Get Your Laughing Tackle Around this
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.