grunted something about ‘unavailability’ though she didn’t use that particularly word, too many syllables, mind you she did glare at me as if was penetrating Iggle Piggle dressed as Hitler. I immediately went off in search of my family and after locating my sister and brother in Law, brother and his missus and my parents, all of whom had double rooms the size of Hampton Court with vast views over Scarborough’s North Bay, I demanded to know from the latter what I was doing in a fucking broom cupboard. I was gently informed by mum that as I was on my own she’d not thought twice about getting me a single room, despite all rooms costing the same on a Sunday… perhaps the most irritating aspect was that I had to take this square on the chin as the following afternoon we were laying her dad to rest, and having a petulant 40 year old teenager screaming in her face wasn’t really de rigueur…The reality of Monday dawned on me in a most unexpected and dreadful way. I sloped off to the bar where I remained until dinner.
On Friday I’d nipped over to Hackney to have a few drinks with IC at a the bar where my birthday had taken place, we chatted with some friends and went back to eat a late dinner. On Saturday we woozily made our way to Broadway market to get a gift for Pru whose birthday party we’d been invited to in the evening. The day shot past and it wasn’t long before we were on the train heading for bloody Queens Park, not so much miles away but a pain to get to from where we were.
When we arrived the party was already picking up, the theme of the occasion was famous dead people, I went as Ritchie from The Manic Street Preachers because all I had to do was whack on some eyeliner and it sort of worked. IC was Wendy O Williams (I’d decided that when she’d dressed up and said ‘who do I sort of look like?’) She didn’t look much like Wendy at all, she was dressed for a start, but as most folks wouldn’t know who Wendy was if she walked into the room and told them neither of us were too fussed. It did mean, however, that when a guest asked IC who she was supposed to be I was waved over to explain, a task I was only too happy to undertake, especially as the evening got more lubricated.
After a few hours we were forced back onto the streets due to time constraints, we were having a surprisingly good time and it was an annoyance to leave. I couldn’t be arsed to wait for a bus so being flush with projected funds from the imaginary beer bank I hailed a black cab. A memorable journey followed to the tune of 30 fucking quid but it was good we were home relatively early as I had a sizable journey to undertake the following morning.
The following morning, as it happened, was only 5 hours sleep away from the end of the previous evening. It was bright sunny morning and the streets were empty. I had a 10 minute walk to a bus stop to take me to Waterloo. It was 8.45, plenty of time to grab a can of Coke and walk unencumbered. The can was drained in two hefty pulls and the remaining gasses expelled at quite staggering volume at the bus stop, even I was rather taken aback by the reticulated din, I had to sort of dislocate my jaw to allow the brown air free passage and, under the disgusting circumstances, felt an apology to my fellow passengers-to-be was appropriate.
I took pole position on the upper deck and we cheerily chugged through the city. At Waterloo I had time to grab some sandwiches before the train ride to Woking where I was met by my bro-in-Law. Before we set off up the M1 we collected my sister and 18-month-old niece who on sight of a rather dishevelled Uncle screamed the place down. My sister had to sit in the back of the car to cajole her which was fine until she caught sight of me sat in the front via the wing mirror and resumed her wailing. This cycle of placation, overlook, Uncle! and screaming occurred roughly every 30 minutes for the duration of the 5 hour journey, though bizarrely she seemed fine with me at the grotty services in Derby where I witnessed the fattest mum, dad and son eating 3 Whoppers (each) in about the same time it takes me to cut the crusts off my fucking cucumber sandwiches.
After passing through every weather system on planet Earth we finally arrived in Scarborough, my niece still howling like a Fox in a steel trap following my turning round to ask my sister a question about mixers for rum. Despite being on the North coast it was relatively warm and blue skies, like, so ruled. On the outside the Hotel looked promising, inside it was very nice too and after the disappointing meeting with my bedroom I have to say the bar wasn’t all-bad either.
The immediate family congregated for dinner. I ate the most appalling starter of mackerel and potato salad, the former was fresh out of its vacuum packed housing and the latter near its sell by date. The main wasn’t much better, the ‘slow roasted knuckle of lamb’ was as tender as an infant’s earlobe but tasted of absolutely nothing, it was like chewing a beige flavoured afterthought, and it’s not even worth mentioning the shit it was served with. I was now doing rather well in terms of wine consumption; on top of the beers I’d enough Dutch courage to face profiteroles! (Please not the exclamation mark.) Before we go down that road you may have noticed the menu is rather, well, quaint. The menu was from a time of Unions, Lorry driving serial killers and a rather laissez faire attitude to the welfare of minors/miners. Don’t get me wrong, I am genuinely fond of this type of food but this muck was reprehensible. The profiteroles! by the way, were sensationally disgusting, lard encased in rennet, even Iceland would’ve spurned them like a putrefying donkey. I took one bite and allowed the rest to render themselves in the regurgitated white spume in which they were smothered. Dad loved it.
