They come to the Diorama every September, just as the season comes to an end, and just as the children are going back to school. Harry and Mandy will ask for the same room overlooking the pool and the dolphin races and the Strawberry Mivvis and the dads in tight speedos with beer bellies and tattoos and chains. Most years, the equable Mr Wilding is able to satisfy their needs. When he doesn’t, Harry usually manages to wangle a discount, even with the size of the room, on account of how many years they have been coming now. On account, too, of this being their one break in the year and how very much this place has come to mean to them. It’s Mr Wilding who’ll say that as he checks his handwritten register, and it’s Mandy who will always agree.
Harry and Mandy arrive on a Friday and leave on a Monday. There was a time when they could have afforded the full week, just after Harry got the redundancy and Mandy took on the flower shop full time, but that has been and gone and, in a way, they will tell themselves, over a Full English in the dining hall overlooked by the stage and the karaoke equipment and Mr Wilding’s props, it’s for the best that they hadn’t got used to more or longer. They wouldn’t want to be spoiled. The Friday night Magic Ball and the Saturday night bingo – wedding parties permitting – have become highlights, even despite the rowdier families the Diorama attracts now. They both agree that such events make the drive down south and the strain of the Devon Expressway more than worthwhile. It is good to get away.
That’s what is said. Over the Sunday night dinner, when Mr Wilding is doing the rounds in his white tux, checking up on the coach parties and collecting the promises of a return next year. Harry will order the traditional fish and chips. Better than Ramsden’s, he’ll say. Mandy will have the skate, always the skate, and then they’ll allow themselves a dessert. Mr Wilding will recommend the profiteroles and so they’ll share them and tell him they’re the best they’ve had all year. The little man will smile and promise to tell the chef. Even though he could call out to the veranda where Roger will be sharing something that might be mistaken for a menthol with housekeeping Diane. Then, after the bingo and the prize draw and the drag act that they all pretend doesn’t look like Benny from reception, Harry and Mandy will head back down the leatherette banquette-lined corridors and they’ll say how much they love their room with its four-poster and its 19 inch TV with Freeview,and then they’ll pack and Harry will check the availability for next year as if there might have been a rush on while they were eating.
‘We’re lucky,’ Mandy will say, over the final breakfast on Monday morning, after they’ve found that one sock of Harry’s that always finds its way under the chest of drawers, and after Harry has said that he’ll go for a walk down by the lake before they leave because he likes the Crazy Golf and it’ll be nice to have a moment to soak it all in before the long drive home.
‘There’s lot of people don’t have this,’ Mandy will say, as she leaves the second sausage and flip flops the black pudding with her fork before leaving that too.
She’ll be thinking, perhaps, that Harry’s after having a quiet cigarillo before the drive. And she’ll be right. Harry will remember to do that after he’s watched the dads in their Tommy Hilfigers and their Cotton Traders and their Wranglers. After he’s watched the children helped to line up their shots towards the windmills. Harry will make sure to linger over the smoke before walking back round the drive, finding the car, and buckling himself in.
‘You’re right,’ he will reply at breakfast, accepting the black pudding and remembering to thank Mandy for it. ‘There’s a lot of people don’t have this.’
And Harry will look at the other diners and he’ll think of his time with the cigarillo and he’ll remember to ask Mr Wilding for the family suite again next year.
Mike Hickman is a writer and former academic from York, England. He has written for the local stage, being an artistic associate for a group specialising in staging new works by new writers. His most recent play (Not so Funny Now, Off the Rock Productions, 2018) revolved around Groucho Marx’s ‘companion’, Erin Fleming, and he has also written radio drama for the same company. Recent short stories include “Trunk” for the Blake-Jones Review.