M and I have been friends for just over 12 years and have been planning for almost all of that time to spend some girlie time together, away from responsibility and animals and people. We finally managed a day together on my birthday last year. Previous plans to go to variously – Edinburgh, Brighton, Canterbury, South Africa, Glastonbury etc were scrapped due variously to her business, sick cats, my manic life, my job, more sick cats and then finally, my joblessness. So over the years we have become used to last minute cancellations, trip wires of extraordinary size and a universe which refused to play ball.
Nothing is more frustrating than wanting something quite reasonable and not being able to have it. So when we started making plans for this trip, a few months back, we booked the dates in and neither of us actually set our hearts on it. It was already an emotionally loaded occasion, my Mom’s birthday, the first after her death and we wanted to mark it in a way that made sense to us and also in a way Mom would have enjoyed. It is one of my greatest delights that both my parents met M and spent good time with her. They both adored her and she them. We all shared a common sense of humour, an ability to find joy in simple things and a love of nature and people and many were the laughs when we were together.
M and I laugh often. We have cried often too. We find it almost impossible to define our relationship without resorting to clichés. There is no real word for people who are as close as we are. It is also impossible to put a crazy, chortle-filled weekend into words that make sense to others, especially as so many of our laughs contain a friendship’s worth of sharing.
When we were booking our Brighton On A Budget™ weekend we had to plan carefully to avoid paying shedloads of money. I won’t go into the saga that ensued after one of her good friends had kindly offered us her place to stay and then had to go off to Ireland, assuming that we would intuit that she would be back in time to leave the keys with someone else who we didn’t even know existed, but with three days to go I started to lose my nerve and decided to book an hotel. Two hours later (don’t ever book the Travelodge in Brighton – they wanted £161 for a twin room for ONE night) we finally found an hotel room within our budget which had its own bathroom. I won’t mentioned the one I nearly booked with a shared bathroom (yuck!!!) …
We ended up with a double room, own bathroom, on the seafront. It became quite clear that a couple of people had a suspicion that we might not just be very good friends when they put Brighton, a weekend away and a double bed together … and we were the subject of some questioning and a lot of banter … but it was booked, it was paid for (or so I thought) and we were off …
Then her friend got in touch to say she was on her way back and to cancel the hotel room …which of course we couldn’t do as there was a 72 hour period in which cancellation meant full payment anyway … grrrr …
This however is not an unusual occurrence – one of the many things M and I have in common is an ability to get delayed, snafu’ed and caught up in drama almost continually so this glitch was simply One of Those Things.
I did my usual cram-everything-into-a-short-space-of-time trick and Thursday evening saw me meeting an old friend for drinks and dinner and giggles and weaving my way home at silly-o-clock, which meant Friday consisted of gettingupratherjaded-runningtoM’s-gettingtripwiredanddelayed-runninghomewithcatbiscuits-runningtotheshopforlitter-removingeverybitoffrozenfishfromTesco’s-cleaningtidyingandcookingfish (because I had run out of everything) and then sitting down at 7pm for quick drinks with another friend, only to continue the cleaning at 9pm and packing finally at 2am, getting to bed finally at 3am.
The next morning, I couldn’t recall what I had packed but there was no time to check once I had had a restorative and very necessary large cup of tea, fed the furries and horsed out of the door.
I am an experienced traveller so thought it was best to trust that I could pack in my sleep. I had also packed my only smallish suitcase on wheels (my overnight bag was not big enough), on the basis that I didn’t want to hoick a normal case around Brighton, that I was bound to bring something back, even if it was just a whole lot of animal and protest magazines and so the giggling started when Mick, M’s husband (who is the epitome of lanky masculinity and who had kindly agreed to drive us to the station) walked down the road with my bright pink, flowery case and put it into the van next to M’s neat little overnight case.
Rain and the bank nearly stopped play when I realised that I had booked the train tickets on my old card and the replacement card did not work (thankfully I had not yet done as the bank insisted and torn up my old card), we got deluged and the tickets stuck together but we were in good time and caught a slightly earlier train to the station where we would pick up the Brighton connection.
There was just enough time to grab tea (mine) and coffee (hers) and I dashed onto the train just before it pulled out. It was a semi-fast, M went off to find the ladies and I attempted to drink my tea. Hydration (rather than rain) and heat were key requirements at that stage so I was well into my cup by the time she came back. As she took the lid off hers, the train did a quick one-two-one-two over some points at speed and the coffee rose to meet her. “Oh great” she said, “we can’t have coffee without Having An Event”. That set the tone for the rest of the journey. Luckily the train was rather empty as I doubt everyone would enjoy listening to two middle aged women cackling fit to burst for an hour.
