Chapter Number 27
Staying with my old friends in their dotage up in Scotland had been a real break, just quietly enjoying sitting all day in the hazy sunshine, wearing our thermal underwear and overcoats, watching the many cats playing around the fish pond, occasionally dipping and swiping a paw into the water attempting to catch one of the coy carp, but all too soon it was time to get back to Southtrend again, however not before spending a night or two in Blackpool where it was my intention to book a few nights away for the New Year festivities.
Just a couple of hours on the train, with an easy change at Preston, and I was arriving at Blackpool North Station, right in the heart of the gay area. Being a Wednesday, especially at this time of year, I was surprised at just how busy it was and walking along the road from the station I discovered most of the guest houses were actually showing "no vacancy" signs in their windows.
I did consider trying the guest house I stayed at earlier in the year with all my friends when we came up for the Blackpool Pride, but decide against it. The owner, who had just the one leg, tended to wake you up early in the morning hopping up and down the stairs to change the loo rolls and towels in the toilets. Even if he had his wooden leg on it still made a "clunk, clunk" on every stair tread.
Just around the first corner I spotted a vacancy sign alight, and there looked to be life around. Two legs were poking out from underneath the back of a car, and an old rusty and pitted exhaust pipe was propped up by the garden wall. Tapping gently on the car boot lid, I politely enquired if the owner was around.
“Yes, that’s me. What can I do for you?” came a voice from under the car, without any attempt from its owner to see who I was.
“Do you have a single room for one night, maybe two?” I asked.
“Don’t do maybe’s,” he said, "or one-nights. If it’s for two nights then that I can do. The rooms are all standard, and very well appointed with everything you might need. I do a good cooked breakfast, and run a quiet establishment,” he retorted, sliding a box of spanners from under the car and kicking them clear of his feet.
Well at £17 a night it seemed so ridiculously cheap, I thought, and two nights would give me the option of staying longer if I wanted to, so I said, “Yes please, I would like to book for two nights, if that is alright.”
“Right,” he said. “Give me a second and I'll come out and let you look at the room first. If you like it, we can book you in and settle up. Sorry about this, but I had to put on a new exhaust pipe and it’s all just about finished at last.”
With that there was a lot of struggling and wriggling as the man tried, his legs flailing about in vain, to get out from under the car.
“Bugger, bugger, bugger!" came the loud retort. "I’ve bolted up the new one and now can’t get out from underneath it. Would you mind just gently giving a few pumps on that bottle jack to raise the car a bit more for me?”
No problem. A few pumps lifted the car clear of his slight paunch and out he struggled, covered in oil and mud.
“Thank you very much,” he said, before remarking, “You seem a decent enough young man, just go in and up the stairs to room one, and if it is alright for you make yourself comfortable. You can come down and settle up a bit later, when I have cleaned myself up a bit. Just let me know if there is anything that you need.”
How strange, I thought to myself, this man is so much like Raymond in Southtrend on Sea - perhaps a bit younger, but with the same sort of directness and affability. Then again, I supposed, he could have been older with all the oil and dirt over his face.
The room was indeed comfortable, and bigger than I would have expected. It had central heating, television, hot water, decent clean carpeting, plus another wall-mounted radiant heater - and not a payment meter in sight. The bed was comfortable, and even the loo happened to be right next door, but no shower room was obvious to me as I went downstairs after settling in. Perhaps there wasn’t one, I thought, but that didn’t matter for only two nights, I could strip-wash at the sink in my room.
I gave a polite cough as I approached the owner's private door, which was open. I could hear him in there talking with someone.
“Come on in,” he called out. “We're all friends here.”
So in I went, not knowing exactly what to expect. Sitting on the settee, talking to the landlord, was the very elegant man who had offered to take my photograph on the pier at the Pride Weekend earlier in the year before he dashed off to the green room to photograph the stars. What’s more, he instantly recognised me.
“Hello again,” he said. “I remember you clearly. You and your friends were here for the Pride Weekend. Those lovely tight black trousers you were wearing have been etched in my memory since then. Have you brought your friends with you again this time?"
“Not this time," I replied. "I am here just to book a room for the New Year.”
The landlord, who introduced himself as Pedro, after getting me to sign-in and deftly and swiftly taking my payment, introduced me to Wayne. The guy was not looking quite so elegant this time. There were beads of perspiration on his forehead, and his shoes had been kicked off. He explained he had just returned from giving tap dancing lessons in the Tower Ballroom to one of the many Derby and Joan clubs that came by the coach load to see the Blackpool Illuminations. It was something he did most days, simply to get himself out of the house.
His main source of income came from royalties on the books he had written. Currently he was working on yet another one - something about disturbances of retinoid activated transcription mechanisms being implicated as risk factors for schizophrenia, a sequel to his last book, the Guinea Pig's Games Room. As if this was not enough, he apparently had his own website too, dedicated to commenting on news from both the gay and the straight world. Wow! What a guy.
