Chapter Number 9
Another frenetic week passed. My builder guy seemed to have taken over completely the organisation of all the trades people and appeared to spend all his time chasing them and ensuring they had done a good job and not sloped off to the pub or taken too many tea-breaks. Consequently he had most of them finished and out by Tuesday. He even checked their invoices, questioning some of them and getting reductions before bringing them to me for payment. What a star this man is! I am quite happy to allow him free reign.
I have decided that whatever his final bill will be, I will slip him a couple of hundred pounds on top as I shudder to think, that with all that has gone on, how I could have managed it by myself. The place is looking grand, and only the painters are now left.
The builder, Gary, is about 50 years old, rugged, and definitely very butch. He says he is married with 4 children who have mostly grown up and moved away now, but he likes working in gay places as generally they are friendlier and less trouble when it comes to paying. Apart from one or two, where he had to fend off the clients who wanted more than a rub down and a lick of paint, he has always been quite comfortable with the gay community and more than happy to engage in some of the camp repartee. I did at one stage wonder if he might be bi-sexual, and given that he was as ugly as sin I was on my guard, but it was unnecessary - he just seems to be a real genuine guy and a real friendship has built up between us.
After a few hurried phone calls on Tuesday afternoon I manage to get the carpet fitters to come on Wednesday, and the furniture delivery to be delayed until Friday.
Now as it happened, Patrick and Dave, whom I had met a few weeks ago, had been calling round to see how well I was progressing with the work, and they had mentioned that they were going away that weekend to Blackpool for the Pride taking place there. I decided to give them a telephone call to see if it was possible for me to go along with them. They said yes, and were over the moon telling me they could easily squeeze me into their hired mini-bus. Apparently there were eight of them going.
They had all managed to book their accommodation, but in several different places, and felt sure that at this time of the year I would have no difficulty in finding somewhere to stay. Patrick printed me off a list of hotels from the internet and I spent most of that morning frantically telephoning hotels and guest houses in the North Shore of Blackpool. They all told me they had been booked full for months, but eventually I did find a guest house which had a last minute cancellation. Ideally, it was just one street away from where all the others were staying.
Friday morning arrived, overcast and pouring down with rain, but nevertheless I was really excited to be going away with my crowd of new-found friends. Before too long the mini-bus pulled up outside, and with glee I was soon inside it and seated. There was over 300 hundred miles of seemingly constant traffic jams and lousy weather to contend with, but still the journey just seemed to fly by with us all talking about what we were going to do for the weekend, and with some of them swapping their horrendous guests' stories, I did learn a lot.
Patrick and Dave had been to Blackpool before so they knew all the pubs and clubs, and so an itinerary was planned in great detail as we were driving along. We intended to do as much as possible for the weekend, and had until our departure on the Monday morning to make the most of it.
The excitement grew as we approached Blackpool on the last bit of the motorway, and as the famous Tower came into view there was a frantic scramble for the maps. Patrick and Dave, having travelled by train on previous occasions, suggested we needed get to Blackpool North Station as from there the accommodation was just around the corner - every corner, apparently - and they knew their way around from the car-park behind the station.
Before we knew it, we were parked up and with our luggage in our hands off to our digs. Mine was the first we came to, and with a wave the rest of them all promised to come back and collect me in an hour, once they had settled into their own accommodations which were situated close-by.
Gingerly, I knocked the door - and carefully replaced the knocker before the owner answered it and discovered it in my hand. Seconds later he opened the door, and immediately I was aware that he only had one leg. Apologising for the hopping noises behind me as I made my way to the reception window, he explained that he was about to put his false leg on when I had knocked. He suggested that perhaps I should find my own way up to my room once I had paid, and pleased to find he was making no extra charge for the Pride weekend, I gladly agreed.
With keys in hand, I went off in search of room 11 which was on the top floor. Climbing the stairs, I passed the shower and loo on the 1st floor which, I can remember thinking, was very reminiscent of my own place, but without the smell and the damp patches. Onwards, and up to my floor I went until I found my room. It was not one with an en-suite, of course. I had booked much too late for that. But it was a nice room all the same, and it came with a sea-view. I noted there were only four other rooms on this floor, and I could hear conversations from behind two of the other doors on the landing, so I was not on my own. The place appeared to be filling up already.
