The Perils of Celebrity.

He was sitting at a corner table near the open kitchen of the tiny cafe, bald headed, middle aged, opinionated, eating his way through a large breakfast. I disliked him on sight. He was looking round at the few other customers, talking to the owners, making his presence felt- one of those people who has an innate ability to know that something is of interest just because he said it. Not particularly pleasant but harmless enough. Then his face changed. He had seen someone outside the window. He raised his voice.
“That’s Jack Charlton just walking past.”
He had to repeat it several times before he could be sure he had everybody’s attention. He knew exactly what he was doing.
“I’m surprised he’s still alive.”
It was Jack Charlton. Jack is a very famous long retired footballer, a Leeds United hero and a former England international who was part of the 1966 world cup winning side. A Yorkshire legend. He has spent a lot of his time in our small town over the years as he likes his fishing and his son has a home here. He is well liked. That’s about as enthusiastic as we get here- it means a lot.
“I’ll tell you something now.”
The man started on a tale about a night in a pub, many years earlier, when Jack had been signing autographs for local kids. He was on the other side of the cafe but I could hear every word- as he meant me to.
“And do you know what he said?”
We didn’t- obviously. He paused to look round the cafe tables, enjoying his momentary importance.
“He said get your dad to buy me a pint.”
Another pause to let the sheer horror of this sink in.
“He said it to every single one. Landlord threw him out. Told him we don’t want your sort in here.”
There was no response. His face creased in dislike as he watched the elderly sportsman disappear out of sight.

I wondered what it must be like to be the kind of person who carried such bitterness around with them for years and felt the need to let it spill out over a group of strangers in a cafe.
I wondered how it must feel to be a great sportsman, just past your eightieth birthday, much loved, memory fading, walking around in the face of criticism from an unseen stranger. A stranger who can claim anything they like about you, unchallenged, because you didn’t hear it and those who did hear it say nothing.

A good humoured session in a pub, when a friendly young footballer had been having a joke with some of his teenage fans had been twisted- so many years later- to suit the needs of someone who had waited a very long time to stick the knife in. I didn’t believe a word of his story but what did that matter? It had been said. It was impossible to prove the man wrong, and he knew it. There was more to his vitriol than he was allowing us to see. I would have liked to ask him which team he had supported back then and I would have liked to tell him how very small he had made himself look. If it had been my cafe he would have been asked to leave.


Breakfast…………….. but it isn’t quite Tiffanys.

It’s fair to say that in her youth Eleanor had been used to better things than a small, cheerful but very basic cafe in a run down seaside town, even though Filey had something of the faded, fragile beauty that she possessed herself. Perhaps that was why she felt at home here. Like her the place had once been well to do, fashionable and stylish, a place sought out by the rich and famous. Now both she and her setting had seen better days but still managed to keep their pride and honour their memories in spite of everything. Eleanor had lived all over the world, as she explained calmly and politely to the two over enthusiastic and rather clueless members of the public who thought that she was like them. She had sung at Covent Garden, and graced more musical shows than she could ever remember, walking out into the spotlight from a hundred dark and dusty wings to deliver her perfect colaratura soprano voice. The shows had all merged into one in her mind now, but one thing had always remained the same- the low buzz of conversation behind a heavy curtain and the sharp smell of excitement before the lights went down. Frisson. One of her favourite words.These people meant well, but they had never felt that, they had no idea. Could they not see her beret, worn, even inside the cafe, at just the right angle over long, perfectly blonde, straight hair? The cheekbones? The fine leather shoes? Of course the shoes had been resoled but then they had lost “everything, darling, everything” when their business folded. Everything but their self respect of course.

