I was late to arrive. On arrival we departed to collect the car. The car was parked below the ground just off the Edgware road. It was almost without petrol so we stopped to fill it. Once full, we went north.
The M1 wasn’t empty, it was Friday, but it was lunchtime, so you would have thought it would be. The day was bright but cold and as we travelled north, it became colder and eventually darker.
Emily and I listened to cds we had bought and ate sandwiches we had chosen from the petrol station. We didn’t talk much at first. Our journey to the car, on the bus carrying bags of Christmas presents and what turned out to be an unneeded cd player, had with my lateness, checked our enthusiasm for dialogue. But once the mouth of the M1 had been found, our smiles returned, for we knew our journey had started.
The landscape was flat and dark, the distant trees were in silhouette. Above was a dark blue band of clouds that look like mountains, behind them turquoise lingered still, before fading into night. Eventually the spots of light ahead that had flicked in the distance, became hull.
We had come to see Miranda, Simon and Monty, their son, but first we needed somewhere to stay. The place we found, looked better from the outside than it smelled on the inside. A carved tree stamp indicated its place on the street. The hall was full of the smell of apple which emanated from an illuminous ornament on a table by the front door. Upstairs the room was small but fine, although the bed linen and the carpet seemed to have dump mustiness and smell. A smell that you first noticed and then forgot about, but one that was strong enough for you to carry away with you the next day and make you want to have a wash, all over.
It must have been close to 9 before we arrived at Miranda s door step, the woman who opened the door to us looked different to the one I remembered. It wasn’t just that her hair was now red, she seems somehow fuller, more there in the moment, than when we met in London. I didn’t detect the same judgment in her eyes...either.
Monty had been waiting, waiting with a pent up energy of a 10 years old impatient for the time to pass and for those spoken about, to materialise. He wasted no time, I was led to the dining room, sat down and shown the toy figures he particularly liked. I had their various strengths and weaknesses explained, he told me about his art project and his interest in perspective inconsistencies.The artist Esher came to mind, so I asked him for some paper and drew a rough sketch of the monks ascending stairs on the top of the tower, which he seemed to like.
Monty was also very interested in and good at maths. I avoided the technicality and waited for Emily and Miranda to finally finish the grand tour of the house and join us with cups of teas, before further prompting him on the subject.
He was almost 11pm before Miranda, Emily and I left the house. The puddles were frozen, the clouds had long since scuttled across the vast icy blue black sky and returned home.
Our first port of call was close to the totem pole of taste, a multi coloured illuminous tube, (I had spotted it earlier) that masqueraded as a landmark at the city centre. The bar had a good ambience (like a well-kept student bar) we found Miranda's sister and some other friend of theirs, who had also been waiting for us there. The people that knew each other engaged in conversation, so I observed the room and eventually started talking to some guys sitting opposite. One of them had been to London and described the difficult times he had there and why he had returned to Hull. However, he was now unable to work in graphics and he needed some stimulus in his life. He was a man in need of an adventure, that was clear, who seemed to be searching for something, a key shaped clue perhaps, that would helped him begin it.
Miranda, Miranda's sister, Emily and myself departed. Our destination was a well-known club a short drive away, in a more industrial part of the town. We passed girls in short skirts without coats, it was bitterly cold in trousers and duffel coat, but they didn’t seem to notice. The club was black inside, it had a couple of dance floors with a number of adjoining rooms that were half empty. Apparently Saturday was the night when half of Hull descended upon it, but fortunately tonight we had space to roam.
An old boyfriend of Emily had been invited and was waiting when we arrived. Eventually he did talk to me, he was tall and spoke of poetry, but did not ask many questions, he had a word that he particularly liked, so I told him about "irregular".
Emily liked the attention, so I spoke to Miranda's sister. It was when talking to her, or trying to through the sound of old 80s hits, that I noticed Emily's friend peel off and engage in conversation with the short middle aged lady, with bleached blonde hair, sexy stockings and worn expression. When I looked again, you couldn’t separate them.
We left when the club closed. While we were waiting outside, the above mentioned lady was seen staggering around looking for something. Emily’s friend emerged and she found it. "He obviously likes rough sex" commented Miranda’s sister, as the two were seen bundling into a waiting cab.
The man in the trailer outside the club made good chips and gravy ,but I don’t recommend the cheese burger.
