Chapter Number 24
Three more weeks and in Southtrend-On-Sea the season is well and truly finished. Everyone seems to agree just what a terrible year it has been. Already when walking along the prom there is little apparent tourist activity, with only the occasional couple of pensioners to be seen huddled together in the shelters away from the cold breeze, some sharing sandwiches and a flask of tea as they wait for the Bingo Hall to open or the show on the end of the pier to start. Unlike up North in Blackpool, the guest houses and hotels here are already beginning to close for the winter.
Perhaps I should have moved to Blackpool after all. At least there they manage to go on until November, and even right through the year for those in the gay area around the North Shore. With the huge Pleasure Beach complex, all the gay pubs and clubs, the lights and the many shows, it must be fabulous to get away for Xmas to Blackpool, so I might just try to take a break there myself for the New Year. As I will probably need to book well in advance, I shall check out a couple of the websites later. At least that will give me something to do tonight.
Never mind, there is at least some light on the horizon for me. My gorgeous friend with the lovely tight black trousers: Colin, from the mortuary where I worked before changing career, has telephoned to ask if I would be interested in hosting their annual staff outing and prize-giving do. It is always taken at the beginning of November, prior to the funeral trade's busiest period which is over the winter months, with loads of overtime at Xmas. Of course, I was very interested and eagerly agreed to do it.
They have booked for fifteen of them to arrive on the Friday night and stay until Sunday morning, with another ten coming on the Saturday just for the presentations and pep talk by the Funeral Director. This usually lasts for about an hour-and-a-half and consists of trying to get the front of house staff to sell the more expensive coffins and silk linings.
It used to be a big competition to see who could sell the biggest marble headstones too, but the bottom of this market has dropped out since all the cemeteries started to landscape, so now it is about promoting all the other extras like pendants for ashes that relatives can wear, and bronze cremation urns. There will also be prizes for the mortuary staff for how much they have saved on the equipment - things such as bone-cutting forceps and rib-cutting shears, injection and aspiration equipment, and head block rests which were often taken home by the staff to jack-up their cars when working underneath them.
I have been asked to set out a couple of tables in the dining room for one of their biggest suppliers to give a presentation and provide samples of their embalming fluids, and arterial fluids etc., along with the latest make-up products, which are always of interest to Andrew and Tom who do the final presentation of the corpses and press them down into the coffins.
Excellent! It will be a nice little earner for me, plus I will have a chance to join in the party afterwards with all my old friends.
Other than this good news it has been a very boring week, and even were I to be open the telephone has been eerily silent. Whilst in town shopping I did happen to bump into Norman and Fred, who held the SHAG's social last week. We had a cup of tea from the roadside chip van that parks opposite the cottages in the ornamental gardens. This is one of their favourite places, as they are able to watch the talent coming and going whilst the Dobermans have a run.
Generally discussing the poor season, they gave me the benefit of their knowledge on cost-cutting during these lean times. They had decided to remove all the kettles from their bedrooms to save on providing hospitality trays, taken away the ironing and hair-drying facilities - these were now charged for as an extra, and for breakfast they would now give just one slice of toast - if asked for! They revealed they usually managed to get a lot of free food from their a nightly trip to the skips at the back of the supermarket, and were pleased that the majority of the SHAG's buffet had come this way.
Apparently we were supposed to have had chicken drumsticks as well that night but, whilst they were laid out all along one end of the bar, the Dobermans got to them first. They told me they also did very well for boxes of cracked eggs from the skip. If they were too bad they were put to one side and, after complaining to the egg man when he came with the next delivery, he would swap them for a new tray.
The bar provided them with even more opportunities to save money. They would change the labels on the cheap spirits bought at the corner shop, or on one their frequent trips across the channel for cheap fags and booze, with brand leaders' labels steamed from bottles gathered from the bottle bank at the council tip. As well as this, once three-quarters of it had been sold, they often moaned at the brewery telling them the last barrel of lager was off and would get a credit note for another one.
