Postcard from Gatwick

Dear Uncle Harry

The Europa Hotel, Gatwick. I’m reluctant to run it down – it’s doing this pretty well by itself.

Part of the Britannia Hotels chain, it thrives on one-nighters flying to and from Gatwick Airport. Were it not for this assured trade and cheap prices, it might have fallen by the wayside some time ago – once the hotel inspector got stuck in, that is.

At £79 for a room, including 15 days parking, it stood out attractively in the online comparison sites. But the Europa’s shortfalls struck home within ten minutes of arriving. Despite my engaging manner, the polite but mechanical receptionist directed us to Room 1139 where we gratefully dropped cases and coats. My well-travelled joints were ready for respite as I lowered myself to the edge of the bed. But relief there was not. As if sitting on a blancmange, the mattress fell away to nothing, its springs bulged through the flimsy material and I was ejected bottom-first to the floor. A more thorough test confirmed we’d bought into a bouncy castle, and with me a restless sleeper and my friend having a bad cough, we were guaranteed a night of trampoline-like proportions.

Further inspection of 1139 showed that the bathroom, although fully functioning, had long lost its sparkle, the sanitary and chrome fittings retaining no semblance of shine and the whistling extractor fan hanging loose from its circular cut-out on the wall.

In the poorly lit bedroom the ancient, bulky TV offered the usual channels, but the remote control, whose missing back cover meant the batteries kept dropping out, would not connect to the Programme Guide or any function except volume control and channel switching.

But it was only for one night, and we were off to Gran Canaria. We could brave it! A drink at the hotel bar would sort it out. I diverted briefly to Reception to check if there might be another room available with something more closely resembling a mattress.

‘Hello, could you please tell me if you have rooms with firmer mattresses?’ I asked. ‘Only the one in 1139 is terribly soft and you can feel the springs,’ I continued, in the absence of a reply. ‘Or are they all the same?’ I said, resigning myself to a one-way conversation.

‘Oh no, they’re all the same!’ said the receptionist, sounding surprised.

Nothing for it but to head past the two non-functioning public computers, across the badly marked carpet, for a well-earned pint. Plonking myself on the comfy but flaking, stripped-leather-effect easy chair I tucked into my San Miguel, assuming it would clear as the froth subsided. It never did – and the taste matched the colour.

‘What do you want me to do?’ asked the young barperson, clearly as ill-equipped as the receptionist to deal with non-routine matters. Eventually a supervisor appeared and replaced the drink. We resisted the hotel food, much of which seemed already to have found its way onto the well-thumbed bar snack menu.

Next morning, I browsed the hotel brochure which proudly boasted conferences, banquets and weddings. Large display screens in the foyer told what joy there would be choosing the Europa for your wedding reception, though I sensed it would only appeal to the undiscerning or a mischievous groom-to-be on TV’s Don’t Tell the Bride.

The hotel reminded me of guest houses still occasionally found in the side streets of Victorian seaside towns that have seen better times; where implied criticism is usually passed off with: ‘Nobody has ever complained before’.

The Europa’s crowning glory was a paper notice roughly Sellotaped to the reception counter:

Payment by Debit Card – 50p

This alone told me all was not well.

See you soon,

Paul

Paul Costello © January 2014

 

UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello

Hilarious tales from a Shropshire Bed and Breakfast!

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Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions

www.fineleaf.co.uk/titles/utterlyundiscove.html

www.paulcostello.me

Postcardd ffrom Llanelli

Hiya Holly!

Guess what – I’m in Doctor Who territory! Having trundled along from Cardiff, my Arriva two-coacher dropped me off at Llanelli and disappeared round the bend towards Camarthen, hooting happily like Gordon the Big Blue Engine. And under a perfect holiday sky, I headed for the sea.

Ood

Ood

‘But, hm, where is it?’ I thought, following signs for ‘the beach’. 100_2438Sand and mud stretched for miles, and barren mud gullies, dressed with Asda trollies and bike tyres, reached towards the town like the tentacles of an Ood.

I had to wait till teatime for water briefly to invade the flats – before nothingness returned. And apart from the ubiquitous seagulls, there was little evidence of estuary birds. It’s as if water and waders took one look and decided: ‘Hm – perhaps some other time.’

