Down But Not Out
It was the morning after the night before. The only things that marred the perfect blue, early summer sky, were two, criss-crossed, vapour trails. The passenger carrying jets which had produced these affronts to God’s blue canvas were long gone.
Up in the church bell tower mighty speakers relayed the peeling of bells, sending a cacophony of Righteous joy throughout the village. Birds were silenced, dogs barked and cats – well, cats were cats.
The sudden noise assaulted the exposed ear of Geoffrey James Upton-Smart and raised his consciousness to that of a hibernating bear in mid winter. He did manage to move an eyelid in a slow upward direction, the effort involved to carry out this task was negligible to an outside observer but monumental to Geoffrey. The same anonymous observer would have found the reaction to sunlight upon Geoffrey’s naked eyeball frighteningly comical. A single shaft had found a chink in the armour of the bedroom window drapes and unerringly flew into said eyeball like a bolt from the arm of the mighty Zeus.
The bright white penetrated his dulled, blood-shot eyeball then travelled from his shocked retina, along the optic nerve to the pain receptors deep within his brain. These translated sensation into pain and in less time than it has taken me to write this sentence, Geoffrey let out an almighty yell and slapped himself in the eye for good measure. It was an act of deep desperation, his sub-conscious fooling him into thinking more pain would relieve the original agony. Alas, he soon found out that more pain begets more pain, begets more pain. ad nauseum. He now held both eyelids tightly shut, gurning like a Yorkshire labourer in his efforts to squeeze out every last ounce of muscle power within the fragile lids.
The ‘life’ in the Title is – no surprise – Geoffrey’s and the ‘week’ details his following seven days.
Geoffrey. James Upton-Smart or, to give him his full title; Lord Geoffrey, James Upton-Smart the Seventh Earl-in-waiting of Grangemere, had been sent down from Oxford and was looking forward to a lazy couple of months at the family pile on the outskirts of the village of Long Compton. A picture postcard village which nestled snugly in a secluded valley deep within the Chiltern Hills surrounded by a mix of dense woodland and exposed pasture. Compton Brook ran through the centre of the village and, aside from sheep farming, it used to supply the villagers, including the local Blacksmith with a meagre income. A mill had been built alongside the brook with a race which powered the machinery for wool making. Further downstream, on the eastern edge of the village was another, though somewhat older mill, now in total disrepair, which used to supply the village and surrounding area with bread and flour. Overlooking all this and situated at the head of the valley on a gentle rise stands Grangemere Hall, the ancestral home of the Upton-Smarts.
Being ‘sent down’ was not the worry to Geoffrey that it should have been. Expulsion from one of the premier universities in the land should carry with it an element of great shame, not so with this young man. To feel shame, one must have, by definition, ‘feelings’, something Lord Upton-Smart the Seventh lacked. Devoid would be a better adjective, ‘lacked’ seems to suggest there is some feeling, however minimum.
While at Oxford, boredom, booze and bordello’s had been his downfall; the business of the latter being brazenly carried out from his rooms. Unfortunately the Porter and four members of staff were expelled as a direct result of his actions. Relieving them of their posts was a costly business that had salvaged the reputation of the University, the Aristocracy and the Dean! This had all been done with the utmost discretion and dignity. Obviously, the sixth Earl had to fund the whole sorry mess. The problem now was what to do with Geoffrey? He should have followed family tradition by completing Oxford and then doing a stint at Sandhurst before joining the Black Watch.
Geoffrey’s uncle, The Right Honorable Sir David. Pius Upton-Smart owned a safari park in Kenya. His father was arranging to send the erstwhile student on a twelve month sabbatical to Africa under the watchful eye of Sir David. It was hoped that being kept incognito in such a remote location, working in the menial role of Safari Ranger and earning his keep would put the wayward youth back onto the right path. His father hoped that by the end of twelve months enough dust would have settled to enable him to get his son into Sandhurst and from there into the Black Watch as planned.
