The Little Orme
One of the things about two week holidays at the Guest House was you often got a change of guests on your second week. It might be because they have already finished their second week prior to me starting my first or were only having one week anyway. Whatever, change happens and you are faced with some new arrivals you will either get on with or not as the case may be.
Although, to be honest, the vast majority of the guests I rarely said much to other than ‘good morning’ or ‘good evening’ to. There were a few guests who took their holidays around their same time as I did; like Walkfar and his wife Walkless who tended to come Monday’s to Friday’s. They had been coming for twenty years or more but only lived less than an hour away by train in Flint.
It was at the beginning of my second week when I was in the lounge ten minutes before lunch was due to start when Mrs Guest-House entered the room. I am pretty much a creature of habit when it comes to my holiday routine and usually like to have a little read in the lounge about half an hour before dinner is served; so to speak.
It was too early for the evening meal so I was a little puzzled; old Fitrambler hates having the old taste buds tempted before time. So, when I am in the lounge and Mrs Guest-House comes in, rather like Pavlov’s dogs the old salvia glands go into overdrive.
‘We’ve got some new guests in tonight,’ she told me.
It wasn’t a regular occurrence to be told about guests in advance so I was a little surprised. The usual routine was to meet them during breakfast or the evening meal. They just suddenly appear and the ones you are use to seeing at that table have just as suddenly disappeared…
‘One of them is nearly 93 years old…’ added Mrs Guest-House.
I hoped I wasn’t going to be asked to sing happy birthday, the old Fitrambler warble wasn’t really up to much these days. Come to think of it it was never up to much.
‘She’s in pretty good shape for her age…’ continued Mrs Guest-House.
Now I wondered if Mrs Guest-House and her husband were going into the dating agency business? I Know I am knocking on a bit but even I felt I could aim for a woman a good thirty years below that!
I raised an eyebrow and this must have registered with her.
Mrs Guest-House enlightened me further. ‘They are regulars but they’ve never been here at the same time as you. They’re registered blind…’
I still wasn’t sure why I was being so enlightened. I do have an extreme fondness for dogs but was quite dubious about my ability to do impersonations of a guide dog…so I rather hoped they had brought their own! The nearest I got to barking was when I got something stuck in my throat; woe betide anyone who was standing in front of me when I freed it!
‘They do quite well for their age and disability. They’re very nice. They’ll be joining you for the evening meal.’
At first I thought she meant on the same table. It would be cramped because my table is usually only meant for two.
‘They’ll be on the table next to the window in front of yours,’ she told me.
Something of a relief, I thought. Nothing worse than being on an overcrowded table. There tends to be problems with getting food in the mouth. One wrong shove of the elbow and somebody else ends up with what was on your fork on their plate or worse, in their ear. One thing I’m disinclined to do and that is to share my nosh…very few have ever attempted to remove food from the Fitrambler plate and the few that have usually get a warning growl…and if that doesn’t put them off then embedding my molars in their hand usually helps them get the message!
It was five minutes later I was at my usual table when I heard Mrs Guest House and three other voices alternating. The voices sounded a little like Minnie Bannister and Henry Crunn from The Goons, save for a slight Midlands twang.
I guessed this would be ‘The Trio’ Mrs Guest House talked about earlier.
They emerged into the dining room with Mrs Guest House helping The Trio, giving them instructions as to where everything was and who was where in the room. I was mentioned along with my geographical position and I was then introduced to Mr and Mrs Makeit and their friend Mrs Withem.
They seemed a nice enough group. Mr Makeit, I decided after a few minutes, was obviously the ring leader and organiser of the group. He was also, I came to realise, the one who did most of the talking and explained things to them.
Mr Makeit stood about five-six, thinning brushed back hair, brown framed glasses with very thick lenses. He wore a jacket with a thin jumper separating it from his shirt. Mrs Makeit was a few inches taller, white haired and looked as though there was oriental blood from a few generations ago; it was the eyes that gave me that impression. She wore a jumper, slacks and sensible flat shoes but no socks. She moved well for her age and I later found out she was capable of doing ten press-ups. I thought that was quite impressive; it was something I couldn’t do. Not that it was something I would ever want to aspire to; I could think of many things I’d rather do than press-ups…not doing press-ups immediately sprang to mind.
Mrs Withem was shorter than Mr Makeit, thinner and seemed greyer, not just her hair but her mode of dress. Grey skirt, grey jumper and blouse. She wore smaller, more oval shaped glasses but with equally as thick lenses as Mr Makeit. Her hair was very thin and short.
