Chapter Number 19
After all the running around with the film guys last week it was another fairly quiet weekend, but I was not too disappointed as it at least allowed me time to recover a tad. I was reinvigorated enough to spend some time visiting my friends in the Freedom Tavern again, this time for a hastily called meeting. The usual gang were there: Patrick and Dave who had the Dandelion guest house just a dozen or so doors from me; Andrew and Kelly who ran the Pastel Hotel; John who, on his own, had the Adventure Holiday Flats; and Gregory and Daniel.
Gregory had once been a fighter pilot, having been called up just after the last war. He had met Daniel, purely by chance, in a cottage local to Exeter Prison. Daniel had just been discharged from the prison, having served a month there for refusing to pay a fine for busking around Torquay. According to Gregory he was a mean harmonica player, and with a voice like an angel. At the time Gregory had recently left the air-force and, still a young man, opened a fancy sandwich bar in the centre of Torquay, just up from the bay and opposite the turning to Meadfoot Beach.
Apparently business was not that good but, knowing Gregory with his upper class background and gastronomic prowess, that was probably due to him trying to knock out caviar and smoked salmon sandwiches to the plebs on their holidays. However the upshot of it was that Gregory and Daniel hit it off, and in just a few months they had bought a guest house not very far from Southtrend station. Of course all this this was nearly 20 years ago, and at that time they were one of only three gay guest houses in the whole of Southtrend-On-Sea. They became very busy.
A large-framed, portly gentleman, and well over 6 foot tall, Gregory could best be described as being gruff, off hand, and very, very outspoken. He had a short temper, but with an extremely dry sense of humour that was not always apparent to everyone. Catch him on a good day, and he could be fabulously entertaining with a wealth of life history to call on. On a bad one, he would be seen to snarl openly at guests who could nor deport or behave themselves accordingly.
He had always been the Chef and Manager of their establishment, The Thespian, with Daniel being the general dog’s body who would do all the housekeeping, maintenance, and waiting at tables. All the same, they did work remarkably well together. Although there were rarely any conversations about life, they had obviously always been very much in love and that had grown stronger as the years had passed. Daniel had even managed to drag his partner along to the Registry office last year to go through the Civil Partnership. Gregory, huffing and puffing about the nonsense of it all, but nevertheless still spending an inordinate amount of money on presents for Daniel and secretly providing a reception, continues to this day to remind everyone about the cost of it all.
Those potential guests that actually made it through the door of The Thespian for an interview prior to being allowed to book in were often directed to see the rooms first, and alone. In the meantime Gregory would think long and hard about whether or not he wanted them. It could be their dress, deportment, manners, quality of luggage, or he might just not like them, so often when the potential guests returned back down the stairs it was not unusual for him to, point blank, say to them: “No, I don’t like you. You will have to find somewhere else. Goodbye!" Should they complain, he would at times be known to retort with “Piss off!” - and that would straightaway end the conversation.
For those that did make it through as guests, after listening to the quite strict rules of the house being explained to them, they were indeed pleased to be in one of the best and most modern establishments in Southtrend at that time. All the rooms were en-suited - quite a novelty 20 years ago! - and furnished without any expense being spared. Gregory’s breakfasts were more of a feast than a morning snack. The extensive menu included the usual bacon and eggs etc., but also kippers, salmon, grapefruit, a selection of fresh fruits, mushrooms, ham, cold meats, and vegetables - and all would be prepared individually to order.
Guests were told that they could have any quantity of whatever items they wished for, however there was just one rule: if they left any they would summarily be asked to leave, and not just the dining room but to vacate altogether, with the comment from Gregory of “Please don’t come back again,” ringing in their ears. They used to do evening meals too in those days, again another gastronomic feast with a number of choices for starters, main course, sweet, a huge selection of cheeses, biscuits, and fresh fruit to follow. The meals usually consisted of 5 or 6 courses, but of course the same rules applied as did at breakfast.
Nowadays they very rarely let their rooms. Gregory was feeling his age, and Daniel had managed to find a position working for the local government. Gregory once explained to me that as he got older the strain of dealing with all the cretins and cooking for them was costing him far too much in whisky. Apparently after cooking and serving a guest he would have a tot of whisky, and with another guest to serve, it would be another tot of whisky. It would not be unusual to pass by his window following breakfast on a busy weekend to see him lurching from table to table in his attempt to clear up and reset the tables in readiness for the next meal.
After a short nap it would be off to the shops for him - an expedition that would inevitably involve a quick lager or three at the local bar - and then it was back to start once again on the cooking. Then, prior to every season, he would order 18 cases of whisky from the corner shop to see him through, but now he was having a well deserved retirement, and gradually converting his property back into a home again.
However back to the Freedom Tavern, we were further joined by Sandra and Tracy, who had the lesbian-only hotel: Vibrations, and their neighbours Karen and Julie, who took just about anyone in their guest house: The Sun Kissed Villa. Then, just before we could get started, along came Raymond - and he had a rather cute younger man with him who he introduced as his partner, Rodney. He's kept him quiet, I thought! Explaining that Rodney actually lived with his parents in the Midlands, and had a very good job in a Safari Park, I soon found out that this was where they had actually met each other. Raymond would often get his old Roller out and go to see the lions there, as they would bring back memories of him working in the circus as a lion tamer in his youth.
Rodney could only stay with Raymond for the occasional weekends and holidays. He was a really nice sort of rotund guy, and he told me his main hobby was shopping. If he had a chance, in-between helping Raymond with the room changes, the painting and decorating, and the laundry and cleaning, after preparing the evening meals he would be off to the shops with his best friend in Southtrend: Sonja from the rest home almost opposite me.