Geoffrey had other things in mind. Upon arriving home he had gone straight to his room, donned his favorite clothes and, without a word to his parents, headed for The Black Watch. This, the only pub in the village and managed by Jonny Kirby and his wife, Annie. The lease is held by the Upton-Smart Estate, something which Geoffrey is fond of throwing at the Landlord and his wife whenever they have cause to chuck him out for being drunk and abusive. An all too regular occurrence when he is at home. This being a Saturday night in mid summer, the pub was full with a mix of regulars and tourists, most of whom had made the short walk down the hill from the campsite which was situated in Downy Meadow.
The regulars all looked away when Geoffrey walked in and sauntered to the bar. Unlike his father, he was neither liked nor respected. Not that he cared, as stated earlier, the man was devoid of feelings. He ordered a pint of bitter from Annie and brazenly leered at her as she nervously poured it for him. After exchanging coin for beer he grabbed his pint and turned to his left. In doing so he accidentally bumped into one of the campers and managed to spill half his beer down the front of the man’s shirt.
‘Watch out, you oaf!’ Screamed Geoffrey, ‘you’d better get me another pint and quick.’
‘You bumped into me so you’d better stick your slimy hand into your pocket and buy me a pint and, whilst your furkling about for loose change, you can pay for my shirt to be cleaned.’
‘Do you know to whom you are speaking? You dumb clot,’ snarled Geoffrey.
‘Yeah, a spoilt brat who needs a good thrashing,’ was the swift reply.
The situation was defused by Jonny Kirby who, ever alert for trouble in his pub, quickly scooted around to the other side of the bar like a stag in rutting season. He stepped between the two antagonists, putting a hand on each one’s shoulder.
‘Gentlemen, either take it outside or calm down and shake hands, we brook no trouble on Estate property. Isn’t that so, your Lordship?’
Geoffrey gave Jonny a withering look but stepped aside non-the-less. However, he just couldn’t resist trying for the last word, ‘the oaf still owes me a pint.’ He stated, belligerently.
‘I’m sure my wife will be pleased to top up your glass Sir Geoffrey and I know that should this gentleman submit his bill to the Estate Manager, his laundering costs will be taken care of.’
‘Yes, well,’ stuttered the chastened Earl. ‘Fine, but know something Kirby you are too familiar and one day I will take you to task over it!’
Jonny pretended not to hear and, turning to his wife, he shouted in order to be heard above the noise of the crowded bar,
‘a pint on the house for his Lordship if you will Annie.’ She held up an empty glass in acknowledgement and proceeded to pour another pint of bitter. Meanwhile, Jonny cleverly steered the tourist away from the bar to the back of the room.
‘Take no notice of that bumptious prat young feller, he ain’t worth bothering about. Not a patch on his old man and pretty soon he’ll be in his cups and we’ll ave to pour him into a taxi. When you’re ready, come up to the bar an I’ll get you a drink, on the house.’ His hand had not left the young man’s shoulder from the minute he had stepped between the two men. Now he gave the man a gentle pat and walked back to his station behind the bar. Jonny winked at his wife and took the next order.
Geoffrey was outside, he had quaffed the remains of his beer and was half way through the free pint Annie had poured for him. With a cigarette gripped loosely between the fore and ring finger of his right hand he gazed through the rising blue smoke at the motley gathering of young smokers gathered around him. Some he recognised as villagers others were strangers, obviously migrant tourists taking advantage of the camping facilities at Downy Meadow before trekking on to their next destination.
His morose musing was broken by a familiar voice.
‘Geffers, old son, why aren’t you up at uni learning how to be a rocket scientist or something equally useful?’ It was the voice of Jed Mathers, the Estate Manager’s son. Both the same age, they had forged a friendship while growing up on the estate, two boys from either side of the track thrown together by circumstance. Jed knew and understood Geoffrey, which is more than could be said for most people who gained his Lordship’s acquaintance. They treated each other as equals, which was just as well because Jed was built like a brick outhouse and didn’t show subservience to anyone.
‘Mathers! Why aren’t you in the Estate Office looking after my affairs and earning me money?’ retorted Geoffrey.
‘From what I hear, you can look after your own affairs and manage a few for others.’
‘Jed, my old mate,’ said Geoffrey, rising from his table and proffering his hand. ‘How have you been?’
Jed took the hand and shook it, warmly. ‘I’ve been fine. Why didn’t you tell me you were coming home? I’d have picked you up at the station.’
