Pooky gets a Break
Needless to say, the old Bingo game was not all it was cracked up to be.
Phil was not a man made for work. Yes, he could turn up, schmooze, regale an audience with his quick wit and repartee, but Glad had other requirements of him, and none of them gave him any pleasure.
‘Now look Phil, I don’t have time to do accounts and bookings and innovations and all that business malarkey. That’s your field of expertise. What was it you said? In the business for thirty years, man and boy? This is bread and butter stuff. I’m a bingo artiste. I have to be in the midst of the numbers. There’s more to it than meets the eyes you know.’
Phil didn’t, but what he did know was it was getting dull, that he was hard pressed to find any audience member who had the inclination to swoon into his arms - and some of the venues! He had always been of the belief that entertainment not only elevated the soul, it transcended its surroundings – at least that’s what he told Pooky when they were in that rat hole in Skegness.
Phil felt a little patch of warmth as he recalled Pooky and her utter lack of requirements.
He had to admit the money was pouring in though. They’d cornered the market in back room bingo. It was all highly illegal, of course, which was why the books had to look immaculate, there mustn’t be a sniff of suspicion – Glad’s words.
‘Why don’t we hire someone to do the books?’
Glad snorted in derision, the smoke from her menthol cigarette blew from her nostrils, she tossed her auburn hair, clanked her bangles and gave him a look which might have turned him to stone, if he wasn’t used to that type of thing.
‘You can’t trust anyone.’
She sounded each word slowly in a hiss that irritated like a mosquito in the ear at night.
It was true that Glad was a wiz with numbers and in the end, she had to check Phil’s calculations anyway, which were invariably incorrect, despite the expensive software she’d installed onto his computer. But what he’d really overlooked was the story. The narrative that lay beneath. She had to spend hours re-knitting a plot that held true for any HMI eagle eye.
Glad shook her head and smiled a fang-like smile at him with endearment.
‘It’s not for you sweetie, is it?’
Phil looked up through his eyelashes in what he believed was a coquettish fashion, and slowly shook his head.
‘Never mind,’ Glad placed her wrinkled ring-clad hand over his smooth, pale one, ‘I have other fish you can fry.’
Phil noted the heavy scent of over used chip oil in the air and glanced around nervously.
They were in one of their more successful venues, an indoor market much frequented by those who longed for escape but who found that after an hour or two staring at counterfeit items, being verbally abused by chirpy stallholders and dining on chips and cockles, they still hadn’t discovered that Shangri-la they believed must exist somewhere. Phil could spot these punters a mile off. He had a nose for the wounded and vulnerable, key skill of the amateur Lothario, and would casually push a flyer into their hands with a lingering brush of skin, and a look which made the recipient feel beholden somehow.
Before long there would be a decent number to play a few cards in the space behind El Patatas. The market owners could never rent it out due to the deeply rancid smell, but your average bingo fanatic was oblivious to such details and the scenario could be quickly switched to resemble that of a prayer-meeting, should a new market-inspector be on the prowl.
‘Now look Glad,’ Phil began, ‘I don’t know anything about frying or any sort of cooking – I can’t even cook the books.’
Glad threw her head back and laughed like a schoolgirl.
‘Oh Phil, you do crack me up. No cooking involved in this venture. I’ve got something right up your alley, and anyway, I think it’s about time you met the family.’
Lost Horizons was a mobile home park on the outskirts of Mansfield, on the less salubrious side of the town. Turns out Glad was a descendant of the Dagonway clan, a name notorious on the mobile home circuit. Phil and Glad were here to liaise with her brother, Reg, who was the current custodian.
Reg was a concrete block of a man. His demeanour had served him well. When it was time to show an old dear the small print on the contract and give the unexpected information that it was time to shell-out on an upgrade – or ship-out, he needed to be impervious to the tears, the inevitable need to call in the bailiffs, and the pitiful sight of the ejectee being moved on with their precious valuables accumulated over a lifetime, in a couple of carrier bags.
It had been a lucrative business and until the last few years he’d had a waiting list of those wanting to replace the ejectees, but people seemed to have wised up and he was looking to diversify.
‘It should be a straight-forward move from residential park to holiday park. I mean, all you really need is a clubhouse and the rest will take care of itself.’
Glad cast her arm about her to draw attention to the landscape that surrounded them. They stood on the edge of the park where a few dilapidated mobile homes slumped with ‘for sale’ signs stuck on the windows. Glad turned to cast her arm behind and they looked out to a field of scrawny three-foot trees, the Dagonway Christmas tree venture.
‘On a sunny day you could be in the Med, and it’s a helluva lot cheaper.’
Phil, who’d had some experience of holiday camps, wondered if this was the best location for a holiday. That usually people liked to be near the sea.
Reg shook his head thoughtfully, ‘Nah, all that coastal erosion? What we’ve got here is a captive market. Get them in and they stay in, then we can milk them dry.’ Reg gave a nasty croaky laugh.
Phil had to admit, it was a plan, but the problem would be getting them in in the first place.
Apparently, that’s where Phil was to come in. He was to reinvent the clubhouse so that it would bring in the right sort of customer in droves.
‘People only think they want holidays,’ explained Glad, ‘I mean, I’m the same. I’ll go on a coach trip, a cruise, a week or two in the sun, but it doesn’t really help and all I actually want is for it to be like home only a bit more carefree, with someone else in charge of all of the boring stuff. Lost Horizons can give people that. They won’t have to pay through the nose and we will still make a profit.’
