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!

cropped-paul-and-book-7-13-3.jpg

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

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

www.paulcostello.me

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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.

100_2481

Theatre Elli

100_2498

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

cropped-paul-and-book-7-13-3.jpg

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

Postcard from Torquay

Dear Uncle Harry.

I’m on a short break in the English Riviera – a grand name embracing the likes of Torquay, Paignton and Brixham.

And what better way to spend my first day than a boat trip from Torquay? With the weather set fair, mackerel fishing seemed a good idea, and from the fierce competition for a two-hour trip I picked a vessel called Wave Rider – rather romantic I thought.

A mile out, my suspicions were aroused when the captain – called Ahab according to the name emblazoned across his stained tee shirt – began layering up with woolly sweaters and oilskins and removing the component parts of what looked like harpoon equipment from a box near the bow.

‘Are we looking for giant octopus too?’ I asked, feigning interest.

‘No-o mate,’ he said, with gnarly know-how. ‘Whales – if we can find the migration path.’

‘Oh,’ I said, going along with a joke that was clearly part of his patter, especially for soft southern targets like me. ‘That’s all right then.’

I looked around at the twenty or so other passengers. Worryingly, half of them were now also kitted out with cold weather gear and heavy duty waterproofs, while the rest of us were in flimsy summer clothes, skin gleaming with Factor 50 Nivea Sun Lotion to protect against the strong midday sun and brisk sea air.

‘How about some coloured feathers to catch the mackerel?’ I said, uncertain of my ground and aware that my short shorts and white Matalan tee shirt with “COOL AT 65” on the back might be inadequate for whaling on the high seas.

‘Aa-rr, this is all you need,’ said Ahab, tapping the harpoon affectionately. ‘People don’t read the small print, you see. It’s Silver Flash for mackerel. This is Wave Rider – we’re whaling.’

Other mackerel fishers overheard our conversation, some vigorously contesting the legality of the small print, others cowering on their slatted seats, muttering about never seeing their loved-ones again.

‘Don’t worry,’ Ahab said, after keeping us on tenterhooks another hour. ‘A mackerel relief boat will be along later.’

By the time the mackerel transfer arrived, Wave Rider was plunging into the troughs and surging to the peaks of a strong Atlantic swell. Land had long since disappeared and Ahab’s assistant, Ishmael, was in a raised basket on top of the cabin looking out to sea with a brass telescope.

From time to time he’d cry, ‘Thar she blows!’ making us rush to one side before he invariably added, ‘Sorry, just an iceberg,’ or, ‘Only kidding,’ staring at us madly with what we later found out was a glass eye – which being the one he used for the telescope didn’t bode well for serious whale catching at the business end of the trip.

Back on the quayside, having finally tamed a few mackerel, I was ready for supper and a pint of Doombar. Set on the harbour front, Wetherspoons seemed a good bet. Outside, all seemed well as I passed the cordoned area where people were tucking into spicy chicken wings and breaded Camembert bites washed down with, perhaps, San Miguel or spritzer.

Inside was different. Unlike the usual dominant clusters of men with thinning hair and agitated stammering, I found the entire seating and bar areas occupied by stocky, bearded gentlemen in yellow oilskins and black sou’westers.

‘Aa-rr, DOOMbaa-rr!’ went the call down the length of a bar where staff must have had the dickens of a job remembering who they were serving.

‘Aa-rr, DOOmbaa-rr!’ echoed the seated many, as they clinked pints to celebrate another day at sea. ‘Aa-rr DOOMbaa-rr!’

Having bought a pint of the pub’s favourite beer and ordered a Right Whale Fillet with Seaweed Sauce I sat in the corner, feeling underdressed yet fascinated by what I saw unfolding. Several yellow people stood up alongside each other forming a line with outstretched arms resting on their neighbours’ shoulders. Others joined in, pushing back chairs to make space, and eventually there were forty in the row, with the men at the two extremities stretching out their free arm in an exaggerated fashion. Then at a given signal, in unison, the forty shouted:

‘And it was THIS long!’

No wonder Wetherspoon’s Tim Martin, ever the man to spot a perfect tag, had called this former trading exchange The Giant Sperm!