‘I didn’t know, old man. They called me into the Dean’s office and told me to leave straight away. The first one of my family to be sent down.’
‘Oh, the shame of it,’ mocked Jed. They both burst out laughing and fell into a comfortable embrace. Jed held his friend at arms length and asked, ‘so, what are you going to do? Has daddy got plans for the naughty noble?’
‘Piss off Mathers,’ said Geoffrey, in a tone of mock annoyance. ‘The only plan I’ve got at the moment is to get completely plastered, fancy joining me?’
‘Only if you’re buying.’
‘Nothing changes Mathers, what are you having?’
The Countess of Grangemere’s maid, Gretchen Waldorf, happened to be passing Geoffrey’s bedroom door when he let out a yelp as the sunbeam hit his eyeball. She knocked on the door and enquired if Master Geoffrey was alright. She got no reply and knocked again, louder and in a raised voice she inquired again, ‘Master Geoffrey are you alright?’
The door swung open and the poor girl was confronted by the Earl-in-waiting in all his glory. Red faced and with a hand covering his smarting eye he bawled the poor girl out for having the audacity to wake him up. Gretchen was mortified, she hardly noticed his Lordship’s eye as her attention was drawn elsewhere. It was the first time she had seen a man naked and certainly the first time she had seen a man aroused.
‘What the Dickens are you staring at you stupid girl, haven’t you got work to do?’ shouted Geoffrey.
‘My God young man, what the Hell do you think you are doing? Haven’t you brought enough shame on this family without parading naked in front of the servants?’ The shrill admonishment came from the mouth of his mother, the Countess of Grangemere. ‘Get yourself decent and I will speak with you over breakfast. Gretchen, come here dear.’
‘Mamma, I was only…’ he got no further. His furious mother laid into him again. ‘Cover that thing up before I cut it off and get back into your room, you are an utter disgrace! My God, as if your poor father hasn’t got enough to worry about!’ By now, Gretchen was close to tears and the Countess put a consoling arm about her and led her away. Geoffrey, his face still suffused with anger, stood in the doorway, both hands shielding his private parts and watched as the two women walked away. A lonely tear ran down his cheek and even Geoffrey didn’t know whether it was through anger, embarrassment or pain. Worse, he didn’t care.
Turning, he shuffled back into his room as only men can when they have both hands wrapped about their genitalia. He craved sleep but knew better than to disobey his mother so he walked into his en-suite and turned on the shower. Forty minutes later he was entering the dining room. The Earl was seated at the head of the table, his upper body completely hidden by the stiff pages of the Times newspaper. His mother sat opposite and at the far end of the table, nibbling at a piece of toast whilst eyeing page two of the Tatler. The room was eerily silent except for the occasional scrape of cutlery against china. Ludgate, the family Butler was hovering just inside the dining room and asked if Geoffrey wanted tea or coffee. He opted for coffee and sat at the middle of the table, to the right of his parents while awaiting to be served.
The coffee duly arrived and Ludgate disappeared, a sure sign to Geoffrey that his admonishment was about to begin. The closing of the Dining room doors seemed to be the cue because no sooner had the ‘click’ of the door latch subsided than he heard the rustle of newspaper and knew his father was in the process of closing and folding the Times. He wondered whether when he became The Earl, did the ancestral art of closing and folding a newspaper that cracks like a whip and falls to the floor in a perfectly symmetrical shape, automatically come with the job? His father did not let him ponder long upon the problem however.
‘Young man, your mother told me of your disgusting behaviour this morning and you should be thoroughly ashamed. In your Grandfathers day you would have felt the whip across your naked shoulders! You are to apologise to the young girl immediately, do you understand?’
‘But father, she’s only a bloody servant!’
‘You arrogant puppy! Do not make the mistake of taking me or my words lightly. You will apologise, even if I have to have you dragged to her door and believe me Geoffrey, if you push me that is exactly what will happen! Now, to other matters. You have cost this family a lot in the past few weeks and I am not just talking about money….’
‘Do not interrupt me young man! You will speak when I tell you,’ shouted The Earl. ‘Do you understand?’ Geoffrey nodded.
