Chapter Number 11
I was awoken by Lance bringing me a cup of tea in bed. Dressed, he apologised for disturbing me during the night and went on to say that he was going to start on putting up the curtains in the rooms for me and would then make up the beds before going to the Job-Centre.
The morning was going remarkably well - that is until answering a ring at the doorbell. On opening the door I discovered a family standing on the doorstep, along with a mountain of luggage and four children. There was a youth of about 15 years with his sister who was perhaps a year younger. Both of them looked like 70’s punk rockers, and with obvious attitudes to match.
A further sister, a snivelling child of around 7-years-old who had constant green slime hanging from a nostril, and that every now and again she would sniff at and it would disappear back up inside or be wiped away on her coat sleeve, was holding on to a battered old push-chair that seemed to be almost buried under a pile of carrier bags which constituted the rest of the family's luggage. From somewhere beneath the pile a baby of around a year old insisted on balling its head off.
The parents of this small tribe fared little better, shouting at the snivelling child not to wipe the dog's mess off her shoe on my front mat, and screaming at the eldest two to "shut the fuck up" for constantly moaning about Southtrend-On-Sea being a dump and wishing they could have been left at home. The father, dressed in a dirty pair of jeans and an even dirtier tea-shirt, announced that he was Arthur and his wife, wearing a sort of faded smock and with a fag dangling from her mouth, was Clara. They were expected, he informed me, as they had made a booking with the former owners and paid for a week, but they would consider staying for a fortnight if I could reduce the price a bit for the second week.
Horror of horrors! What could I have said? They did indeed have a crumpled-up receipt, one that showed they had paid £20 per night for the lot of them, and which the previous owner seemed to have forgotten to mention to me, or hand over any money. However this was a minor detail as I was now faced with this rabble before me.
Thinking as fast as I could, I told them we were fully booked for a second week, the bar was closed down, and there was no longer a guest lounge. In a blind panic I even offered to refund their money, despite not having seen any of it, if they wanted to find somewhere else.
“No, mate,” the father said, “we've tried all the others in the road before and they're always full. Besides, it's handy here for the pub and the betting shop, and the kids were always happy playing in your lounge if they didn’t want to go to the beach. Thought we had come to the wrong place what with it all being done up. You must be raking it in. Shame about the bar though. Anyway, we will get up to our room and see how it goes. We are all bursting for a slash and the baby needs changing.”
I stood to one side and in disbelief watched as the rabble traipsed up the stairs, the push-chair scuffing my new wallpaper, and as the snivelling child, who by now had decided to do some deep mining up her other nostril, wiped off the spoils on the handrail as she followed on behind. For a moment I listened from the bottom of the stairs at them shouting and arguing amongst themselves, with presumably the snivelling child being the one jumping up and down on my new beds with glee, and no doubt with her shoes still on.
The mother appeared from the toilet on the stairs and shouted down to me, “I’ve left the baby’s nappy on the floor in the bog, the previous geezer's wife used to put them in the twin-tub with the tea-towels and their own washing and then leave them out for me in the mornings."
Quick as a flash, I announced that I ran the guest house on my own so they would have to sort out their own washing at the local launderette. She turned on her heels and went back into her room, slamming the door loudly. Listening intently, I could hear her saying, “. . . and we have to do our own bleeding washing now! And who’s that in the other room making the beds? Do you think they are queers?”
“Probably,” came the reply from her husband. “They're everywhere now - you daren’t turn round anymore without fear of getting shafted up the arse!”
This family appeared to have very little finesse or social graces. Not ten minutes later they were all on the way out again, clattering down the stairs. Off to the betting shop and then the pub before doing the pier, I was told as they slammed the front door behind them.
Lance came downstairs and, not believing what was happening as we were not even open properly yet, said, “You can’t let them stay, they are going to wreck the place!”
My worst nightmare was panning out in front of me. I really had to get rid of them. But how?
