Friday, October 19, 2007

£4 an night ...

Switching the radio on, bleary eyed and bleary brained this morning was regailed by Gerry Rafferty singing a sing that I recognised but cannot for the life of me name, the name however is irrelevant for what that song did was take me back to Whitley Bay in 1978 for a short three minute flashback.

That building in the photo, thats The Esplanade that is, thats The Esplanade now - and its probably a very nice hotel these days, it certainly looks like its had a lick or two of paint - in 1978 it was a doss house.

But I didn't stay there, oh no, The Esplanade Doss House was too expensive for me, £7 a night it was, I stayed in "contractors digs" 100 yards further up that road that you can se disappearing off to the left, £4 a night bed, breakfast and evening meal.

We could have sued under the Trade Descriptions Act for the use of the word "meal" in the advertising literature, if there had been any advertising literature that is, but the Per Mar Guest House didn't need to use advertising literature for it was constantly fully booked with building site workers on a word of mouth recomendation.

"Word of mouth recomendation" you gasp, "even though it was shit", yes thats how it worked, a contractor would turn up on a building site somewhere in the north east and immediately ask someone on the site if they knew of any decent digs...

"Know any decent digs mate ?"
"Yes, The Esplanade"
"Any good ?"
"Its a doss house what more do you want ?"
"How much"
"£7 a night"
"Jesus, I'm only on a fiver"
"Then you want The Per Mar, its totally shit but its only £4 a night"
"That'll do for me then"

I stayed at The Per Mar for a year in a room that contained a sink (which doubled up as a toilet through the night as the actual toilet was downstairs), a wardrobe and a bed, the room being specially designed to be the absolute minimum size required to fit in a sink, a wardrobe which I often described as being bigger than the room itself (in a Narnia stylee), and a bed, leaving you with a few inches floor space to walk sideways down the room when you wanted to get into the bed that the landlady had kindly covered in blankets that were so old and so patched up that it was impossible to determine which bits had been the original cloth, and an eiderdown that was, well, I stop here for I cannot fully describe the horror of the eiderdown, "black with age and grease" is one phrase that springs to mind and I need to stop here for counselling.

So why did you stay there for a year I hear you all cry, it was cheap is my answer, it was cheap is the reason that we all stopped there, it was cheap and the fact that the contractors who stayed there were a great set of lads and as any male will try to explain to a non-understanding female, "a great set of lads" is worth putting up with any old shit that a landlady throws at you (and she threw plenty of "any old shit" at us for our evening meals, not for nothing did we call the Monday night meal "rat pie").

One group of lads from Doncaster are worthy of a special mention, worthy because they earned four times the weekly wage of anyone else in the Per Mar, they were bringing in up to £400 a week in 1978, a small fortune in anyones books - but you would not have wanted to do their job.

They were strippers.

No, not that kind of strippers, they were pipe lagging strippers.

Prior to the 1970's every power station or industrial boiler house in the country had had its pipes lagged with asbestos or (especially in the power stations) concrete asbestos which was sprayed onto its hot water pipes and left to set solid.

Sometime in the 1970's the realisation dawned on medical science that asbestos was actually quite bad for your health, in fact it was deadly for your health, breath even a small amount of asbestos dust in and your lung cancer started right there and then - so the order went out to remove all trace of it from the country's power stations - and thats what the lads from Doncaster did.

If asbestos is discovered in a building today then all work stops on that site, the building is completely sealed, windows and doors taped up and operatives in completly sealed suits with their own air supply go into the building to remove the stuff, very carefully, so that none of the dust escapes in the atmosphere.

In 1978 the Health and Safety Executive had not quite caught up with the asbestos stripping industry, our team of four Doncaster lads often came back to the digs on an evening white with dust, plumes of white concrete asbestos dust trailing in their wake like the kid off the Charlie Brown cartoons, they were provided with face masks to wear but didn't bother because they found them uncomfortable to work in and they were being paid by the linear yard to strip the pipes with pneumatic hammers so anything that restricted their progress, like protective clothing for instance, was cast aside.

I think its fair to assume that those 20-something year old lads will all be dead by now.

But while they were earning £400 a week they bloody well enjoyed themselves - the only way to get rid of the taste of asbestos dust in your throat every night was to drink beer, lots of it, and the cheaper the beer the more you could drink - so we all went to Matty's Bar every night.

Matty's Bar was a few yards to the left of The Esplanade in that photo above, it was actually a storeroom at the rear of the hotel-doss-house which someone called Matty had rented, cleared out (not cleaned out mind), placed some scaffolding boards on top of two beer barrels to make a bar, rented a pool table and opened the doors to sell bottles of beer to his clientele who cared naught about ambience, decor, or even rudimentary seating, of which there was none.

We played pool in there every night, we drank beer in there every night, all of my wage was spent in there for four nights every week, I was blathered right through the week, the sink in my room suffered unspeakable abuse through the night as the beer exited my body via a random choice of orifices and judging by the sound coming from the rooms adjacent to mine, so did all of the other sinks on our landing, god knows how the plumbing stood up to the onslaught and god help the cleaners who occasionally ventured upstairs to see just how bad our landing was this week.

The greatest accolade I can give to our debauched lifestyle on that landing in that guest house is to repeat what the landlady said to me when I paid my weekly bill and left The Per Mar for the last time, "I'm closing this place soon" she told me, "and I'm re-opening as a nursing home for old people, for even with their incontinence they won't make as much mess as you bastards do"

And three months later thats exactly what she did.


Anonymous said...

I had a 'male visitor' a while back! He used the bathroom sink as a toilet!... (I threw him out) well actually, I asked him to leave, in the nicest posible way.

Gary said...

Thats a bit harsh, it's "acceptable use" to urinate in a strangers sink - you don't do it in yours obviously - its if he did "the other" that would overstep the hospitality margin - and some of the Per Mar residents used the sink for "the other" as well :~

Anonymous said...

What!!!!! When there's a toilet? As for "the other" thats just up your street.. innitt?
dum de dum.. Wonders what song we have tomorrow. Something for the Rugby and Lewis please :)

[anyway I can't sit on my sink. I'm a shortass as they say].

Dan said...

I once shat in a bidet on a school trip to paris. Poked it down with a toothbrush.

I was young, i knew no better.

Anonymous said...

Was the song, 'Baker Street' ?

But Why? said...

I can't help but feel for the Donny boys. Being strippers must have seemed a good idea at the time. Good to know they enjoyed the cash...

Gary said...

But Why...One thing I didn't mention in that story is that one of them went missing one week (we all used to travel home at weekends) and the following week when the lads came back from their weekend at home they had spoken to him and he had handed his resignation in - he'd been to the doctors the week before, had an x-ray and found a shadow on his lungs - that news quietened them all down for a few nights but the truth is that they were building site labourers who couldn't dream of earning that money anywhere else in the industry.