‘Good, now where was I, ah, yes. We have decided to send you to Kenya…’
‘I will not tell you again young man, you will be silent until I have finished speaking! Your mother and I have arranged with your uncle David for you to spend the next twelve months working at the safari park. It will give me time to sort out this sorry mess you have dragged the family into and, we hope, give you time to reflect upon your future. You fly out on Saturday so if you have any goodbyes to arrange, I suggest you see to them forthwith. This gives us no pleasure Geoffrey, you have brought this entirely upon yourself.’
Once again, Geoffrey’s cheeks matched the redness of his left eye as the anger and frustration rose within him. ‘This is grossly unfair father, I should be here helping you run the Estate, not thousands of miles away in Kenya!’
‘You should be at Oxford studying Law and Politics!’ retorted his father. ‘How the Hell can I trust you to run the Estate when your last venture was the running of a knocking shop from your rooms at university? How could I trust you not to turn the stables into a brothel? No, my boy. It’s time for you to grow up and that is precisely what you will have to do in Kenya. Uncle David will make sure are kept busy. He is starting you at the bottom so expect to get used to Lion shit because I imagine you will be shoveling plenty of it in the next few weeks.’
‘Is that all, father?’ asked Geoffrey, sullenly.
‘No, we are going up to Gretchen’s room to witness your apology and it had better be sincere, do I make myself clear?’
‘Yes Sir,’ was the contrite reply.
Two hours later, Geoffrey was knocking on the door of the Estate Manager’s cottage. It was opened by Mrs Julie Mathers,
‘hello Mrs Mathers, can Jed come out to play?’
‘One day master Geoff I’m going to give you a clip around the ear,’ she replied, genuinely pleased to see Geoffrey. ‘ I’m afraid he’s still in bed, nursing a hangover I shouldn’t wonder judging by the state of him last night.’
‘I know, I told him not to drink too much,’ said Geoffrey. ‘I feel responsible in a way, I should have been firmer with him.’
‘Why Master Geoffrey, you were worse than him, at least he could stand up!’
Geoffrey smiled, walked past Julie and entered her kitchen. All of the familiar smells of growing up with Jed came to greet him.
‘Cup of tea, Master Geoffrey?’ asked Julie.
‘Got anything stronger?’
‘You’ll get me shot, true as Tuesday follows Monday,’ she replied as she made her way over to the sideboard where her husband kept his whisky. ‘Hair of the dog I suppose?’ she said as she poured him a generous tumbler of the peaty amber liquid. The two of them had a rapport, he was her ‘nearly son’ and she was his ‘nearly mother’. Unspoken but understood by both of them.
‘I suppose you’ve heard that I’m being shipped to some God awful backyard in Africa?’
‘Well, Master Geoff, I think we both know you’ve brought this upon yourself,’ she replied with a slight tone of admonishment in her voice. Far from being annoyed, Geoffrey hung his head and said, ‘I know.’
‘Come on, young Master, no time for self-pity. What’s done is done! What you’ve got to do is make the best of it. I suspect the Master gave you a rollicking this morning? Well, no more than I’d have done to our Jed iff’n he was stupid enough to have done what you did.’
The woman sitting across from the kitchen table from him was the only person who could make him feel contrite. She had always treated him fairly and as an equal, yes she addressed him as ‘Master’ it was his title by right and she respected that. However, when he was in the wrong she was quick to let him know. She had only ever lost her temper with him once because of some misdemeanor. It was something which was never repeated and a lesson he never forgot. He often sought her counsel because he trusted her judgement completely.
‘So you think I should go to Kenya and sit out the twelve months?’
‘No, you soppy thing. I think you should go to Kenya and learn from it. You haven’t had the benefit of family on a day-to-day basis like what Jed has, what with being sent to Prep at the age of five and then onto boarding school at eight but, you have got family. I think they love you very much and daft as it seems, this punishment is their way of expressing their love for you. They want what’s best for you Master Geoff cos in the future a lot of responsibility is going to fall onto your shoulders whether you like it or not. I know you might think your ready now but, believe me when I tell you, you’re not! If they didn’t care they’d just leave you to get on with it but this tells me they do care about you and only want what’s best for you.’