You couldn’t mistake Eleanor’s presence, even now. She still had the light of a born performer in her eyes. Without being the least bit overstated she still believed that she was somebody and she was right. However small her world had become she was still engaged with it, seeking out new things and examining what she found. She was curious, she still wanted to know, even when what she found out disappointed her. One shook one’s head slightly and moved on. There was always the next time. Over the years she had become used to failure and success and she had found that they sometimes followed on from each other surprisingly quickly, tripping each other up in their eagerness to build a life. So much music, so many shows. Her favourite opera had been Turandot. Such drama. Such bravura. Such romance. She told them how she had sung all along this coast- sung everywhere in fact. They were closing the places she had performed now- a dreadful pity- those times would never come back. That big theatre down the road in Scarborough. She had sung there. They were going to pull it down soon. So ironic that it was called the Futurist. When she had lived in Stratford Upon Avon she had produced big charity concerts at the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the actors had come in and eaten all the food that she had put on for the guests! I mean, my dear! Her eyes widened at the audacity of it, even after so many years. Shocking! Good behaviour was important, no matter where you found yourself. Even if you found yourself living in Hornsea, where there was absolutely nothing to do, nothing, you kept your chin up. You found your light.

The coffee mugs were empty and it was time to go. One should always leave them wanting more. The exit was a good one, slow and graceful with a straight back and head held high. There should have been a round of applause.

Lunchtime in the Hedley Verity.

Some English pubs are nestled in the heart of small village communities where everyone knows each other and warmed by log fires, a few turn out impossibly posh meals which cost a fortune and draw people from miles around, but many more of them are like the one that I am sitting in. A large, brown, sticky space in the middle of a city centre dimly lit and livened only by the flashing lights of slot machines and the flickering images of television screens. There is a mixture of high stools around tall tables close to the bar, small square tables surrounded by hard chairs, and comfortable sofas. More screens and tables are dimly visible around the balcony of the second floor. It is an almost empty space made for crowds. Wherever you sit you have only to lift your head to see news from all over the world, banality and tragedy reduced to a background hum and sanitised by smart presenters who tirelessly repeat the same stories over and over again to match the strap line along the bottom of the screen. Nobody really cares. Idle glances are thrown up at the screens as lasting horror, momentary outrage and passing fads are relayed blindly to people who are thinking about something else. Food comes in and out of a sliding door carried by black shirted waiting staff and lunchtime pints of bitter are served from a long bar with posters advertising drinks that nobody is going to buy. You can get a pint of bitter and a burger with a few chips here for £4.09 and that is what people have come for. It wouldn’t be most people’s first choice but it is just about everybody’s second or third option when cash is short and the chain who owns this place has recognised that market- it is growing fast. This is what we would have called a spit and sawdust pub back in the 1970’s, with a bit of added bling, and Leeds bitter still makes a good shandy.

An older man sits in a shaft of sunlight. The light finds the contours of his skull as he looks around him, resting impassively. His carrier bag is clutched in his hand and his pint sits beside him, almost untouched. He is in no hurry.

A couple are eating the Yorkshire way, heads down and silent. The man finds every last crumb on his plate and wipes his mouth. Now he will talk. When they leave his wife will tell him that she couldn’t have cooked a meal like that at home for that price.

A young guy sits on his own, eyes fixed on a screen.

EU budget…….. Hit man sentenced……….. Chinese getaway……….

A smart black guy in a sharp business suit eats his meal quickly. He has things to do. He could be anywhere.

A young guy in a hoodie, scarf and what look to me like comedy trainers chats up one of the bar staff. A slightly older bald guy props up the corner of the bar alone and watches him. He has seen it all before and he has strong opinions which he doesn’t feel like sharing with anybody. You wouldn’t want to bother him. His face gives nothing away. He could be anyone- he probably is.

Horse meat scandal……….. value burgers……… Findus lasagne……………

My burger arrives. The man on the screen stands in front of a deserted factory and talks on and on for a very long time. The presenter sits behind his desk looking concerned. I make a conscious decision not to worry about what is in mine. I have eaten horse before, served up in a casserole, sitting round a table in a French farmhouse, and I liked it.

At almost any table of people there is always one person who is doing all the talking. A young guy is gesticulating, explaining something with his hands to his two friends. One of them stares into space, showing just enough interest not to cause comment, and the other tucks into a burger with chips, salad and onion rings. He finishes his own burger without needing to pause once in the middle of a sentence. Quite a feat.

Two young women wrinkle their noses at each other across the table and apply hand cream.

