Nein! Nine! Nein!


Last night I was sat with Val and Kate in a restaurant in Puerto de Pollensa. We somehow started reminiscing about how difficult it was to phone someone in the UK from Spain, long before mobile phones were thought of. I contribute a tale of a trip to Granada and the then primitive Spanish telephone system. The story is this:

In November 1986 Ann, Kate’s mother, Laura, her sister and I are approaching the outskirts of Granada. It is a late holiday to recover from a harrowing year. Ann is in remission, we are optimistic and in good spirits. As we approach Granada the snow caps of the Sierra Nevada mountains are draped like clouds in the cloudless blue sky. Before entering the city we stop in a lay-by to review the map. As we ponder the map a man on a moped pulls up alongside us and taps on the window of our Seat Panda. If we follow him he will lead us into the city, and, of course, he knows of a nice affordable hotel. We shake off the worry that he has the appearance of a bandito and follow him into the beautiful and historic city. Predictably he pulls up in front of the most expensive hotel in Granada, and a concierge in a top hat and an confused expression approaches our battered rental car. As Laura is only nine years old I still my tongue and simply say a polite “no thank you” in appalling Spanish and drive off leaving the Bandito and the Concierge in a heated conversation.

Eventually we find a more suitable, modestly priced establishment: the Hotel Roma.

It was clean and pleasant. There was a central courtyard where we would be served breakfast and the evening meal. We were lucky to get a room as the hotel was hosting a party of German school children.

One evening we are quietly eating our evening meal as the German children gather noisily around their teacher in the courtyard. The teacher informs the proprietor in English that they are going somewhere cultural and will return at nine o’clock and they file out of the door.
Later as we sit at our dining table a phone rings. And rings and rings and rings. The phone is mounted on the wall not far from my head. The proprietor is either profoundly deaf or dead. I’m not, so, desperate to stop the racket I decide to answer it. A bad idea.
“Hallo, this is the Hotel Roma.” The line is poor; it fizzes and crackles.
“Gut, gut, I vish to speak vit my son, Hans.” Says the caller, “Is ‘e there?”
Through the hissing of the line I pick up the German accent and just catch the name Hans. Obviously Hans is one of the school kids.

“He is not here. He will be back at nine.” I carefully explain in the pedantic way the British speak to foreigners.

“Vot! Hans is not there?” Says the anxious voice.

“He will be back at NINE!” I repeat impatiently

“Yes, NINE.”

But through the crackling of the phone line the concerned father is only hearing the word nine, or nein: German for no.

“You say NO!, Hans is not at the hotel! Ver can ‘e be!”

“No, I said NINE!”




This verbal tennis match with the word ‘nine’ continues for a few moments more, then, hearing the proprietor coming through from the kitchen, I terminate the call. As coffee is served I say nothing. It was all too surreal.
Somewhere in Düsseldorf or Hamburg a German Vater is staring at his telephone in anxious disbelief.

30 years later fuelled by wine I loudly relate all this to Val and Kate with emphasis on ‘zee’ German accent and the words ‘vot’ and ‘nein / nine’. Kate laughs, obviously thinking the story funny, but Val only smiles weakly. As I wonder why she isn’t laughing Val leans forward and quietly tells me that the group at the table behind me are Germans.


As we stand to leave a woman at the offended table gives me a look that says: “Thank God the British are leaving the EU.”

A night at the Beach View Hotel


The AA inspector’s opinion of the Beach View hotel in Blackpool was not positive. It was not so much the absence of a beach view, teasingly promised, that had disappointing Derek Sutton.

He had had a virtually sleepless night due to the exuberant and noisy occupants of room 8, on the other side of the thin, woodchip decorated partition that subdivided the once large and elegant Victorian room.

In his acerbic comment on the assessment form he wrote of the rhythmic and persistent thump of the head board on the wall, accompanied by what sounded like a hyena on crack cocaine that stirred a decade old memory of a safari camp on the Serengeti.

Unsurprisingly the guests in room 8 had not slept either.

Tracy, sat up in bed, ignored the admonishing signs and lit a cigarette.

“God, that was brilliant, Tony,” she said, “just like old times.”