“What about what I want?’
‘How many times ave I told you and my Jed, ‘I wants don’t get!’ You should be thinking, what do the people of the Estate want? Cos that’s what’s gonna take up your time in the future.’
‘OK, Mrs Mathers, message received. Now, can Jed come out to play, please?’
‘Go on with ya, I’ll go and get him.’
She left him sitting at the kitchen table cradling his glass of whisky while she went upstairs to wake her son. Geoffrey dwelt on her words as he sipped the single malt she had poured for him. It was she who had encouraged him and Jed to turn a disadvantage into an advantage whenever possible. He valued her wisdom because he knew she had his best interests at heart and she had hit the nail on the head when she talked about the benefit of family. He finished his drink in one large gulp and decided, there and then, to take her advice and make the most of his time in Kenya. There was a big ‘but’ accompanying his decision. He decided that the next six days were going to be six days to remember, if not by him, by the people he and Jed would meet during the coming time.
‘Hey, your Lordship! You can’t just go around waking your peasants whenever the mood takes you. You’ll have them revolting.’
‘You are bloody revolting, Mathers. My God, you even look revolting. Mrs Mathers can’t you do something about your son?’ His two favourite people in his favourite room had a considerable effect upon his mood.
‘Come on Jed, you lazy sod it’s almost one o’ clock and we’ve got places to go and people to see.’
‘Don’t you go getting my boy into trouble young Master Geoff or you’ll have me to answer to!’
‘I think he brings his own trouble Mrs M. I’m just there to guide him.’
The banter would have continued but the mood was broken by the appearance of Jed’s father Mike. He was totally loyal to the Estate and to the Earl but he was such a dour man. Mrs Mathers often joked to Geoffrey that she would use a photograph of her husband when she wanted to make sour cream.
‘I was expecting you at Downey Meadow this morning Jed. Those portaloos don’t empty themselves you know. I was getting complaints so I had to get young Jenkins to empty them. It’s not on, your actions reflect back on me you know.’
‘Mr Mathers it’s entirely my fault,’ said Geoffrey. ‘I have arranged for Jed to drive me into town, I hope that’s alright with you?’
‘It’s highly irregular Sir, I wish you had asked me first. Your father expects me to run this Estate with military precision and I can’t do that if I am not informed when my staff are seconded by the Big House.’
‘Sorry, Mr Mathers. It won’t happen again. I will be needing Jed’s services for the rest of the week, as you probably know my father has arranged for me to go to Kenya for a few months and there are some affairs I have to get in order before I go. I would really like Jed to be my driver if it is at all possible.’
Mike Mathers wasn’t fooled by Geoffrey and he knew how much the two young men valued each others company. Dour he might be but his family always came first. ‘I suppose I can get Jenkins to cover you for the next six days but, mind you will only get chauffeurs wages for the next six days.’
‘Thanks dad, I appreciate it,’ replied Jed before going back upstairs to shower and change. Like his wife, Mike held a great deal of affection for Geoffrey but his professionalism wouldn’t allow him to be as familiar with him as his wife was and he frowned upon such familiarity in his presence. Which was why, when Jed came back into the kitchen some forty-five minutes later, he found his parents and Geoffrey sitting around the kitchen table silently sipping tea.
‘Come on then Jeff..err, your Lordship. We will be late getting into town if we don’t hurry.’
The two of them piled into Jed’s old mark three BMW and headed up the drive and away from the Estate. Jed noticed his friend was uncharacteristically quiet.
‘My old lady been giving you a hard time again Geoff?’
‘No, far from it. I think she has finally got through to me. I hope you realise what a lucky sod you are to have someone such as her in your life.’
‘Oh my God. His Lordship’s in love with me Mother!
‘Piss of Mathers, you know what I mean.’
‘I reckon I do. She’s a clever old stick, my mum. So, any plans before you go off on safari?’
‘I thought I might teach you how to hold your drink and show you what the opposite sex is for.’