Brighton arrived as we took out last sips, we disembarked and chatting away, we walked down the road. As part of my general Travel Preparedness ™, I had printed a map but the wonderful weather had made a rather pretty watercolour of it. I had also tracked the route on the map before leaving (I am so OCD organised) so we were reliant mostly on my nose to get us to the next post code. An hour later, punctuated by plaintive cries of “is it this road” (M), general swearing (me), oh my poor back (both of us) cases dropping (me) and whinging (me again), we found our hotel, was met by a lovely little man (who did a quick double take at us –I guess the combination of my name – the diminutive is male-sounding – and the double bed led him to expect a male-female combo) and shown to our room.
The room was small. In fact, it was so tiny it was eclipsed only by an hotel room I stayed in when I went to Chester for work, which was the size of a small cupboard. The door opened, met the bed, I had visions of ChesterAllOverAgain and it took sometime to for M to navigate round my hysterical form and my large pink case to see what I was laughing at. I am exactly 5ft3 and a half inches tall. The bed was exactly my size provided my head touched the wall.
However it had tea, coffee, a kettle, a loo and a shower and a small area for clothes hanging. By dint of organisation and M’s neatness OCD, within half an hour we had managed to unpack, put the kettle on and organise ourselves.
Neither of us had thought about much beyond actually getting there so, with some surprise at actually finding ourselves in Brighton, we took a walk along the seafront, had a super meal at Harry Ramsden’s and hit the Lanes. Much mooching (both of us), window shopping (both of us) and snarling (me – the amount of fur on sale in Brighton is horrific), purchase of a super black gothy jacket (me again) later, we had had some great conversations, drunk litres of tea, were completely drenched and headed back for some R&R. We then hit a pub (with more lovely food) and arrived back at 11pm, just in time to catch the last CSI of the night.
M and I are both quite insomniacal so we made diligent preparations for sleep, involving alcohol (me) and some herbal help (M), several cigarettes on the cold stone step outside and I got in the shower.
It was cold. In fact it was bloody freezing. Now I am a bath whale. I love a good wallow in boiling water (preferably with essential oils or bubbles) and do not enjoy showers overly much. So to find that there was no bath (fairly common) was one thing. To not be able to step under the shower in case my nipples froze and fell off was another.
I decided to pour a drink but whilst M had a bedside table, I had a table with the kettle, cups, tea and coffee and our bottles on it. As well as a lamp. The poor lamp stood no chance as I carefully inserted the wine bottle into the minute gap afforded to us and tinkle-tinkle went the shade. Oops and after a frantic search I found the piece, tried to pop it back in but glass is glass and it wasn’t having it.
M played Mum and ran the shower for me whilst I grumped outside, having another cigarette in the rain and seaside wind. Fifteen minutes later, warm water was evident in the basin but the shower had not risen beyond about 5 degrees. As I got in, it decreased to freezing. M was very amused to hear a five minute tirade about the weather, the ancestry of the hoteliers and the coldness of the water, interspersed with whimpers. What made my night complete was the further discovery that instead of the bathsheet and hand towel I thought I had been given, I was trying to warm up and dry up with pieces of towelling not much bigger than my face cloth.
M was sitting up doing the crossword as I dove into bed, my teeth chattering. The bed, small, light and not used to (wo)manhandling, travelled across the floor several inches. M’s head slammed off the pillows and narrowly missed the wall. “That’s it”, she said coolly, turning to me “we’re not having sex in this bed”.
And like two Victorian ladies (just with our caps missing but still sniggering) we settled in for the night. She didn’t hear much of my snoring but apparently I am a complete duvet hogger and I managed a wicked backwards kick into her shin midway through the night. Her snores were like quiet little purrs so I felt right at home.
As we are as both straight as heck, there was definitely no sex, but we spared a thought for all the people who had attempted to do the jiggy before our residency and wondered how many had been catapulted through the window into the rather dank courtyard below.
Before going to sleep, I managed to replace the missing bit of broken glass and hoped for the best. I realised that my superglue idea was not a good one (glue + heat = fire) so was very pleased to find I could actually get the inserted piece to stay.
We got up reasonably early the next day. There was definitely no smoking indoors and I don’t wake up until a good cup of tea and two fags so what happened next should be no surprise.