I was pleased to discover that everything worked in the room, including the television and the huge panel heater on the wall. At least I wouldn't have to wait on the landlord to decide when the central heating went on, I thought. There wasnít any! Perhaps I should have had individual heaters installed in my own place, I contemplated, then only the occupied rooms would be running up my heating bill. However it was too late for that now.
I decided I would make myself a nice cup of tea - once I had worked how to fill the large electric kettle that just wouldn't fit under the tap. Changing my mind, I began to unpack, and soon got used to automatically ducking to avoid the sloping ceiling to the dormer window as I moved around the room. Everything looked bright and clean however, and the bed was really comfortable, and that being so made it hard to believe how the accommodation was so cheap in Blackpool, compared to anywhere else in the country.
Admiring my sea-view, I suddenly caught sight of my friends coming up the road, and quickly dashed downstairs to meet them. On route I bumped into two guys coming out of a bedroom on the 1st floor. A quick exchange of hellos ensued and I discovered they were also there for the Pride. I left them quietly arguing about what they should wear for the night, as I continued rushing on down. Passing the landlord, who was busy booking in another couple, I noted he had fitted his false leg and now appeared to be quite sprightly. Seeing him with a set of teeth and a toupee, I can remember thinking to myself that he could look almost attractive.
We all decided to walk to the nearest gay bar for a drink before exploring the sea front. On the way we had to pass the hotel where Patrick and Dave were staying. The owners, two gay girls, were out the front polishing the windows. They spotted Patrick and Dave, and he introduced us to them. The girls seemed genuinely pleased to see us, and they invited us inside to have a drink at their bar. They had a really nice place, spotlessly clean and bright, and an hour went by enjoying their company before we left, all agreeing to go back there again later.
Just next door was where two others in our party were staying, and it was suggested that perhaps we should have a drink there also as they were eager to show off their accommodation. It turned out to be just as swish as the last hotel, and just as friendly. The two guys running it were busy leaping about all over the place with bags of laundry and crates of beer, whilst attempting to talk to the guests.
Looking out through the window I could see the whole street was bedecked with bunting, and almost every establishment had huge gay flags flying from them. I watched as numerous taxis and minibuses appeared, constantly dropping people off outside various hotels along the street. Wow! I thought. Perhaps I had bought a hotel in the wrong town, this place was really busy!
Having one more drink at the bar gave us a chance to see the owners of two other nearby hotels. Apparently they had popped in to discuss some last-minute Pride arrangements, and already they appeared to be fagged out. They were talking constantly, whilst having mobile phones that looked as if they were glued to their ears, and all the time they were rustling papers and barking orders.
Then, just as quickly as they had appeared, suddenly as one they all made a dash for the door to avert some crisis on the pier. Blackpool was amazing me, everyone was so busy but still so friendly. I had met some of the people actually involved in organising Pride, and apparently they were owners of their own hotels. How did they manage to do it all?
It was a great evening, and we managed to get into at least four bars and a club that were all packed out. We just didnít care, and by 2am, following one last nightcap at the two gay girls' hotel where Patrick and Dave were staying, we were all ready for our beds and looking forward to the Saturday morning when we had agreed to meet up and go down to the pier to see the parade.
Up bright and early, we duly met up and traipsed down to the pier, braving the wind and the occasional shower of rain. It was interesting to see all the activity of police and organisers, all of them busy doing whatever it was they had to do, and the excited expectation of the crowds waiting for the parade to come along, and wondering what would happen next.
It was then that Andrew, one of our party, managed to put his foot through a railing we were leaning against - only to then discover he was unable to extricate himself. After several unsuccessful attempts to release him by various people, which included one of them using a jar of something called elbow grease, he was finally freed by the fire brigade who, after alarmingly shouting: "It'll have to come off!", to the relief of a pastey-looking Andrew quickly cut off the railing with an angle grinder.
We all felt duty bound to go with Andrew to the local hospital for his swelling ankle to be checked out, and perhaps bandaged. Fortunately the Casualty Department was not busy when we arrived, and after only an hour or so we were all back at the pier - just in time to have missed the parade. Disappointed, we bought our wristbands and went off to check out the obviously popular bar called the Merrie England by the pier entrance.
Finding it packed, and that long before the cabaret was due to start in there, we decided to give it a miss at that time and made our way along the pier. Windy wasnít the word for it, and we stood momentarily enthralled looking back at the whipped up high tide crashing mercilessly against the sea-wall. The market stalls that we were told would be lining our route had been moved because of the high winds, and we discovered them later, safely under cover at the end of the pier.