This now explained the enormous amount of modern ornaments and knickknacks that festooned Raymond’s lounge. Every time Rodney went back home he left behind another vase, clock, lamp or some labour-saving device for the kitchen, and all bought for Raymond at bargain prices. He did have one fetish and that was for designer bags, of which he had several dozen. Raymond found them very useful at times to move earth or bricks around in the garden, and naturally threw them away after use in the hope that Rodney would never notice. He never did!
Celia and Sonja had arrived with Raymond too, but stopped at the door to chat to those who smoked. They appeared to know everyone there. Celia rolled, very deliberately and precisely, a cigarette. Puffing on it, whilst at the same time listening carefully to what was being said, she looked down knowledgably nodding from time to time whilst also examining the quality, or the lack of it, of the fitting of the entrance doors to the frame. She tutted to herself.
The very last to arrive were Danny and Sydney, affectionately known as the Chuckle Brothers. They apologised for being late saying it was due to the problem of finding a parking space for their bright pink Robin Reliant. Eventually they had managed to park it in an empty shopping trolley bay belonging to the supermarket which had now closed around the corner. It was at least under cover, and as a bit of a bonus they had also been able to tie the long chain for the trolleys around their bumper.
By now an hour had already passed by, with everyone swapping gossip, getting drinks, and rearranging the furniture so that we could all sit a huge semi-circle. The meeting itself got off to a fine start with Patrick, as he had thought of the idea of the group first, taking charge and outlining some of the basics. He suggested it should really be a social group where everyone, including any newcomers later, could to get to know each other to share their experiences and pass on tips, as well as being a route to finding out where to get the best suppliers and tradesmen that we all need from time to time.
It was suggested, and generally agreed, that a regular bi-weekly social be mounted by each of the members in turn at their own places. In addition to making new friends in a secure and closed environment, for those with a bar it would be a chance for them to add to their income. Perhaps a raffle should be held to go towards the new group’s expenditure, it was thought. Members could bring in the old tat given to them by their guests, and foist it onto someone unlucky enough to win it.
Making me feel quite important, Patrick mentioned I had got a basic website set up ready for the group. I didn’t tell them it was Lance, who was about to leave me, that had actually done it! He then went on to ask if someone might like to volunteer to take it over and run it. Perhaps we ought to have some sort of working group, a committee, he suggested, with someone to look after the accounts like a treasurer, and maybe a sort of secretary that could take notes and write things down for the records. A chairman and even a vice-chairman might be needed, and he threw that open for everyone to respond. For a while there was a silence, nobody wanting to be seen to be too keen, until that is Patrick said that he should be the chairman himself. Someone immediately asked why, and said it should be voted on.
Patrick appeared to become a bit miffed at that - after all, it was his idea. Celia mumbled something about her doing all the paperwork for the nursing home, so she wouldn’t mind acting as secretary and keeping any minutes, however they would either need to supply her with a suitable notebook and a pen, or provide her with an allowance. She had some care plans from the NHS, and felt sure these could be adapted and made into some sort of mission statement for the group.
Her partner, Sonja, added that she could get a copy of the constitution from the hospital trust where she worked, and that Celia might possibly be able to convert that to suit the groups aims. It all began to sound very professional and grand, so everyone agreed.
John, from the New Adventure Holiday Flats, suggested he might like to look after the money as for many years he had worked at a Post Office counter in Wales and so was used to handling large amounts of money. He had only left the job because of a muddle with the stamps when they stopped printing the price on them. He was, he explained, colour blind, but had no problems at all with notes and coins. Again everyone agreed.
Danny and Sydney, in unison, piped up that they could look after the website. They had already been researching just how it all worked. Sydney, who of course lectured in astrophysics at the local university, promptly produced and distributed to everyone a 37 page document complete with 12 pages of graphs and flow charts on the numbers and dynamics of websites saying it was all a question of 0s and 1s in computer geek stuff - it just needed the right numbers in the right order.
He could even make pictures that moved about on the page for us. Everyone thumbed through the heavy document, and to a man nobody understood a word of it, so we all nodded our approval for the Chuckle Brothers to take over the website.
This still left the decision to made of who would be the chairman. Gregory, who by now had dropped off to sleep and was quietly snoring, suddenly awoke with a start and bellowed out: “What’s going on? I’ve been to more interesting church services! Can’t we just get on with it?” Well, that was enough for someone from the back to immediately suggest Gregory should be the chairman - and before you knew it a vote was taken and, much to his horror, we were all were congratulating him on his new position. In the end he didn’t mind too much, thinking it was just a title and there would be nothing to do, and so with that decided he got up and left, saying he had to go to bed.
By this time we all were gagging for another drink, and some for a smoke and a stretch of the legs. Everyone was happy that the nucleus for Southtrend's new gay group was at last sorted, it being agreed too that all the rest of us would be on the committee. Further to that, it had also been decided the group should be called SOS for Gays. With all this settled, it was back to the bar for more drinks - and within the hour everyone was quietly pissed.
Patrick seemed to take it all rather badly, picking up his pile of paperwork and saying: "Stuff the lot of you. You will have all the suicidal and depressed gays descending on you anyway." I can’t help thinking he may be right, and perhaps I ought to bring it up at the next meeting. That is in a week’s time at Vibrations.
It seemed to be a very momentous evening, as well as being great fun. Certainly we all seemed to enjoy the company of each other, and definitely some new friends were made. The girls did tend to stick together, but were nonetheless friendly. It would be nice to see more involvement from them; but give it time.
Walking back with
Andrew and Kelly, we discussed the idea of badges for everyone on the
committee. Perhaps gold on white, and they could even be embossed to maybe
hang around the neck from a rainbow scarf for when we met up or went out
together to the pubs and clubs. With them we might even be able to get
into the venues free, who knows? Andrew said he was already thinking about
asking for a discount from the egg man, and the laundry bloke.
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