A short story by Barry McCann
Father had one mickle of a surprise. Home from a teatime libation in The Dog with Two Cockerels, he found the family tucking into a knife and fork tea, his own still wrapped in newspaper and on a low light. Greeting his wife with “Evenin’ Mother”, he then addressed the children in ascending order: “Gala, Moira, Little Arthur.”
The three nodded as they quietly tucked into their chippy tea, his wife replying: “Had a good day, Father?”
“Fair t’ middlin, pet. But we’re ’avin’ rare treat tomorra.” Removing his cap, the three siblings perked up as he continued: “Goin’ to cousin Stan’s for day. He lives by seaside.”
“We haven’t seen him for a while,” his wife remarked. “Not since our Olive went ower broomstick,” referring to his sister’s nuptials back in the year Keighley were promoted to League One.
A concerned look crossed eldest Gala’s face, however. “Dad, don’t Uncle Stan live over… Dark side?” Misty silence fell upon the room with only the clang of a fork dropping on a plate, as he solemnly nodded: “Aye, lass…Lancashire.”
By the time they set off by car next morning, Father had managed to win over his unnerved youngsters. The seaside would be more fun than their usual jolly to Halifax to watch the traffic lights change and view the chemist’s window display. He also assured them “We’ll be reet now as ’ad our jabs.”
Once en route, Father explained their actual destination was St Annes-on-Sea.
“’Ave yer bin there before, Dad?” Little Arthur piped up.
“Aye, lad, all got to do mission’ry sometime in life. Very la-di-da, I’ll tell thee. Even seagulls fly upside down so as to ney make mess.”
The county border loomed like a last post before no man’s land. “Take good gawp you three,” Father announced. “If world ever to come to an end, this be where it’ll start.”
Mother quietly shook her head and smiled indulgently. Theirs was a mixed marriage, she being South Yorkshire and he from the North. She did not share his suspicions of a world outside God’s county having been fetched up in the sophistication that is Leeds.
As every Tyke knows, the laws of time and space take on a sprawling dimension in the expanse of Lancashire. Even the Sat Nav pleaded “Are we there yet?” every five minutes. Until finally a light appeared on the horizon, bearing the legend “You Are Now Entering St Annes.”
Stan’s wife, Marj, answered the door and welcomed them all in. Her husband was in the parlour having forty winks under the daily broadsheet, though the sound of the arriving visitors quickly had him on his feet and ready to greet.
“Ow do, Stan. Ar’tor’ reet?” said Father.
“Aye. Eaw’t diggl’in?”
Mother quietly spoke into Marj’s ear: “Honestly! Times I wish those two came with sub titles.”
Stan gestured to the sofa “Sit thi all deawn. Swant a brew?”
“Champion! Gob’s as dry as temp’rence tavern.”
As the hosts disappeared into the kitchen, Father turned to his family, grinning and saying :“Stan’s so Lancastrian I dunno what ‘e’s sayin’ half teem.” Meanwhile, Stan commented to his wife: “Yus know, ’e’s such a Yorkshire tyke I dunno what ’e’s sayin’ arf the time.”
Tea and biscuits went down a treat. Then the highlight of the day arrived, at least for the children as Stan led them all to the beach. Wrap around towels made for makeshift changing rooms as the kids got into their cossies for a splash in the sea. The grown-ups settled for kicking off their shoes and enjoying a paddle, though Mother did scold Father with: “Take your socks off, you daft apeth!”
After an hour or so, Mother persuaded the children to have the sand fettled off and change back into civvies, as Father’s belly was telling him it was time for vitals. Stan had heard of a new café just a pebble throw further down the prom, and the party made their way there. Upon arriving, Father took it upon himself to speak to the hostess.
“So what’s bill o’ fayre, lass, and ‘ow much will it set me back?”
“At the moment, sir, we are serving high tea.”
“As don’t wanna sit upstairs.”
“By that I mean tea with a selection of cake and pastries. And that’s seven pounds”
He starched his head with a sharp intake of breath. “Bit stretch, but as works out pound each, not bad reckonin’.”
“No, sir, seven pounds per person.”
Father could hardly get his cap back on. “Seven pound each? Chuffin’ ’eck! For that brass I cud treat family t’ wazzock pie and barrel of chips. And still ’ave change for fish supper.”
With head shaking, he turned and stepped back out. “I know we’re on ‘oliday, but not payin’ fortune for you-know-what wit sugar on.”
“What they offerin’?” asked Stan.
“Two runs round table and a sniff at watter tap wit prices in there! At least Dick Turpin wore mask.”
Fortunately, it was second eldest Moira who saved the day. She had trotted several yards ahead while Father was deliberating and came skipping back with a discovery. “Dad, there’s chip ’ole and sign says special offers for families.”
“Good lass! Where’s it at?”
She pointed back. “Just round corner, past wheelie bin.”
“Do it ’ave sit down facility?”
“Aye, dad. Wit paper napkins and salad cream.”
“Paper napkins and salad cream? Well, not oft I push boat out, but let’s hope they fritter in drippn’ as proper Yorkshire chippy.”
The offer was a plate of fish, chips and mushy peas with bread and butter at four pounds each, with optional gravy or curry sauce for an additional fifty pence.
The prospective tariff still gave Father silent palpitations, but at least it was not the daylight robbery of the previous venue.
Pushing two tables together, they all sat down in a circle before the waitress came over and took their orders. “And pot o’ tea all round,” Father requested as a finishing touch, and then smiled at the others. “Why not? Let’s be lavish.”
Lavish was not a word he would use to describe the portions subsequently served up. Despite the pyramid of chips and a fish that looked like it swallowed a clog, he protested “Aye, up. They’re a proper caution ’ere. That wouldn’t feed one of Betty’s fat rascals!”
“Yer should’ve ordered horse between two bread vans!” Stan laughed.
Father cautiously bit into a chip and all remained silent as he chewed thoughtfully, before passing verdict “Taste reet, mind. Tuck in, and let’s ’ope when tea comes tis proper Yorkshire blend and not that stuff monkey’s drink on telly.”
Stan grabbed the first condiment and began liberally sprinkling when Father queried “Stan, what yer doin’ lad?”
He shrugged. “Puttin’ salt on me chips. Whatsie look like.”
“You ’aint put vinegar on yet.”
“I put vinegar on afta salt.”
“Ney, that not way to do it. Put vinegar on first, then salt.”
“Round ’ere we put salt on first, then vinegar.”
Marj chimed in with “Careful, lads. Whole countries have gone to war over this.”
“Is that how the Wars of the Roses started?” Mother laughed.
“Don’t get me started on that,” warned Father. “Specially as they started it!”
Stan grinned. “At least we ‘ad York for as while, till we let you ’ave it back.”
“Ney’s true. Marj and me went to York after she ’ad her bunions done. Went on this walkin’ tour with lass called Mad Alice, and she told us.” He looked back at his wife. “Remember that Marj? Bloody History of York tour?”
“I remember my bloody feet by the time you finished dragging me around it! I still had stitches in.”
“Oooh!” Mother cringed. “Are they right now?”
“No, still give me gyp.”
Stan winked at Father. “That’s why I refer to Marj as I Can’t Believe She’s Not Better.” The two cousins laughed as the women looked outraged, and the children puzzled.
With the arrival of evening, it was time to bid goodbye to Stan and Marj. By the time he found the motorway, the children were asleep, as was Mother. Until little Arthur stirred awake and looked out of the window. “Gradely day out, dad. Where are we now?”
“Don’t worry, son. We’re on best road in Lancashire.”
“It’s road back ter Yorkshire.”