This morning, I woke with a start, suddenly realising that my Facebook posts were set to Public. Which meant that if Julie (of the filthy Airbnb) knew my full name she would be able to see them. I wasn’t so concerned about that, as I do think she needs to know. What I was bothered about was that she would see the posts before I escaped, and set the sniffing dogs on me. I hurriedly changed the setting to ‘Friends Only.’
As it happened, I was up by 7am, desperate to leave. Although I like a shower in the mornings the handwritten instructions, pinned to the wall, looked as though you needed a degree in physics to be able to follow them, so with Julie’s words ringing in my ears (‘There’s always plenty of hot water’) I ran a bath. Or should I say, I ran half a bath in every sense of the word.
The water was tepid at best, and collected at the tap end like a sinking ship. Before I could run the water I had to remove the bottle of dog shampoo that was wedged between taps and bath, as though preventing the taps from turning themselves on. Trying not to ponder on the fact that the two dogs might have been the last ones to sit in this bath, I lowered myself with some trepidation into a kneeling position and rapidly washed myself in the cooling water.
As I left the bathroom, wrapped in a towel that just about covered my modesty, and took the two strides to my room I heard a door open behind me. I turned round to see the door closing. Dressing as quickly as possible I threw the last items in my case and prepared to leave.
Much to my relief, breakfast had never been mentioned (although it annoys me that these places are described as B&Bs) so I descended the stairs with my luggage to see a male figure kneeling down, bent over the two dogs and fiddling with their coats. His back was towards me but he must have heard me thumping down the stairs with a case, two rucksacks, a carrier bag and a coat.
‘Morning,’ I addressed his back.
‘Morning,’ he replied miserably, remaining on the floor with his back towards me. He didn’t turn round.
At this point I decided he’d either read my comments on Facebook or he’d been disgusted with me leaving the bathroom in only a towel. It did occur to me that it could have been the fact that he and Julie had spent the night in separate bedrooms, something she had been at great pains to inform me the previous evening. To be honest, their sleeping arrangements were way down on my list of worries. Or perhaps I’d pinched his parking space on the drive.
Whatever the problem, I was beginning to lose patience with this whole set up. I was in a filthy house with a mad woman, a miserable man and two bum sniffing dogs. And I’d paid £20 for the privilege. I’m sure there’s some sexual deviant somewhere in the world who would pay double that for the bum sniffing dogs alone but it sure as hell wasn’t me. The dogs stared at me with what looked like disdain. I wondered what the miserable man had told them about me. As for Julie, there was no sign.
I bumped and dragged my bags to the front door, with an overly cheery, ‘Right, I’ll be off now, then.’ As I tried to manoeuvre myself and heavy suitcase over the dog stair gate between front door and porch, Miserable Man finally turned round and asked sullenly if I needed a hand. I nodded and he picked up the case, marched outside and dumped it next to my car, then, without a word, turned and went back in, sliding the porch door shut with some difficulty, just as Julie’s head appeared over his shoulder.
‘Bye,’ she called as the door was slammed shut.
I was out.
If you’ve ever driven on a motorway when your wipers can’t keep up with the hailstones that batter your windscreen, combined with the spray from the lorry in front, then you’ll know what my journey was like this morning. Add to that unfamiliar territory, a mist that came down within seconds and the perils of Tunnels Dartmouth and Channel and you’ll have an even better idea of why my hands went numb from gripping the steering wheel so tightly.
As you know, Sally Satnav and I have developed a love hate relationship over the past couple of weeks. I love the way I can put in a postcode, then just sit back and let Sally boss me about and tell me off. However, I hate the way Sally can get it wrong occasionally (think M1 detour last Thursday) but never admit it was her fault.
It was all just about ok this morning until a sign flashed up telling me the Dartford Tunnel was closed. As that was where I was heading I didn’t really know what to do. So, I clutched the steering wheel, gritted my teeth, peered through the hail and spray and carried on regardless. Now I’m not sure what happened (and I’m going to google it shortly) but the next thing I knew I was heading for something called the Dart Cross, with big signs telling me I could pay online. It was like a toll road but without the toll.
Finally I arrived in Dover to see my best friend of fifty four years standing. A quick brew, a condensed chat and I was on my way again, back into the mist and spray, en route to another little walk down Memory Lane. For years our family spent holidays with cousins in Westgate, near Margate. I can remember the thrill of coming over the brow of a hill and seeing the sea for the first time.
Today, amazingly, as I came to the top of the hill the dark clouds parted and the sun and blue skies shone through. Every year as we neared Fitzmary Avenue where they lived my dad (in a reference to the actor, Fatty Arbuckle) would say, ‘What fits Arbuckle fits Mary.’ My mum, Mary, would roll her eyes, and I don’t think we kids laughed after the first couple of years. It was all part of the holiday ritual though, as was walking down to the Sunken Garden at the bottom of the road, and skipping across the seaweed covered rocks below. I thought my cousins were the luckiest kids on earth.
Today I stopped and took a quick picture through the car window of the house they used to live in, and thought about the happy times we’d had there. My uncle was a baker and I could still imagine him, coming round the back gate with a tray of cakes for tea. My younger brother and I were scared of him because he was big with huge feet and talked in a loud voice – probably years of shouting above the machinery in the bakery. We managed to overcome our fear to choose a cake from the tray though.
A little reminisce then onto Margate where I was looking forward to getting pictures of Dreamland – another rare childhood treat. Sadly, the building was wrapped in huge banners and obviously under repair.
I walked down to the beach where the sky seemed to split in two, and watched a man relentlessly flying a kite in the wind and rain. It was freezing cold with an icy wind whipping round my ears. A father stood watching two young children building sandcastles, his hands jammed in his pockets. Twice I heard him pleading with them to come off the beach. I remembered that lovely feeling of being totally lost in play, oblivious to the cold, and thought about all those days fifty years ago when my mum had sat on that same beach whilst my brothers and cousins and I played endless games of jumping off the wall and making moats around castles, waiting for the sea to come in and eventually destroy them.
What happy, carefree, uncomplicated days, although my mum did say in latter years that she thought Auntie Jean had got the best job – staying in and cooking dinner while she (mum) came down to the beach with five children. With hindsight, she had a point.
I followed the road around the coast, savouring the names of my childhood holidays: Westgate, Garlinge, Westbrook, Cliftonville, Ramsgate, Pegwell Bay. I stopped at intervals to take pictures, all the while thinking about those holidays.
Now, at the Airbnb in Ramsgate, I lie on the bed writing this blog and think how strange it is that fifty odd years have gone by like five.