Now, back in the B&B, I’m planning the rest of my stay. I might try Paignton Pier tomorrow. According to the leaflet, this was once popular with anglers, but with local Councils seeking to increase revenue, fishing was banned and the staging at the end adapted for carrying out sentences imposed by local magistrates. Apparently, for minor offences a lesser sentence of being strapped to the stanchions at low tide and freed when the sea reaches neck height is common; whilst for more serious cases there are boards that extend over the sea electronically at high tide, with individuals ‘walking the plank’ or, for gang crimes, several villains jumping at the same time – a sort of synchronised sentencing. Hopefully there are still tickets on sale for the ten o’clock (high tide) sitting. I’m told the two grandstands fill quite quickly.

And on Friday I shall check out the Golden Hind in Brixham harbour. Whereas this replica of Sir Francis Drake’s galleon was once at a fixed mooring for day trippers to pore over, it now offers full day excursions to the French coastline, where passengers in period costume can fire live ammo from the ship’s refurbished cannons, and give the residents of Brest and St Malo something to think about. I really fancy this! It sounds so much more hands-on (and probably warmer!) than the whaling trip I got caught up in.

Uncle, I’m SO impressed by the locals’ willingness to diversify, and make use of the rich maritime resources that endow this area. It’s the kind of initiative the Tory government would be proud of in these troubled times. But sadly, I fear it won’t live up to some of your tales about the merchant navy!

Best wishes – Paul

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

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

 

Postcard from Brighton – The Pier

Hi Bruv

The Palace Pier is as vibrant as ever. You probably take it for granted, living down this way! The funfair at the end is great – I love the blaring hip hop club music, and usually stand near a giant speaker to watch the rides.

There’s a fantastic one called Adrenalin Rush. It’s like a windmill with two sails, each a hundred feet long with eight seats at the end. Once the riders are locked in their seats, the controller flicks a switch and the sails take them two hundred feet into the air at a fantastic speed. Hanging upside down over the sea, and with the g-force and bass boom below, they get in a right frenzy. One girl was even crying as she shot past, though I suspect this was more to do with the wonderful winter sunset you must see from up there.

Then things really take off. I’d watched the controller lock people’s safety harnesses with a hydraulic switch, but on the fourth rotation, with the sail approaching full height and spinning as fast as a wind turbine, I saw him pull another lever which must have released the harnesses, because the riders were suddenly hurled way out to sea. It reminded me of those whippy sticks with a cup shape at the end, which dog walkers use to throw balls. Now I realised why it was called Adrenalin Rush. Seeing eight tiny figures, then another eight disappearing through the December sky like little Lowrie people was a truly heart-thumping sensation for us spectators.

Where the sixteen riders splashed down, I couldn’t help noticing that a ripple on the glass-like sea, as if there was a localised breeze or turbulence from the geology of the sea bed, had turned to a bubbling froth. I realised it must be a marine feeding ground, because after five minutes the frothing stopped as quickly as it had started. The teenagers queuing for the next ride were so busy trying to outdo each other, they noticed none of this. And I knew my adrenalin rush wasn’t just from what I’d witnessed, George. It was because I could see that the pier was not merely a gratuitous money-making machine but had a major role in marine conservation.

Moving on to Lumberjack’s Revenge, better known as the Log Flume, where canoe-like logs are propelled round a water race, I began to see a pattern. One or two ‘logs’ never reappeared after going into the deep water stretches, yet with the thumping bass of DJ Khaled keeping riders and spectators enthralled for the three minutes it lasted, their disappearance was barely discernible. I took this as further evidence of the pier owner’s selfless dedication to preserving fish stocks in the English Channel, a supposition confirmed when I spotted that fewer chairs on the rickety Ghost Train came out at the exit than went in at the start. Being an indoor ride, it was impossible to see where the others had gone, but I imagine a lot of marine life feeds around the pier stanchions immediately below both the Ghost Train and Lumberjack’s Revenge.

And as I made my way back past the stalls dispensing candy floss or chips, just as they must have done since the pier opened in 1899, I couldn’t help noticing a dozen or so people whose heels were jammed in gaps between the shrunken, oak planks of the pier decking. Others ignored their plight and walked on by, knowing that the trapped people would, like flies tangled in a spider’s web, eventually stop struggling and accept whatever salt-water fate awaited them – proud to be helping safeguard the planet’s future.

