Just after six a.m on Thursday there was all this crazy, vicious screeching from the garden. That awful cat Ralph from three doors down had ambushed Bernard Socks as he shot out of his cat flap into the garden. When I hurried out I found them clawing at each other, chests pushed together in a nasty clinch. I flung a mugful of water and they sprang apart, dashed down the garden and started fighting again. I refilled from the pond and tossed a mugful of poor, squirming tadpoles over them. Both cats fled over the fence and I had five horrified tadpoles swishing at the bottom of my Oscar Wilde mug and felt just terrible about it.
Socks slunk back indoors, up to his blanket box at the bedroom window, where he felt sorry for himself the rest of the day. Jeremy and I were relieved to find no marks on him.
Thursday and Friday were really about cracking on and getting through a draft of chapter three of my new novel. Afterwards we got our groceries in, and I talked to Mam on the phone about her night seeing the Eagles tribute band the night before. They had good seats because wheelchairs go in the Royal Box at Darlington Civic. She said how the whole place was on its feet, and how it was great, and how much she wishes she could get up and dance. Then she told me Ken Dodd is playing in the autumn, and we pledged to book tickets straight away. We’ve meant to go to see him for years. I phoned right away and, when the man in the booking office asked if I’d booked by phone before, I said no – but I wanted to say: your theatre was the first I ever went to. It was 1975 and ‘A Bear Called Paddington’, in which the man playing Paddington towered over the other members of the cast. I’d never seen anything so amazing in my life as that show.
Saturday was our road trip with friends up the coast in the sun. We walked on the vast, wide, sea-less beach at Lytham St Anne’s, wandering round broken bits of pier. Why is it the feel of sand under your shoes becomes instantly relaxing? Even the ground feels softer than usual. Then we were shoving ten pences in those daft machines, and having pie and chips in the Italian café. The speciality of the house turned out to be foot-long chocolate éclairs. They seemed to have dozens of them on display in chiller cabinets, glossy with dark chocolate and oozing confectioners’ cream. We ordered one and split it four ways, ruining our appetites for fish and chips later.
In Morecambe we visited the dark, cluttered bookshop with its children’s books spilling onto floors; its tiny rooms stacked to the roof, stuffed geese looming out of the stacks and local newspaper clippings about vintage murders on the mouldering walls. We tried to get into a junk shop but the woman was just closing. She was all excited. She only gets out twice a year and tonight was one of her big nights. It was Burlesque Night at the Winter Gardens. We avoided being dragged along to that, and went to the Midland Hotel in search of tea. We sat outside on their glitzy terrace, underneath this amazing Art Deco edifice, which I remember from the early Nineties when it was a wreck and there was a gay bar in the grounds, at the end of a pier, where they’d have lock-ins and on stormy nights it was like being in the Poseidon Adventure during a disco as the ship went down.
We paid our respects at the Eric Morecambe statue and watched old ladies have their photos taken, linking arms with him and striking the same silly pose. It seems such a shame they never put an Ernie next to him. Would it have hurt? His own statue’s in a little town in Yorkshire called Morley, standing alone in the shopping precinct, listing slightly on its podium.
Then it was home down the motorway and Jeremy lighting his Moroccan stove (as it’s become known) and candles in the garden and sausage sandwiches and the last of the gin. We were sitting out as late as we could, defying the chill and willing the summer to come. Jeremy and the others ripped up cardboard and out of date TV mags and made the stove go crazy, playing with the flames like boys always do. Bernard Socks was pretty furious about all the smoke from the Moroccan stove. He kept shooting out of the cat flap, shouting stuff, and pelting down the garden to the Beach House, where the fairy lights were on for the first time this spring.