I’d been there about a year, the Per Mar Guest House in Whitley Bay – don’t let me make it sound too glamorous will you, every time I make it sound too glamorous I want you to shout “Rat Pie” at the computer screen just to bring the story down to earth with a bump again.
Rat Pie, we had it for tea every Monday evening, real rats inside it, I promise you.
The Per Mar was what is known in the trade as “contractors digs” and although incongruously located in the seaside town of Whitley Bay the Per Mar qualified adequately under the banner of “contractors digs”. In contractors digs there is no need for deep cleaning every week, or every month, or even every year, a deep clean every two or so years is all thats required, or never, I don’t think the Per Mar had ever been deep cleaned.
I don’t think the Per Mar had ever had a stick of new furniture purchased for it either, second hand shops would certainly deny having sold any of the furniture that we sat and slept on, the local council tip would probably turn away some of the furniture we sat and slept on as being too far gone for the council tip, burning was almost too good for it.
The sheets on my bed in my tiny little bedroom (the inside of the wardrobe was bigger than the actual room) had probably been one whole bedsheet at some point in history, like maybe in Roman times, but when I stayed there (and I stuck it out for two years), there wasn’t a piece of original sheet larger than a ladies handkerchief left, in fact the bedsheets were a miracle of the art of sew-woman-ship, whoever had sewed all of those tiny bits of cloth together to make a whole sheet deserved a medal.
Still, none of us really cared, £4 a night, bed, breakfast and evening meal, or what passed for an evening meal anyway, it sort of looked like food, and you got a bed and no-one complained when you came in from working on a building site all day with muddy boots and clothes – not until Eric came that is.
Eric was a Barnsley lad, a wide faced twenty-something year old, curly hair, permanent grin on his face, wide gap between his front teeth, had the look of being totally gormless but was huge fun to go out boozing with – and he worked down a sewer all day.
Whitley Bay’s sewage outfall pipe into the North Sea was being refurbished and extended at the time so that the accumulated shit of thousands of holidaymakers would not wash back onto the beach at the next tide any longer, and Eric’s civil engineering employers had the contract and had sent him up to live with us, Brick laying during the day, brick laying underground, pointing the old Victorian sewers while stood in someone elses shit for which he received a handsome remuneration and a spare change of clothes once a week.
As their work took them closer to the sea they could only work when the tide was out and prayed that the population of Whitley Bay wouldn’t all go to the toilet at the same time, and most nights he’d walk into the Per Mar while we were all sat around the big table waiting for our Rat Pie and take great delight in standing at the door of the dining room, stinking of someone elses shit, plastered in someone elses shit, big grin on his face, gap between his teeth, and he’d show us by the damp mark on his jeans just how deep the sewage had been that day.
He told us of how some days they weren’t allowed to go down the pipe unless they had a rope tied around their waist and of how a chain was fastened to the side of the pipe walls for you to grab hold of if you slipped on someone elses shit for if you didn’t stop yourself quickly then you’d surface under the North Sea somewhere.
“I saw a whopper today” he shouted at us all from the doorway, just as we were all tucking into Rat Pie
“A whopper what ?” came the answer
“A grit big George the Third” he laughed
“Not now Eric” someone with a sensitive stomach pleaded
“It wor massive” he regaled, “Ah measured it wi’ a brick like, two bricks long it wor…”
“Eric, I’m having my tea…”
“An it had four rest marks in it…”
“Does anyone want to finish my rat Pie for me, Ive gone right off it now”
“Aye, and next minute this flat cap came floating down”
“Eric, no need…”
“Ah reckon he either wiped his arse wi’cap or he deed shitting it art”
***sound of ten sets of knives and forks being rested on the plates***
“Anyone for a peent eh ?”
“Go wash your hands first”