Alongside the railway and mudflats runs the tundra-like Millennium Coastal Park, its Tarmac trails and rough-cropped grass affording little shade and few benches on which to sit and ponder the mud. A solitary ship-shaped building, the Coastal Park Discovery Centre, offers basic comforts, including a smart cafe and balcony with elevated views of perhaps an extra mile of mud. In the shop, you can buy fluffy green and red dragons, plastic green and red rugby balls with dragons on, and knitted green and red tea cosies (dragons optional), all from a trestle table laid out first thing and cleared away at 4 o’clock sharp. Outside, an overflowing litter bin is clearly popular for burger boxes and nappies.

But what may pass for a lack of imagination is more than made up for by friendly people. And they speak English. In the cafe, I overheard a woman with a strong Welsh accent explaining to her friend how nothing was more annoying than people talking Welsh as you entered the room. I nodded across, smiling!

The Welsh language is distinctive. Lots of ddouble lletters – hard if you have a stutter, llethal with ffalse teeth! And there’s a ‘y’ in every other word, and ‘w’ insteadd of ‘u’, like bws (bus) or Millenniwm (Millennium). The strangest I’ve heardd is a place name on Anglesey starting Fanfare something and endding God God God. Perhaps it’s a religious thing – you know, a call to God? I mean, they do have llots of chapels here.

I’m staying at the Coastal Grill with Accommodation. It seems the ffashion to call places: ‘Bistro with Accommodation’ or ‘Restaurant with Rooms’. Posh soundding – until you step inside and ffind they’re just orddinary B&Bs!

100_2454

Tardis shower

The shower in my room (Nwmber 15) is llike the control console of the Tardis. There are no instrwctions, and the llist on the outside wall talks more of llifestyle than knob control:100_2458

–  Immediately shower after strenuous exercise inadvisable.

–  Leave at once if feel uncomfortable when                                                taking steambath.

Llike David Tennant, I push at the bank of bwttons andd pull at chrome llevers wntil smoke and steam gwshes from every spout and the capsule shwdders as transportation begins. This morning I found myself being llathered ddown by Miss Llanelli 1957 – how I llove that abillity to ddrop in anywhere, anytime!  But it was a sharp awakening as the air cleared to a washbasin with no pllwg, a benddy, plastic toilet seat that ddoesn’t stay wp, and a wardrobe door that swings open when people go in and out of Nwmber 16 – handy when I want a clean shirt.

Each morning, the llandlord, who is also cook, greets people and takes their breakffast ordder. His ddaily pleasure is itemising the Ffull Welsh – never the same two ddays rwnning.

‘Today’s Full Welsh is bacon, sausage, fried egg, half a grilled tomato, baked beans, button mushrooms and a hash brown,’ he said enthusiastically on my ffirst morning.

On the secondd morning, I eagerly awaited the new menu.

‘Today’s Full Welsh is bacon, sausage, fried egg, baked beans, button mushrooms, hash brown, and this morning,’ he added prouddly with ddramatic pause, ‘it’s tinned tomato.’

Tinned tomato! Mmm!

The third dday was like the ffirst bwt with halff a fflat mwshroom insteadd of bwttons. Then, somewhat bizarrely, he added, ‘Or kippers with butter,’ which seemed as incongruous as the Tardis in the beddroom and as unlikely as ffindding ffreshly picked, pimento-stufffed olives in Lidl.

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Theatre Elli

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Council garddens

In empathy with its mwddy estuary, Llanelli town has an iddentity crisis. The main shops have moved out, the theatre (Theatr Elli) has closed andd the cinema converted to a Wetherspoons. Home Bargain Stores, Cash Generators and charity shops dominate the centre. Bwt in the middst of this plainness, set out serenely behindd the imposing Victorian Town Hall, lie the beautiffully manicured Council garddens, with colourfful beds, comffortable benches and a grand banddstand lladen with plwsh hanging baskets.

And the llong rows of terraced houses, tidily painted in neat pastels, with satellite ddishes 100_2486pointing symetrically to the heavens llistening for the Doctor’s return, are testimony to the undderlying vibrance of the community. Street names llike Great Western Crescent (Gilgant Great Western), Railway Terrace (Teras y Rheilfordd) andd Railway Place (Fford y Wagen) hint at the extensive railway network servicing the coal, steel andd tin inddustries in Llanelli’s heydday. Only the pretty, toytown coastal lline remains.