“Yeah, fancy meeting up again at the conference.” Said Tony, adjusting his tie.

“It must be nearly three years.” Said Tracy.

“Yeah, must be. I got married the year after.”

“That’s great Tony. She nice?”

“Yeah…Last night, you were going to say something,”

“I was, Tony but we got carried away didn’t we.”

“What was it?”

“I just meant to say.. …bit late now though……the doctor at the clinic told me not to have unprotected sex for at least……..”

“You stupid, selfish cow………….!”

The violently slammed door of room 8 sent a Richter Scale tremor through the building. In the ground floor office, Doris Smalling, listening attentively to the appraisal of her hotel flinched, and a drizzle of dust dislodged from the plastic chandelier caused the inspector to cough.

“As I was saying, the soundproofing let’s you down,” said Derek, “otherwise, we might have be looking at two stars”.


The challenge was to write a piece of 300 words that included the phrase ‘l just meant to say’.

Don’t be late, again



When I waited in spring
Under the cherry tree
As the blossom fell
Like confetti
You were late

When I waited in summer
Under the cherry tree
As the green leaves
Shaded me
You were late

Then I waited in Autumn
Under the cherry tree
As leaves fell dead
To the ground
You were late

Now, I wait in winter
Under the cherry tree
As snow flakes fall
In the cold air
Don’t be late, again

Just fucking don’t

What watch?


That posh bloke who arrived in the Bentley was in the bar last night.

I was doing the bar shift. Lucky the place was quiet; he got well pissed. Started ranting on about his wife. Going to divorce him, take all his money, wanted the shirt off his back. A proper bitch he said.

I was still on reception when he appeared in the morning. Looked okay, considering. Going for a walk, he said. Told him rain was forecast but he didn’t seem to give a toss.

“Eric,” he said, “kindly give this note to my money grubbing wife when she arrives.”

Of course, later when I was making a brew, I steamed the envelope open; like you do, and read the message. It said:

Where the path diverges look for the discarded clothing, watch and wallet. That’s the cliff path.

I ran out of the hotel like Usain Bolt.

It was just as he said. A neat pile: pin stripe suit, shoes, shirt, old school tie. And the watch he kept saying was worth fifteen grand. I kicked the lot over the cliff edge. Not the watch of course. He wouldn’t need to know the time where he’d gone.


The writing group task : write a 200 word story written around a message given to me by another member of our group. Anonymously.


A Scottish culinary piece


Early in our relationship, I took Ann on a date to see a David Gates, then a popular American singer perform at Leeds Town Hall. It was February and the auditorium was freezing, the victim of a power cut, and everyone was dressed in winter attire; the audience a sea of fur hats. It looked like a Dr Zhivago convention. This was the 1970’s the decade of power cuts, miner’s strikes and three day weeks. The star, probably wishing he was back in Oklahoma, heroically performed in a thin suit and a shirt with some buttons undone to reveal a bare chest, no doubt covered in more goose pimples than hairs. An equally heroic orchestra provided the music, supported by the castanet chatter of teeth from the audience. We clapped manically at the end of each number, the only way to generate bodily heat.

Periodically, during the performance the man sat next to Ann climbed over some empty seats in front of us, scuttled along the row and left the hall, only to return again a few minutes later to climb back into his seat. When he wasn’t seat hurdling he quietly, and annoyingly, hummed and and loudly whistled along with the performer. Either he had a severe incontinence problem or he was one, or maybe two, notes short of an octave. At first he was an amusing diversion and Ann and I smiled at each other in the darkness.

As the second half of the show starts there was a strange rustling noise from our bizarre neighbour.
“What’s he doing now?” asked Ann out of the side of her mouth.
I leant forward and peered through the gloom, leant back and whispered, a little too loudly, “He’s got his piece out”.
The surrounding seats creaked and squeaked as the members of the audience within earshot of my stage whisper shifted uneasily; the way sheep react when they notice a dog peering with intent through a five bar gate.
“CHANGE SEATS WITH ME, NOW!” demanded Ann, now rigid with fear, in a much louder stage whisper. We changed seats and I sat next to the oddball as he noisily munched his ham sandwich … or if you were a recent immigrant from Scotland, a ham piece.