That night in my spastic cot I had the most awful nightmares, a full Ghost-in-the-Room number which saw me bolt upright at 4am with terrifying shadows caressing my face and the distant sound of the North sea boiling sewage. ‘Whistle and I’ll Come to You’ cast itself into my addled brain and I got up to peer at the beach in order to comfort myself. Those of you that have seen this masterpiece will know what a bloody silly thing that was to do, especially when I had no option but to return to my crumpled toy bed. I fell asleep as the seagulls woke up, which woke me up; one of the birds in particular was just taking the piss.
I was early for breakfast. Despite not allowing myself to look forward to it in any capacity I was more disappointed than I’d be if I discovered Stephen Fry fancied nippers. There was egg, ‘scrambled’ and ‘fried,’ congealing bacon, orange sausages, pitch black parched pudding, baked bullets, lard-drenched bread and drowning fungus. Being hungover I helped myself to the lot and ate it. Plant oasis in Motor Oil would’ve been more appetising.
After the morning fodder my sister, bro-in-Law, banshee niece, brother and his missus took the cliff-tram down to the Marine Drive. It was another glorious day and as the tide was out we took a stroll on the beach. It was here I discovered that my niece is quite literally afraid of her shadow. We were walking to the sea when she suddenly stopped, quite literally frozen in horror. her little arm came up and pointed at the black shape at her feet, her mouth downturned in a visage of medieval fear. ‘Shaboo!’ She screamed, ‘SHABOO!’ She turned to flee from the flailing shape only to notice that it was pursuing her as fast as her chubby little legs could pound the sand resulting in a balls out screaming fit. The convulsing gales of laughter from yours truly in the midst of her episode wouldn’t have done much to cement any bond between us. After she calmed down she took to looking at me like I’d just been landed on a boat with my guts hanging out my arse.
Before we went back to the hotel we had a quick shot in a few of the arcades that face the sea. In the 40 years I’ve been going to Scarborough these have changed remarkably little. The child that used wander about the 1p slot machines all those years ago was a tangible distance from my adult self, that and my niece who is a dead ringer of my sister at that age, aptly set the tone for what was to follow. I think it’s fair to say that most childhood’s close with the death of a grandparent, the realisation that life isn’t forever, the reality of death making itself known to the developing mind and suchlike. I’ve been fortunate, until last week I still had one remaining grandparent, that tenuous link with my childhood was irreparably severed and may explain, to some extent, why I retained so much of my childish self in adulthood. I thought about this as I put on a black suit and tie in the hotel room, even stopping to polish my shoes.
I met the rest of my family in the hotel lobby and various cars were dispatched to take us to the Church. Set in a picture postcard village by the side of rolling Yorkshire Dales it’s the epitome of what one thinks of as ‘An English Church’, a 16th century stone building sits serenely in a small, neatly trimmed copse prickling with uneven gravestones gently consumed by golden lichen and ivy. Once arrived we gathered by the wooden vestibule that leads to the entrance of the church, itself filling with more family and a surprising variety of elderly friends, though none as old as granddad when he died. By the time the service began, which was emotionally tougher than I’d anticipated, the church was packed solid with a bunch of people listening outside. Over 300 people came along.
The wake took place at an absurdly beautiful hotel in the middle of the Yorkshire countryside, the wine was sensational (grandad, by the way, was drinking wine right up to the evening before he was taken to hospital) and the sandwiches and cakes were, for once, delicious. It was very strange being at a family gathering and him not being there by the way. Downright weird actually.
We couldn’t stay too long, still suited and booted we resumed our places in the car and headed back south. The journey home was somewhat subdued unsurprisingly. At some nightmare Service Station I changed back into civvies and packed away my death costume. A few hours later I was dropped off at Woking station, it was about 10pm when the train finally rolled in and after one change and a bus I was home by about 11.30 fucked. I didn’t go to bed until 3am, my head was burbling, it took a few whiskies and a couple of Top Gears on I-player to quieten it down.
So, Grandad. His funeral was 20 years to the day my Granny died and 80 to the day that he married her. He was born in the East end of London on the 27th of April 1907, he left school at 14 and worked in a hotel cleaning the kitchens. In ten years he was managing the hotel, ten years later he was managing the company that owned it and a string of others. He suddenly gave it all up to fight in Burma and came home an officer 5 years later demanding a job from his old employees. He was responsible for restoring and returning to its former glory The Grand in Scarborough, what he considered his greatest achievement. It was here he became friends with Winston Churchill who was recuperating after the Second World War and here that he raised his family. After he retired he remained in North Yorkshire and acted as a consultant for his company right up until a few years ago. Granddad liked fishing, golf, swimming, restoring clocks and furniture, antiques and wine, preferably red and French. Until his death his lived at his home, his mind was as sharp as razor and despite failing eyesight was in remarkable health. He had a stroke on Monday 23rd and died peacefully on Wednesday 25th February in Scarborough hospital, annoyingly.
Before I go I intend to put in place the very thing that gave me fucking nightmares in the Hotel, it’s in 3 parts. Watch them in a dark place late and alone. It’s what he would’ve wanted.