Time ffor reffreshment. The delightfful llandllady of the one surviving tradditional town centre pwb, the Double Dragon, ddeffies ddesigner bars like Stamps andd The Met – offering great beer, andd ddarts matches five ddays a week. Andd twcked between the kebab take-aways and overbearing Asda, the Bengal Lancer serves a cracking Prawn Methi andd Aloo Sag. A handdwritten notice promotes ‘Potion of Chips’ for £2.50. But no need for strange brews – ffive pints of Felinfoel and a curry brings on slleep soon enough!

Any llwck with a job yet? I know it’s not easy for gradduates these ddays …

Llove Paul

Paul Costello © August 2013

UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello

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Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions

www.fineleaf.co.uk/titles/utterlyundiscove.html

A fabulous holiday read!

www.paulcostello.me

@PaulCostello8

Utterly Undiscovered

UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello. Illustrated by Emma Hames

Now published!  My comic Bed and Breakfast memoir set in deepest Shropshire.

Meet Shropshire’s own Basil Fawlty. Council workers Paul and Debbie leave the Brighton rat race to open a Bed and Breakfast so close to the edge of civilisation that a rotting signpost at the crossroads says Shroosbury in one direction and Utterly Undiscovered in the other three. Dubbed My Basil by long-suffering Debbie, Paul fights off furry invaders, fat Americans, and teenagers who hang around half-naked. How is it that neighbour Jack finds him crawling across the car park at dawn in his dressing gown? Why does he loiter in a listed Victorian urinal? And how can he discourage the visitors he most fears – winos and noisy parrots?

UTTERLY UNDISCOVERED by Paul Costello

Utterly front cover - final 30.5.13

Available through bookshops (ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2) or direct from Fineleaf Editions

www.fineleaf.co.uk/titles/utterlyundiscove.html

A fabulous holiday read!

 

www.paulcostello.me

@PaulCostello8

Utterly Undiscovered – Talking to Yourself

Mmm, juicy king prawns …

I’d managed to get away with just buying a prawn mayo on wheat germ, despite the Greggs assistant’s relentless pitch for me to add ‘anything else’.

On a bench by the grand, soon-to-be-opened Birmingham Library, a young woman sharing the seat looked along and said:

‘You sure that’s good for you?’

‘Hm,’ I said, pausing to consider the well-worthiness of the sandwich, and glancing between it and the woman. Before I could come up with something more original, she looked me straight in the eyes and said:

‘As long as you’re okay.’

‘Yes,’ I said, ‘I’m fine.’

The young woman smiled and turned away. As I homed in on the juicy prawns in the centre, which like the icing on a chocolate cupcake I’d held back for the grand finale, I sensed from her muttering that she might be unwell.

‘Do you know where they come from?’ she then asked.

‘Haven’t the faintest,’ I said, wiping away a run of Marie Rose from my chin and licking my hand. ‘The sea?’

‘Ha ha!’ she said, grinning.

‘Don’t you like prawns?’ I asked.

‘What?’ she said, tensing across to check my question.

‘Not even the giant ones?  Mmm, juicy,’ I mused.

The woman shouldered her bag and stood up. As she walked past, throwing me a measured look, she lowered her head and I heard her mutter, ‘Some old bloke on a bench … no, I’ve just left,’ the wire trailing from her left ear, previously unseen like a newscaster’s, the only clue as to what had just happened.

*

Disjointed conversations were also commonplace in my Bed and Breakfast, visitors rarely getting to hear what I was actually thinking. In this part of my new book, Utterly Undiscovered, my alter ego (My Basil) gets to work as I check with four fat Americans that they’re happy with their rooms:

‘Is everything all right for you?’ I ask.

‘Rooms are a bit small, but they’ll do,’ says the fatter of the two men.

‘I think you’ll find it’s your obesity and the cases.’

‘Tell me, do you get hot water around here?’   copy-cropped-cropped-utterly-front-cover-jpg1.jpg

‘The tap marked “H”, dickhead.’

‘It may take a minute to come through,’ I say, trying not to give away too much disdain; I’d like to hold some back for later.

