Such are the tribulations of recent weeks that last weekend I opted to vacate the institute and treat Dolores (my doting spouse) to a long weekend away in a foreign land. Not Germany for obvious reasons, and not France either for reasons I am not prepared to reveal here. Spain is just too damned hot this time of year and Dolores refuses to go anywhere where there is even the slightest risk of unhygenic toilets.
So we ended up in Norfolk, England
Now, the East of England is not a place I know well. In fact, my only memory of the place is when I was 13 years old. It was a disastrous week on the Norfolk Broads in a narrow boat designed for 4 people but which played host to 3 families consisting of 9 people in total. I ended up being taken to hospital having been thrown overboard before swallowing a small fish which got lodged in my gullet and made me sound like I had emphysema. The doctors put a rod with retractable claws down my throat, grabbed the fish and pulled it out, scratching the back of my throat in the process and causing my eyes to water somewhat. My other abiding memory of that trip is my first sight of two adults having sex. Not too bad I suppose given that I was entering the adolescent phase of sexual development, and after all sex is neither unnatural and nor uncommon among consenting adults. Except in this case the protagnonists were both male. One of them was my uncle, recently divorced. The other man was someone we had met in a local restaurant the previous night. His name was Dennis.
Part I - Kings Lynn
Facts about Kings Lynn
1) It has the oldest Guildhall left in the country
2) Captain Vancouver was born there. He left to sail the world and left his mark on the place we now know as Canada.
3) It regularly plays host to the 'New Seekers', a fantastic ensemble of talented musicians from a bygone era, reformed and playing to packed houses around the country (mostly semi-detached I suspect, but never mind)
It just so happened that an appearence by the band coincided with our visit, and I lost no time in booking two tickets. My wife was not so keen, as she has more contemporary tastes, and indeed she snorted a couple of times whilst I was enthusing about their back catalogue. She wondered if I had not had enough of 'cash starved comeback bands desperately clinging on to their geriatric fanbase' and I had to spend some time convincing her that this would be the perfect tonic to our stresses.
We had booked ourselves into a hotel recommended by a friend of a friend. It promised 'unique styling in every room based on the concept of the Grand Tour - a popular adventure amongst romantic poets of the 19th Century. Follow in the footsteps of Byron and Shelley as you relax on genuine furniture.
We were in the 'Parisien room' (sic), which consisted of two single beds pushed together, an antique stained pine dressing table, a fake-mahogany coffee table, built in wardrobes, an armchair circa 1985 and brass effect wall mounted lampshades. The only bona fide nod towards the Grand Tour that I could detect was a picture on the wall.
Unfortunately, it was a picture of Venice.
Whilst I planned our 3-hr walking route around the city, Dolores stretched her legs across the coffee table and took forty winks sitting in the chair (the 9 hour drive down starting at 6am had sapped her of energy. I had offered to drive, but she insisted that given my 3 near misses in the last year that perhaps she might do better). Why she didn't use the bed like other people would I have no idea.
It was about 5 o'clock in the afternoon when we finally left the hotel room. Fortunately the weather was fair, and we made good speed on the walking tour recommended to us by the hotel receptionist. The route took us past a few well known spots in Kings Lynn, and everything was going well until we saw this.....
An innocuous piece of graffiti to most people, but to me it signified something else. It was a piece of graffiti I recognised. It was the tag of a someone I knew at school. He hadn't changed it one little bit since he first showed it to me on the back wall of a local pub. Not even the colour was any different. That same lurid green and red spray-paint. It was the tag of none other than my former nemesis - the school bully known as Toby Hancock-Jones.
You may remember Toby from previous posts, if not then you read about him here. The sight of his graffiti made my heart skip a jump, and my senses lept into red alert. He was someone I hadn't seen in over twenty years, and never wanted to encounter again.
'Calm down you daft pillock' said my wife soothingly. 'You don't know it's his, and he could be anywhere. There might be hundreds of these. It's been twenty years for Gods sake. Stop shaking.'
I looked at my hands. They were indeed oscillating. My head was in a flutter, and I felt vaguely nauseous. My throat dried up and a stinging bead of sweat dripped into my left eye. Dolores thought I was actually crying, and stood before me with a mocking expression.
'Come on, let's go. We don't want any upsets do we? Let's go back to the hotel and get ready for the concert yes? Here, take this hankie. There you go. Give it a good blow'
To my own astonishment, I was actually snivelling like a school boy who has just had his knees scraped by a metal rasp held by the school bully. The painful memories were now jostling for attention, and I was forced to relive, standing there on the North Quay of Kings Lynn, several moments of shame and humiliation that had been locked away for years. For a few moments I was a nine year old child again, crying because no-one believed me. Crying because Toby came from a well regarded, wealthy family and was 'simply incapable' of harming anyone else.