They were from Stoke area, Hanley, which would explain the Midlands accent. He certainly mentioned the place many times over the next few days. He seemed well-informed about the area in which he lived, taking a great deal of interest in its history.
Mr and Mrs Makeit had been married for fifty-three years. I quite admired married couples who stayed together long stretches like that. Not everyone has what it takes to survive such a gruelling endurance test. Let’s be fair the divorce courts are full of people who swore to love each other forever!
Other than where I came from and being told where I was sitting and whether or not I drove here, their conversation remained strictly between themselves. Mr Makeit ensuring they all had what they needed, after Mr and Mrs Guest-House pointed out where the food was. Being in possession of a decent set of peepers I hadn’t thought about let alone had to go through the worry of where things might be on a dinner table; being able to see everything to hand was something I took for granted. But when you can’t see things all that well then the assistance given by Mr and Mrs Guest-House becomes vital; after all, no one wants to put their fingers into hot soup when the real aim was to pick up the soup spoon.
As was usually the case, once lunch was over coffee or tea was served in the front lounge. I rather liked that routine as it gave me thinking time about what had happened during the day; relive a few of the pleasant memories. The Trio and myself were the only ones there. They were talking amongst themselves or so I assumed so I got on with writing out my postcards. Then, there would be a silence, almost an unnatural silence. I would look up and see they were all looking ahead. Then Mr Makeit would ask a question again. It was greeted with silence for a second time. Then I realised he was talking to me!
Again it was a difference between me, a sighted person and them being blind; I would look directly at a person I was talking to but they didn’t. I suppose if you cannot see anyone all that well there was no real need to look at them.
Then, after he repeated the question a third time, I answered him and he proceeded to talked over the last part of my answer. He would continue for a minute or two asking me (or so I thought) whether I remembered something, perhaps a place and a person, only to find he was now talking to his wife and Mrs Withem. I learnt that talking to them you needed to listen and be aware at all times so you would know your cue. I couldn’t rely on being looked at when I was being spoken to.
I would go back into trying to get the postcards written as they chatted to each other and then suddenly out of the blue find I was back in the conversation. Of course I would have to get him to recap – he must have thought there was something wrong with the old Fitrambler lugs!
The two women didn’t make conversation and all communications went through Mr Makeit.
Finally, when they went to their rooms, I was able to finish writing out my postcards, then went out and posted them.
The next day I was early for breakfast and finished just after 9am. I spent a little time looking at the light drizzle outside from the lounge; working out what I would do if it was going to rain all day? Over the last five years of holidays get in Llandudno I’d always been lucky and never suffered all that much rain. Most of the time it might rain over night and for an hour or two in the morning but usually stop just as I was due to go out. That being the case I hadn’t been forced to look for alternatives to being out in the fresh air.
There was a little drizzling of rain but on inspection of the clouds over the Great Orme I decided it wouldn’t last long.
Twenty minutes later I saw a gap in the weather and nipped outside before the Trio came into the lounge from breakfast. Within two minutes of being outside it started to spot with rain again. I got up and then realised I’d left my keys on the small coffee table by the side of the armchair I’d been sat in. I stayed on the porch and cursed myself for my stupidity.
What I should have done was to ring the bell and got Mr or Mrs Guest-House to let me in but I thought the Trio would get there first and I didn’t really want to get into another confusing conversation with them. However, I decided I would wait until I could see Mrs Guest-House and then get her attention…
I looked through the glass in the door to see Mr Makeit staring at me. His glasses made him look like a bee staring through the bottom of two jam-jars. I almost jumped back; luckily I didn’t as I would have sent the poor old postie sprawling across the path. I hadn’t seen him come up behind me.
Mr Makeit probably hadn’t seen me but after nearly committing common assault on the postie, I panicked and knocked the door and Mr Makeit let me in but not before the postie had deposited the letters in the wall box, staring at me cautiously, looking for a warning move that would place him in harm’s way again. Trying to smile at him reassuringly didn’t help.
With the postie gone I thanked Mr Makeit for letting me in.
‘Forgot my keys,’ I said.
‘Ah, it’s you, Fitrambler,’ he said, as I got within ten inches of him. ‘I thought you’d gone out ages ago.’
‘I went out into the garden to see if it had stopped raining but forgot to take my keys…’ I more or less repeated when I said a few seconds ago.
Again I reflected how easy it was to take for granted how well one’s own peepers worked and so everyday recognition of people was so easy. Mr Makeit needed to be very close for a decent identification. It reminded me of Gloom-Laden and his similar eye problems easy to forget how bad his eyes are; although they were not as bad as Mr Makeit’s.