Paul Costello © April 2013

Utterly Undiscovered – comic Bed & Breakfast Memoir by Paul Costello.

Illustrated by Emma Hames.      

Publication:  spring 2013.    Fineleaf Editions  http://www.fineleaf.co.uk 

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2

www.paulcostello.me

@PaulCostello8

 

Utterly Undiscovered – The Humble Garibaldi

When you read my comic Bed and Breakfast memoir, Utterly Undiscovered, you’ll see how garibaldis play a strong part in My Basil’s troubled life. For example, when he shows Kimberley, the fat American to her room:

“I lever her through the narrow upstairs corridor and, taking a sideways tack, she squeezes her way into the Tulip Room. I last see her heading for the garibaldis.”

So I thought it would be helpful to look at their origin. Garibaldi Biscuits

For those not familiar with garibaldis, they consist of currants squashed between two thin, oblong biscuits, making a kind of currant sandwich, or ‘dead fly biscuit’ as it’s sometimes known. Traditionally consumed with tea or coffee, into which they’re often dunked, garibaldis have been popular in Britain for 150 years.

But what of the name? Well, its origins lie in mid-nineteenth century Italy, where it was produced by a father and son team as a simple biscuit for troops fighting in the wars of unification. The father, Gari, or as we would have known him, Gary, oversaw manufacture of the less-than-sweet, golden brown pastry, while his son Calvo controlled the currant presses.

Following a business trip to England by Gari and Calvo, production of the biscuit sold in Italy as ‘garicalvo’ was started in London by Peek Freans in 1861 under the supervision of Jonathan Dodgson Carrfamous biscuit maker, Jonathan Dodgson Carr. Aware of the British interest in things Italian stemming from the Grand Tour, Carr set about finding a softer-sounding name than garicalvo, yet more marketable than say, ‘squashed fly sandwich’.

It so happened that his uncle had spent many years in Florence, and pointed out that calvo was Italian for bald or bald-headed. Himself follicly challenged, masking his hair loss with an astute comb-over, Carr had grown accustomed to taunts of, ‘Nice shine, Jon!’ or from the cheekier factory hands, ‘Hey – baldy!’ It all seemed to fit. By linking this most cutting of jibes to the founding father’s name, he could honour the origins of the biscuit, yet give it a new, exotic image for Victorian coffee houses. The garibaldi was born.

This exposé should increase your pleasure reading about, say, the two picky Belgians who call at Cricklewood Cottage and ask to see a room:

“Two Belgians, speaking little English, inspect the Rose Room. They pull back the bed linen, peer inside the shower cubicle, bounce on the bed, check the views and poke about on the tea tray. I half expect them to nibble the garibaldis. All the while, they pass comments in Flemish (so that’s where “phlegm” comes from), none of which I understand.”

Paul Costello © February 2013

Utterly Undiscovered – comic Bed & Breakfast Memoir by Paul Costello. 

Illustrated by Emma Hames.            

Publication:  spring 2013.    Fineleaf Editions  http://www.fineleaf.co.uk

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2

Saucy Postcard from Brighton

Dear Uncle Ian

“I’ll have those two plump melons, please” seems tame today! But in the 50s it would have been banned for obscenity, like a lot of the original saucy seaside postcards by Donald McGill. I’m sure Aunt Fifi will appreciate this one when she gets back – bearing in mind the dance she stood up and did at your Ruby!

Earlier I was on Brighton Pier, and felt moved to write about their wonderful marine conservation programme. If you like, you can check it out at: www.paulcostello2011.wordpress.com/2013/02/01/postcard-from-brighton-the-pier/ – I’ve heard you’re into silver surfing!

Even in winter Brighton is thriving. It’s a student city these days, with an art college, universities and lots of English Language schools. When I lived here, to make a bob or two I did B&B for foreign students. The Swiss and Brazilians were nicest, but the Germans were hard going. One called Hans had no sense of humour at all. I once asked him: “Why did the chicken cross the road?” and, seriously uncle, he replied: ‘Vell, vee never allow our chickens to get on zer road in zer first place.’