In an attempt to console and un-burden myself, I telephoned Colin, one of my former colleagues at the undertakers, just to let him and all the others there know how I was getting on. They were so pleased to hear from me and wanted all the detail as the phone was passed from person to person around the mortuary. Naturally I mentioned the family from Hell that had just arrived, and that I was trying to think of a way of getting rid of them. Putting the phone down, I was pleased that I got in touch with them again, and for a brief while it took my mind off the problem in hand.
An hour later and the phone rang again. It was Colin announcing they were all on their way over to see me that evening after work. They would be staying the night this time and, providing they could park the hearse out the front again, they insisted it would not be a problem to get rid of my family. I thought it would be great to see them all again, and just the right thing to lift my spirits, but wondered exactly what were they planning on saying to the family? After explaining to Lance that my friends would be coming for the night, and revealing to him what my former occupation was - it mattered not a jot to him. Quite the reverse, he found it hilarious! - I rushed next door to put "all fur coat and no knickers", Cynthia, in the picture.
She had enthused at how well the place had come on in the past weeks, and was really very nice about all the noise and activity. She had been happy to put up with it all because the improvements progressed at such a pace. Her only problem now was that she had noticed the family arrive earlier, and remembered them as staying there the previous two years running when it was absolute hell for them and the other neighbours what with all the noise, and the two eldest being seen at nights regularly drinking and having sex with all sorts in the back alley. She was sure they had been dealing in drugs too because of the frequent comings and goings of the, what appeared to be, dregs of the town's low-life.
Would I now upset her further by mentioning my former colleagues were paying another visit and wanted to leave the hearse parked outside again, this time all night? I was worried about it, but needlessly. As it was to rid us of the family she was quite happy, and she even invited herself and her husband around later that night so they could meet everyone, and she could see what I had done to the inside of the house.
At 5.00pm the family from Hell came crashing in and bounded up the stairs, leaving a trail of sand and mud behind them on the hall carpet, along with a nice new cigarette burn. They had come back with carrier bags full of cans of lager and cheap bottles of wine. They were for the room, they told me, before announcing they (the parents) would be going out again around 9.00pm, once the two smallest children were asleep and the two elder ones had gone out for the night.
On seeing them back, my heart had sunk again. I had hoped they might have been washed away by a tidal wave, or got run over by a bus, or at the very least have had a bout of amnesia and forgotten where they were staying. No such luck, unfortunately!
Joy of joys! Colin and the others arrived at 6.30pm. The hearse was parked outside and - yes! - they had brought me another load of fresh flowers. Most unusually all the guys appeared quite muted as they filed into my lounge, each of them carrying armfuls of flowers. Apparently they had a plan - one to which I was asked to agree with anything that happened. I had always trusted them implicitly, so I readily agreed.
Charlie, who was always the moaner - especially about where he could or could not smoke in crematoriums - had been talking to Lance. They seemed to get on remarkably well. Anyway, I was asked to make tea for everyone, and to leave my lounge door into the hall wedged open. Lance, they instructed to uncover my child’s antique coffin that still served as a coffee table. This he did, and then began to busy himself by putting flowers all around the room as the guys brought more and more bunches of them in.
A beautiful white wreath with “Toby” emblazoned in red flowers across the middle, Lance placed on top of the child’s coffin, pulling off the card that said simply: “Granddad”. Once satisfied with the arrangement, he disappeared off upstairs with Andrew and Tom, the two who always did the makeup on the deceased. I guessed it was for them to see his room on the top floor.
I can remember how chilly it became with both my lounge door and the front door wedged open. The draught had positively rattled my cup in the saucer, and as I sat there attempting to drink my tea I was wondering what was going to happen next. Well, I did not have to wait long to find out. The parents, closely followed by the two eldest kids, gingerly came down the stairs and, aghast, looked into my lounge.
Charlie immediately took them to one side and asked, “Are you relations of the deceased child?”
“No," the father blurted out. "We are just here on holiday. What’s happened?” His wife was stuffing a most revoltingly stained grey handkerchief to her mouth.
Turning to me, Charlie said, “Don’t be upset, sir. I will explain. You sit down there, relax, and drink your tea. We will look after everything.”