We spent several hours there milling around with the crowds, looking at the stalls, sampling the music of the dance arena, popping in and out of the afternoon show in the theatre, and just generally soaking up the atmosphere. Occasionally we would stop to marvel at the detail, colour and extravagance of some of the costumes people were wearing, and of course we were helping to keep the bars in business too. They were just as crowded this end of the pier, of course, but nevertheless the bar staff were doing a remarkably good job in maintaining the throughput, with no-one having to wait too long before being served.
It was after I don't remember how many, that we discovered not all of our party had seen the Pleasure Beach. It was one of those places on our itinerary to visit, and as the time was getting on we decided we needed to visit it then if we were to get back to the pier for the evening entertainment. Everyone agreed it was a mega place with so many different rides and so much activity, but we weren't keen though on the groups of what we took to be football supporters, or the obvious stag and hen groups that at the very least came across as intimidating and crude, considering the numbers of family groups that were there on a day out.
After an hour of looking, but not going on any of the rides - it was just too windy and cold for us to brave the rides, and Andrew was limping and having difficulty keeping up with us - we decided to go for a meal.
Back in North Shore, in the town, we came upon a sort of steak restaurant on the 1st floor of a building almost opposite the main post office. The meal was remarkably good and we all enjoyed it, but we did feel a bit like characters in a Dickens' book as we sat by the window watching all the beggars outside the Post Office accosting the pedestrians as they passed by.
There seemed to be an inordinate number of beggars and poor people around. Those that weren't begging were to be seen staggering along the road with cans of beer or bottles of drink in their hands. It was a scene frequently interrupted by passing stag and hen parties, all vying with each other, with each one seemingly trying to outdo another in making the loudest noise or the most obscene gesture.
So far the day had been fantastic, and following our excellent meal we decided to return to our respective hotels for a quick freshen up and a change of clothes before meeting up again outside the pier in time to catch the Pride Concert in the theatre. Well, I donít have to tell you here what a fabulous evening it turned out to be at the theatre - you will have all read about it somewhere or seen it on the news by now.
But when racing up the pier to the show, we did bump into one guy who I must mention. He seemed quietly elegant, with an air of friendly superiority, and he stopped long enough to take a group photograph of us, telling us it would appear on the Pride website. How exciting, we all thought. Then, saying he was due in the green room to meet some really gorgeous people, as quick as a hare he was off legging it along the pier. At this point I began to wonder what went on in the green room. I had heard of the darkroom, the backroom, even the sadomasochist room, but never the green room. What could they be into in a green room? I continued to wonder.
After the theatre we each decided to go our own way and to meet up the next morning, Sunday, at the largest of the local bars as apparently the Pride was to continue on in the venues that day. Making my way back to my guest house, going along the street where the others in our group were staying, I could see it was alive with gay couples and groups coming and going in and out of the various hotels. Looking through the windows as I passed by, it was plain to see all the bars in the hotels were busy, and the hubbub of chatter and laughter, along with the music, was wafting out into the street. It was then that I knew I was grateful to be staying in the next street up, and in a guest house without a bar, as I was really tired and would appreciate a quiet night's sleep.
Sunday turned out to be just as exciting and awesome as Saturday, as we spent the whole day going from venue to venue to see the various acts. We finally ended up in a club, the Flamingo, to finish off the night. A stunning place, all chrome and steel and on several levels, it impressed us.
Then suddenly, at about 2am I think it was, anyway it was about the time we were beginning to flag, all the fire alarms went off and we were shepherded out into the street. Of course in Southtrend-on-Sea they just shout time, but I have to admit it does take them longer that way to get rid of everyone and close up! It was an abrupt end to the evening, but still a fabulous one! There would have been no way any of us could realistically have gone on for much longer anyway, not with the prospect of the long drive home in the morning.
Monday morning arrived, and for the first time I made it down for breakfast. My landlord, smart and attentive, was clumping backward and forwards to the kitchen with the guests' breakfasts. That too became an enjoyable experience, especially when I realised that not everyone in the house was gay, but all were encouraged to - and did - take part in conversations, with no-one being in the slightest bit bothered about who was who or what.
It was a great weekend away from all the work going on at home, but once we were back on the mini-bus for the return journey, I found I was looking forward to seeing just how much had been done in my absence.
Darryl. Copyright ©Chaucer Guest House.
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