Get Your Laugh­ing Tackle Around this

The Victoria Standard - - Food/ Calendar - GE­ORGE SMITH

I ar­rived in Frin­ton-on-sea on the 3:20 from King’s Cross and walked the cou­ple hun­dred yards to­wards the open wa­ter of the English Chanel. I turned and walked along the beach in front of a row of mag­nif­i­cent Vic­to­rian ho­tels and pri­vate man­sions. And there, dom­i­nat­ing the Es­planade with its ex­trav­a­gant façade of large sash win­dows and bal­conies, was The Grand Ho­tel. I walked up the stone steps, be­tween the columns, and through the front door. I imag­ined the wealthy Vic­to­ri­ans leav­ing the smog and poverty of Lon­don’s streets for time spent re­lax­ing, and per­haps us­ing one of the bathing huts in the sea.

As I stood look­ing at the din­ner gong once used to sum­mon the el­e­gant din­ner jack­ets and evening gowns from their mar­tini sip­ping bal­conies, a voice be­hind me said, “Hello, can I help you?”

She was stand­ing there in a pris­tine white blouse with a pol­ished sil­ver salver in one hand, and a bot­tle of wine in the other. “I’m look­ing for John Evans,” I said. Evans and his part­ner Jean­nie were sit­ting at the bar, hold­ing court. Half a dozen drinkers stood around them, ex­cit­edly wait­ing for Evans to re­veal his lat­est thoughts on what­ever sub­ject he was con­tem­plat­ing at the time. They vied for the priv­i­lege of buy­ing the next round of drinks, and nod­ded and cooed con­tin­u­ally, in­ter­ject­ing des­per­ately a word or two when­ever they saw an op­por­tu­nity.

“Ge­orge!” Jean­nie ex­claimed, ris­ing from her seat and rush­ing at me with out­stretched arms. “John, dar­ling. Look who’s here!”

Evans at­tracted the bar­man and then asked me, “What are you drink­ing?”

A week later, as I started an­other day as a tem­po­rary bar­man, Jean­nie came up to me.

“John is go­ing to ask you if you want to stay on as bar man­ager.”

So, by the end of the day, I was of­fi­cially the bar and ban­quet­ing man­ager of The Grand Ho­tel. Evans took me to the bar and opened a bot­tle of Chateau Au­sone, a red wine that was only opened on very spe­cial oc­ca­sions.

“You had bet­ter go back to Lon­don this week­end and tidy your af­fairs.”

By Satur­day, I was back in Lon­don. I went straight to The Is­land Queen to tell Garth about the job and to thank him for his part in my get­ting it. Then I walked along Shep­herdess Walk to­wards my flat. Out­side the house, I could see two men parked in a dark blue car. Un­set­tled, I hur­ried to open the front door and get inside. I did not turn around as I heard the car doors open. I was over the thresh­old and had the door closed as quickly as I could. I stood in the dark hall­way with my back against the door, and waited.

“Bang! Bang! Bang!” fists pounded on the door, and I al­most leapt out of my skin.

“Mr. Smith, is that you?” a voice out­side asked. “We wish to speak to you on a most del­i­cate mat­ter. Please may we come in?”

The voice was stern and de­mand­ing. I slowly turned the lock and opened the door. Two grey suits stood shoul­der to shoul­der – one light, one dark. One green tie, one rather natty puce bowtie. One was car­ry­ing a brief­case, the other had his hands firmly in his pock­ets. They pushed passed me.

We went into my flat, and Light Grey Suit, the one who was do­ing the talk­ing, con­tin­ued, “You took a po­si­tion rep­re­sent­ing Her Majesty’s Govern­ment.” “I’ve got an­other job now,” I bab­bled. “We would like all the doc­u­men­ta­tion please.”

I handed them the pack­age that was still on the ta­ble where I had left it a week ear­lier.

“Do you have any com­pleted cen­sus forms?” “No.” They stood look­ing at me for what seemed like an eter­nity, then said, “Good­bye”, and left.

I stood and soaked up the si­lence un­til I could only hear the pound­ing of my heart.

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