jueves, 20 de septiembre de 2012

Donald Cottee's third blog


We’ve been here a couple of weeks… - Don buys Cornish pasties, relives a holiday, remembers friends and nights out in Bromaton.
We’ve been here a couple of weeks now. We are starting to settle in. I have even tried out some Spanish. There’s a shop up the road that sells English foods, so I walked up to get us a snack. I crossed the road at the zebra by the camp site entrance. Why do I call it a zebra when it’s red and white? And whatever happened to pelicans? There was a dirty great BMW coming straight down the middle of the road at twenty ks. I thought I’d stand aside and let my social better go first, but, fucus me, the guy stopped! I nearly dropped through the floor. As I walked across, I offered a display of gratitude. I turned to face the driver and mouthed a very clear, Hylda Baker-style lip mime of “Gracias”, making sure to stress, silently, the “th” in the middle. “Thome Thpaniards thay s,” said my phrase book. “Grathias,” I mimed. The driver was clearly taken aback. “Danke schön. Ich bin Schweiss,” he said through the open window. At least that’s what I thought he said, but it could just have been, “Du bist scheiss,” but I don’t think so.
Further up on the left there’s a bar. We used to go there regularly when we came here on holiday. It was the karaoke that we went for. There’s nothing like a good sing-along. I remember the whole place striking up to a few old favourites. There was one year when there were about twenty of us, all from Kiddington, who had arranged to come over the same fortnight. We used to get together and sing every evening. It was just like being back home in the Working Men’s Club. It was a great sight to see everyone singing Country Roads because we all knew the words. I can hear it now. “Take me home - To the place I love - To the place I know - West Virginia …” It was marvellous. One spoilsport stood up and left, saying that Kiddington was in West Yorkshire, not West Virginia, the archeopteryx. I wonder now if he had a point.
We got to know all the waiters really well. They used to greet us by name when we arrived for our evening drink. “Hola, Mr Don” or “Hola, Don Don” they used to say. One of them was a bit of a joker and for him it became “Hola, Don Burro” because we had told him about my nickname. He sometimes called me “Pedo viejo aburrido[1]”, but I never did get the hang of that. Perhaps he was suggesting we ought to pay.
I called in this morning to see if there was anyone I knew, but the place has clearly changed hands. It’s been done out as an American theme bar. It’s not American and has no theme, just black walls, ultraviolet lights, a few mirrors and Heavy Metal to ring the ears. The new owner was sweeping up last night’s fag ends so I said, “Buenos días. Soy Don Burro. Bebo aquí.”
He looked confused. “Shoukhran,” he said. Je suis de Maroc. You want internet?” I wish I understood - not to mention a Muslim bar owner... I left.
The Brit food place was just a bit further down the road. I always thought that L147, Modern European Languages, Their Development, Structure, Grammar And Context, would stand me in good stead in the era of pan-European integration, and now, in my new life, I have the opportunity to put my learned skills into action. Inside the shop I pointed in my best Spanish at the display and said, proudly, “Dos Cornish Pasty Sabor Pollo Tikka Massala Tradicional, por favor.”
I was initially gratified when the assistant did precisely what I asked. He then paused, my paper bag lunch suspended delicately between his sausage-like middle finger and thumb, the fingers of his left hand anticipating the microwave door release button. “D’yer wan ‘em warm, mate?” he asked in broadest Scouse.
“No,” I replied, keeping my Spanish accent.
It was only just after eleven so I decided to take a nostalgic detour. The pasties, after all, were for lunch, so I had at least an hour. I carried on towards the sea. It’s not too busy at the moment, probably because the schools aren’t on holiday yet, so all the travelling teachers are still at work.
As I walked past Benidorm Palace, I couldn’t help recalling the first time Suzie and I went there. It was quite soon after it opened, about thirty years ago. It’s changed a lot since then, but only on the outside. The show is probably the same. You can bank on lots of colour, well known songs, a plate-sized steak and a good night out with bare breasts, though men have to wear ties. It reminds me a lot of the famous Variety Club in Bromaton. It was built in the sixties next to Bromaton Quartet football ground. It opened in a blaze of highly selective celebrity glory with a jazz week. It was the era, of course, when BBC2 used to run live jazz prime time in the evenings, not because it was popular but because it was a fulfilment of a public service to an identifiable minority taste. Quaint, wasn’t it? We covered the development of the idea in S282 Post-War Public Service Broadcasting Ideals In Western European Democracies, contrasting it with the headlong pursuit of the lowest common denominator that emerged during the seventies and eighties. The history of the Variety Club anticipated the change. After its opening jazz, it concentrated on Sunday Night at the Palladium acts, the brand of variety that could sing or comic a star turn on television, relying heavily on names well known for their endorsement of cat food, carpets, car insurance or yogurt. I retract the last in the list because we had never heard of yogurt at the time.