We trundled back to the hotel in silence, apart from occasional sob emanating from my broken school-boy's heart. Once we were safely indoors I relaxed a little, but was somewhat reluctant to venture out again. The ever-pragmatic Dolores insisted that we take in the concert to banish the blues. She suggested we take a taxi in order to avoid any potential contact with the former school bully. Feeling somewhat paranoid, I insisted she asked the taxi company to give up the name of the taxi driver. Fortunately, the taxi driver was called Jennifer. Once in the car and en-route to the Corn Exchange I made Jennifer promise to be waiting outside to pick us up after the concert finished, at 11:15pm precisely.
There was a small queue outside the venue, mainly composed of people a few years older than ourselves. Actually, the average age (exlcuding myself and Dolores) was approximately 60 years old. Some people were already getting into the mood by reminding themselves of the first/last time they had seen the New Seekers. One lady not far ahead in the queue thought she had seen one of the band members taking a leak in a back alley earlier that day and had come over all embarrassed. Not too embarassed, it emerged, that she couldn't approach the chap and ask him for his autograph. He duly obliged, but when she took the paper back, she noticed that it was a bit damp in places, and realised that not only had she gained his autograph, but also a sample of his urine. 'I'll treasure it forever!' she declared to raucous laughter from her friends.
'Probably soome poor piss-head look-a-like' whispered Dolores in my ear.
I made Dolores go first, just in case Toby was working in the foyer. Once inside the venue I kept an eagle eye on who was milling around but saw no-one that I recognised. Until, that was, the show was about to start.
I saw him.
He poked his head though the wings from backstage. Just for one moment, but it was long enough for me to recognise the mop of dark hair and dark, forboding eyes, jutting jawline. I let out a small, involuntary shriek that made Dolores jump. Then I grabbed her arm so hard that she let out a shriek of her own. This surprised the elderly woman sitting next to my wife so much that she almost jumped out of her seat. I was still grabbing hold of Dolores's arm, unable to let go. Dolores told me to stop hurting her, a statement that caught the attention of a burly looking man on my right hand side. When she told me a second time he lent towards me and told me, in no uncertain terms, to let go. His authoritative tones had the desired effect, and I managed to extricate my fingers from Dolores's forearm.
'We're going....' I hissed, not wanting to spend another minute in the building. Grabbing her arm I again I stood up. Dolores had no choice but to follow me, replete with mutterings and apologies to the people in the same row. We exited the Corn Exchange at some speed. Dolores maintained her composure until we were more or less out of earshot of the man on the door but then launched a verbal attack on my feebleness that left me speechless.
After bearing her verbal assault with good grace I fought back with something approaching a defence of my actions, but it was to no avail really. The night was cut short, and we hailed a nearby taxi. I sulked the rest of the evening, and Dolores read one of her books about damaged children that she seems to prefer (She insists I point you towards her review site here).
All was well in the morning, thankfully. We kissed and made up in a special husband-wife kind of way and I was duly sorry for my reaction. 'But look on the bright side' I said cheerfully as we snuggled in the bed. 'At least we know where he lives.'
The phone rang at this point. Dolores answered it and looked puzzled for a second. She told the caller to hang on, then checked her coat pocket. Something was clearly missing, and it turned out to be her purse. 'I'll be down in a minute' she said.
'What's up?' I asked.
'That was reception. They asked me if I left my purse at the theatre. It must have fallen out of
my jacket pocket when you yanked me out of my seat. The chap sitting next to us picked it up and turns out he saw us earlier coming out of the hotel. Nice of him don't you think?
'Sure' I said, before shrinking back under the covers. 'You go for it. The last time I saw him he was glaring at me'.
'Sorry darling, I'm busting for a pee. You go. Prove that you're a real man. Go on' With that, she lept out of bed and disappeared into the bathroom, locking the door. I had no choice but to throw on some shorts and a t-shirt and go down to reception. As I approached I saw the receptionist motion to someone who had their back to me. When they turned round, it wasn't the man who had been sitting beside me, but someone completely different.
Yes, you guessed. It was Toby Hancock-Jones. As sure I as I was of my own gender, it was himself, in the flesh. A bit leaner than he was 20 years ago, but unmistakably the former school bully. Black leather jacket, shades sitting atop his thick, mat of black hair, 3 day stubble.
'Here you go mate. Your wife dropped it I heard. Someone knew you was stayin here. I live nearby, said I would drop it in' said my former nemesis without even a flicker of recognition, handing over the purse. My hand was already shaking, something he noticed immediately. 'Heavy night was it? You alright mate? You look a bit pale'
'I'm fine' I said in a weak voice.
Just then my wife poked her head over the bannister and shouted 'Don't forget to give the nice man a tip darling!'I winced and quickly looked up to where I heard her voice, but she had already ducked behind the rail. Toby was still standing in front of me, hands in his pockets, hopeful expression on his face. As ever, he exuded menace without even apparently trying. I was at least sure he didn't recognise me. There had been nothing in his eyes to suggest any recall even when he heard my name.
'Er, sure. Here, thanks...' I removed a ten pound note with trembling hands from the purse. But I was so unsteady that I not only removed the money but also Dolores's driving licence. It fell from my grasp onto the floor and before I could reach down and pick it up he was already looking at the name. I watched in fear as his lips formed the name on the card and with abject panic rising in my gullet I watched as his eyes begin to narrow.........