Pedro offered and made me a cup of coffee, before refreshing his and Wayne’s vodka and coke that I was looking at enviously. Wayne proceeded to enquire, once I was comfortably seated in an armchair, what I was doing in Blackpool, where was I from, what did I do for a living, was I single, how old was I, where had I worked, did I have a car, what hobbies I had, and what was I doing in the future? You know, the sort of questions that one occasionally interjects slowly in a conversation. Much better, I conceded, to get all the questions out of the way first in one go.
As it happens we all got on like a house on fire, especially once Pedro and Wayne knew I was in the hospitality trade too. So much so that Pedro telephoned a guest house on the opposite corner of the road to enquire if the owner minded him giving me some of his gin that he stored for him at his place. Apparently there was some sort of private gentleman’s club there that consisted of just the two members. By now I was feeling a little guilty that the purpose of my trip was to look for accommodation for the New Year, but I felt I might as well be honest with Pedro and give him my thoughts, hoping he would not be miffed by me not asking to book at his place for the New Year.
With so many of the establishments having great bars, and some clubs even having accommodation attached to them, it seemed to be a great idea to book in at one of these. After all, if I got lucky at the more raunchy ones it would merely be a few steps to my room, without having to sneak someone in. Fabulous! I could probably spend all my time there, without ever having to leave the venue or hotel. There was bound to be some with fancy dress, or even no dress at all in the posher ones, and with no worries about having to traipse through the streets to get to the club or bar. I quite fancied an underwear party, and to sleep all day and party all night.
Pedro was not the slightest bit bothered, and was even tremendously helpful in suggesting which establishment did what. He even gave me a list that I could take home of all the gay places in the local gay accommodation group. Having this, I decided that with all the websites listed I would be better to look on line. Clearly the best were going to be those that were attached to the gay venues with their own accommodation, and these would obviously fill up first.
I can remember giving thanks that our group in Southtrend didn't allow anything but privately owned hotels and guest houses in our group, otherwise those of us with the small guest houses would not have a chance. If we were to allow companies like that in they might soon be thinking of making moves to take-over the group, even to the point of inveigling their way into our committee, and with their bigger and bolder more outrageous offerings might exclusively attract the gay trade to themselves. I could see that Blackpool with it’s tremendous gay life could encompass this within their local group, but in Southtrend we were still trying to appeal to a cross-section of customers and were wary of letting any members of the group suggest anything but a reasonable propriety that would appeal to both gay and straight customers.
Wayne did suggest that if I was really stuck he wouldn’t mind putting me up, free of charge too. Such a nice guy, I almost considered it until he gave me the impression his home was a sort of miniature Blackpool Zoo and a lot of his time had to be dedicated to looking after his animals. However I was more than keen to suggest we all had a meal out together over the festive season.
All the time we were talking, I was aware of the telephone constantly ringing and Pedro either taking bookings or just refusing them, and I came to wonder: what was so special about this place that, in spite of it having no en-suites or bar, he is constantly muttering to himself about overbooking and his need to write things into some sort of a diary?
The afternoon flew by, and came to an end when Wayne suddenly announced he really had to leave whilst he could still just about stand up. Collecting his heavy carrier bags of pet food and straw he stumbled off, promising we would all meet again. Thanking Pedro profusely for his hospitality, I left him to go to the corner shop to replace the gin before his friend opposite arrived for his afternoon tipple, and that evening I took the opportunity to stroll the miles of illuminations along Blackpool’s promenade. What a truly magnificent spectacle they are! It is no wonder the season is that much longer here than anywhere else in the country. There are obviously fortunes to be made running a hotel in Blackpool.
A few drinks in the gay bars, all fortunately fairly quiet being mid-week, was a nice way to round off the day. Unlike abroad, where one is accosted so often by locals with arms-full of wristwatches or necks festooned with dozens of supposedly gold and silver necklaces, it appears that wherever you walk in Blackpool, especially after dark - and even in some of the venues, it is the drug peddlers that brazenly come up to you offering to sell you a bit of speed, coke, uppers, downers, or whatever your fix happens to be, and they can be equally as difficult to get rid of.
The next morning, having made up my mind to stay another night, I decided that after breakfast I would look along the next road where all the bigger gay guest houses seemed to be. Breakfast was taken in a bright airy bay windowed room, just me and three other elderly guests, with Pedro tripping backwards and forwards with racks of toast and teapots, athletically stepping over a small ginger dog that had appeared in the hall to gaze longingly at us from the doorway.
The after breakfast walk past all the very elegant and well-presented hotels in the next street down left me in a quandary as to which one would be best for my future stay. I decided I could really only make a decision after going through the list that Pedro had given me once I was home, so the rest of the day was spent on a trip by tram to Fleetwood and then back again to St Annes, spending loads of money in the process.
There really is
so much to see in Lancashire. No wonder people like coming to Blackpool
for their holidays. That evening I spent quietly just watching the
television in my room, and in the morning, after breakfast, it was time
for me to leave Blackpool until December. With a wave to Pedro, and a
promise to catch up with him and Wayne for the New Year, I was on my way
home again, excited to see just how my place was looking after leaving
Dave the builder in charge.
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