For a minute or two I thought he was going to block the way for the rest of the day, but he finally moved to one side and he followed me back into the other room.
‘Still raining,’ Mr Makeit announced to the two women.’
‘Oh,’ responded Mrs Makeit.
‘What’d he say,’ asked Miss Withem.
‘I said it’s still raining,’ replied Mr Makeit.
‘I know, you said,’ said Mrs Makeit.
‘I were telling, Miss Withem,’ said Mr Makeit to Mrs Makeit.
‘What’d he say…’ Miss Withem asked Mr Makeit.
‘I said I was telling you it’s raining.’
‘I know, you said, I heard you,’ responded Mrs Withem.
I sat down in my chair. It was a depressingly bad start to the day but the sun arrived at about 10am and I was able to got out for a walk day.
When I arrived for lunch later that day, the Trio were already in place. As soon as I entered the room I was introduced by Mrs Guest-House again. I almost felt I was expected to do five minutes of stand up. I sat at my seat, was asked by Mr Makeit what I did after I went out that morning.
I told him about my walk to Conwy and back again…
‘What’d he say?’ asked Miss Withem.
‘Is that the young man?’ chirped in Mrs Makeit.
‘Said he went for a walk,’ responded Mr Makeit.
‘Who did?’ asked Miss Withem.
‘Fitrambler,’ clarified Mr Makeit.
‘Is he here,’ asked Miss Withem.
‘Yes, he’s in his usual seat behind you, Miss Withem,’ said Mr Makeit.
‘Did he go for a walk?’ asked Mrs Makeit.
‘Yes he did,’ Mr Makeit replied and then said to me. ‘Was it you that passed us in the afternoon, about 1pm.’
‘Yes, I did,’ I said, swallowing my water.
‘What’d he say?’
‘He said he said hello when we were by the Church. Told you it were him, I recognised his voice.’ He turned to me. ‘I recognised your voice.’
‘Whose voice,’ asked Mrs Makeit.
‘Is the young man here?’ inquired Mrs Makeit.
‘Yes, I told you,’ replied Mr Makeit.
‘She forgets,’ added Miss Withem. ‘She’s nearly 93.’
The soup came and for a while my participation in the conversation was over for a while. Mrs Guest-House gradually served everyone with a bowl of soup. She makes it clear – as she did with breakfast – where everything they need is on the table. Mr Guest House brought my soup and third for Mrs Makeit.
Once Mr and Mrs Guest-House had gone Kelvin played the organiser again making sure each knew what is what and that they have got what they need. Until he felt satisfied they were alright he didn’t worry about his own needs. I guessed that at home he ran around (so to speak) for them, cooking and making sure they were alright. He seemed to relish the role and more importantly it all worked well for them.
The soup was pea and ham, the main course was sausages and mash, with white cabbage and peas. The pudding was syrup sponge and custard. Ah, Fitrambler in paradise.
The next morning, I got down to breakfast at 8.40 and tucked to the usual cereal, the full English (or full Welsh as Mr Guest-House referred to it; although he is actually a Scotsman), followed by toast. It was this breakfast that always set me up for the day.
Most of my days on holiday in Llandudno followed the same basic pattern. The large breakfast, plenty of walking – different destinations each day – an hour break at lunch – generally made up of fruit and water. Then more walking until 6pm when I would sit down to a three course evening meal.
Just as I was on the last piece of toast, thinking to myself are breakfast’s getting quicker or am I just disposing of them faster when The Trio walked into the dining room. Again, Mr Makeit organised things for himself and the two women.
The more I watched him at work the more I admired his spirit. Mrs Makeit, at 93, was 17 years older than Mr Makeit. If things followed a chronological order, then there was every chance she would go first. How sad that would be when you centred your life around someone; facing that day when they are no longer there and a part of your life has become null and void.
It was a depressing thought and I quickly shuddered my way out of it.
I got back early that day being a Sunday, having gone not much further than a walk around the Great Orme; around five miles. By 4pm, the Trio turned up and the peace and quiet was shattered.
They fussed over their coats and getting comfortable, then ten minutes later Mrs Guest-House is on hand with hot tea for them and some sort of cake. Mrs Guest-House was good like that; a sort of female Jeeves who seems to suddenly appear when needed and always with the appropriate item. I wondered when she and her husband ever got time to rest up?
As usual, they were grateful with Mr Makeit leading the ‘thank you’s’. I was offered coffee but declined; never got a look-in on the cake, thought. Probably just as well, as the old Fitrambler cake-shelf needed the break.