We were late for Breakfast, but we left the B&B on time. I wasn’t sad to pass the illuminous apple smelling object for the last time. We drove to the port,parked the car and walked in the direction of the main high street. We passed a light house boat, it was painted matt black, with blood red visible just over the water line. Even in the morning sunshine it looked sinister. Emily got what she needed and I found a large Esher book for Monty.
We were late for lunch, the car wouldn’t reverse so I had to push it. When we arrived at the restaurant,Monty had to leave for a tap dancing lesson. When Simon returned, I spoke to him about his work in the opticians. He explained what he did and what he wanted to do. By the time Miranda and Emily went off to the toilet together, at the end of the meal, we were talking about Hull’s football team. When Monty returned, it was time for us to leave for Hornsea, Emily’s childhood town.
At the end of a bumpy road, in the small bungalow lives a man with one leg. He lives next to a field which is next to the sea, in the forgotten resort of Hornsea.
Emily hadn’t wanted me to meet him. I wanted to see the man I had heard about, the young handsome man in profile in the old photograph, "the sad alcoholic good for nothing", the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, Emily’s dad.
It’s not far, the distance between Hull and Hornsea. However, it was light when we left Hull and it was dark when we arrived. I remember only moments of the journey in fact. The large lunch and lack of sleep the previous night, caught with me earlier on, on the way. I think the landscape was flat and the journey short, but I would have preferred not to remember any of it, I was that tired.
My consciousness was required “I had to see the town”, so by the time we parked at the sea front, I was awake. But it wasn’t really the moment to watch the waves come in (as impressive as they were) so we continued on. Only we had forgotten that the car didn’t reverse, so I pushed it. It wouldn’t move, a man who had been sitting quite peacefully with his wife in the car next to us, kindly helped. So eventually we were facing the right way.
Relevant landmarks were pointed out, with short stories attached. Finally we parked at the end of Emily’s father’s road. We would have gone down it, but I would have had to push it all the way back if we had, of course. Finally we arrived at the doorstep of the last bungalow in Hornsea. The lights were on, we rang the bell, but no one was home.
We waited, we knocked again, we looked into the sitting room and kitchen windows, and there was no sign of life. I saw a note that began with “EM” in the porch, she read it, we entered. We entered and found all the doors were unlocked. There was a voice coming from behind a closed door, it opened and a foot appeared.
Emily’s father began by telling us the story of his one remaining leg. When he lifted the trouser leg, it was clear, due to its brown appearance that things were not in a good way with that one either. In fact, he was lucky to still have it attached to him, at all.
Emily gave him the jumper she had bought for him, which he seemed to like. He was clearly pleased to see her again, I wasn’t sure how long it had been since they had last met, but it must have been years. Not surprisingly, he focused on her, so I watched their interaction. I liked his face; they shared a number of characteristics, especially around the eyes and mouth. It seem to me he didn’t know where to start, what to say or what he could offer and was quite naturally uncomfortable about his state. Meanwhile, Emily twitched around nervously, seemingly unable to sit still on her chair. So I sat further back on mine and looked around the room. It seemed to me that a coat of paint was long overdue. The furniture felt less in the category of belongings, as object acquired. The large shiny television was a notable exception, as was the dark haired doll in maid’s outfit beside it. There were painted model aeroplanes dotted around the place and a large portrait photograph of a Red Indian hanging above the TV.
What struck me, was that the air inside was thick heavy and inactive, the complete contrast to outside in fact and that someone needed it to simply just open the windows more often, to change the atmosphere. Instead someone opened the door and a skinny guy with short blonde hair and missing front tooth appeared,framed in the kitchen doorway. He seemed to have some difficulty standing, so sat down. He apologised for being drunk on vodka so early in the day (it must have been around 5pm). It was clear that he was the lodger, the home help. It was also clear, that he would be “helping himself” if given the opportunity. He spoke a lot I remember, but didn’t have very much to say.
It was immediately apparent that his presence was agitating Emily, so I tried to engage him in conversation, which I did with some success at first. However, when he decided to take the side road down memory lane, things suddenly became bumpy.
People in small community have long memories, if they are small minded and their information is based on meagre facts, embellishments are required. Over time, the embellishment replace the facts, as they are more entertaining and so the memory is transformed into fiction. Such reconstructed memories are created and preserved in the absence of the protagonist, of course. So when the principle participant is present, to hear their history has been turned into a Hollywood blockbuster, there can be only one outcome, an unhappy ending. And so it was...Emily abruptly stood and left living a trail of words behind her.
By the time Emily reached the car,s he had calmed down sufficiently to be able to listen to what I had to say. I told her that she hadn’t needed to get angry, that the guy was pissed, that her father wanted her to stay, that the morphine would have had a big effect on him and that in my opinion he was very seriously ill. I suggested she called his doctor, as he was the only person who would know the true conditions of her fathers health, and she agreed that this was a good idea.
The stars shone in the heaven there was not a soul in the street it was bitterly cold. They became simultaneous, shapes preparing food, watching flickering images before them , passively, lethargically, drifting entertained, wrapped in amber, behind brick frames. House after house, anaesthetised by familiarity, as needs be from time to time, for us all.
At first all I could see was a pair of long legs running behind a small floppy eared dog. This was Beatty, Emily’s sister, this was her house, this was the outskirts of York, that was Craig (her boyfriend) this was the green hall, the just painted the newly sanded floor, the undecorated upstairs, with however one exception, the one pink room with fairies!
We all stood in the kitchen and had a drink. Emily told them about our trip, about her father, about the incident in the restaurant toilet, when the mother of a little girl asked if she had been sick and was heard to reply “no I've just done an enormous poo!!!”. Emily laughed so much she could hardly finish her story. I heard about Beatty before , of course, and Craig. The last time Emily had stayed , she had had an argument with him, apparently about “family matters” and called him a “dick”. An apology had been made next day apparently, but there was still a slight tension or apprehension discernible in his manner, when we arrived. He wasn’t as “stiff” or as limited as I had imagined him to be, but simply a “normal guy” who had come from Sutherland, taught PE, bought houses around York that he rented out to students and who was responsible and wanted I think, to be respected. A man, who in short, likes to keep his corner tidy.
Beatty I knew to be tall and she was, I wondered if I was as short as she imagined me to be. She can be best described as enthusiastic, energetic, good fun and slightly scatty, a bit like a manic dog Harvey in fact. She also likes to give nicknames to people and things which was quite endearing, so I become Andre for the evening.
It was quite a relief to stay there that night after being in the B&B, the day before. The smell from which I had caught every now and again on my clothes throughout the day and one I was quick to wash off before we went out to meet their brother, Sam.
Sam was waiting for us under a paraffin heater in a busy bar in York. He looked quite like their father, spoke a lot less than his sisters, but you could by his eyes gather that he was busy thinking his thoughts, on the quiet. He worked as a waiter in a Italian restaurant in York, and lived in a room in one of Craig’s houses. I cannot remember what we spoke about, but I liked him. Beatty had a lot of questions to ask me, which made me smile. In fact everyone had a lot to say to each other, so it was an enjoyable ending, to what felt like a very long day.
We woke late, had a lazy morning, and said our goodbyes. Emily entertained me with ghosts’ stories about monks moving objects in tea shops and other strange goings on around York. We wondered around looking for Sam's restaurant. I had been to York before when I was seventeen on a college trip, but the only strange thing I remembered seeing then, were people wearing t-shirts without coats in winter.
The restaurant was quite modern, there was some fixed seats with mirrors above,s o everyone could view the room. There was a fair amount of steel and chrome and some very colourful paintings of Tuscany on the walls. At first you thought they were original, however on closer inspection, you could tell they had been photographed onto the canvas and the images themselves had been tweaked on the computer. Not uncommon these days (2004) and to be more so. The shape and colour of progress...apparently.
We found a table by the window upstairs and Sam served us our lunch. During this we were passed a number of times by one of the young chefs. He stopped to talk to us a couple of times (as he knew who we were) but there was something instantly disagreeable about him, so you kept your replies to a minimum and concentrated on your food. Craig and Sam had talked about someone moving into one of his houses the night before. They had said that some people in the restaurant really didn’t like the guy, this was the guy, I could see why, and I did not envy his new house mates at all.
The light was fading fast and soon it will be time for us to return to London, there was one more stop on the way, there would be a “nice” house with a “nice” couple and a long story of unemployment...but really our journey was over and we had already started to think about tomorrow.
Emily called the doctor the following day. The news wasn’t good. Few days later Emily’s father was admitted to hospital. At the end of the week Emily returned to Hull to visit him. He died a week later.