People are buying things on the other side of the world, preparing for snow. Here we are shown just more rain and wind. Not the kind of wind that makes headlines. Just wind.

A young guy in a grey hoodie with very short hair has two mobiles, one in each hand. He appears to be taking great delight in texting himself. It requires a lot of concentration.

A mother has brought in her two children. They are excited and don’t know what they want.

Three elderly ladies in pastel coloured anoraks make their way to a table. They are enjoying themselves quietly. They sit down and choose their food slowly and carefully without taking off their coats.

U.S. Manhunt. Somewhere in California black uniformed police officers are searching for the killer of a pretty girl whose face shines out from the corner of the screens.

A black shirted member of the waiting staff, slim, short and good looking, allows himself to wonder for a few seconds what I am writing about as he passes my table, but he doesn’t break his stride. I could probably sit here for another couple of hours and watch the place empty without being challenged.

Two young men sit at a darkened table, mirroring each others gestures. When one of them leaves the table the other taps his heel anxiously on the floor and his body shakes.

A blonde young girl with a pony tail and a striped wool jacket hurries across the room. He is waiting at the bar for her in his best pink shirt and he is pleased to see her. She is full of apologies. Everything is all right now.

An advert flashes onto the screen for a website………… http://www.underdog. That would be just about all of us sitting in here then.

As I leave I look at the photograph of the famous Yorkshire and England slow left arm bowler from the 1930’s who the pub is named after. He is demonstrating with suitable Yorkshire understatement exactly how he held a cricket ball. I wonder what he would think of this place. This is not his England.

Fish and Chips.

Fish and Chip restaurants are not cool. There will be no hoodies in here, no hen parties, no wine on the tables. They are the home of the nice cardie, the waterproof anorak and the sensible shoe. Hair is worn grey and short, if at all. I’m early and it isn’t busy, the waitress on the front desk still has time to have the local paper open at the crossword page and I can choose my own table. The banquette seats and stone topped tables separated by stained glass topped partitions are steadily filling up with the kind of people who are rarely worth advertising to. They know what they like and what they like is a nice dinner eaten somewhere warm and fairly quiet with friendly waitresses, strong tea and portions that don’t over-face you.
Paying too much is frowned upon and the tables have stand up cards reassuring you that you are getting good value. Lunch time special: a medium haddock and chips with tea or coffee and bread and butter for £7-25. The tea time special is exactly the same with a smaller haddock for a pound less. You can get cheaper fish and chips but the ones in here are good and Northerners can always be relied upon to sniff out the best fish and chips. Especially these northerners. They have spent a lifetime eating them before anyone round here heard of fresh pasta or balsamic vinegar. Anyway you need somewhere warm to have a rest when your legs are aching and it’s mid October, so it’s worth “paying to sit down”. There are framed prints of impossibly posh eighteenth century salons and theatres around the walls to give a touch of luxury. You can put your shopping down and tell yourself you’re having a treat. And they do.

The lady at the little table in front of me is slowly tackling her small portion of fish and chips. She is wearing a nice pale blue cardie and her special white blouse with embroidery down the front. A soft lilac anorak sits on the chair behind her and she eats slowly and carefully like a small delicate mouse. The James bond theme plays in the background.

The bald man in the next row has a shiny face and piercing eyes. His soup arrives and he gives it a careful look.
“Thank you dear.”
The waitress, smart in her black polo shirt and striped apron smiles at him. He likes that.

A man on the other side stares into the pot of tea on his table before carefully pulling out a teabag.
“Bit strong innit.”

Another man with pale watery eyes stares quietly, a teaspoon and napkin held next to his mouth, while he watches his wife eat. His jaw moves slowly along with hers although he is eating nothing.

The lady opposite me and her son have ordered large portions, with mushy peas. They eat steadily but her plateful doesn’t seem to get any smaller even though he has nearly finished. She chews grimly. Cry Me a River plays quietly in the background and she stops eating to search for pound coins in her bag.
“Do you want owt else?”
“No I’m all right.”
She notices my table.
“Have you lost summat on’t floor love?”
One of the pieces of card advertising “award winning fish and chips” is laid under the table. I reach down and pick it up. We smile at each other. She wants everything to be right for everybody.

