Chapter Number 17
It has been a quiet week, and my free grace period where I didn't have to pay for the loan obtained by mortgaging my property is now up. To my horror I now have to find £800 a month. Just where this is going to come from panics me like hell. The business is certainly not able to support it along with all the other running costs, those like the business rates, domestic rates, electricity, gas, and just plain old living.
Everyone is telling me this is the worst year for business ever, and what with the weather, along with the recent increase in interest rates adding to the fewer numbers of guests coming to Southtrend-On-Sea - and maybe even the smoking ban, who knows? - it is all looking pretty grim.
To compound it all, Lance, my gorgeous, undecided, new cross-dressing friend and resident has met another cross-dresser: a very butch-looking lorry driver from Plymouth and announced they would be looking for a home to share together down that way. He is planning on going back with the guy on his lorry in two weeks time. I knew he would go at some stage, but so soon is a great shock.
I will certainly miss his help around the place, quite apart from his computer skills, although he has promised to try and get me up to speed and teach me as much as possible before he leaves. It is going to be very empty around the place without him.
Despite all the advertising I have paid for on web sites and in gay magazines, the phone is still not ringing. It is so silent that some days I pick it up just to reassure myself it is actually working. The only calls coming in seem to be from people wanting to sell me something, or to change my service provider. On Fridays and Saturdays a few people do actually call, but only to book for just the one night over the weekend. It is all quite disheartening, and still it is raining.
Cynthia, my neighbour, has placed a notice under her vacancy sign that says “Alternative Genders Catered For.” Poor dear! Even she says she is feeling the pinch. The neighbours on the other side, those I met when moving in and who saw me running naked to my outside loo, told me they are not taking in guests anymore and have now got jobs in the local DIY superstore. They have been fantastic as neighbours and friends, with an extended family that seem to visit them almost daily: the sons and daughters, some being parents themselves, children with boy and girl friends, and grandchildren.
When they invited me in to tell me about their new occupations it was like something out of East enders. The whole family were busy talking, rushing up and down stairs, occasionally arguing with a boy or girlfriend there or on the telephone, whilst another daughter and her husband were rocking their by now crying baby to sleep, and all the time my neighbours were just getting out the tea or another whisky or gin and tonic, and occasionally interjecting to quell an argument with some good old common sense before turning back to carry on talking about their new careers. What an amazing family - so in tune and caring about each other.
They told me that when they first moved into the area and opened their B&B, after both being laid off from the munitions factory at Woolwich, it was swamped every year, all summer long, with guests staying for two weeks at a time. They were the days when they could charge for salt, pepper, and even a towel etc, with the guests being thrown out every day after breakfast and not allowed to return until supper time. The good old days, they called them. I'm not so sure about that, I thought.
Over the years since then they had noticed the decline in the number of attractions for the visitors, and the apathy from the council in maintaining the infrastructure or enticing the conference business. They had let what were once some very prestigious listed buildings fall into disrepair and decline, or had sold them off. There was a feeling that all the councillors, who across the parties had been in office for years individually whatever party happened to be in office at the time, had it sown up with either back-handers or agreements to maintain the status quo with planning and development, as it would all be beyond them if it got too complicated.
It seemed that all they wanted was to be able to get through to retirement without too much work or grief. The last thing they appeared to want was to have to bring in professionals and actually start in any serious way on some sort of regeneration, apart from that which central government obliged them to do like the sea defences. In fairness, the council did pay huge sums of money, millions of pounds, employing lots of different quangos with an ever burgeoning office staff to produce a myriad of reports that they could discuss over the years. But of course, at the end of the day this was just a huge smoke screen that would allow them to keep on jogging along.
Obviously some things had been done, things like painting almost every road with yellow lines, putting up parking meters, employing a small army of traffic wardens, and building even more council offices.
It seemed to my neighbours that the only significant new business brought to the town was by the gays: new clubs and pubs, and hotels that were generally regarded as a much better option than the older, run down guest houses and hotels which had turned solely into stag and hen venues, or into hostels for foreign workers. They said the town was now full of waifs and strays from the rest of the country. What was once a premier seaside resort now resembled a war zone at the weekends, with the stag and hen parties taking over the town, and the local yobs and vandals terrorising the residential areas. Anyway, they were hoping to sell up one day and move abroad. They had a daughter who had married a Turk, and eventually they wanted to join them in Istanbul to help out in their date packing and distribution plant.
These were great neighbours, always to be seen tending the flower boxes along the front of their property. Every Monday they would be in the yard assisting each other in putting the washing through the mangle and hanging it out. A fabulous family. What a shame it is that they might be going. Who might I get as new neighbours? I just have to hope that none of this will happen for many years to come.
The news did not get any better. On Wednesday I popped down to the Freedom Tavern, and all the talk was of Andre and Sami who had operated Andre’s Hotel for the past five years. They too had been caught up in the downturn of visitors, and in spite of spending many thousands of pounds on renovations. Because they were bigger than most they had to take in groups from time to time, and no matter how careful they were in vetting them they would regularly have damage to clear up. They had dispensed with their staff years ago, running it on their own and having to stay awake all night over the weekends to cope with the comings and goings of the occasional few drunken, noisy guests that slipped through the net.
Now they had sold up, but for 20% less than they wanted, and bought a house locally. Deciding to work from home Sami was setting up an internet underwear business, importing from the Far East, whilst Andre was to retire altogether and live off of his pension from a former lifetime of packing golf balls. They weren't the only ones: two more hotels came onto the market this week, one of them being leasehold and wanting a lot of work done to comply with the current legislation. It was generally agreed by everyone there that this would indeed be a very difficult season.
Even Raymond, who I had a drink with most afternoons, could not offer too much cheer telling me that whilst he just ticked along quite nicely with his regulars, they were all however getting older, and every now and then the news would come that one or two of them had expired. New regulars seemed to be much sparser these days. He was hoping his plans to put in a stair lift might keep his current regulars still coming, apart from being very useful when he had to make up the rooms himself.
To save costs he had recently turned the stop cock almost off for the hot water to the rooms in the hope that the guests would not fill the sinks so full, or spend too long in the showers. He had already put in an outside power point for guests to plug in their wheelchairs, and now he was considering decking his front area and selling some of his copious amounts of flowers to passers by. If he could get the planning approved, he was also thinking about selling teas and coffees too, and perhaps a few daily papers from this decked area. After all he had all the equipment, and it just needed dragging out in the mornings after breakfast.
What with hearing all of this, I am now seriously thinking of just what cut-backs I can make myself. Raymond’s water management idea seems worth a thought, and perhaps I could purchase a job lot of electric wheelchairs myself. I don’t think that financial advisor who arranged my mortgage had my best interests at heart after all, judging by the money I now need to find. I could probably get some work at the local undertakers to help out, but that would take me away from my business. It is, however, a route I may have to consider at some time.
On Friday the telephone rang, and the caller announced he was from a television company. He wanted to know if I would be willing to take part in a new series they were about to make. It is going to be all about a season in the life of a guest house which specialises in taking groups of young men on pre-release holidays from detention centres. This was a new scheme to be tried, and the film company proposed to pay for all the rooms for the whole of next season, along with a lump sum in advance, on signing the contract and allowing them in over the next couple of months to do any slight modifications that were needed to accommodate the lighting and camera teams.
Well, there was
nothing on the books, so I readily agreed. It is already arranged that
some members of the production team will come to see me next week to
discuss details. All very exciting, I think. In fact, it could be a
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