Once settled in with their tea and cake Mr Makeit opened a conversation.
‘What did you get up to today?’
‘A walk round the Great…’
Mr Makeit interrupted and then took me through a little of what he and his wife and Mrs Withem did. I frowned but any attempt to look indignant at being talked over was rather wasted on him. I have a rather good disapproving stare but it was useless here. I could never understand people who ask you something but talk over you before you have had much of a chance to answer. Why ask in the first place? Why not just say ‘I won’t ask anything about you because, let’s face it, all I’m really interested in is what I have to say’. It would be a lot more honest and save me a lot of unnecessary effort.
Mr Makeit, however, was no worse than a lot of people I knew, so I didn’t let it bother me too much. These days I tend to take that sort of behaviour to as a good reason not to waste my time in engaging in conversation; as long as I can put half a dozen words together for them to interrupt everything set up nicely for their monologues. I can conserve my energy for other things…
Nearly and hour later Mr Makeit is organising his women upstairs for a viewing of ‘Songs Of Praise’. It is one of their favourite programmes and Mr Makeit wonders if I ever watch it. Mr Makeit never fails to catch it; whether away from home or not.
‘Not really,’ I replied, ‘ I have high blood pressure and shouldn’t allow myself to get too excited.’
Mr Makeit frowned and I remembered he probably couldn’t see my face and thus didn’t realise I was joking. I suspected, however, that even if he did it wouldn’t have had his sides splitting…
There’s a telly in the front room, but also all of the rooms have one so I was a little grateful they wanted to go to their rooms to watch it.
As usual, around 5.55pm The Trio are helped to lunch by Mr and Mrs Guest-House. As I walked into the dining room I am announced as usual – all very Agatha Christie.
On hearing I had arrived Mr Makeit tells me: ‘Songs of Praise’ was from Trafalgar today…’
I sat down, glad my burning curiosity over that was settled, and acknowledged what he said. He carried on about what songs were sung and who was on the programme. However, as soon as the soup arrived the conversation – albeit one way – was over.
The soup tonight was leak and potato. The main course was roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, roast potato, new potatoes, peas, carrots, a jug of gravy and some horse radish sauce. The pudding was apple lattice tart and custard. (I mention this because Blameworthy would never forgive me for not sharing the information with him. I wish I had taken pictures.)
Again, once dinner was over with it was an adjournment to the lounge for tea or coffee.
‘Ever been to Handley,’ asked Mr Makeit, after we’d settled in our usual seats.
I looked around but both the women were looking downwards and as they came from there I deduced the question was for me. I can be quite quick on the uptake when I want to be.
‘Can’t say I have, the nearest I’ve been is Birming….’
‘No good supermarkets in Handley,’ Mr Makeit said.
‘Oh, quite a few where I co…’
‘The only Marks and Spencers was taken way…’ Mr Makeit mused.
I presumed the thief had a rather large swag bag…
‘Stoke’s not a great one for shops, and the pottery industry has gone…’
‘To pot,’ I responded dryly.
‘Yes, yes,’ Mr Makeit replied a little impatiently. ‘The pottery industry, it’s all gone.’
I suspected my inability to know when I was being spoken to and my failed quips led him to believe I was either slightly deaf or perhaps a tad imbecilic.
From there Mr Makeit told me he was seventy-five. I was a little surprised as I placed him more in his sixties. He met his wife while they worked in the Blind Workshops many years ago…
Mr Makeit had been friends Mrs Withit since she was eleven and he was nine. He married his wife in 1956, some fifty-three years ago and despite the age gap it worked well. Mrs Withit’s husband died some years ago and so diminished the gang by one.
Originally, I thought they all lived in the same house but Mr and Mrs Makeit lived in a terraced house in the same area as the one Mrs Withit lived in; an address in Hanley, Stoke. I suspected this was when they married.
The strange thing about conversations with Mr Makeit was that neither of the two women ever really joined in. If they spoke it was always through him. Whether they had hearing problems or didn’t like to speak to anyone other than Mr Makeit I never found out; although to be fair I never spoke directly to them much either.
The next day I missed The Trio at breakfast. I got down earlier and left earlier. It wasn’t that I was trying to avoid them but because I wanted to get out quickly to walk to Colwyn Bay. The weather looked good. The final destination was to be old Colwyn. When I walked to Colwyn Bay last year I hadn’t given myself much time to look around Old Colwyn so decide to explore it this time around.