As we staggered out the door, a man in the day room who bore a remarkable resemblance to the hotelier (to my jaded and short sighted eyes) said “morning”, we said “morning” back and huddled into the shelter of the doorway to light up. The next moment, the hotelier walked up the road towards us, with the papers under his arm. I looked, looked again and said “morning”. He told us rather sharply that he thought we were too smart to be smokers and I asked how he had managed to get out of the hotel so quickly – did he have a secret passage? M convulsed as she had realised the man in the day room was in fact another person entirely. I tried to melt into the brickwork in embarrassment.
We then took a wander up to the North Laines. Ignoring the clothing shops with fur (six of the buggers) for a moment, I do love the shops in Brighton. Apart from more gallivanting about, M had two things she needed to do – one was a card for her granddaughter and the second was to try and match some makeup which was running out and which was also no longer being made.
After a lovely lunch in the Manor Tearoom (which I can highly recommend as friendly, with gorgeous food and proper tea served in a pot) I found a wooden cat in a shop. Now, I don’t like cat ornaments, I have boxes full of the blasted things I have been given as gifts; but this really appealed. Around 3 ft high and hand carved, it had the sweetest face and after pointing it out to M, she offered to buy it for me for my birthday. The price was rather steep so we did a quick “are-you-sure-have-you-seen-the-price-do-you-really-want-it” shuffle and finally agreed that it was way too big and heavy to carry about and we would come back for it on Monday. M checked and discovered it was the only one they had but I wanted to think about it and decided that if it was meant to be, it would be waiting for us.
A quick dive into a pub ended up in a meeting with a singer who knew a friend of M’s so we were advised to go for dinner in a restaurant that we had spotted that morning and where they would be playing. We mooched about a bit more before we realised the time and found our way back across town to the standard shops. My feet were on fire by this time so M went to find her cards and I sat in the rain outside and had a ciggie before limping back into the shopping centre to meet her.
A visit to Boots followed to try and match the makeup and of course we got steered to all the makeup brands which test on animals. After an hour of me going “not bloody Bourjois and L’Oreal”, M going “that shade does not match mine” and both our nerves sorely frayed, we found a Rimmel brand not unlike the 17 foundation she had and we caught a cab back to the hotel.
Freshened up and in different shoes (me again) we ventured out, found the restaurant, greeted the band and then discovered the food I wanted had sold out. The restaurant also charged the GDP of a small African country for drinks so we left, found an Italian and toasted Mom in style, with mussels (which she adored) and wine (ditto). We found the Hand In Hand pub in which the band were due to play at next and bagged the last two seats as their set began. The pub is tiny but very friendly, we were treated like locals and we had a brilliant evening before going back to the hotel to have a nightcap. I had got hold of some Amaretto (which merited another drama involving a cabbie, the Off Licence From Hell, the Co-op and finally, another off licence) and we drank a toast to both Mom and Dad before continuing to chat way past 2am.
Monday morning we got up, a lot less worse for wear than I thought, packed and then exited the room. M realised that we had more photos of shops selling fur than we did of us so a quick photocall on the steps led to the second of the hoteliers asking us whether we wanted our photo taken together. This led to his suggestion that the bill was not paid, I said it was and as it turned out the terms and conditions on the website are different to theirs (a great help) and they had in fact only taken payment for the first night. My card was produced, all paid up and I mentioned the showers. His business partner had arrived back by that stage and tested it. It worked fine. No idea what we did but boy, was I looking forward to my bath when I got home!
Both of us winced as we got in the cab and suggested various time periods it might take for them to discover the chipped lamp. I was going to tell them but decided not to, on the basis of the cold shower, changed my mind and then time ran out. I have no doubt I shall see an entry on my card soon enough!
This morning we got up, hit the North Laines and retrieved the cat (which did not come with packaging or a box and thus involved a major reshuffle of my case, with everything ending up on the floor of the shop as the owner and customers looked on in bewilderment and M collapsed with giggles). M eventually suggested a diagonal insertion which worked and off we went.
After a trek akin to the Sherpas and Mount Everest (golly is that cat heavy and thank gods for wheels and strong suitcase zips), we made the station with enough time to spare for takeaway coffee (M) and tea (me) and wended our way home. All in all, a fabulous weekend and one we plan to repeat. Let’s hope it doesn’t take us another 12 years to get there!
A final wheeze was had by updating my facebook page with the news that I had another cat. Several lovely people responded by saying “how marvellous”; but there was a deep and lingering silence mostly. Every single person who knows me well fell for it hook, line and sinker and were most surprised to find out that Woody was an ornament. M and I were in stitches :-).