The banter continued all of the way into town, both young men using it to mask the reality of the moment. Their first stop was Biddy’s Cafe on the High Street. Biddy was at least seventy years old and hailed from County Mayo in the Irish Republic. Her food was legendary in this neck of the woods. She was yet to find something she couldn’t fry and serve to the public. As long as it came with chips, one or two eggs and beans with a large mug of tea – pre sugared, nobody seemed to care. The joke in the town was that if the local coronary unit at the hospital was having a slow day, they would send people to Biddy’s for a cholesterol top up.
‘And what will you two strappin’ lads be having?’ enquired Biddy. She reeked of grease and stale tobacco, the index fingers and ring fingers of both hands were a rich mahogany colour, a testament to more than fifty years of devotion to Capstan Full Strength cigarettes. No matter the weather or season she always wore a long woolen skirt, a mans shirt and boots. Over the top of her shirt it was her custom to wear a tabard, which was once clearly emblazoned with the name of the cafe but which was now all but obliterated by years of grease and grime. She was a wide woman and her hips touched the tables on either side of the aisle as she walked through to take customer orders.
‘Two belly busters please Biddy,’ said Jed. ‘His Lordships paying.’
‘An wouldn’t that be somethin’ to see!’ Replied Biddy.
‘Here you are Biddy,’ said Geoffrey as he handed her a twenty pound note.
‘Have they started printing money up at the Big House now?’ she asked sarcastically as she took his money.
‘What is wrong with that woman? every time we come in here she takes a pop at me.’ Moaned Geoffrey.
‘Its not her, its you. You’re English and your aristocracy. Red rag to a bull to someone from Mayo,’ said Jed.
‘So, your English. How come she’s always civil to you?’
‘Cos I’m a peasant like her,’ replied Jed. Both of them burst out laughing, it was one of those moments. Pretty soon both of them had tears of mirth streaming down their faces and dripping from their chins.
Fortunately they had managed to control themselves by the time their food order arrived. On each magnificently over large plate sat three eggs, four rashers of bacon, four sausages, half a ring of black pudding, half a ring of white pudding, six kidneys, six medium mushrooms, a slice of fried bread and a portion of baked beans. The whole lot swam in a translucent sea of grease and tomato juice. The latter from the beans. It didn’t end there, Biddy came back to the table, her arms laden with plates of toast, slices of wheaten bread and slices of Irish soda bread. She then produced, from one of the cavernous pockets in her woolen skirt, jars of jam plus a large pot of Marmite and a pound of butter. One of her staff was standing behind her with a mug of steaming tea in each hand. Before she let him through she delved, once more, into one of her pockets and pulled out a fifty pence coin and a five-pound note. These she threw down onto the table, narrowly missing Geoffrey’s plate.
‘Your change, your Lordship!’
If he was hurt by her attitude towards him, Geoffrey didn’t show it. As soon as she walked away, both men tucked into their respective meals and ate ravenously. Half an hour later and they were both lolling back in their seats, bemoaning how much they had just eaten.
During the meal, they decided that in order to maximise Geoffrey’s last few days of freedom they should stay in town. The busy High Street offered little in the way of accommodation so they cast their net wider. Jed had heard of a hostelry situated on the outskirts of the town which had a growing reputation for good accommodation and excellent food. The establishment went by the name of ‘The Spotted Carrot’ and it was left to Geoffrey to find the number in Yellow Pages and inquire as to the availability of rooms. They were in luck, the person on the other end of the phone told him they had two double rooms, both overlooking the river should he want to make a booking. He took them both for five nights.
It took the two of them three-quarters of an hour to find the Inn. The clue was in, ‘two rooms overlooking the river‘ but neither of them thought of using the river as a guide. The building stood in its own grounds some fifty feet above water level and approximately three hundred yard from the river bank. Beyond the car park, a wild flower meadow sloped down to the water’s edge. The building itself was three-story, of stone and flint construction, which made it look wrong. One could imagine it being a bastion of some kind long ago but never an Inn.
If these thoughts crossed the minds of the two young men, they did not discuss them, instead they turned off the main road and onto the short driveway which would lead them to the Inn. It was when they disembarked from the BMW that Jed suddenly remembered their lack of fresh clothing and toiletries. Geoffrey just shrugged his shoulders and informed Jed that they would embark on a shopping spree later which would solve the dilemma.