The man with the shiny face is happy to see his waitress back at his table to take away his soup bowl.
“Hello dear. How are you dear?”
He watches everyone, anxious to speak. He asks her questions, wanting to make her laugh and find things out. She smiles at him with dark sooty eyes and tries hard for a while before she moves off. His napkin is already placed on his knee and he will be equally delighted when his fish and chips arrive.

The lady in the far corner stares out, straight backed and stony faced. She and her husband have said nothing at all to each other so far. Their white bread remains untouched. Perhaps they have said it all over the years and there is nothing more to report. They will go on to eat their entire meal in silence.

The shiny faced man sees his pot of tea which is on the way to him.
“Here’s my pot of tea. Thank you my dear. You are kind.”

The lady who has just sat down opposite may be cheaply dressed- we all are in here- but she has a Harrods notebook. She is anxious about her shopping and wondering whether she has done the right thing. She talks about shoes and shoe sizes while her husband listens blankly and eats all the bread and butter.

The lady in the pale blue cardie has finally finished her tiny lunchtime special. She goes to the counter gripping her bill carefully and searches in her bag for coins. They are patient with her.

The shiny faced man is now tucking into his fish and chips. You can see just from the way he chews that he has opinions about all kinds of things. His wife nods quickly without looking up from her meal when he shoots out a sentence in mid chew. The music swells with emotion. “I just wanna hold you, oh God just let me please, just let me hold you………….”

The silent couple leave. By the time the worried husband has put on his anorak and picked up their brolly his wife has already gone.

When the waitress takes away his empty plate the shiny faced man explains to the waitress about SIR Jimmy Saville. He has mistaken the fact that she really doesn’t want to talk about a sordid subject for ignorance.
“It’s all over the papers.”
She knows it is and she remains silent.
He explains to her exactly what he would like to do to SIR Jimmy Saville if he wasn’t already dead while his wife watches him quietly. The waitress leaves and he digs his spoon into his ice cream happily.
“It’s nice this.”

As I leave a group of ladies who are not quite senior citizens are trooping happily up the stairs. One of them laughs.
“We’ve come for t’pensioners special.”
Her friend looks at her sharply, faking anger.
“Eh! I heard that!”

Cafe Society.

The six little weathered wood and stainless steel tables in the front of Roasters café on Scarborough foreshore are all full in the heat of a summer day. Its windows boast that it has been declared one of the ten best coffee shops in the UK but to be honest I don’t think any of the people sitting at the tables are bothered about that. They just want to have a sit down. Nobody at the tables has anything to say. Empty faces watch other people as they go past, walking, shouting, wearing outrageous hats, proclaiming their allegiance to Fred Perry, Ferdinand Torres or justice. They all seem to have a lot to do. I wonder idly how many ice creams they have sold on the foreshore that morning, count twenty seven of them as they go past and then lose interest. It’s that kind of day.

Most of the faces at the café tables are turned towards a white van which belongs to a company selling and installing roller blinds. Two men are sitting in it, having lunch. The one in the passenger seat watches idly as a traffic warden makes a circuit of the van, has a quick word, then writes on his pad. He fixes a penalty notice to the windscreen and the man in the passenger seat stares straight ahead, expressionless, as the warden carefully takes a photo of the van with the ticket in place. He ambles off and the van is still there, back doors gaping wide open.

An older man and an elderly woman are at the next table. He is fretful, middle aged now but still the dutiful son, anxious to do the right thing, and every last pore of him is sensible. He wears a sensible denim shirt, a sensible brown quilted sun hat, and patterned socks poking out of very sensible shoes. The kind of man you would never manage to pick out in an identity parade. He gets up and sets off to order before turning round to face his mother.
“What are you going to have?”
His mother looks up from her daydreaming. She says nothing.
“An apple?”
She nods quietly.
“Piece of chocolate cake?”
This idea is rejected with a quiet frown.
“Teacake? Toasted? Best if it’s toasted.”
She just looks at him, gives a slight nod and he turns towards the café and walks inside. His mother sits in the heat, seeming to shrink helplessly into her thick aran cardigan. She gazes out over the café awning next to her chair, her jaw moving slowly as she watches the traffic, speaking silently to herself, and her sad eyes are somewhere else, somewhere far away. Her sun hat is carefully positioned under her bag, safe on her knee, clutched tightly in hands that are long and elegant, almost translucent, with all the tendons visible as they strain to hold on. She is self contained, dignified, well used to waiting.
“Apple or orange juice?”
She nods at her sun who is standing in the doorway of the café.
“You can have a scone?”
He disappears again without waiting for an answer.