I tell you, George, I headed off for the Brighton Lanes, glad I hadn’t been wearing my Cubans!

Cheers, Paul

Paul Costello © January 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

Postcard from Lapland

Hi Rufus

The Lapland Experience, they call it. But it’s only now, as the flight attendant serves up my venison pie, I’ve realised what these festive trips are really about.

At first I thought nothing of the aircraft being half empty compared with the packed journey over. Then I noticed it was the children who were missing, and started piecing things together.

Earlier, as our sleighs headed through the dense spruce forest towards Santa’s Grot, I saw hundreds of kids climbing into the trees, helped by teams of tour guides and forestry officials. When we returned, they were hanging from the branches in slings, giggling as they swivelled and swayed, and I assumed it was all part of the Experience for young children.

But it seems the Lapland Experience is no more than a trade deal between the Lapp Government and my tour company Lapp-It-Up Ltd. Believe it or not, Rufus, the children are handed over to the Lapps for decorating conifers along the tourist trail – which at seventy or eighty feet are too big for conventional decorations – and in return, under the stewardship of Mrs Claws, the Lapps supply catering for the return trip. Simple bartering – children for reindeer meat.

Quite clever, I thought. The kids are delighted, messing about in trees rather than being hustled around gift shops or Santa’s Grot, and thousands of tourists get to see live and original decorations! And to the Lapps, with vast supplies of reindeer, it makes sense to trade their delicious, slow-roasted venison pies, though I’ve heard German visitors prefer polar bear or wolf. The pie means the Experience lasts through the return journey, with the added benefit that parents can enjoy it in relative peace. I assume they collect the children at the end of the season.

The day trip was good value, I thought, for five thousand pounds, although there wasn’t a lot happening at Santa’s Grot. Santa was missing, and I found out later he takes it easy during the day, partly because he’s busy at night stocking up wholesale depots for Christmas Eve, but also because the sherry has got a hold of him over the years. I did see him leaning unsteadily on his door as we were about to head back, but something told me, ‘take care’. He had that white, long-haired look about him, and I didn’t feel at all comfortable when he winked and asked, ‘Want to see in my Grot, son?’

And Rudolph the reindeer was a bit quiet; with a nose that colour, he and Santa clearly had some kind of sherry-sharing arrangement. Not that the rest of the herd showed much interest. Donner was helping out down his grandad’s kebab shop; his best mate Dasher was more intent on wooing Vixen than pleasing tourists, not a nice experience for Vixen since Dasher was out of sorts after a stag do the night before; Comet was away dealing with supply problems for electrical gifts; the two gay reindeer, Prancer and Dancer, were having  a particularly bitchy rut; Cupid was also away, working the on/off switch for the aurora borealis; and Blitzen, the most objectionable one, was strutting back and forth, quietly sledging other reindeer with comments like, ‘You’ve got no effing chance of getting picked tonight!’

As for the elves, frankly Rufus they were more like Santa’s Little Hoodies than the Helpers we’d been led to expect. And I’m sure they’re part of a Santa scam; I heard several people reporting lost mobiles and wallets, and wouldn’t mind betting the resourceful Hoodies had pinched them for recycling to the boss’s gift store.

Since this is a night flight I’ve seen the occasional sleigh zooming past, now they’re all back at work. I even saw The Snowman heading somewhere – very moving.

Happy 2013! And can you say hello to Uncle Ian if you see him. Sad, isn’t it? His first Christmas without Auntie Fifi.

Cheers – Paul

Paul Costello © December 2012

www.paulcostello.me

@PaulCostello8

Utterly Undiscovered by Paul Costello. Comical Bed and Breakfast memoir.  

Out spring 2013. Publisher: Fineleaf Editions.  www.fineleaf.co.uk

ISBN 978-1-907741-30-2  

Postcard from Gloucester

Dear Auntie Evelyn

I love the bus station cafe. There’s something homely about a woman mopping with disinfectant as I nibble at my Bakewell tart and make a spoon stand in the tea.

Been to Gloucester – to save a few bob and catch a movie. There’s a bleak feel to the centre. Chain stores like Next and Currys have moved to retail parks, or like Woolworths gone out of business, and many premises stay empty. Town clocks have stopped in sympathy – at twenty to four, the ‘sad’ smiley.