Charlie then went on to tell the family in hushed tones, and with great reverence, of how the family staying the previous week had illegally come into the country from Botswana with their youngest son suffering from Malaria, and how he had subsequently died in the family room upstairs. Whilst he was explaining all this, and following a quick briefing by Colin outside, from next door Cynthia and her husband arrived with tears in their eyes.
The family's two eldest were morbidly interested, coming out with comments such as: “Cool. Wow! Wicked!" and, "Can we have a look in the coffin?", but by now the mother had become quite distraught. “We can’t stay here, Arthur! It's horrible! It gives me the creeps!” she blurted out.
Cynthia interjected and, in a magnificent pretence of sympathy, comfortingly said, “There, there, my dear. Don’t let any of this spoil your holiday, you will have forgotten all about it by the morning. Your room is beautiful now, and you have nothing at all to worry about because the infectious diseases team from the hospital have been here all week disinfecting it. They've done Darryl’s kitchen too, so you really should not be worrying. All the worrying was done last week, when the poor little lad could be heard screaming out in pain all night before he passed away. It was only this morning that the body was allowed to be brought down into the lounge.
"The little lad's parents will be here soon to see the coffin. Apparently they have a clean bill of health and are being released from the detention centre under licence. I know that Darryl plans to put them out of the way, on the floor above you, until they are deported back home. So you needn't worry - you will only ever see them at breakfast."
At this point, well blow me down if Andrew and Tom didn’t walk back into the room - and I had to look at them twice. A double-take. With them was a young lady in a scarf. It covered a great deal of her face, but a second more closer look made me realise it was Lance, and obviously Andrew and Tom had applied the makeup.
“Who’s she?” asked the mother from Hell.
I explained to her that the young lady was a resident from the top floor. She was on release from the local psychiatric hospital in the charge of social services who had placed her here. Shortly after the hearse pulled up, she had been spotted climbing out of the window. Fortunately the driver, who had seen her, and his colleagues managed to race upstairs and get her back inside - but usually she was really no trouble at all to have there.
“Right, that’s it! We're leaving now! Come on, Arthur - and you kids. Upstairs and pack now! The sooner we're out of here the better," screamed the mother, with her two eldest loving every minute of it and wanting to stay. Little shits!
“Oh, it is such a shame you've decided to go. You do realise I can’t give you any money back, of course. You are cancelling your booking without any real reason," I told her, not that I had received any money, "and I am just so sorry to see you leave.”
At that they were all off upstairs, and within a very few minutes all cascading down again, with the pushchair bumping on every stair tread in their eagerness to get out. Once they had gone, we all had a fabulous evening. The drink flowed like water, and Cynthia and her husband declared they hadn’t had so much fun in years.
Later on, in private as we prepared nourishment for our guests, Lance gradually admitted to me that he was a cross-dresser and would prefer to live in women’s clothes all the time. He was not really sure if he was gay or not, and wondered if I minded. He would go if I did. Although somewhat disappointed that he was not sure about being gay, I decided I would not do anything to encourage him either way.
He needed to make his own mind up on that one. I told him, of course I didn't mind. In spite of that uncertainty, he was such a great lad that I knew I was more than happy just to have him there - and to dream that one day he might be. Selfish, I know.
Whilst we were all making merry, there was a knock at the door. Answering it, I found it was the owners of the old people's home just up on the other side of the road. They had seen the hearse parked outside and called for a business card in case they were to fall out with their normal undertakers. That was a possibility because their commission seemed to be going down, they said. I invited them inside, the guys quickly obliged by providing them with their card, and soon we had yet another couple embroiled and enjoying our impromptu party where the family from Hell were frequently the cause for our laughter.
The guys told the visitors about my antecedents, and the couple suggested that perhaps when they had one of their residents pass away, which happened quite often, for a fee I could go over there and lay them out, as their own staff were very squeamish about doing it. Of course, I knew that if it is not done within a few hours rigor mortis sets in and if the person has died in the armchair it can be a devil of a job flattening them out, so appreciating another source of income I agreed, saying it was quite a good idea.
It was four in the
morning before the owners of the rest home, and Cynthia and her husband,
finally departed and we all managed to crash out. Another day over, a real
disaster averted, and I had loads of new friends. How lucky was I?
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