At the far table two small blond brothers, maybe six and seven years old, are sitting with their parents, wearing matching tee shirts. They are ostentatiously behaving themselves under their mother’s eye, sharing a packet of prawn cocktail crisps which has been painstakingly opened and laid out on the table while their father looks at a map. He has a thin scarf round his neck which matches the one worn by his youngest son and he is making plans. He stares around him at the other tables as he rattles out information which none of the family are listening to.

The large woman in lime green at the centre table leans forward and makes a loud whooshing sound which doesn’t seem to surprise or worry anyone around her.

A waitress brings out a teacake and a large yellow banana milkshake on a tray which is far too heavy for its contents. She walks over to the anxious son and his mother and sets it down on the table. Mother picks up a piece of the teacake and holds it elegantly in the tips of her fingers while she looks at a till receipt. The milk shake has a lid covering it and her son holds it with both hands, sucking up the thick yellow contents through a straw like a child. She passes the till receipt to him. He has nothing to say about it.

The two men finally get out of the van and carry a piece of steel roller blind across the pavement to the next door arcade. The father looks up from his map and watches as they climb two ladders, working together, holding the rolled up steel across their arms. The flashing lights of the amusements- £500 jackpot- glitter against the sun.

The anxious son has gone back into the café again, hands in pockets. His mother wipes her face with a tissue and hunts in her bag. He comes back with nothing. She lights a cigarette, shielding it from the breeze with her cardigan and her twisted fingers, but doesn’t put it near her mouth. It goes out. Her son finally finds something to say to her, explaining a list of names and relationships which ends in a shout of laughter while she frowns gently and worries about her unlit cigarette. He says firmly that he will never get married but doesn’t offer any reason. I wonder why. The banana milkshake comes to a noisy end.

The mother at the far table sits very still as she watches her sons, turned away from her husband who is folding his map very precisely, leaving it open at the part that he will want to talk about.

The large lady in green is speaking in Spanish. I hadn’t realised that before. Perhaps it explains the whooshing sound.

The anxious son is now talking about the “other woman in his life” and getting very worked up about Africans who don’t take citizenship when he has paid taxes all his life. His mother is searching in her bag again. Without any warning he leaves the table, snaps open a wheelchair which is waiting behind the awning and starts to tease his mother.
“Go on then. Have a walk.”
His mother makes a few steps towards him, using a stick and holding onto the awning, then sinks into the wheelchair with a blissful smile of satisfaction. He turns it around quickly, before she can return the smiles of the people at the centre table and the two of them disappear into the crowds. The waitress swoops over and clears the table aggressively, turning over the ashtray and wiping down the rough wooden table top. It is time for me to leave.

£1,000 fine max.

I had settled down on a little used row of painted benches at the end of Queen Street, high above the sea at the top of a long flight of steps, with a tray of haddock, chips and mushy peas for an outdoor tea. The sun was lighting up the chalk cliffs from Bempton to Flamborough Head, something I used to run ahead of my parents to see when we came to the caravan. Very seaside. Very Filey. It was a beautiful evening and once in a while I like to play at being on holiday. The fish and chips weren’t that good and I was just thinking about changing to a different chip shop when someone I knew appeared at the top of the steps. Not a friend, but a middle aged woman who I see regularly when I’m down on the beach with my dogs. I don’t know her name and unusually I couldn’t even remember the name of her dog. We just see each other regularly and have a few words until one day we won’t see each other any more. That’s how it works.