Phil nodded sagely and asked to see the clubhouse.
Pooky was in the late-night launderette watching the pink and black of her meagre wardrobe whooshing around in the suds. Pedro had lent her his old Parker and she really felt quite cosy. She could eek out another couple of hours here, but she’d be booted out with the others at two. The others were an old man who was keeping up a one-way conversation with a scrawny dog, who really shouldn’t have been in here, thought Pooky, but, c’est la vie.
They nodded at each other in recognition but they weren’t really on speaking terms.
When Phil had left, Pooky had wondered if Pedro would act as an intermediary to help her negotiate a few more night’s work until she had something else worked out.
Pedro had explained there was no point as the boss was chuffed to bits that the whole place would be taken over by a bridge convention for the week. Anyone who knows anything about bridge players is that their number one requirement is quiet. The conference was a big deal for Pretty Pigs and they were hopeful that it might become an annual – or who knew – perhaps even a quarterly event.
Pedro felt sorry for Pooky and constructed a timetable that would work for both of them. Pedro would be in his room, which was slightly larger than a broom cupboard, from eleven pm until six am. At six, Pedro would let her into the kitchen, feed her a couple of sausages and she would creep into his room before the heartier of the guests stirred for a morning constitutional on the promenade. Pooky would wake mid-afternoon and do any tidying that Pedro was too exhausted to tackle. He would always have some sort of task that needed attending to, which he invariably had to complete or do all over again. She would have to be out by five, as the owner would be around then, and the whole place was locked up and alarmed by eleven – so there would be no sneaking back in.
She’d been quite chipper on the first few nights. Even did a bit of singing keep her practice up and she also got a bit of cash from the late-night revellers. She specialised in Oasis songs, it seemed fitting with the Parker, but she was not familiar with the unwritten law of the streets and got herself into a bit of a pickle with a man who had a spoons act. Less said about the whole incident the better. Still, now she only sung into the wind so her voice would not be carried anywhere, but pushed back into her mouth, despite this she would still give it her all:
‘Slip inside the eye of your mind
Don’t you know you might find
A better place to play…’
Pooky had found the world a very different place at night. It was cold for one thing, even wrapped in a Parker and an old blanket Pedro had borrowed from the airing cupboard for her. The wind blew in sharp and relentlessly from the North Sea and she learned that three am was the darkest hour. She was exposed to all of the elements, so quickly found nooks and crannies to hide away in. She’d shared a hollowed-out bit of sea wall with a small family of rodents, who were really quite tolerant of her. There was a pretty good spot in the shelter at the end of the promenade, but you had to get there fast before someone else laid claim to it, and quite honestly, she’d been put off after witnessing a particularly brutal beating nearby, not the sort of thing you’d expect in Scarborough – but there you go.
It really wasn’t a sustainable way to continue but Pooky was one of those buoyant spirits who, as long as the body kept going, would bounce along, buffeted by the knocks like a cork in a culvert. After all, it wasn’t the first time she’d been let down, and the old saying, ‘this too shall pass,’ had been proved correct on more than one occasion. She had a vague premonition, as she was pushed from the warmth of the launderette out into the long cold night, that things would alter, all she had to do was endure.
So, it was with great joy, but not astonishment, she responded when Pedro pushed a letter from Phil towards her with a plate of morning sausages.
‘Oh, it’s to you Pedro, not to me.’
‘Well, yes. He wasn’t sure where you might be so wrote to me on the off chance that I might know where you are.’
‘And you do!’ She breathed. It was all just so perfect!
Phil was absolutely desperate, he’d even sent her a fiver for the Megabus. He was always so thoughtful. There was a spot for a good all-round entertainer in a swish new holiday park right at the centre of the country – and who had he had thought of? Only his little Pooky. He was such a dear.
Pedro looked at her dubiously but had to concede, it couldn’t be worse than the situation she was already in.
‘Do you know, Pedro, it was the holiday camps that got me into the old singing game in the first place? ‘
Pedro didn’t know but looked interested so she continued.
‘There was a girl at my school, well, she was only there for a term, but she went around the holiday parks doing dance competitions and the like. She was only fourteen but she was a little star in some circles. I was so envious of her. I mean, how did she even get into it? She vanished after a stint in Somerset somewhere. I wonder where she is now? Well, I talked to gran about this, you know that I lived with my gran?’
Pedro nodded, he did.
‘And she said that she didn’t believe a word of it and the girl was spinning a line. As if anyone would do that? Anyway, gran said there was a documentary on a holiday camp and if I watched that it would put me off. Oh, she was a card, it was a comedy show, called Hi-de-Hi. Do you remember it?’
Pedro shook his head.
‘Oh, you should try and find it, you would love it! I watched it with gran and told her it was like coming home. I could definitely see myself working somewhere like that. Bringing joy into people’s hearts and performing on the stage. Gran said there was a character in the programme that reminded her of me. The Sue Pollard girl who cleaned the rooms. How I laughed. Well, we all have to start somewhere. And that’s when I started practising singing in my bedroom. The whole street said I had a terrific pair of lungs on me.’
Pooky smiled fondly at the memory, wolfed down her sausages and borrowed a carrier bag from Pedro to put her few belongings into – and she was off. It was all so very exciting!