The arched entrance porch was unimpressive, written into the arch above their heads in bold orange lettering with flecks of black running through, were the words, ‘Spotted Carrot‘ The double doors were of Oak construction and had the usual stud work and iron banding one associates with doors of the period the entrance hall was trying to portray. On the other side of the doors was the reception area. Another low-key vision, about fifteen feet by fifteen feet square with a curved reception desk in the corner to the left of the entrance doors. The wall opposite housed the elevator and the fourth wall had two leather settees with two coffee tables in front. Magazines and newspapers were strewn across one table and its associate settee while the other pairing had neatly stacked magazines on the coffee table and a completely bare settee. The vacant wall space to the right of the reception desk was taken up by a large easel which held an equally large chalk board. This was used for the advertising of the restaurant ‘specials’, or, in plain English; ‘this is what our chef, who is also an advocate of bad French, can do with leftovers, board.’ To the left of the desk was another set of oak double doors.
The young lady on reception was, Geoffrey thought, in mourning. She was dressed from head to toe in black, all that was missing was the veil. On closer inspection it was discovered that her lipstick was not black but a deep purple and had been applied with considerable gusto. Then, the surprise. When she inquired as to what assistance she could be, the voice which poured from between those lips and trilled across the counter was pure Finishing School. The ‘plum’ imbedded so deeply into her mouth that it was difficult for her to be understood by an untrained ear. The two men looked at each other in shock, this they hadn’t expected. Jed took the lead and explained the telephone booking and in so doing he found he was becoming mesmerised by the young lady in front of him. Geoffrey elbowed his friend out of the way and took over, as he explained, it was he who would be paying.
The formalities at the desk over, they called the elevator and rode to the second floor where their rooms, or rums, as the young lady pronounced it, were situated. Another surprise awaited them, the rooms were very spacious, in fact one could say, overly spacious. Each had two double beds, bedside cabinets, an en suite, built-in wardrobe, a desk-come table, internet access, telephone and television plus a two seat settee beneath the window with a small armchair adjacent to it. What amazed Geoffrey was the amount of free space given all that the rooms contained. He wondered, could this be what the inside of the ‘Tardis’ is like? The mini bars were well stocked so they retired to Jed’s room to sample the contents of his and to plan for the evening and for the coming few days.
Geoffrey got drunk very quickly, quite out of character for him because his ability to consume vast quantities of alcohol were legendary. Jed, though quite tipsy, put it down to the fact that they had mixed their drinks over a short period of time and had consumed the contents of both mini bars. By eight p.m Geoffrey was in bed, helped by a giggling Jed, and snoring loudly.
Jed went back to his own room, showered and went downstairs to explore the Inn. Because he and Geoffrey hadn’t been shopping yet he was forced to wear jeans, an old, but respectable polo shirt and a light summer sweater. He assumed, as it was billed as an Inn, that there would be a bar somewhere. He walked over to Esmay, as they had childishly and somewhat cruelly, Christened the young lady on duty at reception, Esmerelda. Jed had shortened it because he liked her. He asked where the bar was and was directed through the double doors to the left. The noise hit him as soon as he opened the door. The barroom covered a large area and was packed. Jed had to elbow his way through the bar, where he eventually got served with his requested pint of beer. He decided to explore further and forced his way through the throng to the far end of the room, here he found a wall with several young couples crunched up against it and in various forms of embrace. Forcing his way to his left and leaving many apologies in his wake as he barged through the crowd he came upon another wall. This one had a set of double doors very like the ones he had entered through a few minutes ago. He opened them to reveal a vast dining room filled with people and noise and busy waiters.
The ‘Maitre D’ was not impressed when Jed told him that he was sorry, because he had entered by mistake and pushed him back into the barroom before closing the door in his face. His glass was empty so he headed back to the bar, most of the contents had either been spilled on unsuspecting patrons as he barged through the crowd or spilled onto the floor on the occasions when he became a victim of barging. Once his glass had been refilled he turned and tried to make his way back across the room to the relative quiet of the far wall. As soon as he turned from the bar he bumped into someone. Fortunately there was no animosity from that person so he carried on through the throng.