She was in a hurry. There was no polite conversation this time, not even a passing of the time of day, just a quick hello. Her eyes were darting and her face was stiff with anxiety.  She swept down the long row of benches calling the dog on past me when he recognised a familiar face in a strange place and stopped for a greeting. He’s a friendly old lad with a grey nuzzle who has been around a while. I stroked his forehead.
“Ben, come on , move!”
Ben gave me a regretful look and hurried on as best he could. There was a sudden rush of noise as three young lads, maybe ten years old, reached the top of the steps and shot past me towards the woman.
“You let your dog mess down there!”
The ringleader was pointing and shouting.
“Right on the pavement. That’s a thousand pounds fine max. You let your dog pooh.”
The woman quickened her step. She didn’t turn around, but her fear showed in the set of her shoulders. The ringleader bent down and picked up a handful of dirt from the ground.
“Are you listening?”
She was listening, you could tell that , but she still said nothing. She was quite a way off now, trying to get round the corner away from them. He speeded up after her, flung his hand back and sent the dirt flying onto the back of her jacket.

There was more shouting, then the sound died away to nothing as they turned the corner following her. I picked up a chip and ate it thoughtfully. They really were not very good and the fish was overcooked, hard and stringy against the soft batter. The mushy peas had quickly gone cold in their polystyrene tub and I didn’t want to finish them any more. I decided I needed a few mugs of tea to take away the taste and gave up the idea of finishing any of it. It could go into one of the open topped bins for a fox to find. I dumped it in there and walked back down Queen Street away from the sea and the sun. The three lads were coming towards me. They passed me as though I was invisible, which I often am, hands in their pockets, talking. A self righteous group of tiny vigilantes who seemed to think that they had done their duty.
“I can’t believe she did that. Letting her dog pooh on the street. She should get done for that.”
They walked past and clattered back down the steps at the end of the street towards the sea front and I wandered on. The fish and chips were definitely better in the old days.

The Harbour Bar. Sandside, Scarborough.

The Harbour Bar on Scarborough’s Sandside has survived almost unaltered since it opened in 1945. It is still thriving, run by the Alonzi family whose ancestors arrived in Scarborough in 1896. The outside is plain and not that impressive but when you get through the door you will realise why people have cared enough about it to keep it spotless and unchanged. You can enjoy a Knickerbocker Glory ( unless you’d prefer a Strawberry or Pineapple Glory, a Fruit Cocktail, a Pear Melba, or a Banana, Chocolate and Jelly Delight) and watch yourself reflected in its mirrored walls surrounded by a confection of ice cream colours which makes it look as if you are sitting inside a giant banana split while you eat it. Everything sparkles, from the chrome to the lighted advertisements around the wall which advise you to try a fresh farm egg milk shake and eat ice cream every day in order to stay fit and get your vitamins the easy way You can almost hear generations of children quoting that in an attempt to get a second helping out of their parents but given the size of some of the ice cream sundaes on offer one might just about be enough! The bar has been cherished and looked after with care for all of its sixty five years and looks ready to march on towards one hundred years of serving ice cream by the harbour with no trouble whatsoever.

My own earliest memory of the Harbour Bar was when I was taken in there on a family trip to Scarborough. My cousin ordered a Knickerbocker Glory and I can still remember the awe I felt when she sat there and ate the lot. I was a faddy little thing at the time and probably asked for a bottle of lucozade. My loss. From then on I always insisted that we go and sit down at the counter in there each time that we were in Scarborough- ignoring the fact that I didn’t like ice cream. Even at eight years old I liked its style.

There are very few ice cream parlours left from the 1940’s era which still have their original fittings and the Harbour Bar is one of Scarborough’s real treasures. I still don’t like ice cream much but they serve a great milky coffee and you can sit there and dream yourself back in time. The nineteen forties may not have been a time which you would want to have lived through in reality, for obvious reasons, but people will always need to relax even in the hardest of circumstances and it had a sparkle and glamour all its own. To recapture that aspect of the 1940’s you can always watch an MGM musical, but better still you can visit the Harbour Bar, a place where the harsh realities of life (both then and now) have been removed. Sit down at one of the red topped stools around the long curving yellow counter, order yourself a treat and enjoy some real life glamour from the past.