It did well for a few years. Suzie and I used to go there regularly, as did a number of people from Kiddington. It was only a few miles away and it was on the bus route to Bromaton. People would save up so they could go out for a night of class every few weeks. While Reg with his organ used to fill in the gaps between the bingo in the Working Men’s Club, we used to sit with friends and compare lists of the star turns we had seen at the Variety Club. They did a special night on Sundays, with the acts, prawn cocktail, chicken in a basket and apple pie with custard for a fiver. In those days, of course, a fiver was a fiver. It was a tidy sum, a hundred shillings, or even one thousand two hundred pence in an era when a Penny Arrow actually cost a penny, before, that is, it got so small they had to change its name, because it had become too short to be called an arrow. But you didn’t get to eat your Penny Arrow watching Dickie Henderson, Vince Hill or Daisy May which is why the Variety Club cost a fiver. I can even remember speculating with my dad what kind of car each star might drive. We had to wait two hours by the stage door until Dickie Henderson came out. It was an Aston Martin. Class act.
But it was that holiday in 1981, the year of our first trip to Benidorm Palace, when Mick Watson reappeared in our lives yet again. I should rephrase that because he had already reappeared in Suzie’s life at least once per night that week. It was in one of those sophisticated cubicles that Suzie leaned across to shout in my ear, “I’m not going home.” Though the music was loud, Pete Crawshaw and his missus, Paula, both heard, though they did their best to convince us that they were still listening to the turn who was blasting out My Way at volume, with all the sincerity of a Sinatra. We had booked the table at the start of the week, some days before we had all stopped speaking to one another. I still think it was all Dulcie’s fault. She has always been a rebel, always tried to manipulate. She had started the minute we left home. She told me one thing, and then asked Suzie for the opposite. Thus we argued while she retreated to childhood’s safe ground to watch. We’d only reached the Tuesday when I left a Benidorm club early to take a sulking daughter back to the hotel, leaving Suzie at the mercy of a certain Mick Watson, whom we knew had taken over bar management in the establishment.
By then, of course, we had already been here on holiday several times. We knew the ropes; we knew the clubs and the bars. We had also come across Mick Watson in a different role, as the manager of The Dog’s on Calle Lepanto. But the place was changing fast in a way that Kiddington was not. And by 1981, he had moved on from his little shop-front pub in the Europa Centre and had become a bar manager in a club. His star seemed to be on the rise. Perhaps that’s why Suzie wanted to stay. Perhaps, on the other hand, it was that fulgurant[2] Mick Watson’s smooth talk. For a second time, he promised her the earth. It was twenty years since our first visit to beautiful Benidorm, a place we had always associated with easy-going sophistication. And then, that evening, it became a black hole of despair for one Donkey Cottee, an end to life with the stunning Suzie. It had been so different that first time, back in the sixties.
They were years of change. We were convinced we had achieved a level of sophistication unknown in human history. We had mass media, record players, the Beatles, television soaps, cars and Cyril Lord carpets. We had even started to put green peppers into salads. We had already been abroad on holiday, and had our minds broadened enough for people like Suzie, my dearest wife, to wear a poncho as an everyday garment. It was, of course, a relationship of convenience, begun during our very first visit to Benidorm’s golden sands courtesy of Suzie’s parents, near the start of that swinging decade.
We were still scratting for a living even at the end of the sixties, mind you. Suzie and I were all right because I had a trade, or at least the start of one. But many of those who had been branded secondary and modern left school at fifteen with neither paper in hand nor knowledge in head. Pete Crawshaw was one such product of post-war British educational enlightenment. He had already worked through a handful of bit jobs when he landed a waiter’s job at the Variety Club, a position he thought would be a good earner. If people paid a fiver for their Variety Club chicken in a basket, what might the tips be?
We were still on good terms, despite having gone our separated educational ways at eleven. Pete had been a labourer for me for a few months after he got the boot from Empire Metals, where he had been packing brass right angles into wholesale-trade plain cardboard boxes. So when he got the waiter’s job at the Bromaton Variety Club, we had a few pints of Tetley’s to celebrate. I can remember saying, “Thanks for the pint, Pete. It’s the first time I have known your wallet come out without its padlock.”
“It’s all changed now, Don,” he said. And we both bolted half a pint in the next gulp. We said little else.
It took only a few weeks for the story to change. He invited me out again. This time, as usual, I paid.
“I’ve had a run in at work,” he said. I can remember his gloom. There was a white foam line of ale head across his upper lip. I remember thinking his face looked as long as Charlie Carolie’s.
“I’ll get my pointed hat and saxophone,” I said, pointing politely at my own mouth.
“I’m serious,” he said, wiping away the fast popping bubbles with the back of his free hand. “I don’t think it can last. It’s a matter of principle.”
“Pete, I’m that surprised I have precisely one hair standing on end,” I thought. “So what’s gone off?” I asked, intentionally referring specifically to the Variety Club’s food.
“Trouble at t’mill,” he said.
“Sprocket’s dropped off t’mainbrace, then?”
“Aye, summat like that…”
I was willing him to be more forthcoming, but I took my time. I knew Pete had some of the characteristics of my own granddad, to whom he was distantly related by marriage. The old chap could make a ten minute speech with eight words. And Pete, like many Kiddington lads, measured his emotional intensity in pints. It was three later that the floodgates opened.
“The boss has got it in for me.”
“What have you done, lad?”
“It was a prawn cocktail. I took it back to the kitchen.”
“My God! For whatever reason?”
“There were no prawns in it.”
I remember contemplating the scenario. Here’s a punter that’s paid a good, sweat-earned fiver for a night out to see Harry Secombe. The plumbeous proplasm[3] of supporting acts is currently playing to chattering indifference. And so, no doubt doing their utmost to ignore the palmyric phenomenology of the material, they tuck into their five quid’s worth of locally up-market menu, specialities by resident chef Gordon Bloo. With mouths slobbering at the anticipation of chicken in a basket, the perfunctory starter, the prawn cocktail, arrives. Pete Crawshaw, the proud, employed waiter, himself slobbering at the promise of tips, delivers the pink and green concoction, as it streaks its way down the inside of a wine glass, a glass that will look completely out of place next to the pint jars on the table. A minute later, the unsuspecting Pete is called back.
“’Ere, there’s no deleterious prawns in this endocrine cocktail. It’s just a few strips of stentorian lettuce and a spoon of frangible pink sauce!”[4]
“So I took them back to the kitchen,” said Pete after another deep swig of Tetley’s had gone part way to alleviating his obvious despair. “That’s when the boss went for me. ‘Don’t neo-platonically tell me that there’s no deleterious prawns in the endocrine prawn cocktails, you leukopotomous squirt! It’s the meretricious new house rules now! The owners say they can’t nomothetically afford any more deleterious prawns. The parsimonious place is losing money! And you are paid to serve the detritus, not comment on its flaming validity! Now take the pre-Cambrian things back and tell the artichokes what I’ve said. Tell ‘em to eat what they’re blunging given!’” Pete took another swig of Tetley’s to lubricate his vocal chords. The last time he spoke so long at one go was probably saying the Lord’s Prayer in primary school assembly. “It’s not going to last, Don.”
And then, more than a decade after our advice session in the pub, there we were in 1981, communally experiencing the new international tourist attraction, the Benidorm Palace, an imitation surely not of the Moulin Rouge or Folies Bergère, but of Bromaton Variety Club and its celebrity prawnless prawn cocktails. We were having a holiday together. But Dulcie had been a pain in the tintinnabulation all week, moaning about the food, saying she was bored, getting the runs and then sulking in her room. Suzie had spent more time with Mick Watson than with me, despite the fact that we didn’t even run into him in his new bar at the Rincon end until the Tuesday afternoon. We had fallen out with Pete and Paula, because they wanted to do things together and the Cottees couldn’t be assembled. And, to put the Dutch cap on opportunity, Suzie announces that she is not going home. I had made things up with Pete and Paula by the end of the following week. With Suzie it took longer. If only Suzie and I had turned around out of shoat creek as quickly. As I passed The Palace this morning, drifting, I began to hum ‘Memories are made of this.’



[1] Boring elderly flatulence – ed.
[2] Implying flashy - ed
[3] Lead casting - ed
[4] Hard and tough and harmful to the body - ed

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