The next person he bumped into, literally as it turned out, was ‘Esmay’. Jed was red-faced with embarrassment because the contents of his beer glass was now dripping from the unfortunate girl’s blouse. His attempt to dab at the soaking garment with his handkerchief was met with a sharp rebuke.
Once she had got over the sudden coldness of the beer as it assailed her ample chest Geraldine; for that was her given name, glowered at Jed and then ripped into him with a fearsome tirade using words and phrases which she could not possibly have been taught by the good educationists at Roedean. The handkerchief being the last straw!
‘I’m so sorry,’ spluttered Jed. ‘Please let me help you.’
‘Unless you carry a towel and women’s clothing in your back pocket I suggest that you have done quite enough!’
‘There’s no need for that,’ replied Jed, testily. ‘It was an accident, I’m no the sort of bloke who goes around throwing beer at people. If I can’t help, I’m going back to the bar.’
‘You could at least offer to buy me a drink.’
Jed was taken aback, then he noticed that the girl was smiling at him. She added, ‘Hi, I’m Geraldine. I’m sorry, it’s been a long day and I’m a bit tetchy. Plus, you have managed to ruin the only clean blouse I have. Get me a large voddy with tonic and we’ll call it quits.’
‘One vodka tonic coming up; my name’s Jed. Pleased to meet you.’
Jed returned with the drinks and they both managed to negotiate the floor without incident and found a table in the far corner of the room. Their conversation was at first stilted but Jed soon broke the ice by offering Geraldine his sweater. He was slightly taken aback when she took off her wet blouse before donning the proffered sweater.
‘You didn’t expect me to sit here soaking wet and reeking of beer?’ She said, by way of explanation.
Geoffrey had managed to make it into the bathroom and position himself on his knees in front of the toilet bowl. That in itself had been a small miracle because upon rushing into the bathroom he was confronted by at least six toilet bowls. Sweat had dripped from his face and his hands were so wet he had found it difficult to hold onto anything for support. He had just fallen to his knees in the forlorn hope of at least emptying some of his stomach contents into the correct bowl. After evacuating the contents of his stomach a conflict broke out between his abdomen and his brain, both were fighting for control of his bodily functions, he couldn’t believe that he had anything else left to bring up. At least his vision was clearing even though the pounding in his head seemed to be getting worse by the minute.
The lights were off and for this he was grateful for he remembered the agony he had felt when the shaft of light had broken through his curtains yesterday. He felt ill, really ill and put it down to drink. The thought ran through his head that he might be allergic to alcohol, if yesterday and today were to be taken into account then it could be a possibility. He lay down on the cold bathroom floor relishing the icy cold of the tiles against his back. He rested his throbbing head on the base of the toilet bowl hoping that the cold ceramics would ease the pain therein. Alas, it didn’t work for him.
He was awakened by the sound of voices outside his room, his door was suddenly opened and he heard a dull slap as something fell to the carpet. The door was closed again. He lay where he was, staring up at the ceiling and trying to figure out why a square diffuser had been used to cover the light. It should have occurred to him to ask himself why he was trying to figure such a trivial matter out. The terrible pain in his head had eased to a dull ache and he realised that he desperately needed to pee. He didn’t move, he was frightened, what if moving brought back the agony of last night? It took all of two minutes for his bladder to overrule his fear and he gingerly got to his feet. He was very unsteady and had to brace himself by putting his right hand against the wall, his left, he used to lean on the cistern to give him some support.
He was still naked but no longer feverishly sweating. Bracing himself wasn’t working and to his shame he had to sit on the toilet in order to pee. When he had finished he washed his hands and then cleaned his teeth, more to freshen his mouth than to cleanse his molars. The effort brought back the sweats and he had to sit on the toilet seat until he regained some strength. Then he made his way back into the room and sat on his bed. Picking up the telephone which nestled on the bedside cabinet, he called down to reception and ordered coffee and orange juice to be sent up to his room along with some paracetamol.
Twenty minutes later there was a loud knock on his door, donning the towelling robe supplied by the Inn he answered the door, first picking up the daily newspaper which had been dropped onto the carpet earlier. It was room service with his order. Upon enquiring about the time, Geoffrey was told it was seven-thirty. The newspaper informed him that it was Tuesday.
TO BE CONTINUED: