A summer job of unequaled misery. An extract from Auriel Roe's new humorous memoir A Young Lady's Miscellany
After I finished my school exams, I heard there was a lot of work to be had at the hotels in Grange-Over-Sands, a nearby holiday hotspot favoured by the over-seventies. Concerned about how to save some money during the two month stretch before I left for college, I wrote to a few of these hotels and got an answer back from one to come over and start right away.
So, I took the scenic train ride down the Cumbrian coast to Grange-Over-Sands and walked up the hill to The Grand, which was indeed, or rather once had been, grand. It was an enormous nineteenth century stone building with around fifty bedrooms, all of which were in need of an update. Like my Grandma Manda before she married, I was to be a ‘maid of all work’: chambermaid, dish-washer, kitchen hand and laundress. I could tell immediately that I was going to be given quite a run for my meagre money.
The manager was a cheerful lady in her thirties, with a mask of make-up and a lumbering walk which I was soon to learn was due to her not moving very often from her office chair. She took me down a staircase that led deep into the bowels of the old building where, appropriately, there was a smell of drains. Here the servants resided, sharing two bathrooms. We walked along a murky corridor with a stained carpet and she found me a vacant cell with a steel-framed bed. There was no window, just a bare lightbulb hanging from a dusty wire. I resolved, at that moment, to try and leave as soon as possible. I would stay one month, which would earn me enough to get through the rest of the summer holidays with a bit to spare when I started college.
In the mornings, I was one of a handful of girls bringing breakfasts to the hundred or so pensioners seated in the large dining room, prior to their mid-morning strolls along the windswept northern English seafront. After this, the cooks and waiting staff would sit around a large table together and eat the leftover breakfast fare. They were a sorry crew and all lived in the dismal rooms below.
The restaurant manager, a conceited middle-aged man with a blonde perm, insisted on playing an awful tape of 1970s disco covers over the loudspeakers. The old folk complained about it because it wasn’t their generation’s music but he’d have none of it, saying it encouraged them to eat up their breakfasts quickly and get on their weary ways. The old toothless chef told me in confidence with a wink, that he had once killed a man. As he said this, I looked down, dubiously, at the joint he was carving. Finally, there were half a dozen younger ones, skivvies like me, all in their late teens, but with no qualifications and no prospects, as had been the case with me only three years earlier.
Something that made we wince was that these younger ones were all shagging each other in those nasty little rooms in their free time. One of the girls had laughed about her sexual partner flexing his minuscule muscles in the mirror before he got down to it with her. I found this sad, rather than funny, and cringed.
During one of our communal staff breakfasts, I reached for my second piece of toast and one of the young men laid his hand upon mine and told me not to have more as I might ‘spoil that gorgeous figure’. I took it anyway and ate it with extra butter. After a week of being there and still happily unshagged, the blonde perm restaurant manager asked me in front of everyone if I was a virgin. ‘No,’ I replied, ‘I’m a Leo.’
After breakfast, I had to go upstairs to clean a dozen or so rooms in a short space of time as there were always outgoing and incoming coach loads of pensioners. The turnover rate was so rapid because Grange-Over-Sands was regarded as a cheap two day stopover on tours around the Lake District. I found changing bed linen exhausting and occasionally had a quick lie down on one of the beds when it was just me working on a corridor.
My couple of hours of daily free time were taken up with milling about on the promenade which was, by that time, teeming with pensioners. I felt desperately lonely in that miserable place, but would watch the many species of wading birds doing their funny walks over the mud flats, which lifted my spirits. In the evening, I’d be back in the dining room serving three course dinners to the pensioners at the tables with the same terrible disco music dribbling from the loud speakers…‘Ah, ha, ha, ha, stayin’ alive, stayin’ alive’ a Bee Gees impersonator belted out as elderly gentlemen requested extra cream on their crumbles. Afterwards, I’d make my way back to my gloomy room, lock the door, put the chair in front of it for good measure and try to go to sleep between the threadbare sheets that were sent down to the basement after having been worn out by the pensioners in the hotel rooms above.
It was a relief to get back onto the scenic train after a month with my small wage in my pocket. As it trundled back up the coast, I looked out of the window at the pecking shore birds whose names I had now learned: the oystercatcher, the curlew, the sandpiper, the dunlin and the lapwing, also known as the pea-wit.
Auriel Roe is an editor of memoirist.org, the home for high quality literary memoir writing. Her debut novel Blindefellows was Amazon #1 in humour. It has been translated into Spanish and Italian and is also an audiobook. Her humorous memoir of a troubled adolescence A Young Lady's Miscellany is now available from Amazon and bookshops. Auriel created the Jane Goodall eightieth birthday portrait and is a Royal Academy shortlisted artist.
Author website: ww.aurielroe.com