They have even managed to get free gas and electricity. With the property next door to them having been demolished, somehow they had managed to locate the electricity supply line to it which went along the bottom of their own cellar wall. Wearing several pairs of rubber gloves, and with Wellington boots on their feet whilst using a large insulated hammer, they had managed to drive six-inch nails into both the positive and negative cables. With great care, and some giant bulldog clips, they had been able to attach cables to run the supply into their own fuse box.
The gas, they said, was a lot easier. All they had to do was turn the gas off and then with a large spanner undo the nuts on both sides of the meter and turn it around to face the wall, before doing the nuts up again and turning the gas back on. This made the meter run backwards, however after two months it needed to be turned back again and watched very carefully to ensure (a) too much wasn’t used and (b) enough was actually shown on the dials to take it just over the last reading. The last thing they wanted was for the meter reader to find that the reading was less than the previous time he had called, so sometimes this necessitated putting the heating, and the gas rings, grill and oven, on at full blast for a day or two - but they said that at least cured the damp for a while.
Never ones to miss a trick, they had also managed to reduce their water charges by connecting to the old supply for next door and running a pipe up to their tank in the loft, however their laundry charges had at first been much more difficult to cut costs on. Nevertheless with a little planning they had found a way. With three baskets purloined from the hospital some months earlier and now kept at the back of their hotel, they would arrive at the local hospital just prior to the hospital's laundry service vehicle at 6am and put them amongst the pile of dirty laundry baskets.
Once the driver had exchanged the dirty baskets for the same number containing freshly pressed, clean laundry and left they would quickly take three away with them. This did not always go entirely to plan as occasionally they would return to the hotel to find that one of the baskets contained theatre gowns, or an assortment of pyjamas and smocks. But in spite of this they had managed to reduce their laundry costs dramatically, and all the sheets were beautifully starched.
It seems that quite often the two rogues got bookings for the stag and hen weekends courtesy of the hotel opposite them. When Norman bought his new laptop he discovered that being wire free - Wi-Fi, I think he called it - he could read the other hotel's emails and would then telephone some of their enquirers himself. Apparently, unlike him, the twats over the road had no fire wall installed, he told me. Under the circumstances, with Norman and Fred having no working fire alarm, just an old panel that blinked in the hall, I imagined that fire wall would at least be of some help to them.
Declaring to the authorities that only Norman worked the hotel, Fred was able to claim unemployment benefit and a rent and rates allowance. They were also in the process of claiming invalidity benefit for a back injury which occurred, they said, when Fred saved an old age pensioner in a wheelchair from being crushed by a falling tree by holding it up until she was dragged clear. Naturally there were no witnesses, but after several visits to the doctor and a specialist it was all going to plan. Norman felt there might even be some mileage in him claiming for a carer’s allowance as well.
I did ask them if running the Rover car they had was expensive, and was told that with the number plates copied from Fred’s doctor’s car fixed to theirs they did not have to bother with tax, insurance, or as it happens with any speeding or parking fines either. They managed to fill it up every week with fuel from the guests' cars parked on the waste ground at the back of their place. It is easy, they explained.
Insisting vehicle keys are left at reception on arrival for health and safety reasons, once the guests go out for the evening Norman takes a length of hose and a five gallon drum with him and siphons the petrol from their cars, leaving just enough for them to get a few miles down the road before running out. They had even managed to get a nearly new set of tyres from a guest's car for the Rover as well.
These were not really the sort of people I wanted to associate with, I began thinking, in spite of them buying the tea, and I was quite pleased for this respite on the bench to come to an end when they suddenly announced it was time for their daily jog with the Dobermans around the gardens.
Oh well, next week I shall at least be a bit busier with the students coming to do their projects, and it is only from 9am to 4pm with no meals or overnight stays. It should be a doddle as they can have their tea breaks at the café on the corner. The lecturers are the only ones that will have keys, so there are no worries about security either.
Dave, the builder, has
given me a price and a date for completing the work at my place. It all
looks to be on schedule, and he can work around the students filming in
some of the rooms. He hopes to have it all done by the middle of November,
so as nothing much will be happening in Southtrend between then and Easter
it looks like Blackpool here I come for Xmas!
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