But other shops like Greggs and McDonalds do well when there’s little money about. And in Northgate, Wilkinsons sells cheap essentials from a bright and well-stocked store with vague checkout assistants. Mine, fresh out of school, said they only sold second class stamps in twelves, but then asked if I wanted six or twelve, all the while looking over my shoulder as if fixated by Don’t Tell the Bride on a wall-mounted TV.

‘But you only do twelves,’ I said.

‘Six or twelve?’ she repeated.

‘You told me you only do twelves,’ I said.

‘Okay, twelve,’ she said, not seeing the funny side of it.

Trade is briskest in Southgate. Four years ago Poundland grabbed all the budget customers with a £1 store, before a 99p Store set up opposite, stealing much of Poundland’s trade. An enterprising local then opened a 98p Store next to Poundland, and it was no surprise when a 97p Store took up residence in an old Bradford and Bingley premises next to the 99p store. The pattern continued down the street, even prices one side, odd the other, and it’s now got as far as a 17p Store, with 13 to 16 opening shortly.

I must say, auntie, this is a boon for everyone. In the last year I’ve refurbished my entire living room and kitchen for two pounds, thirty three pence. I know much of it doesn’t match and isn’t Lakeland quality, but it’s better on the pocket. Even this postcard was discounted to 1p in the 21p Store – sorry there’s no picture!

I had lunch in the docks (a Fatty Melt™ from Greggs and a Twix reduced to 7p in the 18p Store), surrounded by beautifully preserved but largely unoccupied warehouse conversions and glossy restaurants with few customers. Meanwhile, some folk are being forced to live in semi-derelict houseboats. One barge called Hope had a revolving dryer on deck, holding trousers, a shirt and a pair of knickers. When a woman came through the shutter doors to collect them, I saw how far things had gone; down to one set of clothes and having to hang them out with nothing on! It’s really sad, auntie, that things have come to such a pretty pass.

Yet, off Westgate, the fine 15th century tower of Gloucester cathedral, an inspirational setting for Harry Potter and Shakespeare productions, rises proudly through the deprivation. Other gems sit amongst the post-war drabness, like the decorative frontage of the Imperial Inn and the fascinating clock figures above Bakers the jewellers, fighting a lonely battle with the bland fascias of Southgate’s discount stores.

And I’m impressed by the high spirit in these tough times. With a large student population there’s a youthful vibrancy to the streets, fashion-conscious youngsters thriving on cheap deals from Primark and burgeoning charity shops. Other generations have followed. I saw groups of men chatting and laughing outside Wetherspoons in handsome retro shell suits, and on Eastgate, lively, ruddy-faced people had gathered on town benches to chat and share a drink. A man stepped in front of me and asked,

‘Have you got any money, mate?’

I hadn’t thought I looked in need, and assured him I had enough, but I was overwhelmed by the locals’ generosity, when they too must be feeling the pinch.

Near their meeting place is a barely discernible doorway leading to a different world. A grand staircase rises to the galleried corridors and panelled rooms that make The Guildhall a perfect escape from the Gloucester chill. For a giveaway £5.50, tea and lemon drizzle cake are included in a Screen Tea Matinee at the delightful art house cinema. I’ve just seen an excellent VW Polo advertisement, followed by a thought-provoking, if slow-moving Argentinian film about cattle rustling. Before the red velvet curtains opened, I sat sipping Earl Grey at my beaten-copper side table, swapping literary banter with other World Cinema enthusiasts, watched over by handsome characters in rich oil paintings above the frieze of what must once have been a thriving boardroom.

Well, my bus is due, so must dash. I’m expecting another hairy Stagecoach journey. On the way, the driver cornered the double-decker so fast that the top deck bounced off the hedges each side. I thought he was just showing off with that captain’s hat – but he clearly pictured himself banking to land.

Bye for now, Auntie Evelyn. Hope the ulcer is better. Absorbent gauze is so expensive, but it’s definitely the best thing for weeping sores.

Love Paul

Paul Costello  ©  November 2012

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News

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Fineleaf Editions

Philip Gray

The first Fineleaf title in 2013 will be a new book by Paul Costello – Utterly Undiscovered. The author sets the scene:

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?

http://www.fineleaf.co.uk

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