The walk took about an hour and half and the predicted good weather ended up being in for the day. I broke one of my holiday rules and instead of having just fruit and perhaps a yogurt for breakfast I had fish and chips. The smell possessed me as I went past the third Fish and Chip shop; the willpower just collapsed.
I got back Llandudno at about three in the afternoon, treated myself to a Mint Magnum, which I ate on the sea-front not too far from the Peer. Having spent most of the day walking I relaxed there for nearly two hours. There’s something quite calming to watching the sea while nibbling on a Mint Magnum.
When dinner time finally cam around again Mr Makeit asked me again when I was going home; I was beginning to think he was trying to get rid of me..
‘Saturday,’ I told him.
‘We’re going back on Friday,’ he replied, telling me what he had already told me a couple of times already.
‘Did you go for a walk today?’
‘I walked to Colwyn Bay,’ I responded.
He asked about some of the sights and inquired about Old Colwyn. They never went too far beyond Llandudno and I guessed the logistics were very much against it with their disability. I suspected that even in their younger days it wouldn’t have been easy with their sight problems. It made me appreciate my holiday all the more, the walks and the sights I could enjoy. It also made me admire Mr Makeit and his wife and their friend, Mrs Withem. It wasn’t easy to get around like I could and holidays couldn’t be easy at times. It would be easy to just stick around where you lived and not dare to go anywhere. But they didn’t and enjoyed themselves despite their disability.
Once lunch was over I witnessed the first rebellion I had seen in the Trio. Mr Makeit wanted to go to a show but Mrs Makeit and Mrs Withem didn’t want to go and he wouldn’t go without them. He tried to compromise by suggesting they go for a short walk; but they didn’t want to do that either. I could see both sides – on the one hand making the most of the holiday and on the other being very tired from a busy day. Both women were older than Mr Makeit and so tired quicker. In the end they went to their rooms…
Another day, and another walk to Conwy, then the final evening meal with The Trio. I was in the lounge while The Trio are placed at their seats and then I was called into dinner.
Today, Mrs Withem wasn’t happy that her portion of Cottage pie seemed too big. Mrs Withem had had the best of starts to the meal; having mistaken the Pepper for the Salt and liberally sprinkled it over her soup. She then spent nearly ten minutes sneezing and that seemed to unsettle Mrs Makeit who knocked over a small pot with two artificial flowers in; no real harm done but frustrating for them.
After dinner there was a second rebellion. Mr Makeit wants to go for a walk again but what must have been another busy day for the two women had left them disinclined to go anyway other than their rooms for the evening. This time when the women went to their rooms Mr Makeit went off for a walk on his own but not as a very happy man. I suspected it was stubbornness on his part. He wasn’t prepared to go without a walk for a second day but at the same time knew he wouldn’t enjoy it without the two women.
It pointed out to me that like most people, things weren’t always perfect between them. But they got on better than a lot of people I knew.
Soon, The Trio’s last day arrived and although most of the contact I had been having with them was during meal times, I knew I was going to miss them. I had got quite use to having them around. Usually on the Llandudno holidays I never really got too friendly with anyone. Still, my own departure would be twenty-four hours later…
After breakfast I decided to go outside and wait at the table…well when I say wait I don’t mean take orders or anything, just sit watching the world go by…(ok, perhaps a little too pedantic there…)
As it was rather overcast I had put a jacket on. The taxi was supposed to be picking The Trio up at 9.30am. I was updating my diary and by 10.00am the bloke still hadn’t turned up. Maybe he was an ex-bus driver?
Mr Makeit came out and was as worried as I was becoming. Then a bloke turns up in a cab from a company called Z-Cars. He found a parking space, though at first I thought he was going to the wrong Guest House. But the street wasn’t the easiest to park in.
Minutes later I was helping with the cases and saying farewell my farewells.
Like with a lot of the guests I have seen over the first five years since I first returned to Llandudno as my annual holiday, I never knew whether I would see them again.
As it happened I never did. As of 2010 I wasn’t on holiday alone as the Pink Lady joined me for the next five years. Those next five holidays were also later in the year, no longer early June but mainly late July or August. But as was always the case, I was kept up to date about the people I got fond of by Mrs Guest-House…
Unfortunately, I found out in 2014 that Mrs Withem had died and Mrs Makeit was really struggling to get around; hardly surprising as she would have been about ninety-seven. They hadn’t had their holiday that year. I felt a little sadness as I thought about what Mr Makeit would do once Mrs Makeit died; I got the impression he didn’t have any other family or friends…who would do the job of looking after him as he had devotedly looked after his wife and her friend?