The biggest change I found in the famous Brighton Lanes is that the countless dinky shops, once full of antiques, have become Brighton’s jewellery centre, all selling silver or white gold. The window displays are great! An antique ring marked:

A Marvellous, Amazing, Victorian, Silver and Diamond Ring

came next to:

A Truly Wonderful, Old, Marvellous, Silver and Amethyst Tiepin

and then:

An Absolutely Marvellous, Antique, Silver Brooch with Pretty Sapphire.

I realised there was a theme going on. With at least three hundred items in every shop window, shop owners worked hard to outdo their neighbours. Further along I saw:

A Rare, Marvellous, Fantastic, Edwardian, Silver and Diamond Engagement Ring

alongside:

A Superb, Wonderful, Marvellous, Amazing, Exquisite, To Die For, Grandma Would Look Great In It, White Gold Hat Pin.

No surprise that a sign in a nearby bookshop said: Roget’s Thesaurus – Sold Out.

I don’t know about you, uncle, but if I was going to spend hundreds of pounds on a ‘Marvellous’ ring, I’d want to know that as well as being the only such ring in The Brighton Lanes, no-one else in the whole world (or Margate) also had a ‘Marvellous’ one.

Beyond The Lanes is a fashionable district called North Laine, a ‘boutique’ area buzzing with Brighton’s alternative culture, and packed with vintage clothing shops, arty cafes, bars and galleries. I love it, uncle. I saw more studded noses than there are Catseyes on the A259, and people wearing racks of rings like mini orchestral triangles – each set playing a different octave. One enterprising shop owner had installed a battery-powered circuit on a heavily ringed employee, and was challenging customers to pass a metal rod through her rings without triggering a bell. A quid a go. I found the eyebrows quite easy but the lips were my downfall every time! Had I succeeded, I’d have won:

An Amazing, Delightful, Marvellous, Just Like A Baby Elephant’s Tusk, Every Auntie Should Have One, Ear Stretcher.

I was thinking – there’s no reason why Aunt Fifi shouldn’t have an ear stretcher just because of her age, is there? It would only need a ten millimetre hole. Let me know when she might be coming home, by the way.

Love Paul

Paul Costello © February 2013

 

Utterly Undiscovered – comic Bed & Breakfast Memoir by Paul Costello.

 

Illustrated by Emma Hames.  Header image above from chapter titled: Caught Napping    

 

Publication:  spring 2013.    Fineleaf Editions  http://www.fineleaf.co.uk 

 

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2

 

Utterly Undiscovered – On Yer Bikes

Extract from my comic Bed and Breakfast memoir Utterly Undiscovered

My Basil struggles to deal with teenage mountain bikers obsessed with fitness.

To keep themselves in tip-top racing condition, these lads have a strict eating regime, with carbohydrates the main component. I’m closely interrogated as to what I can offer. None of it is a problem for My Basil, but the way it’s demanded is.

‘Haven’t you got any brown rice?’ says Lee, a particularly stroppy adolescent.

‘Only baked beans?’ says his mate, Marvin. ‘I need pinto beans to maximise my energy level.’

‘I didn’t realise teenagers had an energy level,’ says My Basil. ‘By the way, I just went and scratched your bike.’

‘I’ll see what I can find,’ I say.

‘I’d like my porridge and yoghurt at 8.43, an hour and seven minutes before my first race, to yield maximum energy per unit of oxygen I consume,’ says Lee.

‘Will you be up by then? I thought all teenagers stayed in bed till lunchtime.’

‘I’ll see what I can do.’

I feel used and abused. But that’s not the end of it; the Reading Room has turned into a harem. While one lanky lad has his legs over the arm of a chair, presumably at the prescribed angle for perfect blood circulation, the other chair is being used as a massage couch. Leighton lounges in underpants while his girlfriend Jackie (his support team) lubricates his thighs with what smells like Ambre Solaire. Little grunts trip from his lips with each upward thrust, and his legs jig uncontrollably. I daren’t look too closely but he seems really happy. It’s a lot for a forty seven year old to have to deal with in his own home.

‘Take your hands off that boy! This is not a brothel.’

Paul Costello © January 2013

You can read more about the outrageous bikers in:

Utterly Undiscovered by Paul Costello. Illustrated by Emma Hames            

Out spring 2013    Fineleaf Editions  http://www.fineleaf.co.uk

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2

Website: www.paulcostello.me   Twitter: @PaulCostello8

Illustrator: emjhames.wordpress.com