You’ve Been So Kind

William Hardy always took his holidays in August.

Normally he had a fortnight with his sister Ruth, her husband David and their three unpleasant children. A cheap seaside hotel was usually all they could afford, Ruth being a nurse and David an alcoholic. William came on the understanding he looked after the children while their parents went to the pub, Ruth believing that this way David’s gargantuan appetite for lager and whisky could be constrained within some apology for family life. The presence of a pharmacist and a nurse was useful as the boys had inherited from their father a facility for getting into fights with people larger than themselves. It seemed an unpromising recipe for relaxation but William enjoyed buying ice creams, taking the children out when Ruth and David were about to row, sweeping up broken glass: in short, fussing about with the consequences of a dysfunctional relationship for which he was not responsible and from which for the rest of the year he was mercifully physically removed.

“Off anywhere nice for your holidays?” Geraldine at the shop asked.

“Probably go away with my sister Ruth’s family. Sam’s nearly eight now.”

“Coo.”

“How about you?”

“Dunno.”

But this year, the day before they were due to leave, one of the children had fallen ill. Eventually he decided to go on his own. He phoned the hotel in Bognor Regis to explain that rather than being six, they would now be one.

“It’s most inconvenient,” the woman had sniffed.

“I apologise for the lateness,” William replied, getting increasingly abject. “I’ve only just been informed. One of the children has been taken ill.”

“Well, it’s most inconvenient.”

The Hotel Shakespeare was just off the Promenade and narrowly missed having a view either of the sea or the South Downs. The owners were Mr and Mrs Bernard, she a willowy, dispirited woman who seemed always to have her mind on some sad event in the past, he a silent, balding man with large hands whose hobby appeared to be hammering at pipes in the basement. Just as Mrs Bernard found solace in semi-detached melancholia, so her husband had thrown himself into DIY. Nothing in the hotel worked properly, though whether because of or despite Mr Bernard’s interventions was hard to tell. His commitment couldn’t be faulted and he was rarely to be seen without his canvas tool bag, stripping wires, lifting floorboards, marking crosses on the wallpaper with a square, blunt pencil. Such a scene had greeted William on his arrival. In the act of giving him his room-key, Mrs Bernard’s concentration had transferred itself to the top of a ladder on which her husband was balancing as he tried to disembowel a ceiling rose.

“John, I don’t think that…Oh well, I suppose, but…” she had said.

“Of course it…Grumph,” her husband had replied.

The hotel was really run by Sophie, a formidable woman of about twenty. William fell foul of her on the first morning to do with the system for the front-door key.

“So, if I’m not the last person in…”

“Look, it’s very simple…”

William had no wish to be the last person in. Even if Sophie’s system were not daunting enough, early to bed, early to rise had always been his attitude. Bognor Regis was hardly awash with son et lumiere displays and he was no astronomer, so what was there to keep him up? Being on his own was proving pleasant. He could re-charge his batteries after twelve months of ministering to Godalming’s warts and boils: a welcome break from routine but without the attendant danger of the unexpected.

This changed on the afternoon of the third day.

 

• The rest of this story is now available in a paperback book (as are 25 others) – Unaccustomed as I Am (RRP £9.95).

It is stocked by the Hungerford Bookshop and you can place your order here.

Copies are also available at the White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough, the Mad Hatter Bookshop in Wantage and through an increasing number of other retailers.

You can order it from any bookshop: they will need to know that the ISBN is 978-1-8382580-0-9 and that it can be ordered from Gardners or Central Books.

 

Brian Quinn
• For further articles, please click here
• For rants and musings set to music, please click here

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